Zacchaeus as the Rich Host of Classical Satire

in Biblical Interpretation
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This piece builds upon the work of Dennis Hamm and Mikeal Parsons to compare the character Zacchaeus of Luke 19:1–10 to the rich host of a banquet from classical satire and related genres. In this category the diminutive tax collector joins a rogues’ gallery, including Nasidienus from Horace’s Satire 2.8 and Trimalchio from Petronius’ Satyricon. Those who grumble (γογγύζειν) about Jesus’ table fellowship should be understood as his fellow dining companions. The moralizing voice of the satirist is represented by these grumbling guests, whose harping is similar to that of the Pharisees. According to recent literary theory, the voice of the satirist, in this case a Pharisaic one, is undermined by its own harshness. By weakening the criticism of the satiric voice, Luke encourages identification with the sinner Zacchaeus and thus fosters the Gospel’s general objective of salvation of the lost.

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 Hamm, “Luke 19:8,” p. 435. See also M.-J. LaGrange, Evangile selon Saint Luc (Paris: Libraire Le Coffre, 1948), p. 489; E.E. Ellis, The Gospel of Luke (London: Thomas Nelson, 1966), p. 222; J. Ernst, Das Evangelium nach Lukas (Regensberg: Pustet, 1977), pp. 512–13; I.H. Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), p. 697.


 Rudd, Satires of Horace, p. 222.


 Parsons, “‘Short in Stature,’” pp. 54–56.


 Parsons, “‘Short in Stature,’” p. 53.


 Watson, “Was Zacchaeus Really,” pp. 282–83, and see C.-H. Hunzinger, “συκοφαντέω,” in Kittel, Friedrich, and Bromiley (eds.), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 7, p. 759. The examples from Josephus that Alan Mitchell (“The Use of συκοφαντεῖν in Luke 19,8: Further Evidence for Zacchaeus’ Defense,” Biblica 72 [1991], pp. 546–47) applies to the episode seem to me to demonstrate the classical meaning of sycophant, “one who informs to a magistrate, maliciously, for personal gain.” See n. 19 above.


 Parsons, “Short in Stature,” p. 55. The translation of verse 9 is mine.


  • Zacchaeus Departs from his Home (“Zacchaeus Climbs a Tree,” © 2009 by Warner Press, Inc.; Anderson, Ind., used by permission. All rights reserved.)

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