Donkeys, Alexander and Christ image

Donkeys, Alexander and Christ

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About a year ago, I was teaching on the doctrine of Scripture when I suddenly realised that I didn't understand the book of Zechariah. At all. So I bought a series of teaching sessions on Zechariah 9-14 by Peter Leithart and James Jordan, and I've been slowly working through it with the text in front of me. It has been a fascinating journey into one of the trickiest parts of Scripture, and it has been full of intriguing suggestions. One of the most striking ones is the idea that the famous prophecy of Zechariah 9, in which a king enters Jerusalem on a donkey, refers in the first instance to Alexander the Great, who then serves as a sort of type of Christ.

The central idea is that if the oracle of Zechariah 9:1-8 is taken to be about Alexander, as it usually is, then it would seem natural to read the well-known triumphal entry prophecy as referring to him as well. Conversely, if 9:9-10 is about Jesus, then it would seem that we should also take 9:1-8 that way, which leaves us either shoehorning in completely unknown events to make things fit, or spiritualising a section that seems for all the world to be about real nations and real battles. The opening oracle is as follows:

The burden of the word of the Lord is against the land of Hadrach
  and Damascus is its resting-place.
For the Lord has an eye on mankind
  and on all the tribes of Israel,
2 and on Hamath also, which borders on it,
  Tyre and Sidon, though they are very wise.
3 Tyre has built herself a rampart
  and heaped up silver like dust,
  and fine gold like the mud of the streets.
4 But behold, the Lord will strip her of her possessions
  and strike down her power on the sea,
  and she shall be devoured by fire.
5 Ashkelon shall see it, and be afraid;
  Gaza too, and shall writhe in anguish;
  Ekron also, because its hopes are confounded.
The king shall perish from Gaza;
  Ashkelon shall be uninhabited;
6 a mixed people shall dwell in Ashdod,
  and I will cut off the pride of Philistia.
7 I will take away its blood from its mouth,
  and its abominations from between its teeth;
it too shall be a remnant for our God;
  it shall be like a clan in Judah,
  and Ekron shall be like the Jebusites.
8 Then I will encamp at my house as a guard,
  so that none shall march to and fro;
no oppressor shall again march over them,
  for now I see with my own eyes.

This, it would seem, is a fairly clear description of an invader from the North (Damascus) moving south down the Mediterranean coast, capturing Tyre as he does so, and then four of the five the Philistine cities, before stopping short of taking Jerusalem because the Lord is camped “at my house as a guard, so that none shall march to and fro.” Alexander, of course, did just this, and was the only person to capture Tyre (in a remarkable attack that involved building a causeway). The correspondences between the text and the event are so close that many interpreters assume the text was written after the event.

Then, with no break other than the one we insert in our Bibles, comes this:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
  righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
  on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
  and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
  and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
  and from the River to the ends of the earth.

This, Leithart and Jordan argue, would surely have been taken as a continuation of the previous text: following this military campaign, Jerusalem is kept safe, and the conquering king arrives in peace, on a donkey, rather than in war, on a horse. Alexander, in that sense, will foreshadow Christ. He will move through the land, then enter the holy city in peaceā€”but with the obvious and ominous threat that if people reject the peaceful king who rides on a donkey, he will come back again on a horse, and nobody will be able to withstand him.

Which, if correct, sheds fascinating light on this (otherwise uncorroborated) passage from Josephus’ Antiquities XI:

... [Alexander] gave his hand to the high priest and, with the Jews running beside him, entered the city. Then he went up to the temple, where he sacrificed to God under the direction of the high priest, and showed due honour to the priests and to the high priest himself. And, when the book of Daniel was shown to him, in which he had declared that one of the Greeks would destroy the empire of the Persians, he believed himself to be the one indicated; and in his joy he dismissed the multitude for the time being, but on the following day he summoned them again and told them to ask for any gifts which they might desire ...

As I say: fascinating stuff.

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