Was Jesus in Error About Zechariah?

In Matthew 23:35, Jesus is quoted as saying, "the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar." Critics reply that the prophet stoned in the temple in 2 Chronicles 24:20-21 is Zechariah the son of Jehoiada and argue that Matthew has picked up the name of Zechariah the son of Baruch, who was also murdered in the temple precincts in 68 AD. This in turn is said to prove an anachronism by Matthew.

There are no less than six possible solutions to this problem:

  1. The Zechariah referenced is the father of John the Baptist.

    This suggestion was made by Origen. It would make some sense; Zecharaiah was a priest, and having a son like John the Baptist surely didn't win him any popularity contests.

    It would also be in line with a theory by Betz [HS.UDS, 209] that John was raised by the Essenes, who according to Josephus did take in young children for education; and if John's father had been killed, and his mother was aged, then it might have been a natural thing to happen.

    However, if this is who Jesus is referring to, we have no other direct evidence that Zechariah, John's father, was killed in this manner.

  2. It is Zechariah the OT prophet.

    This fits inasmuch Zechariah's father was named Berekiah (Zech. 1:1). There is also an indication in Jewish tradition, in the Targum Yonatan, that this particular prophet was killed in the Temple.

  3. It is the Zechariah in 2 Chronicles, and Jehoiada is his grandfather; Berekiah, his unnamed father.

    The Bible does skip generations in genealogical lists at times; it was customary for the Hebrews (and other cultures) to do this in their genealogies.

  4. Berekiah is another name for Jehoiada.

    Several Biblical personalities had dual names - Simon was also called Peter, for example, and Saul switched his name to Paul.

  5. Transmission error.

    This may have happened, inasmuch as Jerome noted that a Hebrew version of Matthew in his day read differently: "In the Gospel the Nazareans use, we find 'son of Johoiada' instead of 'son of Barachia.'" It could have been an error created by the transition from Matthew's Hebrew/Aramaic original to Greek.

  6. The Zechariah in question is simply unknown.

    This solution is advanced by Albright and Mann in the Anchor Bible Commentary on Matthew's Gospel.

A question arises, of course, as to why we should accept any of these suppositions as solutions. The answer is that it is always best to give an ancient writer the benefit of the doubt, because we are so limited in what we do know about ancient history - moreover, it avoids the presupposition that the writer was stupid.

Really, if the writer of Matthew did make an error of the type suggested, how hard would it have been for pious Jews to discredit him? That there is no evidence that they did is testimony to the veracity of Matthew's account, whichever one of these solutions applies.

On the other hand, I agree with those who say that if Jesus was referring to some other, unknown Zechariah, then he could not have been bearing witness to the Old Testament canon. That said, a reader has added this observation:

[I]t might bear mention that if Zechariah is Zechariah the Prophet, it does not suggest the canon is being subverted. Malachi, of course, came after Zechariah chronologically, but not in the order of the Jewish Tanakh...The Jewish Tanakh has the following order: Penteteuch, The Early Prophets [where Judges and Kings are considered Prophets], The Major Prophets, the Book of the 12 [the minor Prophets], the wisdom literature, and the historical books.... 2nd Chronicles is thus the last book of the Tanakh [or, rather, just "Chronicles" since the Jews did not divide the two]. Zechariah is thus the last prophet appearing.

-JPH