A donkey and a colt with her – UPDATED

I had another idea after posting this … the colt could’ve been walking close enough so Jesus could keep his hand on the little guy’s head. I did a rough photoshop to explain.

Triumphal entry on donkey and colt

Original post below:

I got intrigued today by the discrepancies in the four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. This is one of those places where the four accounts of the one event do not reconcile smoothly.

  • Matthew 21:1-9 says the disciples fetched “an ass and a colt with her” and is vague about which Jesus rode.
  • Mark 11:4-7 and Luke 19:30-36 both say they fetched and then Jesus rode on “a colt.”
  • John 12:14-15 doesn’t mention disciples, just says that “Jesus found an ass” and rode it.

Non-believers use discrepancies like these to support their “Christians are dumber than dirt” meme. Believers consider these discrepancies a testimony to the authenticity of the four Gospel accounts. After all, who trusts multiple eye witness accounts that are exactly the same in every detail?

Does it matter what Jesus rode into Jerusalem? Actually, it does. The Old Testament book of Zechariah (9:9) contained a prophecy about the Messiah riding into Jerusalem, “humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The Gospels of Matthew and John both reference this prophecy specifically in their versions of the Triumphal Entry.

My problem is that I don’t think Jesus coulda woulda shoulda ridden on a COLT. To explain why, I need to teach you a few donkey facts.

  • “Ass” is a synonym for “donkey”; both are non-specific to gender or age.
  • “Foal” refers to an infant, from birth to weaning, usually around six months.
  • “Colt” means a male who is not yet sexual mature.
  • Colts are separated from their mothers after weaning.
  • Donkey skeletons don’t reach full strength until long after sexual maturity.

Donkey mama and baby

Matthew’s phrase – “an ass and a colt with her” – strongly suggests the colt was just a little guy like the ones in the photos above. Putting a man’s weight onto a donkey that young would cripple it for life. Jesus simply would not have done it.

Yet Mark and Luke said He rode on the colt and Matthew and John clearly believed He fulfilled the Zechariah prophecy. So what’s the deal?

Matthew says the disciples “laid their cloaks over the donkeys and Jesus sat on them.” The theys and thems are a trifle vague here. Isn’t it possible that “their” cloaks included Jesus’ cloak, which could’ve been put on the colt as a light-weight surrogate for Himself in order to satisfy the prophecy without harming the little donkey?

St. Jerome wrote that the mama donkey represented the Jews, the Old Testament, etc., while the colt represented the Gentiles, the New Testament, etc. I really love the image of Jesus riding on the full grown mother (Judaism), while leading the nursing (Christianity) that would one day grow into a mature male.

It reminds me of Mary carrying Jesus in her womb on a donkey to Bethlehem, then again as a nursing babe going to Jerusalem to present Him at Temple. And, just as a colt eventually grows up to be bigger and stronger than its mama, Jesus grew from a wee babe into a big, strong man and the Gentile Christians grew into a mighty church that spanned millennia and covered the globe.

I’m content with this interpretation apart from one thing. Mark and Luke say specifically that Jesus rode on a colt, but neither quotes the Zechariah prophecy. By contrast, Matthew and John are very vague about the gender of the donkey Jesus rode, but make a point of quoting Zechariah.

I think I may have found the answer to this puzzle in who the writers were and who they were writing for:

  • Mark and Luke were “second generation” Christians writing to Gentiles for whom the Zechariah prophecy was not a big deal. Neither of the two authors had known Jesus while He was on Earth, so were almost certainly not eye witnesses to the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.
  • Matthew and John were “first generation” Christians writing to Jews for whom the Zechariah prophecy was a big deal. They both knew Jesus while He was on Earth, and were not only at the Triumphal Entry, but may have actually fetched the donkeys.

You’ll notice if you look closely that neither Matthew nor John comes right out and says Jesus rode on the colt. My guess is they knew the details, but chose to gloss over the whole “Jesus the man didn’t actually ride on the colt” issue because they had seen Jesus risen from the dead and had no problem with the way in which He had chosen to fulfill the prophecy … so why get into it? As for Mark and Luke … the tradition was that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy, so that’s the way they wrote it.

It reminds me of how Pharaoh gave Joseph the right to speak in his name.  It was not an “error” or a “lie” for someone to attribute to Pharaoh an order that was actually spoken by Joseph. In fact, we have a similar cultural short-hand; we often attribute to Obama words that were actually spoken on his behalf by Carney or another of his spokespeople.

Looking at it this way, I don’t have a problem with the idea that Mark and Luke said Jesus rode on the colt when it is more likely Jesus used His cloak on the colt as a surrogate for his too-heavy body. Besides, I’m not so sure the gender of the ass in the Zechariah prophecy was nearly as important as the fact that the Messiah King would enter His capital city riding a humble beast of burden, not a horse. Nobody questions whether Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.

(Compare Revelation 19 where Jesus will return not as the humble peacemaker on a donkey, but as the conquering warrior on a horse.)

Humbly on a donkey


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