The Biblical “AR15 Problem,” or, “Peter’s Pig-sticker”

Now, to start with, I know there are no AR-15s in the Bible, or the whole “David and Goliath” scene would not have been nearly as impressive. But I do think that an analysis of modern news reporting failures can shed some light on certain Biblical events. Yeah, it seems simple enough, until you think about it in real-world terms.

The scene in question is around the last supper, and the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was arrested. This is recounted in Luke 22, Mark 14, and Matthew 26, and John 18. Obviously, the exact phrasing will depend on the translation, but here they are in Bible Hub’s default English version:

Luke 22: 36 “Now, however,” He told them, “the one with a purse should take it, and likewise a bag; and the one without a sword should sell his cloak and buy one.”

Luke 22:38 So they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That is enough,” He answered.

Luke 22:49 Those around Jesus saw what was about to happen and said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?”

Luke 22:52 And Jesus said to the chief priests, and magistrates of the temple, and the ancients, that were come unto him: Are ye come out, as it were against a thief, with swords and clubs?

Mark 14:47-48   And one of the bystanders drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 48 And Jesus answering, said to them: Are you come out as to a robber, with swords and staves to apprehend me?

Matthew 26:51 At this, one of Jesus’ companions drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

John 18: 10-11 Then Simon Peter drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. 11“Put your sword back in its sheath!”

The Greek word used in most of these passages is μάχαιραν, or transliterated as machaira (makh’-ahee-rah) which is a short-sword or dagger. “Daggers” are double-edged and primarily designed for stabbing / thrusting. Also in the form μαχαιρῶν (machairōn) Noun – Genitive Feminine Plural Strong’s 3162: A sword. Probably feminine of a presumed derivative of mache; a knife, i.e. Dirk; figuratively, war, judicial punishment. In Aramaic it is saypha (singular) sayphiyn (plural), which appears to be basically a normal common belt-knife. In another place it’s a different form that Google Translate renders as as “mouth knife,” i.e., a small knife typically used at the dinner table. The Latin Vulgate used gladius or gladium (plural form) for the Roman legion’s short sword. Looking at InfoGalactic, it says “Makhaira is a term used by modern scholars to describe a type of ancient bladed weapon, generally a large knife or sword with a single cutting edge….Homer mentions the makhaira, but as a domestic knife of no great size. In period texts, μάχαιρα has a variety of meanings, and can refer to virtually any knife or sword (taking the meaning of today’s Greek μαχαίρι), even a surgeon’s scalpel, but in a martial context it frequently refers to a type of one-edged sword; a sword designed primarily to cut rather than thrust….” So it’s really a fairly generic term for “blade” that depends on context, and is translated as “sword,” perhaps to infer war.

It’s important to note that it would likely not have been legal for them to carry an actual gladius or obvious full-sized sword of any technical description as they were not soldiers or professional guards, much like gun-control laws restrict carrying even for self-defense in many places today. (Similarly, details on what would have been legal to carry, and what was de facto allowed or not, could vary city to city, but generally speaking, no weapons of war allowed, even if claimed for self-defense). Furthermore, it is likely Jesus (and everyone else) would have been able to see if some of his followers were strapped and packing two feet of hard-to-hide choppy-thrusty iron at the waist, so he’d not need to ask (even if he were just a normal guy with eyes), unless his only goal was to bring them to mind… but you don’t normally have to remind people they are hauling around that much weapon weight. Trust me, having worn one many weekends doing SCA medieval re-creation events, you don’t need to be reminded when you are carrying steel like that. So a real full-sized blade-of-war would be extremely unlikely.

Of course, Jesus is the incarnated God, so while he doesn’t knew exactly everything, he’s clearly very smart, wise, and very observant, so it had to be primarily to remind them of weaponry and make them think using them may be imminent. He was speaking in Aramaic, but I’m fresh out of Aramaic-English dictionaries with an emphasis on terms for weaponry and cutting implements. How many words were there for different blade types and configurations? How many would the Apostles have recognized? I don’t know.

But if the word used was referring to a common modest belt-knife used by everyone for eating and routine tasks, why only two offered up? Pretty much every adult would have had one. Why call them swords? If they are small, they’d be really poor as weapons for crowd-control or lopping  off ears at any sort of distance; they’d just be a deadlier form of grappling weapon. It couldn’t really be a stabbing design (like the “dagger” in the word definitions), because taking an ear off with a “stab” would be more than a little challenging, even for a trained pro. Similarly, utility knives are normally for slicing or cutting, they are generally very poor at thrusting, but that’s the best use in a fight. Having used them for decades, smaller ones are much more convenient to carry and use for most things. Further, the relatively dull long edge of a primarily thrusting weapon would make the ear just fold away from a blunt hack going by, maybe get torn a bit; painful, but not “chopped off.” Peter was a fisherman, and modern fishermen often have fillet knives that are long, sharp, and slender, but they didn’t have the steel quality for such a thing back in that time period. Having worked on a salmon trawler in my youth, I can speak from first-hand experience fishermen really don’t want to be using a dull knife professionally.

So it can’t be small, or it wouldn’t work and everyone would have one, it can’t be big because Jesus would have known about it and it likely would have been illegal. Can’t be a stabby-type because they are bad for everything except fighting and they’d be very unlikely to have one and the Greek “Makhaira” was single-bladed designed more for chopping/slashing, but typical small slicing / chopping blade is a problem because the described action would be extremely difficult as described / inferred. So where does that leave us, other than sounding like The Princess Bride’s Vizzini in the poison cup challenge ruling out all possibilities?

I think we have a ancient variation of the modern “Glock Problem” or “AR-15 Problem” gunnies see in the modern media. What’s that, you ask? Just like modern media reporters know virtually nothing about modern weapons technology and terminology, I think ancient writers are largely ignorant of weaponry details. To clarify: to most modern reporters, any black rifle they see is reported as being “an AR-15.” If it has some wooden furniture on it and a curved magazine, it’s “an AK47.” Similarly, and black or polymer-framed pistol is a “Glock.” Terminology used by non-experts is often is very sloppy, inaccurate, imprecise, and vague, even contradictory.

How many apostles or Roman-era carpenters/tent-makers/fishermen do you think were weapons geeks who knew enough about the difference in blade types to report them accurately, even if they cared? Unless it has personal ritual significance, everything significantly larger than an ordinary belt-knife would be a “sword” to them. I can name a dozen variations of “saber” off the top of my head, and scores of other specific blade types and styles with subtle variations, too, even before I get to the multiple books on old-school weapons and armor on my shelf. A modern company like Cold Steel currently has 82 varieties of “sword” for sale. But to every pastor I’ve ever met, they’d all be “swords.” If I try to explain the difference between a “Cutlass, US model of 1917” and a talwar their eyes would glaze over in 30 seconds. They are all just hacking/ stabbing / chopping/ slashing / pokey weapon-type things called “swords.”


The four Gospels were written from memory years after the events. It could be that Jesus was asking in Aramaic something in effect and translated into modern English, “do you have a weapon, like a sword?” and got a “are these close enough?” sort of reply, but the details and nuance of the exchange were dulled and simplified over time and in translation/writing. No real change in meaning, just in technical detail which would mean little to anyone not a weapons-geek. Taking that into account, I think Peter’s pig-sticker (and one other; who had it?) was an extra large “Bowie-knife” type that was not quite illegal sword-size, but not the typical small belt-knife used at the dinner table and around the house. It was what most not-weapon-geek normies of the era would call a “sword,” but today we might call a very small machete like this one. A Crocodile Dundee “That’s not a knife. THIS is a knife” sort of thing. Working with fish, a sharp knife is vastly superior to a dull one for fileting and cleaning (been there, done that), and Peter was a fisherman.

So in this beige tableau- beige dust, beige clothing, beige walls, beige ground, beige aird from the mob’s kicked up dust- Peter the hot-head pulls this razor-sharp bowie-knife with a draw-cut, takes a slash at Malchus (who freaks out and tries to duck away and tips his head just far enough to get his skull out of the way, but not his ear), and sends brilliant crimson blood and an ear flying worthy of a Kurosawa samurai flick scene, and the mob is suitably impressed enough by the spray of gore to pause as they realize the shit’s getting real. Into that pause Jesus can heal the ear and arrange a peaceful surrender. (Healed how? Reattached? Regrown? Just staunch the blood-flow and pain?)

So I don’t think “sword” is technically the right word translated into English, but it’s close enough for most normies to understand it, but I’m not sure enough of exactly what Peter’s blade was to offer a more precise word, though likely “bowie knife” would be the closest modern equivalent that most people would understand.

Just my non-scholarly but somewhat informed opinion.

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