Did Jesus Quote From Aesop's Fables?

Solomon (970-931 BC) "spake three thousand proverbs ... of trees, from the cedar tree, that is in Lebanon, even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall; he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes" (1 Ki. 4:32-33). Aesop's Fables came next (620-564 BC). Aesop’s "THE MISER", who buried rather than increase his wealth, can be seen in Christ's Parable of the Talents; "Aesop's "THE EAGLE AND THE FOX" has the important moral: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" which is also found in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31. "Pride goeth before a fall" is found in Aesop's "THE FIGHTING COCKS AND THE EAGLE" as well as Proverbs 16:18: "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." "Physician, heal thyself" is found in Aesop's "THE QUACK FROG" as well as Luke 4:23. "THE WOLF IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING" is referred to by our Lord: "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves" (Matt. 7:15). Paul also said: "I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock" (Acts 20:29). Thus "When Alexander demanded of the Greeks that ten of their orators should be delivered up to him, Demosthenes addressed the people in the fable of the sheep who were to give up their dogs to the wolves before they would grant them peace." (Plutarch Demosth. 23)

Aesop's "Familiarity breeds contempt" ("THE FOX AND THE LION") parallels the Biblical admonition to "Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbour's house; lest he be weary of thee, and so hate thee" (Pr. 25:17). Aesop's "THE WOLF AND THE SHEPHERDS" has this moral: "Men are too apt to condemn in others the very things they do themselves." Our Lord stated the same principle using different words: "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" (Matt. 7:1-3). Aesop's "Spare the rod and spoil the child" ("THE THIEF AND HIS MOTHER") parallels Proverbs 13:24: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son." Aesop's "In dangerous times, wise men say nothing" ("THE LION AND HIS THREE COUNSELORS") parallels Proverbs 10:19: "In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise." Aesop's "THE MOUSE AND THE FROG" has this moral: "He who compasses the destruction of his neighbor often is caught in his own snare." This parallels Proverbs 26:27: "Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him." Even Sirach 13.2 mentions one of Aesop's fables: "How can a clay pot associate with the iron kettle? The pot will strike against it, and will itself be broken" (Aesop's fable, ‘THE POTS ’): "A clay pot said to the copper one: 'Do your bouncing away from me, for if you so much as touch me, I’ll break even though I touch you unintentionally.'

"A Dog in the Manger"

The Gospel of Thomas, although spurious, does claim to quote Jesus as saying, ‘Woe to the Pharisees! For they are like a dog lying in the manger of oxen; for he neither eats nor lets the oxen eat.’' (Gospel of Thomas 102, p. 321, The Complete Gospels, Robert J. Miller, Editor) from Aesop's “THE DOG IN THE MANGER." This saying, widely popular in English (‘a dog in the manger’), is quoted twice in Greek by Lucian, in Adversus indoctum 30, and Timon 14.

Muskrat Self-Castration To Save Its Life

Aesop's fable called ‘THE BEAVER ’ records the fact that its testes are said to be useful in certain medical treatments. The beaver knows why he is being chased and will run for a time as fast as his legs will carry him in the hope of getting away unscathed. But if he is about to be caught, he will cut off his own testes, throw them away, and so save his life. The moral added to the fable interprets it as a counsel to leave riches behind in order to save one’s life: "If only people would take the same approach (as the beaver) and agree to be deprived of their possessions in order to live lives free from danger; no one, after all, would set a trap for someone already stripped to the skin." Note: This strange legend of the beaver's self-castration is attested in the Greek and Roman natural history writers (e.g., Aelian Claudius, Characteristics of Animals 6.34 and Pliny, Natural History 8.109). For a fable about the god Castor referred to here, see Fable 166. However, the original intent was probably that it would be better to be maimed than dead.

Two sayings of Jesus seem to reflect a knowledge of this tale, because they appeal to very similar imagry. Mark 9.43-47 says, ‘And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell’ (cf. Mt. 5.29-30; 18.8-9). The common point is self-maiming to save one’s life. In addition, Mt. 19.12 has: ‘There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.’ To compare, the last word of the fable is translated ‘salvation’ in the New Testament. In Matthew we find the same motive of self-castration, metaphorically understood. Both the fable and the saying of Jesus declare with some rhetorical exaggeration that humans should radically get rid of things that endanger their salvation. At the beginning, this superstition referred perhaps to the scent-glands of muskrats. Epictetus, Diatr. 1.2, quotes with approval the case of a man who chose rather to die than to be castrated, because for a philosopher it is essential to remain oneself, even at the price of life.

"The Tortoise And the Hare"

A turtle and a rabbit were arguing about their speed. Before they parted, they settled a time and place for a race. Because he was naturally speedy, the rabbit didn’t take the race seriously, but lay down beside the road and went on to sleep. But the turtle knew how slow he was and kept right on running, so he outran the sleeping rabbit and won the bet. The saying that "THE LAST WILL BE FIRST" (Mt. 19.30; 20.16; Mk 10.31; Lk. 13.30) could serve as a moral for the fable ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’.

Wide and Easy vs Narrow and Hard

The saying of Jesus on the Two Ways from Mt. 7.13-14 has plenty of ancient parallels. This popular motif appears also in the Aesops fables. However, the two versions are not directly related: Once, at the command of Zeus, Prometheus taught men about two ways, one the way of freedom, and the other that of slavery. The way of freedom he pictured as rough at the beginning, narrow, steep, and waterless, full of brambles, and beset with perils everywhere, but finally a level plain amid parks, groves of fruit trees, and water courses where the struggle reaches its end in rest. The way of slavery he pictured as a level plain at the beginning, flowery and pleasant to look upon with much to delight but at its end narrow, hard and like a cliff.

"The Belly and the Feet"

The belly and the feet were arguing about their importance, and when the feet kept saying that they were so much stronger that they even carried the stomach around, the stomach replied, ‘But, my good friends, if I didn’t take in food, you wouldn’t be able to carry anything.’ (Aesop's "THE BELLY AND THE FEET")

"The members of the body once mutinied against the belly, and accused it of lying idle and useless while they were labouring and toiling to satisfy its appetites; but the belly only laughed at their simplicity, who knew not that, though it received all the nourishment into itself, it prepared and distributed it again to all parts of the body." (Plut. Coriol. 6). "You cannot have the same man for your governor and your slave, said Phocion, for that would exemplify the fable of the serpent. The tail of the serpent one day quarrelled with the head, and instead of being forced always to follow, insisted that it should lead in its turn. Accordingly the tail undertook the charge, and as it moved forward at all adventures, it tore itself in a terrible manner; and the head, which was thus obliged to follow a guide that could neither see nor hear, suffered likewise in its turn." (Plut. Agis, 2.)

This fable represents the popular comparison of social life to a body, whose parts have different functions (Plato, Resp. 5.10). The theory of the organic connections in nature was developed later by the Stoics. The Greek fable seems to contain the oldest preserved form of this comparison. This fable is known also in later versions (Plutarch, Cor. 6; Livy, Ab Urbe condita 2.32.9-12); these references show that the fable was applied to political conflicts. In 1 Cor. 12.12-30, Paul appealed to this popular comparison. He wrote, ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”, nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you”’ (1 Cor. 12.21). He obviously knew the motif of the conflict of body parts (cf. also Rom. 12.4-8; Eph. 4.11-16; Col. 2.19). The ancient background of these sayings confirms that Paul considered inner organization and hierarchy in the Christian communities necessary.

The quarrels between the plebians and the patricians long disturbed Rome; and at one time the former determined to quit the city, in order to punish the richer class for their oppression. The patricians soon found they could not do without them, and sent one of their number to the mountain to which they had retired, desiring them to return. For a long time they could not be persuaded; but at last the following fable, addressed to them by one of the senators, had the desired effect upon their minds. "Once upon a time, when every member could think for itself, and had a will of its own, all agreed to revolt against the body. They said they knew no reason why they should toil for the lazy trunk, which was carried, and fed, and waited upon by them. The feet declared they would bear up the burden no longer -- the hands would help it no more -- and the mouth refused to receive food for its support. They showed their spirit in acting upon their resolutions; but found, when too late, they were perishing through the want of the strength which had been communicated to them through the body." The plebians acknowledged the benefit of the mutual help of the rich and poor; and agreed to return to their places, as the working class, on condition two magistrates should be annually chosen from their body, having a right to examine the decrees of the senate, and to mark them with the word Veto, ("I forbid"), if they thought proper. The senate consented, and these magistrates were immediately chosen, and called the tribunes of the people in 490 BC.

"God Helps Those Who Help Themselves"

"God helps those who help themselves" is found in Aesop's "HERCULES AND THE WAGONER ", and, although not found per se in the Bible, is found in principle in many scriptures. Biblical heroes used their ingenuity—Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, David … all are men we see (apparently) taking matters into their own hands and coming out on top in God’s favor. We’re told by the Apostle Paul to “WORK OUT [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12); we’re to be active in our faith, not simply sitting back and doing nothing. Second Thessalonians 3:10 admonished the church to not give aid to those who can work but refuse to. Galatians 6:7 says, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." See also Proverbs 6:10-11, 12:11, 12:24, 13:4, and I Timothy 5:8.

Take for instance, the parable of the Ant and the Grasshopper of Aesop’s Fables fame. It’s a simple and effective way to teach the discipline of hard work, put your nose to the grindstone, prepare for the future.This is how it goes: One summer’s day, a grasshopper was hopping around in a field, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An ant passed by, carrying with great effort an ear of corn he was taking to the nest. “Why not come and chat with me,” said the grasshopper, “instead of working and struggling in that way?” “I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the ant, “and I recommend you to do the same.” “Why bother about winter?” said the grasshopper, “we’ve got plenty of food at present.” But the ant went on its way and continued its work. When the winter came the grasshopper had no food and found itself dying of hunger, while it watched the ants distributing, every day, corn and grain from the rations they had collected in the summer. Then the grasshopper understood: It is best to prepare today for the wants of tomorrow. “Go to the ant, you lazybones! Consider its ways and be wise. Without having any captain or officer or ruler, it prepares its food in summer, and gathers its sustenance in harvest” (Prov. 6:6-9, NRSV).“Four things on earth are small, yet they are exceedingly wise. The ants are a people without strength, yet they provide their food in summer.” (Prov. 30:24-5, NRSV) The story of the ant and the grasshopper has been used for over four thousand years to teach the virtues of hard work and the perils of squandering your time in frivolous pursuits, like singing and dancing and having a good time.

The Reed and the Oak

Jesus quoted Aesop's "THE REED AND THE OAK " earlier in Matthew 11: "what did you go out into the desert to see? A REED SWAYED BY THE WIND?" This fits perfectly with John as the oak. NOT BENDING to the political winds of Herod Antipas. Eventually, the oak is BROKEN and FALLS while the 'politically motivated' reeds survived. Jesus continued to speak to the crowds concerning John: “... A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings' courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, "Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you." So Jesus affirms that John is a prophet who fulfilled Malachi 3:1. It's interesting to think that John may have been in Herod's prison at the time (see Mark 6). If so, John would have wondered about his cousin who wasn't in the wilderness, eating locusts and wearing rough leather, but living it up in the towns of Galilee, going to weddings and spending time with sinners. He naturally would have been worried that he may have introduced the people to a heretic. And probably the crowd had the same question.

The Fisherman And His Flute

Jesus quoted one of Aesops fables, THE FISHERMAN AND HIS FLUTE. Here is one (of many) translated version:

"A fisherman skilled in music took his flute and his nets to the seashore. Standing on a projecting rock, he played several tunes in the hope that the fish, attracted by his melody, would of their own accord dance into his net, which he had placed below. At last, having long waited in vain, he laid aside his flute, and casting his net into the sea, made an excellent haul of fish. When he saw them leaping about in the net upon the rock he said: 'O you most perverse creatures, when I piped you would not dance, but now that I have ceased you do so merrily.'" (The Fisherman Piping, Townsend, 1887)

Luke 7:31-35 (ESV): “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, 'WE PLAYED THE FLUTE for you, and YOU DID NOT DANCE; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.'
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ (because he didn't dance to your tune) The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (because he didn't weep at your dirge) Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”

The parenthetical remark in verses 29 and 30 makes clear that the religious leaders had rejected John's baptism and were also generally opposed to Jesus too. So Jesus compares them to children in the marketplace who are not satisfied. Neither the "ascetic" John nor the "hedonist" Jesus pleased them. They could not see past the surface of either man to the wisdom underneath.

God warns with his wrath and he woos with his kindness. He speaks both languages: severity and tenderness. Do you recall how Jesus interpreted the coming of John the Baptist as a severe, leather-girded, locust-eating, desert-living, adultery-condemning prophet, on the one hand, and his own coming as a party-going, wine-making, child-healing, sin-forgiving savior, on the other hand? Jesus implied the Pharisees were jealous, "WE PLAYED THE FLUTE for you, and YOU DID NOT DANCE; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn." Then the Pharisees said, "John has a demon and Jesus is a glutton" (Matthew 11:17). The gospel came with both languages, but they would not hear. John (the dirge) is being replaced by Jesus (the dance)

"We Pharisees piped and you didn't dance (John the Baptist), we sang a dirge and you did not mourn (Jesus). Therefore we will catch you in our fish net and force you to dance and mourn." The Pharisees were jealous because the people didn't follow them. The people followed John, WHO DID KNOW HOW TO CATCH FISH, and they said he has a demon. The people followed Jesus, WHO DID KNOW HOW TO CATCH FISH, and they said he is a drunkard, but "wisdom is proved right by her fruits".

The first thing we must understand is that the "generation" -- Christ names the Pharisees and scribes in Luke's version -- are those into whose mouths he puts these childish complaints.

Anyway, the two tunes that are played are the different complaints the Pharisees make about John and Jesus, and about those "fish" who follow John and Jesus.

The Pharisees are basically jealous. Their complaints about Jesus and John are motivated by envy at the number of people who follow them. And they are doubly angry because they expect not only the population, but John and Jesus, to DANCE TO WHATEVER TUNE THEY PLAY.

The tune the Pharisees play is the oral law which will become the Mishnah. John, by living his well-known ascetic lifestyle, refuses to join them in eating good food, wearing soft clothes, etc. He is the one who refuses to dance when they play the flute. He dares to prophesy God's wrath for people whom the Pharisees consider to have found righteousness before God by their oral law.

Jesus, on the other hand, has been roundly criticized for dealing with and even sharing meals with publicans. He has just healed the slave of a Gentile. His disciples harvest and prepare food on the Sabbath. Yet when the Pharisees "play a dirge" -- fulminate about the lawlessness of such actions and seek to make Him tearful with repentance -- Christ and his disciples refuse to comply. Instead, they tell the Pharisees that they are wrong. They feast when the Pharisees think they should go hungry.

The Pharisees' relationship with God is so filled with error that it is like a child's game, an imitation of true righteousness. And like children, they are sulking because so many people in general, and John and Jesus in particular, refuse to play by their rules.

The Fox in the Vineyard

"A sly fox passed a lovely vineyard. A tall, thick fence surrounded the vineyard on all sides. As the fox circled around the fence, he found a small hole in the fence, barely large enough for him to push his head through. The fox could see what luscious grapes grew in the vineyard, and his mouth began to water. But the hole was too small for him. So what did the sly fox do? He fasted for three days, until he became so thin that he managed to slip through the hole.

Inside the vineyard, the fox began to eat to his heart’s content. He grew bigger and fatter than ever before. Then he wanted to get out of the vineyard. But alas! The hole was too small again. So what did he do? He fasted for three days again, and then just about managed to squeeze through the hole and out again.

Turning his head towards the vineyard, the sad fox said: “Vineyard, O vineyard! How lovely you look, and how lovely are your fruits and vines. But what good are you to me? just as I came to you, so I depart.”

In the same way, Jewish rabbis point out that this world is a beautiful world, but just as man comes into this world empty-handed, so he leaves it. Job said, “Naked (without possessions) I came [into this world] from my mother’s womb, And naked I will return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21; AMP). Only the Bible he studied, the laws he performed, and the good deeds he practiced are the real fruits which he can take with him. Yeshua our Lord also may have been referring to this parable when he said, "small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matt. 7:14; NIV) and Paul added "we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). It's not the easy way that leads to destruction.

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