Monthly Archives: September 2014
Chapter 2: Update 12.26.16
It appears I have provided a sloppy, or even flat wrong translation for <<ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ >>. I rendered this as we have seen his star “in the east”. Then I asked, if they saw his star in the east, why did they then travel west? But the word here, anatole, which is a noun, is not a direction (East/West…) It means “rising”. So this should be rendered more like, we have seen his star on the rise. Since the sun, moon, and stars rise in the east, this word for rising became synonymous with the east; just as “occidens”, which means “setting”, has come to mean the west. So, my apologies for that.
We left off with the newly-born child being named Joshua. Oddly, he has not been born yet, since this appears to be what happens at the beginning of this chapter.
1 Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου τοῦ βασιλέως, ἰδοὺ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα (2) λέγοντες, Ποῦ ἐστιν ὁ τεχθεὶς βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων; εἴδομεν γὰρ αὐτοῦ τὸν ἀστέρα ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν προσκυνῆσαι αὐτῷ.
Jesus having been born in Bethlehem in Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Magoi from the east having journeyed to Jerusalem, saying, (2) “Where is the king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and we have come to worship him.
We have Jesus’ birth fixed in a particular place, and within a particular time.This has huge historical implications in the sense that, by situating Jesus to that degree, he really increases the likelihood that there was a Jesus.This may sound silly, but that is not a given. Aside from the NT and the (probable/possible) mention by Josephus, we really don’t have any direct evidence for Jesus. Later Roman writers talk about the followers of Jesus, but none of them actually mention Jesus himself. What this does is make Jesus plausibly deniable–at least, to a certain sort of person. I had an ongoing argument on a blog with a blogger who, apparently sincerely, believed that Jesus was a legend just like Herakles. I tried to explain the patent absurdity of this position, how Jesus was fixed in time and space and Herakles was not, but, to no avail. Alas. So let me just say that I am reasonably certain that Jesus did actually live. The analogy I use is that of the astronomical argument for the existence of planets: while they cannot be seen directly, their existence can be detected via their gravitational field. Jesus casts a large gravitational field.
Anyway, the place is Bethlehem, in Judea, the time somewhere prior to 4 BCE, which is when Herod, who was king of Judea, died. This, of course, is Herod the Great, the last true king of the Jews. Josephus tells us that, after Herod’s death, several would-be successors contended for the crown, leading to a level of civil unrest that went beyond Roman tolerance. To that point the Romans had been content to leave Herod on the throne with a level of nominal independence, with the stipulation that Herod kept the peace and did nothing that the Romans didn’t like. This was the preferred Roman method of governing at this time; or, at least, it had been. By the time Herod died, Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus, originally known as Octavian, had been the First Citizen in Rome for several decades. He was gradually rationalizing the operation of the Empire. So, the disturbance after Herod’s death was sufficient cause for him to turn Judea and the surrounding environs into a direct province of the Empire, ruled over by a Roman governor (prefect or procurator; the title changed by the time we get to Pilate) sent from the capital.
And those who saw the star were Magoi; it is the root of our word “magic”. “Astrologers” is probably the best term for them, so long as we realize that what we call astrology was based very much on actually scientific astronomy. One thing: they are from the East; if they traveled from the East, following a star, should they not have seen the star in the West from their vantage point? Perhaps this is a great indication of the author of this story not quite thinking it through: they were from the East, the home of astrology/astronomy for a thousand years, and so the star appeared in the East, where they were. Or perhaps this is taking it all too literally. They saw the star, and knew what it meant and so traveled to Bethlehem. Note, they are not kings, nor specified as three; that number is inferred from the three gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. “Wise men” is sort of a fudge from a time when astrology was disreputable.
Also, let’s look at the overall implication here. Matthew is telling us this is an event of cosmic significance; so significant, in fact, that a new star appeared to announce the birth. That Matthew tells us this demonstrates just how far the story of Jesus had evolved in the period since Mark wrote his much more tentative account, in which Jesus was, or perhaps was not, a divine personage. Here that connection is explicit; there is no doubt. Jesus’s birth is a divine happening. Also, this, I think, provides excellent proof that Matthew wrote after Mark. If one looks at the way legends develop, they do not move backwards. The main character of a legend does not become more humble as time passes. If this happened, the legend would die from lack of interest. Here, the focus of the legend has become more elevated. No doubt that in the first telling, Achilles was not a demi-god. But he was by the time Homer told the story. I bring this up because most of the “who wrote first” controversy focuses on the form of the text, whether one is more “primitive” than another. The actual content, the way the story develops from one evangelist to the next is, if not ignored, then relegated to a minor significance. This, in my opinion, is the key to assessing the temporal priority of which gospel came first. Mark is the shortest. It has the least amount of information. It is uncertain–or at least ambivalent–whether Jesus is divine. Those three factors pretty much indicate that Mark represents the earliest version of the story. He wrote first, IMO.
Because let’s point out one other thing: This story, none of the Nativity story was in Mark. Luke has a different one. What does this tell us? Well, supposedly, the stuff that Matthew and Luke have that Mark doesn’t comes from Q. But Q, supposedly, was a collection of sayings. Funny thing, there are no sayings here. This is stuff that’s not in Mark, and it’s not a saying so it didn’t come from Q, either. Where did it come from? Well, this is the so-called “M” material; stuff that is in Matthew alone. It’s all supposed to be part of a tradition stretching back to Jesus, that Mark was not aware of because of their different locations. Mark supposedly wrote in Rome; Matthew supposedly wrote in Syria. There is another possibility: Matthew made this stuff up. Too often the evangelists are looked upon as scribes, or perhaps secretaries taking down the stories they had collected, when, in fact, the likelihood is that they were all original authors. They wrote something down because they had something to say, something they thought was incredibly important. Yes, stories came down to them. They had heard things said. Mark gave the story shape. Matthew expanded the story, filled in some of the missing pieces, fleshed it all out in various ways.
The most likely situation is that Matthew did inherit a certain amount of material, which he then shaped and augmented as he felt necessary. There is just enough confusion of details here in the Nativity story that I am inclined to believe that Matthew was trying to work some of his inherited material into the narrative framework he was trying to create. Remember, there were probably a lot of competing and downright contradictory stories and traditions about Jesus circulating at the time Matthew wrote. Perhaps he was inspired by all of this that he wanted to set down an authoritative account. Or something like that. Recall that I imputed a similar motivation to Mark. I suspect that Matthew, confronted with a bunch of such stories in addition to Mark, wished to make sense of it all. But–I believe that Matthew thought that he, personally, had a lot to contribute. And I believe that he did so.
Which leads us to the belief that the gospels–the entire Bible–represents the inspired word of God. And I think that that is true; or perhaps Truth. We saw how Paul had no qualms about making judgements and decisions on his own authority, and that his description of how he came to these decisions pretty much resembles what we would call ‘inspired thinking’, in all the ramifications of that word. Remember, the sky hung low in the ancient world, and the traffic was heavy in both directions. It seems hard to doubt that Matthew had a copy of Mark; what would be the point in merely repeating what Mark said? Very little. Rather, Matthew saw the need to expand on Mark, to complement the earlier evangelist, or perhaps to complete the story. Or, at least, to tell a more complete story. As for where Matthew got his additional information, his more complete information, we’ll come back to that later. And frequently.
One last point. Is Matthew’s star the origin and/or inspiration for Luke’s “heavenly host”?.
1 Cum autem natus esset Iesus in Bethlehem Iudaeae in diebus Herodis regis, ecce Magi ab oriente venerunt Hierosolymam
1 Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου τοῦ βασιλέως, ἰδοὺ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα (2) λέγοντες, Ποῦ ἐστιν ὁ τεχθεὶς βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων; εἴδομεν γὰρ αὐτοῦ τὸν ἀστέρα ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν προσκυνῆσαι αὐτῷ.
Jesus having been born in Bethlehem in Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Magoi from the east having journeyed to Jerusalem, saying, (2) “Where is the king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and we have come to worship him.
1 Cum autem natus esset Iesus in Bethlehem Iudaeae in diebus Herodis regis, ecce Magi ab oriente venerunt Hierosolymam (2) dicentes: “ Ubi est, qui natus est, rex Iudaeorum? Vidimus enim stellam eius in oriente et venimus adorare eum”.
Quick point: the penultimate and antepenultimate words are pretty much, “Come let us adore him…”
3 ἀκούσας δὲ ὁ βασιλεὺς Ἡρῴδης ἐταράχθη καὶ πᾶσα Ἱεροσόλυμα μετ’ αὐτοῦ,
Hearing this. the king was unsettled, and all of Jerusalem with him.
This is what I mean about writing history. “And all of Jerusalem with him”. Matthew has zero way of knowing that. It’s a perfect example of projecting backwards. The fact is, no one marked the event at the time. But it tells a higher Truth. It’s like the old expression, “if it isn’t true, it ought to be”. It goes along with the “King of the Jews”, that I forgot to comment on in the previous section. Matthew is not telling stories that were told from the time of Jesus. He is recording, or, IMO, making up stories that explain Jesus better than the tradition that Mark received. Remember, Mark was ambivalent; it would be entirely reasonable to infer that one of the reasons–perhaps the chief reason–Matthew wrote may have been to “correct” this ambivalence. So we start with an event of cosmic significance, a new star, one recognised as such by learned men who lived far away and so were not part of the Jewish thought-word, and one that was understood by Herod and “all Jerusalem”. This is meant to drive a stake through the heart of that ambivalence right off the bat. Jesus was divine.
It should at least be mentioned that, of course, part of the reason Herod was disturbed is that he was the King of the Jews. He was the legitimate king, recognised as such by the population of Judea, and by the Romans. If there’s one thing that a king cannot stand, it’s to be told that there is another king. So news such as this is going to disturb him mightily. If he did not know the actual historical circumstances, Matthew certainly understood this historical implication.
3 Audiens autem Herodes rex turbatus est et omnis Hierosolyma cum illo;
4 καὶ συναγαγὼν πάντας τοὺς ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ γραμματεῖς τοῦ λαοῦ ἐπυνθάνετο παρ’ αὐτῶν ποῦ ὁ Χριστὸς γεννᾶται.
And gathering all the high priests and scribes of the people, he sought from them where the Anointed was to be born.
And, just to be clear, Matthew has changed gears, substituting “the Anointed” for “King of the Jews”. We are meant to understand that there was an identity between these two terms. They are synonyms, titles that can be used interchangeably. The Jewish tradition on this is a bit unclear; who was the Messiah to be? But the identification of one with the other is not too strained. The interesting thing is that, for the time anyway, “king” and “kingdom” would be taken here as earthly, political terms rather than spiritual ones. It will be interesting to see how Matthew develops this theme.
4 et congregans omnes principes sacerdotum et scribas populi, sciscitabatur ab eis ubi Christus nasceretur.
5 οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ, Ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας: οὕτως γὰρ γέγραπται διὰ τοῦ προφήτου:
They told him, “in Bethlehem of Judea. For it is written in the prophet
5 At illi dixerunt ei: “ In Bethlehem Iudaeae. Sic enim scriptum est per prophetam:
6 Καὶ σύ, Βηθλέεμ γῆ Ἰούδα, οὐδαμῶς ἐλαχίστη εἶ ἐν τοῖς ἡγεμόσιν Ἰούδα: ἐκ σοῦ γὰρ ἐξελεύσεται ἡγούμενος, ὅστις ποιμανεῖ τὸν λαόν μου τὸν Ἰσραήλ.
(cont’d from prev verse) “And you Bethlehem, will not be the the least in the leaders of Judea. For out from you will come a leader, who will feed my people Israel.” (lit= ‘feed’; metaphorically, “to lead/rule”, “to shepherd”)
Who is the prophet cited? Isaiah? Elijah? Jeremiah? No. It’s Micah, one of the later, so-called “minor” prophets. Now, a reference to Bethlehem is not terribly odd; it was, after all, “David’s City”, so it held a place in the Jewish tradition; or perhaps the Judahite position. David was the King of Judah, after all–but I am not at all convinced that he was ever the King of Israel–whose made his capital in Jerusalem, perhaps after conquering it. But the point is that Matthew is rather going out of his way to come up with ways to connect Jesus to David to underscore the idea of being King of the Jews. Or, perhaps we should say, “King of Judea”. Or even, “King of Judah”. Part of the idea was that Herod was not a legitimate king in the eyes of many, being really just a Roman puppet.
Here’s a question that should be asked, but almost never is. For whose benefit is Matthew making this connection? That is, whom is he trying to convince that Jesus is a royal scion? Fellow Jews (assuming Matthew was a Jew, as most consider him to be)? I’m not so sure. Honestly, at this point a full two generations after Jesus’ death, I’m not sure that Matthew was targeting Jews. Almost everyone believes that Matthew wrote after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70. This means that the Jerusalem Community had either been destroyed or scattered, or some of both. According to Josephus, James the Just, the brother of the Lord, was dead, executed in the early 60s. Peter had, traditionally, gone to Rome where he had been martyred. In the meantime, Paul, and probably Mark, had been establishing communities in a number of Gentile cities, such as Corinth. and Paul’s letter to the Romans demonstrates that there was a community in Rome, whether or not Peter ever got there. My suspicion is that, somewhere between Mark and Matthew, the “tipping point” had been reached, and that most new converts were coming from the Gentiles and not the Jews.
This is important. Recall Paul saying that the cross was an impediment, something that repelled people from Jesus’ message. How better to overcome the notion that Jesus was a common criminal who had been executed by Rome, than by telling new listeners that Jesus was of royal blood? This sort of thing carried a lot of weight back then. A lot of weight. Of course it gave Jesus elevated status; royalty were considered better than regular folk. Perhaps more importantly, though, it gave Jesus a pedigree. Being able to trace your ancestry back a long way was a very important aspect of the upper classes, the nobles of the ancient world. By going back to David, Jesus’ pedigree–theoretically, at least–covered centuries. Even Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus could not trace his lineage back that far. There was perhaps no one in the First Century who could claim an ancestry that was longer.
So I suspect that this royal lineage was more important for a pagan audience than a Jewish one.
6 “Et tu, Bethlehem terra Iudae, / nequaquam minima es in principibus Iudae; / ex te enim exiet dux, / qui reget populum meum Israel””.
7 Τότε Ἡρῴδης λάθρᾳ καλέσας τοὺς μάγους ἠκρίβωσεν παρ’ αὐτῶν τὸν χρόνον τοῦ φαινομένου ἀστέρος,
Then Herod privately having called together the magoi, he asked of them the time of the appearance of the star
7 Tunc Herodes, clam vocatis Magis, diligenter didicit ab eis tempus stellae, quae apparuit eis;
8 καὶ πέμψας αὐτοὺς εἰς Βηθλέεμ εἶπεν, Πορευθέντες ἐξετάσατε ἀκριβῶς περὶ τοῦ παιδίου: ἐπὰν δὲ εὕρητε ἀπαγγείλατέ μοι, ὅπως κἀγὼ ἐλθὼν προσκυνήσω αὐτῷ.
and sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Going (there) ask sharply about the child. When you find (him), announce it to me, so that I also coming I will worship him.
First, there is something to be borne in mind here. I owe this to the nun who taught Grade 4 (?) religion. She pointed out that it would take some time for the magoi to travel from afar to reach Bethlehem. This is, of course, recognised by the fact that Epiphany is celebrated on the 12th day after Christmas, but we are likely talking about an interval of months, rather than a dozen days. Hence, Herod has to ask about the time of the appearance. This time lag will come to play again later.
Second, there was a time lag. The implication is that Jesus and his family lived in Bethlehem as full-time residents. There was no traveling there because of the census–more on that when we get to Luke. Some of this goes back to what I said about Jesus’ town of residence when we were discussing Mark. To me, it seems like he most likely lived in Caphernaum, based on the internal evidence of Mark’s text. Here, I suspect we have Jesus situated in Bethlehem for the connection to David and to fulfill the prophecy. And let’s bear in mind that Luke has them travel to Bethlehem from their actual home in Nazareth. What does all of this tell us? That no one actually knew where he was from. As a result, there were a bunch of different stories that got started at some point after Jesus died; a couple of them picked up on prophecies; the one above, and one we will see shortly stating that “he will be called a Nazarene”, so that Jesus had to be from Nazareth. What I would suspect is that the original story had him in Bethlehem, to connect him to David, but the Nazarene part came along later and the two of them were combined by Luke.
8 et mittens illos in Bethlehem dixit: “ Ite et interrogate diligenter de puero; et cum inveneritis, renuntiate mihi, ut et ego veniens adorem eum”.
9 οἱ δὲ ἀκούσαντες τοῦ βασιλέως ἐπορεύθησαν, καὶ ἰδοὺ ὁ ἀστὴρ ὃν εἶδον ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ προῆγεν αὐτοὺς ἕως ἐλθὼν ἐστάθη ἐπάνω οὗ ἦν τὸ παιδίον.
They having heard the king, went away. And, behold! the star which they had seen in the east went before them until coming it stood over where was the child.
This does imply that the star moved, since it ‘came to rest’. I’m still a little uncertain about them seeing it in the east and then traveling west, but, hey, these are wise men. And all sorts of theories have been put forward about the star: comet, nova/supernova, & c, but this again sort of misses the point. The star is Truth; whether it actually happened in any measurable sense is just beside the point. This was an event with cosmic significance. That is what we are meant to take away from this. We’re not getting an astronomy lesson.
9 Qui cum audissent regem, abierunt. Et ecce stella, quam viderant in oriente, antecedebat eos, usque dum veniens staret supra, ubi erat puer.
10 ἰδόντες δὲ τὸν ἀστέρα ἐχάρησαν χαρὰν μεγάλην σφόδρα.
Seeing the star, they rejoiced exceedingly a great joy.
10 Videntes autem stellam gavisi sunt gaudio magno valde.
11 καὶ ἐλθόντες εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν εἶδον τὸ παιδίον μετὰ Μαρίας τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ, καὶ πεσόντες προσεκύνησαν αὐτῷ, καὶ ἀνοίξαντες τοὺς θησαυροὺς αὐτῶν προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ δῶρα, χρυσὸν καὶ λίβανον καὶ σμύρναν.
And coming into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and falling, they worshiped him, and opening their treasures they gave him gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
11 Et intrantes domum viderunt puerum cum Maria matre eius, et procidentes adoraverunt eum; et apertis thesauris suis, obtulerunt ei munera, aurum et tus et myrrham.
First, note that they come into the house. Not a stable, but a house, presumably where they live. Second, he is with his mother. No mention of Joseph. Why not? Well, perhaps he was out working, making a living for the family. We don’t know what time of day or night it is. And besides, a young child would normally be with his mother. Note that he is not a newborn at this point, given the several months it was likely to take to travel from some place like Persia. We aren’t given an exact point of origin, but the magoi were a fixture at the Persian court; Herodotus mentions them often when talking about the Persian kings.
12 καὶ χρηματισθέντες κατ’ ὄναρ μὴ ἀνακάμψαι πρὸς Ἡρῴδην, δι’ ἄλλης ὁδοῦ ἀνεχώρησαν εἰς τὴν χώραν αὐτῶν.
And having received a response (as a response from an oracle) in a dream not to return to Herod, by another road they departed towards their own country.
12 Et responso accepto in somnis, ne redirent ad Herodem, per aliam viam reversi sunt in regionem suam.
The verb in the first clause that I translated as “received a response (as a response from an oracle)” is rather an odd choice, I would think. The base meaning is ‘to negotiate, as in a business setting’, since the first part of the word is actually “money”. But it does have the sense that I gave it, a response, as from an oracle. And this makes one wonder about how the oracles worked. We suspect there is an undertone of “pay to play” involved here.
But we’re back to dreams here. This is the second of three that we will encounter in the first two chapters of Matthew. What is the significance of this? I think that Matthew is trying to communicate to us that the heavenly hotline is wide open. God is taking a direct interest in the events that are occurring, and he’s providing a lot of direction to make sure the humans involved know what they’re supposed to do. At the very least, God’s inordinate interest in all of this should–does–tell us that these matters occurring on earth are important, and very much worth paying attention to. But I am still a little perplexed about why Matthew chose to use dreams as he did. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think this is terribly common in the Jewish thought world. Is it a clue that he really is targeting pagans? For them, all of this would be very much within standard practice. “For a dream, too, is from Zeus”. I get to end with that on two successive posts. Score! For whatever reason, I love that line.
And so we begin Matthew’s gospel.
A couple of things. First, I am skipping most of the genealogy in Chapter 1. I have nothing intelligent to say about who begat whom; I realize there is a difference between Matthew’s genealogy and that of Luke, and that clever people have been coming up with ever-more-clever ways to explain the differences. I am not qualified to judge between them. Anything I say will be rank speculation without a shred of historical insight. And it’s not like there’s anything to get lost in the translation. Mind, I am not saying that this part of the chapter is not interesting, or that it doesn’t have historical value; neither of those are true. I’m simply saying that I do not have the chops for the task.
Now, I don’t want it to be said that I’m ducking this chapter because I don’t want to take on one of the problems presented. As of this writing, I am convinced that Mark wrote first, then Matthew, with full knowledge of Mark, and then Luke with full knowledge of the other two. The question then becomes: If Luke had access to Matthew, why did Luke alter the genealogy that he found? The simplest answer to this question is that Luke wrote without knowing Matthew; however, I think that position is simply untenable given the lever of detailed overlap that exists between Matthew and Luke. Another simple answer is that Luke received a different oral tradition than Matthew did, and that is a very viable answer. Luke does not acknowledge the existence of a different genealogy, but simply presents his as if in a vacuum.
This question inserts us into one of those sticky wickets wherein we try to guess what the motivation of the author was for doing something. We can present theories and produce supporting “evidence” to show how our theory is supported by, and consistent with other things said in the gospel. Well, that assumes people are usually consistent, a theory for which I’ve found scant evidence. For instance, it has been suggested that one genealogy traces the paternal and the other traces the maternal lineage, and that may very well be. But the salient still remains that we have two different genealogies for Jesus, both of them written within a generation of each other. What this tells me is that we should be very suspicious of both of them. Having multiple answers often indicates that none of the answers are correct: everyone made up their own because no one suggestion carried any real authority.
However, there is another aspect of this conflict that doesn’t get nearly enough discussion. What the difference between Matthew and Luke does tell us, and very plainly, is that neither of these men were interested in anything that we could remotely begin to think of as historical writing. Source agreement is a fundamental principle of historical writing, one of which Thucydides very much aware 400 years before Matthew and Luke set pen to paper. A genealogy like this is not the stuff of history; it is the stuff of epic poetry and legend. That Luke saw fit to change what he found in Matthew tells us that Luke, like Matthew, was interested in Truth, whether it be poetic or eternal Truth, and not in who Jesus’ forebears actually were. Understanding this, I think, should help jolt us out of the anachronistic notion that either Matthew or Luke were all that much more interested in the actual Jesus than Paul had been.
Second, I’m changing the way I do the text. Heretofore, the Latin has been in a blue font, and the translation has been italicized. I am switching this. I look at the page and it’s the Latin that draws attention by virtue of its color. My apologies if this is confusing, or if I should have done this a long time ago.
Without further ado, we pick up the text on the last “begat”.
16 Ἰακὼβ δὲἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰωσὴφ τὸν ἄνδρα Μαρίας, ἐξ ἧς ἐγεννήθη Ἰησοῦς ὁ λεγόμενοςΧριστός.
Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, the one called the Christ.
First, my apologies for the melodrama. I couldn’t resist “begat”. It sounds so much better than “generated”.
Second, I chose to include this last line for one reason: we are told Joseph was the husband of Mary. Granted, Mary was the mother of Jesus, but she is the only woman named in this genealogy. Why? Recall that in Mark, Jesus was “the son of Mary”, rather than Yeshua bar yoseph. Why is that? One reason jumps to mind: Joseph married into the family, even though this genealogy says otherwise. But this lineage is pretty much pure fiction, with the possible exception of Mary being the mother of Jesus. Because it is a little embarrassing that the name of Jesus’ father was not known, something had to be contrived to correct the situation. And no less than descent from the house of David! I will have more to say about this in Chapter 2.
Finally, notice how this sentence ends. “He was called the Christ”. That is very tentative, perhaps more reminiscent of Mark than of what we might have expected given what will come in the next chapter.
16 Iacob autem genuit Ioseph virum Mariae, de qua natus est Iesus, qui vocatur Christus.
17 Πᾶσαι οὖν αἱ γενεαὶ ἀπὸ Ἀβραὰμ ἕως Δαυὶδ γενεαὶ δεκατέσσαρες, καὶ ἀπὸ Δαυὶδ ἕως τῆς μετοικεσίας Βαβυλῶνος γενεαὶ δεκατέσσαρες, καὶ ἀπὸ τῆς μετοικεσίας Βαβυλῶνος ἕως τοῦ Χριστοῦ γενεαὶ δεκατέσσαρες.
Thus there were fourteen generations from Abraham to David, and from David to the Babylonian Cohabitation, and from the Babylonian Cohabitation to the Christ there were fourteen generations.
Babylonian cohabitation is a pretty literal translation of << μετοικεσίας >>, but that is pretty much what the word literally means. The prefix, <<μετ- >>, means “with” and the last half is to live, as in inhabit. So…cohabitation.
Now, if there were any doubt about the contrived nature of this genealogy, the three sets of fourteen generations between each significant milepost should put them to rest. There is no way to take this seriously from an historical point of view. The Romans made stuff up too, stuff that would then fit a pre-conceived idea of what the “correct” number of kings, or successions were.
17 Omnes ergo generationes ab Abraham usque ad David generationes quattuordecim; et a David usque ad transmigrationem Babylonis generationes quattuordecim; et a transmigratione Babylonis usque ad Christum generationes quattuordecim.
18 Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἡ γένεσις οὕτως ἦν. μνηστευθείσης τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ Μαρίας τῷ Ἰωσήφ,πρὶν ἢ συνελθεῖν αὐτοὺς εὑρέθη ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου.
The birth of Jesus the Christ was such: Joseph having been espoused to his (=Jesus’) mother, but before they they came together (as in, consummated the marriage), he (=Joseph) learned that she had in her stomach from the holy spirit.
“Had in her stomach” is the literal translation; figuratively, it means that Mary was pregnant. One thing: I think this should be taken that he found out she was pregnant, but didn’t know that it was via the sacred breath; otherwise, the next section would not make sense.
18 Iesu Christi autem generatio sic erat. Cum esset desponsata mater eius Maria Ioseph, antequam convenirent inventa est in utero habens de Spiritu Sancto.
19 Ἰωσὴφ δὲ ὁ ἀνὴρ αὐτῆς, δίκαιος ὢν καὶ μὴ θέλων αὐτὴν δειγματίσαι, ἐβουλήθη λάθρᾳ ἀπολῦσαι αὐτήν.
But Joseph her husband, being a just/righteous man and not wishing to make an example of her, planned to separate from her privately.
If Joseph knew that Mary was pregnant via the sacred breath, he’s not likely to wish to separate from her, as will be made clear in the next verse. So the story-telling is something less than completely clear; Matthew is rather getting ahead of himself, as it were.
But note one thing: this story almost feels like it is being told from Mary’s point of view, rather than from Joseph’s. Notice that it’s ‘her husband being a just man’, rather than he being a just man. Mary somehow has the upper hand; I suspect that’s because the tradition was stronger on her identity than it was on his. It’s entirely possible, after all, that it was Matthew who created Joseph, cast in the role of the earthly husband of Jesus’ mother. However, in this case, I think Matthew is setting down what the tradition created otherwise. This would account for the rather garbled nature of this account, where the antecedents aren’t completely clear, and Joseph is assumed to have knowledge that the following verse indicates he didn’t have.
Finally, the word I translated “just/righteous” is the same one that gets used in Paul for “justification”.
19 Ioseph autem vir eius, cum esset iustus et nollet eam traducere, voluit occulte dimittere eam.
20 ταῦτα δὲ αὐτοῦ ἐνθυμηθέντος ἰδοὺ ἄγγελος κυρίου κατ’ ὄναρ ἐφάνη αὐτῷ λέγων, Ἰωσὴφ υἱὸς Δαυίδ, μὴ φοβηθῇς παραλαβεῖν Μαρίαν τὴν γυναῖκά σου, τὸ γὰρ ἐν αὐτῇ γεννηθὲν ἐκ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἁγίου:
Mulling this to himself, behold, an angel of the lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for what has been conceived (generated) in her is from the sacred breath”.
See, if Joseph had understood about the spirit back in V-18, the dream would not have been necessary. This is why I suspect that this story did not originate with Matthew; at least, not the whole of it. Matthew may have added parts; in fact, I suspect he did, which is why the story feels so un-smooth and clumsy.
We have not talked about the sacred breath. We are getting to the point, I think, where there may be some justification for talking about a Holy Spirit. This will be one of the themes to follow throughout the rest of the gospel. It was completely anachronistic in Paul; the concept may have some basis in Mark. I think it’s definitely an entity for Luke. So how does it function here?
Note that the agency is different here, but the process is remarkably similar to the many manifestations of Zeus that impregnated any number of mortal women. Here, the Lord does not manifest physically, as Zeus did when he became a bull, or–most strangely–a swan (Yeats’ poem about this is phenomenal); rather, the breath suffices. Remember, it’s the breath of the Lord that moved across the water in Genesis 1:2. The point, though, is that the Lord (which is, after all, an alternative title for YHWH) is acting very much like Zeus, impregnating a mortal woman to produce a divine son. This is the sort of thing I was getting at when talking about how many of themes attaching to Jesus seemed more pagan than Jewish. In fact, this is the big one. It is so Greek, so thoroughly Greek, it was such a big part of Greek myth that it’s probably hard to overstate just how Greek this idea truly is. In fact, the gradual reification of the sacred breath into a Holy Spirit is also in the best of pagan traditions; Hellenistic religion reified Fortune into a goddess; just so, the sacred breath becomes the Holy Spirit. Or, it will become the Holy Spirit. We will pay close attention to this as we go along.
20 Haec autem eo cogitante, ecce angelus Domini in somnis apparuit ei dicens: “ Ioseph fili David, noli timere accipere Mariam coniugem tuam. Quod enim in ea natum est, de Spiritu Sancto est;
21 τέξεται δὲ υἱὸν καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν, αὐτὸς γὰρ σώσει τὸν λαὸν αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν αὐτῶν.
(this is still the angel speaking🙂 “Bring forth the son and call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Lidell and Scott provide an interesting insight into the verb that I have translated as “bring forth”. Basically, it means “produce a child”. For a woman, they say, this is best rendered as ‘bring forth’. For a man, OTOH, they suggest “beget”. Now, in this instance, the latter choice is really not an option, since the child has already been begotten, and is already in utero. That leaves us with “bring forth”. Which is what Mary would do. So again, we’re faced by the prospect that Mary is the central part of this narrative, even though it is nominally focused on Joseph. This may be the first instance of “editorial fatigue” demonstrated by Matthew. This is the term used to describe what happens when a later writer is reproducing, but altering, a previous work. At first, the later author is scrupulous about changing the wording as needed to create the desired new emphasis. As the passage progresses, however, the later writer gets a little sloppy, and inconsistencies start to creep in. As, perhaps, they have done here. While nominally about Joseph, the language seems more directed at Mary.
The name “Jesus” means “salvation of YHWH”. It is the Greek/Latin form of “Yeshua”, a form preserved in the Hispanic name “Jesus”. It came into English at a later date as “Joshua”; however, the ecclesiastical usage maintained the Latin for of “Jesus”.
And note, we’re back on the idea of saving, and from sins. I have to say: the idea of saving the physical body from sin so that it may be physically taken up to heaven on the day of the lord (1 Thess, 4) is very logically consistent. Because remember that the idea of ‘to save’ expressed in the Greek, usually refers to “saving a life”, as from drowning, or pulling someone from a burning wreck.
21 pariet autem filium, et vocabis nomen eius Iesum: ipse enim salvum faciet populum suum a peccatis eorum ”.
22 Τοῦτο δὲ ὅλον γέγονεν ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν ὑπὸ κυρίου διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος,
This whole (thing) occurred in order that the words of God be fulfilled through the prophet saying.
22 Hoc autem totum factum est, ut adimpleretur id, quod dictum est a Domino per prophetam dicentem:
23Ἰδοὺ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν, καὶ καλέσουσιν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἐμμανουήλ, ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον Μεθ’ ἡμῶν ὁ θεός.
“Behold the virgin is with child, and brings forth a son, and they shall call the name of him Emmanuel,” which is translated as “God is with us”.
This is a big one. The reference here is to Isaiah; the thing is, it appears that Matthew read his OT in Greek, rather than Hebrew. The underlying Hebrew simply says “young girl”, and virginity, while perhaps implied, is not a necessary connotation. In Greek, virginity is an explicit connotation of “parthenos”. As such, the Greek overlays an entirely novel interpretation on the meaning of the original Hebrew. That Matthew would have read the OT from the Septuagint (LXX) translation rather than in Hebrew was not terribly odd. With the spread of Jews throughout the eastern Mediterranean and beyond,the ability to read Hebrew became ever-more rare. It had ceased to be a spoken language, which is why Jesus spoke Aramaic. But this is an object lesson in the dangers of translation.
The thing is, in order to “fulfill” this prophecy, Matthew had to come up with circumstances to make it feel possible. How does one explain a virgin birth? Joseph Campbell addressed this in his monumental Masks of God series (which I cannot praise highly enough). In hid interpretation, the idea of a symbolic ‘virgin birth’ was part of the religious milieu of the eastern Mediterranean, of a piece with the dying and resurrected God. In a way, full-immersion baptism is rather a symbolic virgin birth. So this could mean that Matthew read this part of Isaiah, and interpreted it in the greater religious context of his time and place, largely because the added Greek connotation of the LXX helped it fit into the larger religious context of the time. This was largely coincidental, but history has often turned on such coincidences.
As for the OT cite, we saw Paul doing this as well. While, by the time Matthew was writing, I suspect most converts would have been from a pagan background, connecting Jesus with the ancient religion of the Jews would still have been very important. As I have mentioned, the pagans, largely, did not look kindly on ‘innovation’. Older was better. This led to arguments about whether Moses was older than Homer, and the general consensus was that Moses was. So just because the target audience may not have been as Jewish as it had been, connection to the very old tradition was still important.
23 “ Ecce, virgo in utero habebit et pariet filium, et vocabunt nomen eius Emmanuel ”, quod est interpretatum Nobiscum Deus.
24ἐγερθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰωσὴφ ἀπὸ τοῦ ὕπνου ἐποίησεν ὡς προσέταξεν αὐτῷὁ ἄγγελος κυρίου καὶ παρέλαβεν τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ:
Joseph having risen from from sleep, he did as the angel of the lord had directed him and took (her) as his wife.
24 Exsurgens autem Ioseph a somno fecit, sicut praecepit ei angelus Domini, et accepit coniugem suam;
25καὶ οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν αὐτὴν ἕως οὗ ἔτεκεν υἱόν: καὶἐκάλεσεν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν.
And he did not know her while she brought forth a son; and they called the name of him Jesus.
25 et non cognoscebat eam, donec peperit filium, et vocavit nomen eius Iesum.
This literally says “he did not know her”. It’s the standard verb for “to know”.
But back to the pagan references: Joseph was visited in a dream. This was very common practice for pagan manifestations. I have mentioned that this is often how cures were effected at shrines of Asclepius: the patient slept in the temple precinct in hopes of being visited by the god in a dream. I am not as familiar with OT visitations. Off-hand, I can’t think of any stories in which the angel visits during a dream. There are stories of dreams, of course, that are prophetic, but they do not say (IIRC) that an angel came to the dreamer. There is the story of Jacob seeing the ladder in a dream, but this is not quite the same, either. I’ll have to think on this. If anyone can provide an OT parallels, in which an angel imparts a message in a dream, please feel free to point them out. I would appreciate it.
Otherwise, I am left with what The Iliad says: “for a dream, too, is from Zeus…”
I start this with fresh hopes that I will be able to wrap up the epistle in an expedient and succinct manner. However, given that I printed the combined summaries of Chapters 1-14, and it ran to 32 pages of 11-point Times New Roman (single space; double between paragraphs), that’s probably not bloody likely.
First, let me congratulate myself on my instincts for putting 1 Corinthians in between Mark and Matthew. The stuff we learned, especially in Chapter 15, was hugely important for understanding the historical process by which the early followers of Jesus eventually turned into Christians. The sheer amount of incidental historical information, and the inferences that can be drawn from what is said and what is between the lines is nearly staggering. This letter acts as a real historical check on the gospels. Putting the three epistles that we’ve done together with Mark will give us some really keen insight into Matthew. We will, with some degree of certainty, be able to trace how the stories about Jesus the wonder-worker turned into the Good News of the Anointed, the Son of God. Paul has not6 only corroborated that there were different versions of the Jesus story–he told us as much in Galatians–he has given us some idea of what one of these other traditions taught: that there was at least one tradition that did not believe Jesus was raised from the dead. Given this, I think we are probably justified to think that the followers of this tradition did not believe that Jesus was divine. The two beliefs are not necessarily connected, but there is, I believe, a strong probability that there was such a connection.
That there were different traditions makes complete sense. If you’ve ever seen the “Sermon on the Mount” scene from Life Of Brian, you will understand why. Standing at the back of the crowd, what they hear is “blessed are the cheesemakers” and “blessed are the Greeks”. This is, of course, wildly exaggerated for comedic effect, but it’s an exaggeration rather than something made up of whole cloth. Many people heard Jesus; many of these people heard different things from each other. When they told others about what they heard, these secondary recipients heard different things. And so on. Indeed, saying that there were multiple traditions is–at least, it should be–a commonplace; what would be truly remarkable is if there had been only one tradition. And indeed, scholars discuss the traditions that Matthew and Luke received, whereby they got the stories they share that are not in Mark. Of course, the most famous of these is the alleged Q.
Given what Paul told us about the other gospel, at this point I am more or less convinced that my reading of Mark was at least in the ballpark. I won’t claim complete vindication, but I don’t think I was too far off. I do believe that Mark was heir to two (at least) distinct traditions: a wonder-working human Jesus, and a divine son of God who was raised from the dead. In fact, I more than believe this since Paul has corroborated that there was a strand, a tradition, a group of followers that did not accept Jesus as divine. They did not accept that Jesus had been raised from the dead. I think that’s pretty much beyond argument, let alone doubt. Now, it is a leap to say that this is what the first part of Mark, the Wonder Worker Story (WWS) represents, or to claim that the WWS tradition was identical to the group that didn’t believe Jesus was raised from the dead. But I would hazard to guess that the many who ascribed to the former also ascribed to the latter. The two feel more like two sides of a coin than like separate beliefs. But again, go back to the multiple threads. No doubt that there were different permutations of the same beliefs. For example, think about what Paul says about baptism in 1 Corinthians. It seems like it was not something he fully supported. But given its fully Jewish provenance, James and Cephas and perhaps Apollos did believe this. But James and Cephas agreed with Paul on the resurrection. At least, we can, I think, infer this as a possibility since they all saw the risen Jesus. Given the animosity Paul has for Apollos, I wonder if he was one of the nonbelievers. Again given that Apollos disappears from the rest of the NT, this seems distinctly possible, since he was on the wrong side of history. But it is only an inference.
Paul tells us a good deal about the situation in Corinth in his lifetime.
In the same way, I believe we are justified in reading the second part of Mark as the Christ section; however, we cannot simply assume that it came to Mark by way of Paul. That is, we cannot be sure that Paul stood at the font of the Christ tradition that came down to Mark. We do not know a) where Paul got this tradition (or even if he was the originator); or b) the chain of transmission by which it came to Mark. Much has been made that Mark was not writing in Judea/Palestine; if he were a member of an expatriate Jewish family, he could have picked up Paul’s tradition from one of the Communities Paul established, or nurtured. Or he could have picked it up from someone else, like Cephas or Apollos. Or perhaps one of James’ apostles, who were possibly heirs to both traditions. We don’t know and we can’t know, barring additional evidence.
One thing that needs to be mentioned. I tend to suspect that the Christ tradition originated outside Judea. Why? Stop and think for a moment. The WW stories do not accept Jesus as divine, and do not accept that he was the Messiah. That is pretty much the definition of what separates Christians from Jews to this day. We have noticed several points at which the story has taken on elements that more likely came from a pagan rather than a Jewish background. The first is the idea of a son of god walking the earth, who then (second) becomes a dying and rising god. The idea of a son of god would have been immediately understandable to a Graeco-Roman pagan; Alexander the Great was one, too. Also, the dichotomy between flesh and spirit is very Greek. There are others, but these are perhaps the three major ones; rather, I think these are the most significant. These Graeco-Roman ideas meant that it would not have been necessary for pagans to overcome the aversion to a divine man and a dying and rising god that was felt by the Jews. In light of this, those passages in Mark in which Jesus tells the disciples to keep his identity a secret truly start to make sense. They are intended to explain why Jesus had not been accepted as the Christ in Judea; at least, this seems a likely possibility. On the one hand, Jesus is preaching about the kingdom; OTOH, he’s telling his followers to keep his identity a secret. That is rather odd behaviour for someone who is talking about a kingdom to come.
There are many other themes in the letter, which provide really good insight into what, exactly, Paul believed, and what he taught his community to believe. In this line, I think that commentators and scholars often overlook the level of pastoral guidance that occurs in this letter. I was not aware of it. Paul is a de facto bishop, carrying out the duties of later bishops; but Paul was doing it before the term had been invented, or the need for such “overseers” had been understood.
At this point there are two issues that require attention. The first is the summary of the topics covered in the chapter. There are a lot of them. My commentary on Chapters 1-14 ran to 32 pages of 11-point Times New Roman, single-spaced with an extra line between paragraphs. The comment to Chapter 15 required three installments. The other issue is more subtle, but probably more important, if less tangible. That is the assessment of how the information contained in this letter fits in with Mark and the other letters, and the clues it provides about the status of Jesus’ followers in the first few decades after his death. We will begin by dealing with the first aspect.
I prefer to take the subjects in order of importance rather than sequentially by chapter. Hands down, without a doubt, far and away the most significant topic in this chapter was the statement about followers who denied the resurrection of Jesus. However, since we have discussed this very extensively—if perhaps not adequately—in the summary to Chapter 15, I won’t follow up on that here. It’s only now that I look back that I realize that, by volume or length, the two topics that take up most of the letter are what can be lumped as proper behavior—with emphasis on sexual morality—and the topic of eating food sacrificed to idols.
Behavior gets the lion’s share, and sexual morality gets the lion’s share of that. There was nothing in Mark like this, in the sense of a protracted or extended discourse. Paul goes on—and on—at length. Sexual morality is a very, very big deal for him, to the point that I feel somewhat vindicated in my hypothesis that much of “Christian” morality is, in fact, “Paulist” morality. He is especially harsh on anything that can be described as homosexual practice. As such, he has had an enormous impact on subsequent history, and to this day we are still working out and divided by Paul’s strictures on this topic. I don’t propose to discuss this from a moral standpoint, but the historical context is very important. I made this point in the chapter summaries, that the Hebrews had the herder’s aversion to agricultural fertility rites, which generally included—or were centered on—what Christians would consider promiscuous sex. The idea was to procreate, for the same reason that farm families have a lot of kids: the more kids, the more land one can cultivate, and farming is very amenable to economies of scale. Indeed, this is part of the revelry of “carnivale”, something that the church in the later middle ages fought tooth and nail, and which was only, finally, squelched after the Reformation. The Hebrews had reacted against such rites among the Canaanites, and Paul reacted against such practice by the (upper-class) Greeks and Romans.
But sexual morality is a means; it’s not the end. The end is salvation. Paul says that sexual morality—and other types of morality—are the key to salvation, or to the kingdom; neither ‘of heaven’ nor ‘of God’ are appended to the term. And, given this in conjunction with the need to be sacred on the day of the lord, we are justified in doing a little reasoning based on the transitive property of equality. If a=b, and b=c, then a=c. We are told that drunkards and other practitioners of moral turpitude will not gain the kingdom. In other places, we are told that we need to be pure for the day of the lord—IOW, the Parousia. As such, since morality is the middle term—the ‘b’ of our identity–I believe we are safe in the inference that the day of the lord, the kingdom, and salvation are all the same thing.
Being honest, I am a bit surprised by how implicit all of this is. The central teaching of Christianity is, in my experience, the idea that we live a good life and we receive a reward of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. And yet, none of this is spelled out explicitly. At least, it’s not spelled out in a single, coherent, unified narrative set down in a single place. We have had to piece it together, Now, the failing may be mine; I may be the victim of overheated expectations. Perhaps I should have known better; the point remains, however. Now, a perfectly plausible explanation for this lack of coherence immediately presents itself: Paul was writing a letter to deal with real-world problems faced by a real community. As such, he really wasn’t taking the time to set out a theological position in what was essentially a pastoral letter that was intended to solve the community’s problems. An eminently plausible explanation.
But what about Mark? It is arguable that Mark’s intent was to provide the proto-Christian story, complete with all the details. This would explain why he chose to use what we now call the gospel format, sort of an enriched biography. It includes the figure of Jesus, something Paul doesn’t do. Does Mark set out the salvation narrative any better than Paul? Not really. There are bits and pieces scattered about, but nothing resembling a unitary, coherent, or deliberate narrative description of the idea of salvation. It’s all very jumbled together, much like it is here, with references to the kingdom, or to salvation, or eternal life, or perhaps the Life. Mark’s treatment, in turn, should make us wonder about Matthew’s treatment. How will his explanation of the process of salvation be handled? Will it be more straightforward? If so, I would suggest that this would be a major prop for the argument of Markan priority of the gospels. This is, admittedly, the general consensus, the majority opinion, and I feel very strongly that it is accurate. As I’v said, legends grow, they do not shrink or become condensed. That this is the majority opinion doesn’t necessarily make me feel more secure, since the majority opinion believes in Q, a belief I do not share.
There is one other very interesting aspect of the salvation doctrine. Think back to 1 Thessalonians 4, where Paul tells us that the faithful in the Christ will be raised up into the air to meet the lord coming down from…on high. This sounds something like a mass assumption, using the term used by the Roman teaching of the assumption of the BVM. If one reads this carefully, it becomes apparent that Paul expects this to happen to the faithful while they are still alive. This is not a teaching about an afterlife. The proof–and I use that term in its most definitive sense–of this is Paul’s explanation that those who have already died will not be excluded. Rather, they will precede the living when the trumpet sounds. This is very important. If the faithful are to be assumed heavenward while alive, there is no need for the resurrection of the body. The body will still be alive when taken up to the Christ. What this means is that Paul’s insistence on the resurrection of the body was something that only came about later. The Community of Thessalonika, apparently, had concerns about this. Paul wrote an answer to assuage those concerns. He did this by positing the resurrection of the physical body. Perhaps he did not mean this as a general doctrine, but the passage of time only increased the necessity for this teaching. More people died. Paul is still writing at a time when a considerable number of people who had seen Jesus were still alive, but that number was steadily dwindling. This made a resurrection of the body ever-more imperative. But it was not part of the original teaching of Jesus or any of his followers.
One of the possible implications of the idea of the physical assumption is the actual meaning of the word ‘saved’. We have discussed this; the root sense of the word ‘to save‘ is the preservation of the physical body. “To save one’s life” in a literal sense. If the body is to be taken up, then its preservation becomes a very important concern. So, early on, we are not talking about a disembodied spirit, or soul, going to its reward; we are talking about a body. And think of it this way: while we are talking about eternal life as a reward, the whole idea of eternal punishment of any sort is very sketchy. In fact, it has so far been nonexistent in Paul, and was only mentioned once or twice, very much in passing, very much in an offhand manner, in Mark. Perhaps the idea was that the body was saved as a reward for faith, but the bodies of those who were not faithful decayed in the ground. Hence, the talk about ‘being saved’; hence the talk about ‘being saved’ means saving the body so it could be taken up physically to…wherever it was going. We have not seen any sort of description of ‘heaven’. That does not come into being, biblically, until the Book of Revelation. That was written several generations after Paul, or even after the evangelists. Again, this will be an important them to note as we read Matthew.
The idea of an immediate Parousia, of the coming of the kingdom, of course, has tremendous implications for what Jesus actually taught. At this moment, it feels an awful lot like decisive proof–again in the strict sense of the word–that Jesus did preach an end-time that would come, and very soon.
Or, the other possibility is that Jesus taught no such thing at all, but that this is something that grew up later. I introduce this right now as a logical position rather than as a position or a case that I can argue. It is possible that Jesus spoke of the coming kingdom in very metaphorical terms, like the “prophecies” in Daniel, but that his followers–like, well, Paul–took this a step further. “Have I not seen the Lord?” he asks in 9:1. This was discussed in one of the summaries to Chapter 15, so I won’t belabor the point. In fact, let’s leave all this pending future evidence.
As for the topic of eating food sacrificed to idols, while this consumes a significant section of the chapter, thematically it doesn’t really require too much discussion in summary. This is sort of the flip-side of the discussion in Galatians. There, the discussion was about how far one has to go to accommodate Jewish practice’ here, it’s a question of how far one can go to accommodate pagans. Personally. I believe that Paul came up with a measured and very sensible response on this question. It’s not the food that matters; it’s the company. In particular, it’s the company of idols. My last HS religion teacher once told me “Roll in the mud, some of it’s going to stick”. And I think that is more or less what Paul had in mind. If someone has joined the Jesus Community, leave the old way of life behind. That is psychologically sound advice.
It is eating of another kind that we turn to next. This letter provides some really interesting information about the Lordly Supper, the Last Supper. The treatment here is a bit…confusing, or perhaps internally inconsistent would be the better description. It appears that the Corinthians are treating this like a meal, a full meal. And this is causing problems within the Community because the wealthier members are dining, while the poorer members are going hungry. From what Paul says, it seems that people are bringing there own food into the communal worship, or dining area? I end that with a question mark because the process and logistics are not entirely clear. I infer that the meal is certainly not prepared communally, or there would likely not be a problem. But there is a problem, and it’s another source of division in the Community. But then later, Paul reminds the Corinthians that he had ‘handed over’ the tradition directly from the Lord. He then sets out the words that Catholics and Episcopalians (at least; these are the only two I’m familiar enough with to speak to directly) are accustomed to hear during the part of the mass known as, IIRC, the Consecration.
There are two problems. First, if Paul gave them the tradition he received from the Lord, then why did the Community stop following Paul’s guidelines, and start following this other practice, in which the members eat an actual meal. Is this part of the ‘other gospel’ that Apollonius was preaching? Is this something from Cephas? The question is, in short, which of these two practices are authentic? Or, are either of them authentic? Now, Paul tells us that he received the tradition ‘from the Lord’. But, since he never met Jesus, he could not have gotten it directly from Jesus. He could have been told about it by Cephas, or someone who was there. But that is not ‘from the Lord’, but comes by way of human agency, and he claims he did not receive his instruction from any mortal. This is the third or fourth time that Paul says he got something from Jesus; in 9:1 he asks, “Have I not seen the Lord?”
This was also part of the discussion about Chapter 15. Paul is very willing to use Jesus–or, more properly, the Lord, or the Christ–as his source for all his teaching. That is another way of saying that Paul taught by divine inspiration. By revelation. This is not the sort of transmission of knowledge that an historian can recognize. In such a case, the historical judgement has to be that the words Paul sets down in the letter are not words that Jesus spoke. I came to the same conclusion when we encountered Mark’s version of these words. They are the words of someone who knew what was about to happen; they are prophetic. From the historian’s point of view, that pretty much means they were written after the fact. But when? Also, I was reading a piece by James Tabor, and he pointed out that the idea of ‘drinking blood’ is wholly contrary to Jewish dietary practice. In fact, part of what makes meat kosher is that the blood has been drained out. So in his opinion, it doesn’t make sense that Jesus would tell his disciples to ‘drink his blood’.
Which brings us to the second problem with all of this. From the way this is written, does anyone else get the impression that Paul is imparting these words for the first time? I believe they have that feel. Now, as an historical argument, that is–as my first year Latin prof used to say–absolutely risible. [ from the Latin, rideo, ridere, risi, risum, to laugh, so it’s “laughable” ] But think about it: if this is what he implemented, why does he need to repeat the whole process? I mean, sure, it makes sense that he would write it out so that they have it and can use it. I suppose. Because what we have to understand here is that Paul is talking about having the Corinthians celebrate a symbolic meal, rather than a real one. We have to ask ourselves, which practice is more in keeping with the mores of the times? Back then, sharing a ritual meal was part of a lot of pagan cult. When Jews have a Seder, it’s an actual meal; there are symbolic trappings, but it’s a real meal. Given these two things, doesn’t it make more sense that the symbolic meal was the innovation? And let’s recall that we began this part of the discussion with the topic of idol meat; is it a coincidence that Paul is providing instructions on a symbolic meal in the same breath as he’s discouraging the actual meal of a pagan sacrifice?
There is one other theme that deserves mention. This is Paul’s use of the body metaphor to explain how all members of the Community have a role to play, and all are equally important. Paul delineates some of the various gifts different members may have: speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, and prophecy, to name a few. Interestingly, prophecy does not seem to be a particularly awe-inspiring gift. The point is that this was a remarkably progressive attitude for his time. It’s remarkable enough for our time, when money and status still make some people more equal than others. And I would be remiss if I did not mention the famous passage about Love. As mentioned, “agape” is not a word used by Classical–or secular–authors. Paul has introduced a new concept of Love into the world, and he spends several paragraphs describing what this new love is like. This is justifiably one of the most famous (the most?) passages in all of the Pauline corpus, a staple at weddings. While the love between two people committing themselves to each other for life is not exactly what Paul had in mind, his definition of “agape” is broad enough to include this love, so this passage very much belongs in a wedding ceremony. The combination of this new definition of love, and the idea of a single body of believers, represent a spectacular innovation into the thought world of the World. These two concepts, which are arguably two facets of the same idea, is truly original thinking, a truly novel idea, a very important step forward in human thinking and belief.
To sum, here is a partial list of the topics discussed:
- Not a big proponent of baptism
- Divisions within the Community
- Rivalry with Apollos
- Sexual immorality, and the need to be pure to enter the kingdom
- Food sacrificed to idols
- The Last Supper, and the change to a symbolic meal
- Paul’s willingness to speak on his own authority, sometimes claiming it was a revelation directly from the Lord
- Multiple gospels; one includes the belief that Jesus was not raised from the dead
- The adoption of pagan ideas about a god on earth
- Apostles have a right (lit = ‘power’) to claim support from the Community. Is this the basis of the sending out of the apostles in Mark?
- Paul (unconsciously) posits a distinction between Jesus and God
- Marriage, of a follower to a pagan; Paul takes it upon himself to say it’s acceptable
- Women are to keep their heads covered and their mouth shut during worship; not what we would call progressive, but it is a rather harsh reminder of the times
- The Resurrection Body
There are others, but I believe this gets to the most of them.
And at long last, let us turn to Matthew.