TSP Podcast 5a: On the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, with Curtis Mitch [right click to download]
As virtually all scholars agree, the imagery of the story itself likely comes from Isaiah 5. There the Lord describes Israel as a vineyard, which he has built (cf. Isa 5:1–2, 7). Indeed, the motif of the vineyard was frequently associated with Israel in Jewish literature. Deciphering the other imagery in the story is not all that difficult.
The Meaning of the Vineyard
Some—especially those who see the story as a creation of the early Church—have read this story in terms of a supersessionist theology in which the Church replaces Israel. However, as Evans points out, this makes little sense of the parable since it is the tenants and not the vineyard which is condemned. The identity of the vineyard remains constant—it is the tenants, which changes hands. Given the context, it is most likely that the “tenants” in the parable symbolize the Jewish leadership. In fact, the Jewish leaders are described with the term elsewhere in ancient Jewish texts. In addition, the servants who are sent by the owner and who are rejected are widely recognized as representing the prophets sent by the Lord to his people. The son of the owner who is killed is obviously an image of Jesus.
The Stone That Is Rejected
The meaning of the follow-up quotation from Psalm 118:22 is also not difficult to decipher. The reference to the “stone” that is “rejected” (ἀποδοκιμάζω) by the “builders” that becomes the cornerstone points to Jesus’ passion (=“the stone rejected by the builders”) and vindication (=“has become the cornerstone”). Indeed, the language closely mirrors the passion predictions, where Jesus explains that “the Son of Man must suffer . . . and be rejected [ἀποδοκιμάζω]” (Mark 8:31).
At first glance the introduction of the language of a “stone” seems odd. Why does Jesus link the rejection of the son with a rejected stone? The connection is likely due to the fact that the Hebrew words for “stone” (“bn”) and “son” (“’bn”) sound virtually identical. In fact, the wordplay between the two words was well established in ancient Israel. For example, Exodus 28:9 states: “And you shall take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel.” Such punning would make a great deal of sense of the seemingly natural way Jesus links the rejection of the “son” with Psalm 118’s “stone” rejected by the builders.
It is especially important to note that Psalm 118 is closely tied to the temple, which serves as the context for the psalm (cf. v. 26: “We bless you from the house of the Lord”). Thus it is widely acknowledged that the “cornerstone” should be recognized as relating to temple imagery. Indeed, as mentioned above, stone imagery was frequently connected with cultic shrines. It should also not go without notice that within the near context of the parable “stone” language is also elsewhere clearly linked with the temple (Matt 24:2; cf. Mark 13:1–2; Luke 21:5–6).
Especially noteworthy is T. Sol. 23:6–8 where Solomon speaks of the cornerstone in connection with his building of the temple. Although it is unclear whether the passage is a pre-Christian or not, either way it is significant for interpreting the logion. If the passage is pre-Christian it can be included with other Jewish sources that closely link “stone” imagery with the temple. If it reflects Christian theology, it would appear to support the idea that early Christians caught the cultic allusion in the “cornerstone” saying.
As Evans and others have shown, that Jesus follows the parable of the vineyard with a saying evoking temple terminology is probably not accidental. As mentioned above, the parable is based on Isaiah 5, a passage that seems to have been frequently linked with the temple cult in ancient Jewish sources. Echoing Isaiah 5:2, the owner of the vineyard in the parable is said to have built a tower (πύργος, Matt 21:33), an image also linked with the temple in ancient Judaism (cf. 1 En. 89:56–73; 4Q500; t. Me‘il. 1:16; t. Sukk. 3.15; Barn. 16:1–2, 4–5). Moreover, the “winepress” of the passage is also linked with the temple in the Targum of Isaiah 5 and in the rabbinic traditions where it is identified as the altar (cf. t. Me‘il. 1:16; t. Sukk. 3:15). The cultic background of the parable and the citation of Psalm 118:22 is further suggested by the fact that Jesus is speaking in the temple (Matt 21:23; cf. Mark 11:27). For all of these reasons it seems likely that the cornerstone referred to by Jesus should be seen as relating temple-building imagery.
Thus, as others have recognized, by identifying himself with the “cornerstone” it seems apparent that Jesus identifies himself with the temple. Of course, such imagery fits in especially well within Matthew’s narrative, where Jesus has already sated: “Something greater than the temple is here” (Matt 12:6). It should also be pointed out however that the precise language chosen by Jesus—his being the “cornerstone” of the temple—seems to imply that the new temple would involve something more than merely himself; many thus see here Jesus speaking of the community as, with him, forming the temple. Such imagery is certainly in play in the usage of Psalm 118:22 in 1 Peter 2:6–7.
Jesus’ Appointment of New Priestly Leaders
Jesus’ teaching then seems to be tied to Jewish hopes for an eschatological temple. However, it should be underscored that such expectations were closely linked with another kind of eschatological hope—that of a new/renewed priesthood. With this in mind it should be pointed out that the parable is specifically directed at the Jewish leaders—they are the ones from whom the vineyard is being taken (Matt 21:45). Thus, as we have seen, the tenants thus likely represent the religious leadership. Since the story ends with the vineyard being given to others, the parable’s message is not simply that God will judge the leaders but that he is also going to appoint new ones. Moreover, given the cultic undertones of the parable, it seems probable that what is in view is the institution of new reiglious leaders, i.e., priests. In fact, we would suggest that, given Jesus’ Jewish backdrop, it is impossible to imagine that ancient Jews would have expected the eschatological leadership to lack a priestly dimension.
Craig Evans thus writes that the parable,
. . . conveys a specific threat against the ruling priests, who in v 12 rightly perceive that Jesus had told the parable against them. Their place of power and prestige will soon come to an end. Their positions will be given to others. Giving the vineyard to others means only that Israel will be governed by people other than the ruling priests.
Who would these new priestly rulers be? That question will be taken up below. For now we simply return to Evans who goes on to show how within the narrative of the Gospels the answer has already been given:
The request of James and John and the ensuing squabble among the disciples in Mark 10:35–45 make it clear that Jesus expected God to appoint righteous persons, probably from among his disciples (though Jesus himself acknowledged that this was not his decision to make), to govern Israel. In a Q tradition, Jesus promises his disciples that they ‘will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’ (Matt 19:28=Luke 22:30). This judging refers not to punitive activity, as in the case of a judge who passes sentence against a criminal, but to administrative, protective activity in the sense of the judges in the book of Judges.”
In other words, it seems likely that Jesus believed that the new priestly leaders would come from the circle of his disciples. Others have argued similarly.
 The description of the construction of the vineyard in Matthew contains numerous points of contact with Isaiah 5: in both a “hedge” (φραγμὸν) is set around it (περιέθηκεν/περιέθηκα) (Matt 21:33; Isa 5:2); in both passages we read that the builders “dug a winepress” (Matt 21:33: ὤρυξεν ἐν αὐτῷ ληνὸν; Isa 5:2: ὤρυξεν ὑπολήνιον); in both places we read that “he built a tower” (Matt 21:33: ᾠκοδόμησεν πύργον; Isa 5:2: ᾠκοδόμησα πύργον). See Steven Bryan, Jesus and Israel's Traditions of Judgement and Restoration (SNTSMS 117; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 54 n. 18; W. J. C. Weren, “The Use of Isaiah 5, 1–7 in the Parable of the Tenants (Mark 12,1–12; Matthew 21,33–46),” Bib 79 (1998): 1–26.
 For example, see Isa 1:8; 3:13; 27:2–7 [37:30–32; 65:21]; Jer 12:10–11; Ezek 19:10. See also L.A.B. 12:9; 28.4; 4Q500 1; Midr. Tanh. B. Qedošin § 6; Exod. Rab. 30.17 [on Exod 21:18]; Midr. Prov. 19:21.
 Evans (Mark, 223) puts it well: “All attempts to interpret the parable as a creation of the church suffer shipwreck on the rock of the parable’s basic story line: the focus is not on the identity of the vineyard, which is presupposed and remains constant; the focus is on the conflict between those who care for the vineyard and the owner of the vineyard whom the tenant farmers do not respect and will not obey.” See also Markus Bockmuehl, “God’s Life as a Jew,” in Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage (eds. R. Gaventa and R. B. Hays; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 74: “Indeed, the parable is deeply antisupersessionist in relation to Israel. The whole object of the action of the Father and the Son is the protection and prospering of the vineyard of Israel in the purpose for which it was made.” Moreover, if the rejected servants are meant to be interpreted as the prophets, such an approach would cohere well with other statements made by Jesus to the effect that by rejecting him the Jewish leaders demonstrate that they are the true descendants of the wicked leaders of old who killed the prophets (cf. Matt 23:29–31; Luke 11:47–48).
 See 1QIsaa LIV, 13; CD IV, 19; VIII, 12; b. Šabb. 114a; b. Ber. 64a; Song Rab. 1.5 §3; Exod. Rab. 33.10; Tg. Ps. 118:22–28; cf. also Acts 4:11. In addition, it should also be observed that in the early Christian literature leaders of the community are also identified as “builders” (cf. 1 Cor 3:10–15; cf. also Rom 15:20; 2 Cor 10:8; 12:19; 13:10). See, e.g., Nolland, Matthew, 878 n. 116; Rikki Watts, “The Psalms in Mark’s Gospel,” in The Psalms in the New Testament (eds. S. Moyise and M.J. J. Menken; T & T Clark, 2004), 34 [25–46]; Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:185 n. 62; Keener, Matthew, 515; Fitzmyer, Luke, 2:1282.
 The imagery is consistent with, e.g., 2 Chronicles 36:15–16: “The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place; 16 but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, till the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, till there was no remedy.” That the prophets were persecuted and even killed by the Jewish leaders of their day is clear from biblical sources (cf. 1 Kgs 18:4, 13; 19:10, 14 [Jezebel persecutes the prophets]; 22:26–27 [Isaiah is cast in prison by Ahab]; 2 Chr 16:10 [Asia puts Hanna in prison]; 24:20–22 [Zechariah been Jehoiada is stoned]; Neh 9:26; Jer 2:20; 7:25–26; 25:3–4; 26:2–6; 29:17–20; 35:13–17; 44:4–14; Bar 1:21; 2:1, 7–8) and non-biblical literature (e.g., Josephus, A.J. 9.265–267; 10.38–39; 1 En. 89:73–90:39; Jub. 1:12–13; T. Levi 16:2). It is especially important to note that in many of these passages the prophets are identified as “servants” of the Lord, closely mirroring the language of the parable told by Jesus (cf. Jer 7:25–26; 25:3–4; 26:2–6). See the treatment in Michael Knowles, Jeremiah in Matthew's Gospel: The Rejected-Prophet Motif in Matthean Redaction (JSNTSup 68; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), 97–101.
 See, e.g., P. W. L. Walker, Jesus and the Holy City: New Testament Perspectives on Jerusalem (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996), 11; Joseph Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (2 vols; AB 28–28a; Garden City: Doubleday, 1981), 2:1282; Robert Gundry, Matthew: A Cxommentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church Under Persecution (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 429; John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 878.
 The careful reader, however, will notice that Jesus omits Isaiah’s description of the clearing away of the stones prior to the preparation of the vineyard (cf. Isa 5:2). Perhaps this image was dropped to make better sense of the introduction of the “cornerstone” imagery at the end of the parable. See Robert H. Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 689–90.
 Other examples could also be cited. See, for example, Exod 28:9–10; Lam 4:1–2; Zech 9:16; Tg. on Psalm 118:22; Lam Rab 4:1; Exod Rab. 20:9; 46:2; Esth. Rab. 7:10. For further discussion see Klyne Snodgrass, Parable of the Wicked Servants: An Inquiry into Parable Interpretation (WUNT 27; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1983), 115–16; George Brooke, “4Q500 1 and the Use of Scripture in the Parable of the Vineyard,” DSD 2 (1995): 287–88 n. 59 [268–94]; Hagner, Matthew, 3:622; Evans, Mark 8:27–16:20, 229.
 That the wordplay explains Jesus’ language is accepted by many scholars, including, Evans, Mark, 228–29; idem., Jesus and His Contemporaries, 403–4; Nolland, Matthew, 877; Gundry, Mark, 689–90; N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (COQG 2; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 497–501; Snodgrass, Parable of the Wicked Servants, 63–65, 113–18; Philip Carrington, According to Mark (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960), 256; Matthew Black, “The Christological Use of the Old Testament in the New Testament,” NTS 18 (1971): 12–14 [1–14].
 Stone imagery was frequently linked with temples and sacred sites in the Old Testament (e.g., Gen 28:10–22; Isa 8:14–15; 28:16; Zech 4:7–9; b. Yoma 54a; Lev. Rab. 20.4; Bet ha-Midr. 5.63; Num. Rab. 12.4; b. Suk. 49a; 53ab; b. Mak. 11a; p. Sanh. 29a).
 See Joel Marcus, The Way of the Lord: Christological Exegesis of the Old Testament in the Gospel of Mark (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992), 120: “It is not necessary . . . to go as far afield as rabbinic literature, Qumran or even 1 Peter in order to establish the link between the stone imagery of Mark 12:10 and the themes of the Temple. Mark himself confirms this linkage. The setting for our passage is the Temple itself (11:27), and the Temple theme is prominent in the proceeding chapter of Mark (11:9–11, 15–18, 27–33). In the very next chapter, moreover, the eschatological discourse is introduced by a short passage in which stone imagery and the Temple theme are interwoven in a manner strikingly reminiscent of our passage. . . These links suggest that the Old Testament context of the psalm quotation, with its references to the Temple liturgy, is in view in Mark 12:10–11 and that Jesus is being portrayed as the cornerstone of a new Temple.”
 Most agree that though it appears to bear evidence of Christian redaction, it is also recognized as containing older traditions. For a fuller discussion, see, e.g., D. C. Duling, “Testament of Solomon,” in OTP 1:943–44; idem., “Solomon, Testament of,” ABD 6:111–17; Michael E. Stone, The Literature of the Jewish People in the Period of the Second Temple and the Talmud: Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period (SCRINT 2; Assen: Van Gorcum, 1978), 327; Ian K. Smith, Heavenly Perspective: A Study of the Apostle Paul’s Response to a Jewish Mystical Movement at Colossae (London: T & T Clark, 2006), 83.
 While 4Q500 1 is poorly preserved it is nonetheless clear that it links the vineyard with “the gate of the holy height”, a term linked with the temple (e.g., Ezek 20:40). See Evans, Mark, 232; idem., Jesus and His Contemporaries, 400–01; Brooke, “4Q500 1 and the Use of Scripture in the Parable of the Vineyard,” 268–94; J. J. Baumgarten, “4Q500 and the Ancient Conception of the Lord’s Vineyard,” JJS 40 (1989): 1–6; Marcus, The Way of the Lord, 120.
 Indeed, that Isaiah links the vineyard with a “hill” or “horn” (קֶ֫רֶן) may also suggest temple imagery (i.e., the hill of Zion or the “horns” of the altar which stood there; cf. Exod 27:2; Lev 4:7, 18; Ps 118:27; Jer 17:1; Ezek 43:15, 20; Amos 3:14).
 See Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 184: “Jesus applies the psalm’s temple ‘cornerstone’ image to himself. That he has in mind such a self-identification is pointed to by noticing that Matthew 21 is also set in the context of the temple: (1) he cleanses the temple (21:12–13); (2) the physically handicapped come to him in the temple to be healed (21:14); (3) he is praised in the temple for his healings (21:15); (4) he speaks the parable of the tenants after he had ‘come into the temple’ (21:23ff.). Therefore, the implication is that rejection of Jesus as the ‘cornerstone’ of the temple (‘the stone which the builders rejected’) is equivalent to rejection of Jesus as the true temple (‘this became the chief cornerstone’), which his in the process of being built.” See also Timothy C. Gray, The Temple in the Gospel of Mark (WUNT 2/242; Tubingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2008), 70: “both the vineyard and stone imagery have a common reference: the temple.” See also Michael F. Bird, Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission (Library of Historical Jesus Studies 331; New York: T&T Clark, 2007), 158–9.
Support for the idea that such a connection is present here may be found in the fact that Matthew’s account goes on to have Jesus finishing his quotation of Psalm 118 with the following warning: “Every one who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on any one it will crush him” (Matt 21:44). This saying evokes Isaiah 8:14–15, which appears to describe an eschatological sanctuary as well as the vision of the stone which grows into a mountain in Daniel 2. The latter prophecy is also probably linked with cultic imagery. See discussion in Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 149–51. Although the saying does not appear in some of the most ancient manuscripts, the fact that Matthew’s saying departs from Luke’s version weighs heavily in favor of its authenticity. See Gundry, Matthew, 430 whose explanation is compelling: “Interpolation from Luke would probably have resulted in a text identical with Luke’s. Furthermore, special agreements between Matthew and Luke in Markan materials crop up repeatedly; and allusion to the OT, such as v. 44 contains, typifies Matthew’s style. Verse 44 would have fit better right after v 42 because of the common reference to a stone in the two verses. But the awkwardness of v 44 after v 43 does not argue for clumsy interpolation of v 44. Rather, it confirms the composition of v 43 by Matthew in that his eagerness to write about transfer of the kingdom as the ‘marvelous’ interpretation of v 42 resulted in an awkward delay of v 44. And the allusion to Dan 2:44 in v 43 leads to a further allusion to Dan 2:44 in v 44. The awkwardness in the delay of v 44 probably caused omission in the Western text. . .” See also France, Gospel of Matthew, 808; Snodgrass, The Parable of the Wicked Tenants, 66–68; idem., Stories with Intent, 286; Ivor Harold Jones, The Matthean Parables: A Literary and Historical Commentary (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 387–88; Blaine Charette, The Theme of Recompense in Matthew’s Gospel (JSNTSup 79: Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992), 138–9; Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2d ed.; Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), 47.
 For further discussion see, David Instone Brewer, Techniques and Assumptions in Jewish Exegesis before 70 c.e. (TSAJ 30; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1992), 17-18.
 For a discussion see Beale, The New Temple, especially, 187–188; T. J. Geddert, Watchwords: Mark 13 in Markan Eschatology (Sheffield: JSOT, 1989), 132-133; P. W. L. Walker, Jesus and the Holy City: New Testament Perspectives on Jerusalem (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996), 10; Hugh Andersen, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1976), 330; Dale Allison, The End of the Ages Has Come (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 153.
 See Hooker, Mark, 276: “The others to whom the vineyard is to be given ought logically—at least in the setting Mark gives the parable—to be new leaders, since it is said to be directed against Jewish authorities.” See also Bryan, Jesus and Israel’s Traditions of Judgement and Restoration, 54; Gundry, Mark, 663–64; Evans, Mark 8:27–16:20, 237; Arland J. Hultgren, The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 360: “It is more fitting that the ‘others’ are a new or renewed leadership other than the Jerusalem leaders.”
 Evans, Mark 8:27—16:20, 237.
 Evans, Mark 8:27—16:20, 237.
 In addition, see Green, Luke, 704, who writes that the parable communicates the idea of “the transfer of leadership to ‘others,’ clearly designated in the ensuing narrative as Jesus and the apostles.” Likewise, see Hultgren, Parables of Jesus, 360: “If the parable is authentic, [the new leadership envisioned] could consist of the Twelve, Jesus and the Twelve, or at least a new leadership that God shall raise up that accepts the proclamation of Jesus. On the other hand, if the parable is an early Christian composition, the apostolic leadership of the church could be envisioned here.” See also Aaron Milavec, “A Fresh Analysis of the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen in Light of Jewish-Christian Dialogue,” in Parable and Story in Judaism and Christianity (eds. C. Thoma and M. Wyschogrod; New York: Paulist, 1989), 107: “. . . it does not seem consistent to suppose that absolutely everyone within the Jesus Movement should end up as leaders within the reconstituted Israel. Rather, it would seem more fitting to suppose that some well-defined group within the Jesus Movement should replace the well-defined Jerusalem administrators to whom God formerly entrusted the direction of the vineyard. Thus . . . the best prospect might appear to be identifying ‘the others’ as ‘the Twelve.’ This harmonizes well with Matthew’s tradition wherein Jesus promises his disciples that ‘in the new world, when the Son of Man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt 19:28; Lk 22:30). Since Matthew presents ‘the scribes and Pharisees’ as currently occupying Moses’ seat’ (Mt 23:1), it appears that, in the age to come, when the twelve tribes of Israel are again restored, the Twelve will occupy ‘Moses’ seat.’” See also Collins, Mark, 547: “Giving the vineyard to others implies that a new leadership will emerge among those who accept Jesus as the messiah.”