The “VELUM” SCISSUM Matthew’s Exposition of the Death of Jesus -- By: Daniel M. Gurtner

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 56:1 (NA 2005)
Article: The “VELUM” SCISSUM Matthew’s Exposition of the Death of Jesus
Author: Daniel M. Gurtner


The “VELUM” SCISSUM
Matthew’s Exposition of the Death of Jesus

Daniel M. Gurtner

This thesis addresses the enigmatic event of the tearing of the temple curtain (velum scissum) subsequent to Jesus’ death in Matthew’s gospel (Matt. 27:51a).1 It begins by surveying the history of scholarly discussion of the topic and categorizing each of the major interpretations of the rending of the veil in all the synoptics, illustrating their weaknesses and gleaning from their strengths. It is particularly striking how little attention is given in previous attempts to the Old Testament as a ‘source’ for one’s interpretation of the velum scissum and the lack of attention to the respective synoptic contexts, particularly that of Matthew. Nevertheless, several methodological approaches to the rending of the veil are promising and worthy of further consideration. First, Eta Linnemann argued that it is necessary to examine the functions of the curtains in the LXX translated καταπέτασμα (‘veil’) to determine both the identity of the veil (inner? outer? both? neither?) and the meaning of the cessation of its function as depicted in the synoptic rending texts. Second, it is necessary to assess the legitimacy of the view that the rending of the veil is in some sense symbolic and examine the possible reference of such symbolism (referentiality). Third, two contextual hermeneutical factors must be examined as means of interpreting the velum scissum in its particular Matthean context: Matthew’s portrayal of the meaning and significance of the death of Jesus and his understanding of the temple, both of which are integral features in the velum scissum text.

Chapter 1 provides a comprehensive analysis of all the veils, curtains, and hangings in the tabernacle and temple in the Old Testament. Here the language used for the differing veils is examined in an attempt to identify what veil Matthew had in mind when he says

that ‘the veil of the temple’ (τὸ καταπέτασμα τοῦ ναοῦ) was torn. This chapter concludes by showing that though lexically Matthew’s καταπέτασμα mostly translates ‘inner veil’ (פרכת) in the LXX, it could, in fact, refer to any of three hangings in the tabernacle/temple: the ‘veil’ before the holy of holies, the ‘screen’ between the holy place and the courtyard, or the ‘curtain of the entrance of the courtyard’. While most scholars leave the Old Testament at this point because of thi...

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