A look at two prodigal sons

Every Bible reader knows the story of the prodigal son. He became dissatisfied with things at home, asked his father for his part of the inheritance, and took off for a distant country. There he wasted his estate on wild living. See Luke 15 for details of the story.

I have often wondered if the young prodigal went away to the region of Decapolis. A city like Jerash doesn’t seem that far today, but we must remember that most people likely walked or used donkey transportation in those days. Jerash would provide a wonderful opportunity for a boy away from home for the first time to become involved in loose living. Most of the ruins at Jerash belong to the second century, but it is not difficult to imagine an impressive city there in the first century.

The forum at Jerash. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The forum at Jerash. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Another story worth considering has come to my attention. About 100 years ago Adolf Deissmann wrote Light From the Ancient East. He demonstrated how the Egyptian papyri illustrates New Testament teaching. In fact, he showed that the language of the New Testament was generally the koine (common) Greek of the day.

The papyrus about which Deissmann writes comes from the second century A.D. It tells of a young man named Antonius Longue from the village of Caranis in the Fayum of Egypt. He quarreled with his mother, left home, engaged in loose living, and running up debts.

Eventually Antonius learns that his mother has come to town to search for him. He writes her to plead for reconciliation. One must still question his character, for he hints that his mother might pay his debts. In his letter written to his mother he says,

I beseech thee, mother, be reconciled to me! I know that I have sinned.

Deissmann comments on the value of an account like this in the study of the New Testament.

There can be no doubt that this letter is one of the most interesting human documents that have come to light among the papyri. This priceless fragment, rent like the soul of its writer, comes to us as a remarkably good illustration of the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11 ff.).

He also points out that the term reconciled is the same one used in the New Testament in texts like Matthew 5:23-24.

If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. (NASB)

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