Nesterova Olga

The mother-ass and her colt (Zech 9:9 and Matth 21): the principles of inner-biblical exegesis and the intertextual approach to the interpretation of biblical texts

Nesterova Olga (2022) "The mother-ass and her colt (Zech 9:9 and Matth 21): the principles of inner-biblical exegesis and the intertextual approach to the interpretation of biblical texts ", Vestnik Pravoslavnogo Sviato-Tikhonovskogo gumanitarnogo universiteta. Seriia III : Filologiia, 2022, vol. 72, pp. 63-82 (in Russian).

DOI of the paper: 10.15382/sturIII202272.63-82


The paper deals with a notion and techniques of so-called inner-biblical exegesis, as applied to varying accounts of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem in the four canonical Gospels, and examines particular modes of establishment and employment of intertextual links, which provided assimilation of veterotestamental prophesies in the neotestamental messianic context. In Matthew 21:1-11, as well as in John 12:12-16, this account contain a direct reference to the prophesy of Zechariah 9:9 (on the forthcoming King, sitting upon an ass, upon a colt the foal of an ass), which is absent in Marc and Luke. The customary messianic interpretation of this prophesy was corroborated by an implicit association with the Jacob’s blessing professed upon Judah, where it was used a similar image of a colt, the donkey’s foal (Gen. 49:11). Though neither Marc, nor Luke cite Zechariah’s text, it seems that both of them had in mind Zech. 9:9 and probably also Gen. 49:11. But Matthew is the only one of four Evangelists, who discerns in the prophesy of Zechariah a dual image of a mother-ass and its foal. To explain, for which reason Matthew, whose knowledge of Hebrew is acknowledged by consensus of modern scholars, refuses to identify a banal figure of synonymic parallelism and insists, against common sense, on the fact that Jesus was riding two mounts at once, it can be presumed, that such a forced interpretation of the Biblical passage was implied by a particular manner of treating the prophetic proof-texts, which probative value could be reinforced by such a kind of hyperliteralist reading, providing its unequivocal application to the person of Jesus Christ.


Bible, Old Testament, New Testament, inner-biblical exegesis, intertextuality, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, proof-texts


  1. Barthes R. (1989) “Smert’ avtora”, in R. Barthes, Izbrannye raboty: Semiotika. Poetika [Selected works: semiotics, poetics], Moscow, pp. 384–392 (Russian translation).
  2. Bauer W. (1953) “The ‘Colt’ of Palm Sunday (Der Palmesel)”. Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 72, pp. 220–229.
  3. Blenkinsopp J. (1961) “The Oracle of Judah and the Messianic Entry”. Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 80, pp. 55–64.
  4. Bultmann R. K. (1931) Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition. Göttingen.
  5. Culler J. (2002) The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction. London.
  6. Daniélou J. (1966) “La vie suspendue au bois (Deut., 28, 66.)”, in J. Daniélou, Études d’exégèse judéo-chrétienne (Les Testimonia). Paris, pp. 53–75.
  7. Desnitskii A. (2007) Poetika bibleiskogo parallelizma. Moscow (in Russian)
  8. Ellis E. E. (1991) Paul’s Use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids.
  9. Ellis E. E. (2001) History and Interpretation in New Testament Perspective. Leiden.
  10. Eslinger L. (1992) “Inner-Biblical Exegesis and Inner-Biblical Allusion: The Question of Category”. Vetus Testamentum, vol. 42, pp. 47–58.
  11. Fishbane M. (1985) Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel. Oxford.
  12. Fishbane M. (1986) “Inner-Biblical Exegesis: Types and Strategies of Interpretation in Ancient Israel”, in G. H. Hartman, S. Budick (eds) Midrash and Literature, New Haven; London, pp. 19–37.
  13. Fishbane M. (1996) “Inner-Biblical Exegesis”, in M. Sæbø (ed.) Hebrew Bible, Old Testament. Göttingen, vol. 1: From the beginninggs to the Middle Ages (until 1300), pt. 1: Antiquity, pp. 33–48.
  14. Fishbane M. (2000) “Types of Biblical Intertextuality”, in A. Lemaire, M. Sæbø (eds.) Congress Volume: Oslo 1998, Leiden, 2000, pp. 39–44. (Vetus Testamentum. Supplements; vol. 80).
  15. Gundry R. H. (1967) The use of the Old Testament in St. Matthew’s Gospel: with Special Reference to the Messianic Hope. Leiden.
  16. Ham C. A. (2005) The Coming King and the Rejected Shepherd: Matthew’s Reading of Zechariah’s Messianic Hope. Sheffield.
  17. Instone-Brewer D. (2003) “The Two Asses of Zechariah 9:9 in Matthew 21”. Tyndale Bulletin, vol. 54, pp. 87–97.
  18. Kristeva Iu. (1994) “Razrushenie poetiki”. Vestnik Moskovskogo Universiteta. Ser. 9: Filologiia, no. 5, pp. 44–62 (in Russian).
  19. Kristeva Iu. (2013) “Slovo, dialog i roman”, in Iu. Kristeva, Semiotika. Issledovaniia po semanalizu. Moscow, pp. 72–80 (in Russian).
  20. Kristeva Iu. (2013) “Zakrytyi tekst”, in Iu. Kristeva, Semiotika: issledovaniia po semanalizu. Moscow, pp. 46–71 (in Russian).
  21. Kubiś A. (2012) The Book of Zechariah in the Gospel of John. Pendé .
  22. Kugel J. L. (1981) The Idea of Biblical Poetry: Parallelism and Its History. New Haven; London.
  23. Le Déaut R. (éd.) (1978) Targum du Pentateuque: traduction des deux recensions palestiniennes complètes avec introduction, parallèles, notes et index. Paris, t. 1: Genèse.
  24. Levinson B. M. (2008) Legal Revision and Religious Renewal in Ancient Israel. Cambridge.
  25. Moran W. L. (1958) “Gen 49,10 and Its Use in Ez 21,32”. Biblica, vol. 39, pp. 405–425.
  26. Nicole R. (1958) “New Testament Use of the Old Testament”, in C. F. H. Henry (ed.) Revelation and the Bible. Grand Rapids, pp. 137–151.
  27. Petersen D. L. (2003) “Zechariah 9–14: Methodological Refl ections”, in M. J. Boda, M. H. Floyd (eds) Bringing out the Treasure: Inner Biblical Allusion in Zechariah 9–14. Sheffield, pp. 210–224.
  28. Skinner J. (1910) A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis. New York.
  29. Sommer B. (1996) “Exegesis, Allusion and Intertextuality in the Hebrew Bible: A Response to Lyle Eslinger”. Vetus Testamentum, vol. 46, pp. 479–489.
  30. Sommer B. (2004) “Inner-Biblical Exegesis”, in A. Berlin, M. Z. Brettler (eds) The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford, pp. 1829–1835.
  31. Stendahl K. (1954) The School of St. Matthew and Its Use of the Old Testament.
  32. Tov E. (1999) “Glosses, Interpolations, and Other Types of Scribal Additions in the Text of Hebrew Bible” in E. Tov, The Greek and Hebrew Bible: Collected Essays on the Septuagint, Leiden, pp. 53–74.
  33. Way K. C. (2010) “Donkey Domain: Zechariah 9:9 and Lexical Semantics”. Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 129, pp. 105–114.
  34. Westermann C. (1975) Genesis 12–50. Darmstadt.
  35. Wolde E. J. van. (1989) “Trendy Intertextuality?”, in S. Draisma (ed.) Intertextuality in Biblical Writings: essays in Honour of Bas van Iersel. Kampen, pp. 43–49.

Information about the author

Nesterova Olga

Academic Degree: Candidate of Sciences* in Philology;
Academic Rank: Senior Research Fellow;
Place of work: Institute of World Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences; 25A Povarskaya Str., Moscow, 121069, Russian Federation;
Post: senior researcher;
ORCID: 0000-0001-8049-8141;
Email: adeodatus@yandex.ru.

*According to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) 2011, the degree of Candidate of Sciences (Cand.Sc.) belongs to ISCED level 8 — "doctoral or equivalent", together with PhD, DPhil, D.Lit, D.Sc, LL.D, Doctorate or similar.