The Passion of Christ

Cursing the Fig Tree

  This rather strange incident appears in Mark and Matthew. Mark describes it has happening on two separate days, on either side of the cleansing of the temple. Matthew describes it as a singe event:
   'And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!  Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.'   (Matthew 21 19 - 21)

  As with all rather-difficult-to-make-sense-of biblical events, this one has proved a field-day for theologians. Jesus's explanation - faith can move mountains - doesn't really get to the heart of why the inoffensive fig tree had to suffer. Smart botanists have commented that, at the time of year the passion events took place, fig trees wouldn't be in fruit in any case. A popular interpretation is that, like the Cleansing of the Temple, this event is an enacted parable, referring, in this case, to the destruction of Jerusalem to come. Such interpretations seem to rely somewhat on hindsight.
  The event didn't fit in to the Passion narrative that medieval and later preachers wanted to tell, and so artists ignored it. These two images are relatively modern. I'm by no means a Tissot fan, but credit to him for having a go at this theme.

17th century Arabic Gospel.

James Tissot: the Accursed Fig Tree
Brooklyn Museum

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