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The Blood of Zechariah

The Blood of Zechariah by FFOZ

Yeshua compares the religious leaders of His day to those who killed Zechariah the priest, hinting that their end will be the same.

As the last great prophet before the destruction of Jerusalem and the beginning of the current exile, our Master predicted that His generation would pay the price for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world: from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah. “Amen! I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation!” (Matthew 23:36). Gospel readers and scholars debate the identity of “Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, [who was] murdered between the temple and the altar” (Matthew 23:35). The most obvious candidate is Zechariah the prophet, the son of Berechiah and author of the book of Zechariah, except that he was not murdered (so far as we know). Uncertainty about the identity of the murdered Zechariah inspired the writer of the apocryphal Christian work Protoevangelium James to create a fictional narrative in which the servants of Herod the Great murdered Zechariah, the father of John the Immerser in the Temple. Some have suggested that the text refers to Zechariah the son of Baris (Baruch) who was assassinated in the Temple by Zealots during the Jewish revolt, but that suggestion creates an anachronism. Zechariah the son of Baruch died forty years after the Master. The Master did not have any of the above Zechariahs in mind. He referred to Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest:

Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people and said to them, “Thus God has said, ‘Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD and do not prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, He has also forsaken you.’” So they conspired against him and at the command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the LORD … And as he died he said, “May the LORD see and avenge!” (2 Chronicles 24:20-22)

In the Hebrew ordering of the Scriptures, the book of 2 Chronicles comes last. In that sense, an indictment “from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah” spans all the innocent blood spilled in the Hebrew Scriptures. Critics and anti-missionaries object that Yeshua (or the Gospel of Matthew) misidentified Zechariah as “the son of Berechiah.” Matthew 23:35 should have said, “Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada.” The mistake may have been entered as a misguided scribal attempt to clarify the identity of Zechariah. The Lukan version of the same text simply says, “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God” (Luke 11:51). Some manuscripts of Matthew also omit the words “Son of Berechiah.” The dying words of Zechariah the son of Jehoiada are especially pertinent to the Master’s prophecy: “May the LORD see and avenge!” An important Jewish tradition about the blood of Zechariah the son of Jehoiada expands on the story and provides a link between the blood of Abel and the blood of Zechariah—they both call out from the ground:

The voice of [Abel’s] blood is crying to Me from the ground. (Genesis 4:10) Rabbi Yehudah asked Rabbi Acha, “Where did Israel slay Zechariah, in the court of the women or in the court of Israel?” He replied, “In neither of these, but it happened in the court of the priests [i.e., between the Temple and the altar]. Nor did they treat his blood as was done with the blood of the deer or ram of which it is written, ‘He shall pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust.’” When [the Babylonian general] Nebuzaradan came up against Israel, the blood of Zechariah began to seethe; so he asked them, “What kind of blood is this?” They replied, “It is the blood of bulls, rams, and lambs which we sacrifice here.” He immediately sent and had some blood of sacrificial animals brought to him, but it did not behave similarly. He said to them, “If you tell me the truth, fine; otherwise I will comb your flesh with iron combs.” They replied, “How can we lie to you? He was a prophet who reproved us, so we rose against him and killed him, and for several years now his blood has not stopped seething.” He answered, “I will appease it.” They brought before him the men of the great Sanhedrin … and slew them until their blood mingled with the blood of Zechariah … the blood, however, continued to seethe. So they brought youths and maidens and he slew them by it, and still it did not stop. They brought school children and slew them by the blood, and still it did not stop. Then they brought eighty thousand priests and slew them until their blood mingled with that of Zechariah, and still it continued to seethe. He exclaimed, “Zechariah! Zechariah! All the choicest of them I have destroyed. Do you want me to exterminate them all?” As soon as he spoke thus, it stopped seething. (Lamentations Rabbah)

The legendary description of Zechariah’s seething blood seems to draw from one of the Prophet Ezekiel’s “woes” against Jerusalem:

“Woe to the bloody city … for her blood is in her midst; she placed it on the bare rock; she did not pour it on the ground to cover it with dust. That it may cause wrath to come up to take vengeance, I have put her blood on the bare rock, that it may not be covered.” Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD, “Woe to the bloody city!” (Ezekiel 24:6-9)

The rabbinic story fits the context of Yeshua’s remarks so perfectly that there can be little doubt that He alluded to this legend as He warned of the impending judgment to befall the generation. The story has several points of contact with Matthew 23:34-35 and Luke 11:47-51. Both refer to the murder of the prophets. Both make reference to the location in the Temple where Zechariah’s blood spilled. Both demand a compensatory judgment on behalf of the blood. In both, the blood portends the destruction of the Temple, the city, and the subsequent exile. By pairing the blood of Abel with the blood of Zechariah, Yeshua invokes the imagery of the rabbinic legend about the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple at the hands of the fierce general Nebuzaradan. Just as Nebuzaradan slew the “choicest” of Israel to appease the blood of the Prophet Zechariah, Yeshua warned the religious authorities of His day, “that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, [will] be charged against this generation” (Luke 11:50). The Master invoked the macabre story to hint about the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and impending slaughter of Judeans at the hands of Rome, the new Babylon.


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