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Ask Dear Old Dad: Two Donkeys?

Dear Old Dad,

I've been told that when Jesus made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, he was actually riding on two donkeys. How can this be?


Your #1 Daughter


Dear Daughter,

I once spotted the embroidered patch on the handsome uniform of a young student from Kemper Military Academy. The patch was inscribed with the Latin words, Nunquam Non Paratus, presumably echoing the Coast Guard’s motto Semper Paratus. A casual observer would interpret the Kemper motto as "Never Unprepared," and the Coast Guard’s as "Always Prepared." Since I had logged five years studying classical Latin, I understood that under the rules of Latin the two negatives did not cancel but rather intensified each other. Thus, the proudly embroidered Nunquam Non Paratus would be correctly translated as "Never Ever Prepared!" I thought this to be a great joke but kept it to myself.

A parallel situation has occurred in the discrepancy between Jesus riding one versus two donkeys down the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem. The gospel of Mark, Luke and John all agree that Jesus journeyed on one young, unridden donkey. Since Matthew was the most Jewish of the gospels, there is an emphasis on grounding, who Jesus is, and what Jesus did in the Hebrew scriptures. Matthew uses Zechariah 9:9 as the prophecy Jesus fulfilled when he made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, not as a king on a proud war horse, but as a gentle king riding a humble donkey.

Lo, your king comes to you; Tell the daughter of Zion,

triumphant and victorious is he, Look, your king is coming to you,

humble and riding on a donkey,    humble, and mounted on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.    and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

(Zechariah 9:9b) (Matthew 21:5)

You will note that in the NRSV translations, the Zechariah quote referenced in Matthew has added an additional “and” (… AND on a colt …) which leads to the “Two Donkey” conundrum. Zechariah is written in Hebrew poetic form which uses parallel construction for emphasis. So, by these rules, the donkey, the colt and the foal are all the same creatures. In all probability, the pious scribe who recorded the Gospel of Matthew did not understand the strict rules of Hebrew poetry, and interpreted Zechariah to mean two animals instead of one. Scribes were human and while taking dictation or copying texts brought their own perspective to their work. The Bible contains several instances where scribes have inserted their own interpretations into the texts. This was of course a time before video, digital recorders, cut-and-paste, printing presses, copying machines, etc.

Art history shows an interesting variety of visual interpretations of this “Two Donkey” conundrum.

Hope this helps.

Dear Old Dad (DOD)

Do you have a burning question about church, Episcopal/Anglican traditions, theology, and so on? In our weekly feature "Ask Dear Old Dad," after the classic "Dear Abby" format, the Rev. Reese Riley, COS Senior Adjunct Clergy, will tackle your questions with his signature wisdom and charm. And by the way, there are no dumb questions! You may request to be anonymous, or you may have your name published. Your questions will inspire the conversation! Submit your question to Hannah at


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