Zechariah 9:9 (Hebrew to English Translation of the Tanakh)
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion, shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy king cometh unto thee, he is triumphant, and victorious, lowly, and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass.”
Zacharias 9:9 (Greek to English translation of the Septuagint)
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion; proclaim it aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, the King is coming to thee, just, and a Saviour; he is meek and riding on an ass, and a young foal.”
Notice that the Hebrew version recognizes the “doublet” in Zechariah, in that the Messiah is only riding one donkey, born of a donkey. The Greek version does not, incorrectly translating this to “an ass AND a young foal”. Jewish rabbi point out that the second donkey reference is for formal and poetic purposes, with perhaps a political element that we have lost the context to understand.
This verse, with the reference to the donkey and a second reference to the same donkey, is what is called “poetic parallelism”. There are examples of this all throughout Jewish scripture. The second reference to the donkey echos the first reference to the donkey, empasizing it and making the verse more lyrical.
(look at all the light skinned Jewish people!)
The thing to take home is that both Matthew and John refer to Zechariah 9:9, in their similar but different descriptions of Palm Sunday. (“switch to column view, Young’s Literal Translation” illustrates best)
If you clicked on the link above, you might notice that although both John and Matthew refer to this verse, Matthew records that Jesus rode on two donkeys, a mother and foal, while John records that Jesus rode on only one donkey, the foal. Luke and Mark also record only one donkey, although they don’t explicitly refer to Zechariah.
“And all this came to pass, that it might be fulfilled that was spoken through the prophet, saying, ‘Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Lo, thy king doth come to thee, meek, and mounted on an ass, and a colt, a foal of a beast of burden.’ And the disciples having gone and having done as Jesus commanded them, brought the ass and the colt, and did put on them their garments, and set [him] upon them;” Matthew 21:6-7
Matthew (or more likely, his community) had the inferior Septuagint Greek translation of Zechariah, and so awkwardly forced the colt’s mom into the picture to illustrate that Jesus fulfilled the entire prophecy. Matthew’s claims conform to an invalid translation of this verse, while John’s claims conform to the valid translation. Mark and Luke’s accounts agree with John, and contradict Matthew.
For Protestants who don’t have to defend innerancy or infallibility, this is not a problem.If anything it speaks to the sustained accuracy of the accounts between the 1st Century and now, and reflects a very early “branching” of Christian doctrine. The fact that in all that time nobody has come through and “corrected” the contradiction lends weight to their antiquity. That is satifactory enough for your average believer.
But I went looking for a Protestant fundamentalist defense on this, but unfortunately the best I could find was Apologetics Press. (can someone say straw-man?) This is barely worth answering; the author spells out the situation in great detail, then claims that Matthew was right, and that John, Mark, and Luke simply don’t mention the mother. This is a cookie cutter defense for when the gospels contradict each other, or when they fail to mention pertinent facts contained in others. This ignores that separate, unharmonized accounts read very differently when describing the same situation. Further, it completely disregards that the singular and plural have EXPLICITLY different meanings.
But to answer App.org, the Rabbis say the SEX of the donkey is in question in the original Hebrew, but that Zechariah is clear that the Messiah would ride on only one donkey, the foal. If Matthew is correct, and Jesus somehow rode on both, then he did not fulfill the exact letter of the prophecy. Instead, Jesus went out of his way to fulfill the mistranslation contained in the Septuagint!
That is something to think about. Although I disagree with App.org; Jesus rode on only one donkey on Palm Sunday. Three accounts show Jesus riding one donkey, while the fourth awkwardly includes the donkey and its mother, and explicitly quotes the mistranslated Septuagint version of Zacharias. It seems plain that Matthew was taking liberties with the story, while the others accounts are more faithful to the original event.
But don’t take my word for it, read the scriptures yourself, and make your own judgment. (“switch to column view, Young’s Literal Translation” illustrates best)