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18. THE FEEDING A FACT FOR JN. IN SPITE OF ALL?
Thus in all the miracle-stories of the Fourth Gospel, a deeper thought can be recognised which they present vividly to us as in a picture. Now, as regards the problem suggested above (p. 97), when we were dealing with the Raising of Lazarus, whether in spite of all that has been said, the author held them to be actual occurrences, for the present this at least is clear, that the interest in the question whether a miracle really happened becomes secondary at once, if the miracle is used to represent nothing more than an idea. And so we discover in these stories some discord in the thought of the Fourth Evangelist. Side by side with the absolute value that he attaches to Jesus’ works of wonder being recognised as real occurrences (p. 21), we note a certain indifference to the matter. Nor is it necessary to base this conclusion entirely upon our present examination; he has given even more definite expression to this indifference in other places. When many in Jerusalem believed on Jesus on account of his works of wonder, he did not trust himself unto them (ii. 23 f.), and Thomas, who would not believe on Jesus resurrection until lie had touched his wounds, was told, “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed” (xx. 27-29). If we felt ourselves absolutely bound to go farther and to conjecture that Jn. first conceived his pictures in his own brain, just as a modern painter does, it would hardly be thinkable that afterwards he could have believed what he had depicted to be real events. What then is the truth?
Something more certain from which to start in this matter is found in the Synoptics. According to Mk. (viii. 14-21) the disciples, when they journeyed across the 102Lake of Galilee, had forgotten to take bread. Jesus then says to them: “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (or according to Mt. xvi. 6, “and the leaven of the Sadducees”). They imagine that he wishes to warn them against procuring loaves from the Pharisees and the others. Jesus notes this and says, “Do ye not perceive nor understand? . . . and do ye not remember? When I brake the five loaves among the five thousand, how many baskets (full of broken pieces) took ye up? . . . And when the seven among the four thousand, how many baskets took ye up?” (so according to Mt.). “Do ye not yet understand?” Mt. fittingly completes Jesus utterance thus: “that I spake not to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Shortly before, Mk. and Mt. have recounted the Feeding of the Five Thousand and that of the Four Thousand as actual occurrences. When Jesus now reminds the disciples of these, they must have been confirmed in their first thought, that by the leaven of which they were to beware he meant real loaves, and must have believed that, to make up for the omission, he would procure them loaves in as wonderful a way as he had done in the case of the two Feedings. Now, it would in itself be very surprising that Jesus should have offered to repair a piece of forgetfulness on the part of the disciples by exercising his miraculous power. In such a case, we certainly could not speak of a higher divine purpose for which he used this miraculous power, and say that he was actuated by love and compassion. But such reflections are not really necessary. The result of Jesus calling to mind the two Feedings is this: 103the disciples see that he does not wish to speak of loaves; and this is simply impossible. Have the Evangelists, then, told us something that is meaningless? That would be equally inconceivable. How can they have come to say the contrary of what is as clear as daylight?
The solution of the riddle is, however, not so difficult after all; we must only have the courage to think out the ideas of the story to the end. If the disciples by that of which Jesus reminds them are made to see that by leaven Jesus did not mean loaves but teaching, then in those earlier cases they cannot have seen and eaten loaves, but must simply have heard about loaves—and have heard too that the loaves meant teaching. In other words, the things of which they were reminded (and rightly reminded), when they thought of the Feedings, were not events in the life of Jesus, but discourses, in which he had compared his teaching with bread, by which the soul is satisfied. Now it suddenly dawns upon us also why more bread is said to have remained over than there was at first. Had the bread been real, this would have been a pure miracle. On the other hand, when Jesus propounds his teaching, it is quite natural that it should arouse new ideas in the minds of his hearers, and awaken new impulses; and that they them selves, enriching what they had heard by their own experiences and feelings, should carry it farther.
It is not enough, therefore, to see that the two miracle stories were certainly one at the beginning, and only came to be regarded as two distinct events at a later date when through the carelessness of the narrators the number of the partakers, of the loaves, and of the baskets of broken pieces, was changed. We must go farther and declare, in all seriousness, that no miraculous feeding took place, nor even a feeding which merely appeared miraculous. It 104would be tempting to us to explain the matter by sup posing that very many persons in the crowd were provided with more provisions than Jesus and his disciples, and that Jesus example simply induced them to place these at his disposal. But had this been the case, the disciples could just as little, by being reminded of it, have been led to understand that by leaven Jesus meant teaching, as they could by being reminded of a real miracle of feeding.
The only miraculous feature in the stories of the Feedings is therefore this: that by the side of them the story of the leaven of the Pharisees should also have found a place in the Gospels. Certainly Mk. and Mt. have not proved themselves very careful here; the words “Do ye not perceive?” apply to them also. But we have no reason to complain of them. If they had noticed the contradiction, they would certainly not have omitted the stories of the Feedings, but, rather, the narrative under consideration; and it would then have been much harder for us to recognise the real situation. In reality, they have faithfully preserved the narrative, because it had been transmitted to them. And we must recognise this with the greater satisfaction, because in other places in their Gospels we have been obliged to note many arbitrary alterations in the accounts, and because, again, it has not been possible for them to preserve correctly other matter, they themselves having become acquainted with it in a distorted form. Thus, for example, exactly what was narrated about Jesus’ discourse concerning that remarkable bread (the teaching) which, when it was divided and partaken of, did not decrease but increased, will certainly at a very early date have been misunderstood by people who were not present, just as the Synoptists have misunderstood it, by including it in their books as a miraculous event.105
How does what has been said help us to answer the question, In spite of the fact that to Jn. the Feeding was in part a representation of the spiritual appropriation of the nature of Jesus, and in part a representation of the Supper, did he regard it as a real event? In any case, we know at least that if he did so, he was wrong. But since there was a time when it was known that it was not a real event, it is not altogether inconceivable that Jn. too derived this knowledge from that time. On the other hand, this again is hardly likely, for the Synoptists themselves no longer possessed the knowledge, and Jn. did not write until after them and drew upon them. Such reflections therefore will hardly clear up our question. Nor is there any other way of fathoming the inmost thought of the Fourth Evangelist: and if we could dig deeper perhaps we might not find harmony and clearness, but simply a struggle between two points of view, the literal and the purely figurative.
But it is quite sufficient that to Jn. the story of the Feeding, regarded from one of these two points of view, serves merely to represent something spiritual. In this way he has in fact approached quite near, though perhaps in a very roundabout way (if he regards the Feeding as an actual event), to what we know from the Synoptists to have been the most original version—namely, that Jesus himself referred to the Feeding with bread simply as a figure-of-speech for the satisfaction of the soul by his teaching. The point of view in Jn. does not, it is true, agree with this quite exactly; but very much is gained already when we find him attaching no decisive value to the miracle as such. And the relatively slight divergence from the ideas of Jesus is at the same time characteristic of the general spirit of the Fourth Gospel. What, in Jesus’ 106opinion, is offered to men to satisfy their souls is his teaching; what is offered them in Jn. is his person. To Jn. everything centres round his person; and even when he finds the Supper represented in the story of the Feeding, he imagines that when it is celebrated, it is the person of Jesus that in some mysterious way the partaker receives into himself.
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