Monthly Archives: January 2017
The messenger of the lord has just left Mary, and now we get a change of scene.
39 Ἀναστᾶσα δὲ Μαριὰμἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ταύταις ἐπορεύθη εἰς τὴν ὀρεινὴν μετὰ σπουδῆς εἰς πόλιν Ἰούδα,
40 καὶ εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸν οἶκον Ζαχαρίου καὶ ἠσπάσατο τὴν Ἐλισάβετ.
41 καὶ ἐγένετο ὡς ἤκουσεν τὸν ἀσπασμὸν τῆς Μαρίας ἡ Ἐλισάβετ, ἐσκίρτησεν τὸ βρέφος ἐν τῇ κοιλίᾳ αὐτῆς, καὶ ἐπλήσθη πνεύματος ἁγίου ἡ Ἐλισάβετ,
Having stood up, Mariam in those days traveled to the hilly (part, hill country) with haste to the city of Judah, (40) and went to the home of Zacharias and greeted Elisabeth. (41) And it happened (that) Elisabeth hearing the greeting of Mary, the foetus in her womb leapt, and Elisabeth was filled with the sacred breath.
There is a bit of a weird juxtaposition here. On the one hand, we get the immediacy of “having stood up”, as in directly after the angel left; but this is contrasted with “in those days”, which can mean straight away, but it certainly doesn’t have to, and generally implies a sort of vagueness about exactly when, just as the English phrase does.
As a technical note, I don’t know if there was a “city of Judah”. Judah is the another form of Judea, so I think that the literal translation is probably too literal. I will note, however, that it was translated as-is, that means literally, into the Vulgate, which also renders this as “city of Judah”. I don’t think this really matters; Luke is not giving us a geography lesson, nor is he writing a travelogue. His point is that Mary went to see Elisabeth, and that Elisabeth lived in Judea, Which is interesting in a way, since this is the first connexion of the Jesus story to a site that is not Bethlehem, but is outside Galilee. Perhaps we are to assume from this that Mary’s people came from Judea? Because we are specifically told that she was visited by the messenger of the lord in Nazareth, in Galilee.
Now, you have heard me argue that Jesus was from Caphernaum. I still believe this. However, Matthew fixed the hometown of Jesus as Nazareth. And I believe it was Matthew who did this, and not Mark. Mark mentions the name of Nazareth exactly once, in 1:9 when he introduces Jesus, saying that he comes from Nazareth. That’s it. And that could very, very easily be a later interpolation. In Chapter 3, when Jesus’ family comes to “rescue” him from the hostile crowd of Pharisees, we are not told the name of the home town, and we discussed that it would have been impossible for word to travel from Caphaernaum, where the story is set, to Nazareth, and for the family to travel from Nazareth back to Caphernaum in anything much less than about a day, not in the time the story indicates. Which leads me to believe that his family lived in Caphernaum. Mark told us that Jesus moved to Caphernaum, but we are not told he moved with his mother and brothers and sisters. Perhaps we are to assume that, but in Chapter 6, when Jesus returned to his unnamed home town as a prophet withouth honour, those who knew Jesus as a child pointed to Jesus’ siblings, making it very much sound like they were present in the home town. This conflicts with the previous story, but that’s kind of the point. When Mark wrote, Jesus had no fixed address, just as he had no father. Matthew had to correct both of these, Luke followed, and the “from Nazareth” was interpolated into the text of Mark.
Which takes us to my real point here. Once again, we have Luke agreeing with Matthew in a situation that is not represented anywhere else in the tradition. Matthew mentions Nazareth twice, both in Chapter 2 which contains the birth narrative, and then once later to situate Jesus as “from Nazareth”. Luke/Acts mentions Jesus six times, twice as many as Matthew, but half of those are in Chapter 2, which contains the birth and early life of Jesus. John mentions Nazareth twice. And that’s it. Nothing else in the entire NT. So, much like the virgin birth, the home town is basically found only in Matthew and Luke, and almost exclusively in the context of Jesus’ early life, and then it more or less disappears from the narrative. Nor does Nazareth appear in any of the Q material, although, by rights, the virgin should be considered Q material, since it only occurs in Matthew and Luke. So once again, I think this presents fairly solid evidence that Luke was very well aware of Matthew, and that he followed Matthew. BUT: Luke rewrote Matthew very thoroughly, so thoroughly that scholars don’t recognize that what Luke is telling us is actually an expanded version of Matthew’s story. That is, it’s the same story with a whole lot of more details and episodes and anecdotes thrown in to flesh it all out, to make it read more like a story, or perhaps–dare I say it?–more like a novel. We are getting Zacharias and Elisabeth just as Arthur got Sir Palomides and Nyneve; minor characters who play a role and disappear, at least for long stretches of time.
39 Exsurgens autem Maria in diebus illis abiit in montana cum festinatione in civitatem Iudae
40 et intravit in domum Zachariae et salutavit Elisabeth.
41 Et factum est, ut audivit salutationem Mariae Elisabeth, exsultavit infans in utero eius, et repleta est Spiritu Sancto Elisabeth
42 καὶ ἀνεφώνησεν κραυγῇ μεγάλῃ καὶ εἶπεν, Εὐλογημένη σὺ ἐν γυναιξίν, καὶ εὐλογημένος ὁ καρπὸς τῆς κοιλίας σου.
43 καὶ πόθεν μοι τοῦτο ἵνα ἔλθῃ ἡ μήτηρ τοῦ κυρίου μου πρὸς ἐμέ;
44 ἰδοὺ γὰρ ὡς ἐγένετο ἡ φωνὴ τοῦ ἀσπασμοῦ σου εἰς τὰ ὦτά μου, ἐσκίρτησεν ἐν ἀγαλλιάσει τὸ βρέφος ἐν τῇ κοιλίᾳ μου.
45 καὶ μακαρία ἡ πιστεύσασα ὅτι ἔσται τελείωσις τοῖς λελαλημένοις αὐτῇ παρὰ κυρίου.
And (Elisabeth) sounded out, in a great cry and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And wherefore to me this in order that came the mother of my lord to me? For behold, how it happened the voice of your greeting to my ears (came), the foetus in my womb leapt in exultation. And happy her having believed that the culmination will come by those things spoken to her from the lord”.
[ A bit rough here; first, this speech of Elisabeth follows directly upon the previous verse; there is a comma between, and not a full stop; however, to discuss the text it seemed better to break these verses apart. ]
About the vocabulary. In Verse 42, the word Elisabeth uses that I have rendered as “blessed” is ‘eulogia’. Strictly speaking, this means “well-spoken of”, or even just “good speech”. It’s the root of “eulogy”, the part of the funeral in which we speak well of the deceased. In the LXX and NT, it comes to be associated with “blessed”–whether one or two syllables–and I can support that. Then, the word in Verse 45 that I translated as “happy” is ‘makaria’. This is the word at the beginning of all of those Beatitudes: “Makaria hoi ptochoi…” And that gets translated as “blessed”, usually the two syllable form. There is some overlap in the words, but the base meaning of neither word is anything close to our conception of “blessed”. That has not stopped any number of translation from rendering both of these as “blessed”; I did not do so just to be a crank. Er, to show that there is a different word behind each of these.
Finally, there is the idea of culmination. That is a connexion to Matthew, but not one exclusively to Matthew.
42 et exclamavit voce magna et dixit: “Benedicta tu inter mulieres, et benedictus fructus ventris tui.
43 Et unde hoc mihi, ut veniat mater Domini mei ad me?
44 Ecce enim ut facta est vox salutationis tuae in auribus meis, exsultavit in gaudio infans in utero meo.
45 Et beata, quae credidit, quoniam perficientur ea, quae dicta sunt ei a Domino”.
46 Καὶ εἶπεν Μαριάμ, Μεγαλύνει ἡ ψυχή μου τὸν κύριον,
47 καὶ ἠγαλλίασεν τὸ πνεῦμά μου ἐπὶ τῷ θεῷ τῷ σωτῆρί μου,
48 ὅτι ἐπέβλεψεν ἐπὶ τὴν ταπείνωσιν τῆς δούλης αὐτοῦ. ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν μακαριοῦσίν με πᾶσαι αἱ γενεαί:
49 ὅτι ἐποίησέν μοι μεγάλα ὁ δυνατός, καὶ ἅγιον τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ,
50 καὶ τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ εἰς γενεὰς καὶ γενεὰς τοῖς φοβουμένοις αὐτόν.
51 Ἐποίησεν κράτος ἐν βραχίονι αὐτοῦ, διεσκόρπισεν ὑπερηφάνους διανοίᾳ καρδίας αὐτῶν:
52 καθεῖλεν δυνάστας ἀπὸ θρόνων καὶ ὕψωσεν ταπεινούς,
53 πεινῶντας ἐνέπλησεν ἀγαθῶν καὶ πλουτοῦντας ἐξαπέστειλεν κενούς.
54 ἀντελάβετο Ἰσραὴλ παιδὸς αὐτοῦ, μνησθῆναι ἐλέους,
55 καθὼς ἐλάλησεν πρὸς τοὺς πατέρας ἡμῶν, τῷ Ἀβραὰμ καὶ τῷ σπέρματι αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.
56 Ἔμεινεν δὲ Μαριὰμ σὺν αὐτῇ ὡς μῆνας τρεῖς, καὶ ὑπέστρεψεν εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτῆς.
And Mary said, “Makes great my soul the lord, (47) and rejoices my spirit upon God my saviour, (48) that looks upon the lowliness of his female slave. For behold, from him now will make happy me all his children. (49) that his power has made me great, and (made) holy my name, (50) and his mercy to generation after generation for those fearing him. (51) His strength made in his arm, scattered the proud in (the) thought of their hearts. (52) He brought low the powerful from their thrones and raised the lowly, (53) those hungering are filled of good things and the wealthy he sends empty. (54) He has taken up his child Israel, mindful of mercy, (55) accordingly he has spoken to our fathers, to Abraham and his progeny to eternity.”
(56) Mariam remained with her (Elisabeth) for three months, and returned to her own dwelling.
This, of course, is the Magnificat. If you take a peek down below at the Latin, you will see the first word on the second line is “Magnificat”, whence the title of the prayer. My kids sing in the church choir, and I have heard this sung as a hymn many, many times. It’s beautiful. Both in Greek and in Latin, the first word is a verb: “makes great”, the subject of which is “my soul”. But the verb comes first in that wonderful flexibility of a case language.
This translation is really awful from a poetic sense. Here, I am just being a crank because this deserves a less literal and a more poetic translation. The versions I’ve heard sung, mostly English, but once or twice in Latin, sound ever so much better than what I’ve put down. But then, creating poetry is not the goal here.
46 Et ait Maria:
“Magnificat anima mea Dominum, /47 et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo salvatore meo, / 48 quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae.
Ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes, / 49 quia fecit mihi magna, qui potens est, et sanctum nomen eius,
50 et misericordia eius in progenies et progenies / timentibus eum.
51 Fecit potentiam in brachio suo, / dispersit superbos mente cordis sui; /
52 deposuit potentes de sede / et exaltavit humiles; / 53 esurientes implevit bonis / et divites dimisit inanes.
54 Suscepit Israel puerum suum, / recordatus misericordiae, / 55 sicut locutus est ad patres nostros,
Abraham et semini eius in saecula ”.
56 Mansit autem Maria cum illa quasi mensibus tribus et reversa est in domum suam.
This chapter is very long; it runs to some 80 verses. However, the sections seem to be going fairly quickly. This is largely because the narrative is broken into story-segments, in which the whole is more significant than the pieces, at least to some degree, and to this point. We are still in the story of Zacharias, the father of the Baptist. He has emerged from the Temple sanctuary mute after having a conversation with a messenger of God.
24 Μετὰ δὲ ταύτας τὰς ἡμέρας συνέλαβεν Ἐλισάβετ ἡ γυνὴ αὐτοῦ: καὶ περιέκρυβεν ἑαυτὴν μῆνας πέντε, λέγουσα
25 ὅτι Οὕτως μοι πεποίηκεν κύριος ἐν ἡμέραις αἷς ἐπεῖδεν ἀφελεῖν ὄνειδός μου ἐν ἀνθρώποις.
After these days, Elisabeth his wife conceived; and she confined herself for five months, saying that “In this way the lord has done with me, in days which he saw (as in, saw fit) to take away my reproach (the reproach directed at her) among men.
Now we have switched to Elisabeth. I don’t recall offhand whether Zacharias makes another appearance or not; regardless, both of the parents of the Baptist disappear completely after these opening verses. They simply vanish with nary another thought. That’s just the way it is. The question, I think, is not where they go, but where did they come from? This stuff is, by definition, L material, stories that Luke got from a mysterious source unknown to the other evangelists, and either not known or not used by John. This takes us back to the very beginning of this gospel and those “servants” that he mentioned. Honestly, though, isn’t the most likely answer that Luke made this up, along with all the other new additions to the story of Jesus? It is, quite frankly. And the fact that there are so many of them adds weight to the suggestion, since the collection indicates that we are dealing with a creative mind working at a high level.
24 Post hos autem dies concepit Elisabeth uxor eius et occultabat se mensibus quinque dicens:
25 “Sic mihi fecit Dominus in diebus, quibus respexit auferre opprobrium meum inter homines”.
26 Ἐν δὲ τῷ μηνὶ τῷ ἕκτῳ ἀπεστάλη ὁ ἄγγελος Γαβριὴλ ἀπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ εἰς πόλιν τῆς Γαλιλαίας ἧ ὄνομα Ναζαρὲθ
27 πρὸς παρθένον ἐμνηστευμένην ἀνδρὶ ᾧ ὄνομαἸωσὴφ ἐξ οἴκου Δαυίδ, καὶ τὸ ὄνομα τῆς παρθένου Μαριάμ.
In the sixth month, the messenger Gabriel was sent by God to the town of Galilee the name (of which) was Nazareth (27) to the virgin betrothed to a man the name to whom was Joseph, from the house of David, and the name of the virgin was Mariam.
Bear in mind that the Jewish new year starts in September, at the time of the equinox, IIRC. In which case, the sixth month is March. In the Roman Church the Feast of the Annunciation is celebrated March 25, which happens to be exactly nine months before December 25. Now, this is interesting because I’ve read that the whole bit about the shepherds being out with their flocks indicates a time of year other than the winter. But let’s give the text points for consistency. Let’s not speculate when the phrase “in the sixth month” was actually added to the text. Could it have been inserted after the date for Christmas was settled on December 25? Yes, that is entirely possible.
Now I count three. Three what? We’ve got Nazareth, Joseph, and, most importantly, the virgin. That Jesus was from Nazareth occurs exactly once in Mark, in 1:9. It occurs several times in both Matthew and Luke. Since Mark was altogether unconcerned with Jesus’ background, or the physical aspects of his earthly life, it is very easy to suppose that the use in Mark was added after it had become established lore that Jesus was from Nazareth. So, if this was not in Q–and it can’t be, since it’s in Mark, too, if only added later–then where did Luke get this “fact” about Jesus? And let’s not forget that Matthew came up with the name of the home town in order to add the prophecy that “he will be called a Nazarene”. The internal evidence of the text, as I’ve argued, indicates that Jesus came from Caphernaum.
And, BTW, John only mentions Nazareth twice, both times coming in the same story in Chapter 1.
Secondly, we have Joseph. Once again, this “fact” is not found in any text of Q. Again, it’s i Matthew. Again, we know one definite source for both of these two facts; the simplest explanation is that Luke got them from Matthew. Yes, could be part of the oral tradition. but we don’t know, and can’t know that. We do know our earliest recorded source. I am positively flabbergasted that these two things never come up in discussions about Q. Why not? I can understand why the Q people wouldn’t want to go there, but what about the Mark Without Q proponents? Is their sense of historical evidence and/or argument so badly stunted that this never occurs to them? Part of the problem is that the Q people have been so successful in entrenching Q in the “scholarship” that they have been able completely to set the parameters and the
26 In mense autem sexto missus est angelus Gabriel a Deo in civitatem Galilaeae, cui nomen Nazareth,
27 ad virginem desponsatam viro, cui nomen erat Ioseph de domo David, et nomen virginis Maria.
acceptable in the debate.
In my opinion, the clincher is the virgin. This is based on the quote from Isaiah, translated into Greek. Now, reading the HS in the LXX was not uncommon; IIRC, Philo of Alexandria read the LXX rather than the Hebrew version. But where and when did that quote from Isaiah become associated with Jesus? In Matthew. There is no mention of the birth, let alone a virgin birth in any of the reconstructed versions of Q that I’ve ever seen. So, once again, why is this not discussed in conjunction with Luke’s use of Matthew? This seems almost impossible to explain if Luke did not use Matthew. Again, using the oral tradition may be tempting, but how much, but more critically, to what level of detail are we to assume was transmitted via the oral tradition? Then we need to consider subsequent development. We obviously know that the idea of the virgin birth lodged–firmly–in Christian tradition. Now let’s realize that this is only found in two books of the entire NT; more, it’s only found in the first chapter of those two books. That’s it. It occurs in Matthew’s birth narrative and here in Luke’s birth narrative. The clear inference to be drawn here is that this was not a belief that was firmly lodged in the “tradition”, whether oral, written, or whatever combination of the two. Given this, it would seem imprudent, if not foolish, to assume that Luke simply plucked this out of the air of the ambient “tradition”, or unspecified and unnameable “oral sources”, when all the evidence tells us that it was not part of the overall tradition. In the entirety of the rest of the NT, only Luke picked up on the idea. When you think about it, we have a large overlap of material that is not in Mark shared between Matthew and Luke, and on top of that we have a very specific, very rare bit of belief that the two–and only these two–share. This is not smoking-gun proof; that will never be found. But the connexions here between Matthew and Luke make it very, very difficult to accept as remotely probable that Luke was unaware of Matthew. This is just too coincidental otherwise. The placement, the wording, the overlaps, those are all secondary, if not tertiary points that can be used in support of an argument, but they alone do not constitute an argument.
26 In mense autem sexto missus est angelus Gabriel a Deo in civitatem Galilaeae, cui nomen Nazareth,
27 ad virginem desponsatam viro, cui nomen erat Ioseph de domo David, et nomen virginis Maria.
28 καὶ εἰσελθὼν πρὸς αὐτὴν εἶπεν, Χαῖρε, κεχαριτωμένη, ὁ κύριος μετὰ σοῦ.
29 ἡδὲ ἐπὶ τῷ λόγῳ διεταράχθη καὶ διελογίζετο ποταπὸς εἴη ὁ ἀσπασμὸς οὗτος.
30 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ ἄγγελος αὐτῇ, Μὴ φοβοῦ, Μαριάμ, εὗρες γὰρ χάριν παρὰ τῷ θεῷ:
31 καὶ ἰδοὺ συλλήμψῃ ἐν γαστρὶ καὶ τέξῃ υἱόν, καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν.
32 οὗτος ἔσται μέγας καὶ υἱὸς ὑψίστου κληθήσεται, καὶ δώσει αὐτῷ κύριος ὁ θεὸς τὸν θρόνον Δαυὶδ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ,
33 καὶ βασιλεύσει ἐπὶ τὸν οἶκον Ἰακὼβ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας, καὶ τῆς βασιλείας αὐτοῦ οὐκ ἔσται τέλος.
And he (the messenger) coming in to her said, “Rejoice, having been favoured, the lord is with you”. (29) Indeed, upon the speech she was troubled, and dialogued in what manner this greeting could be. (30) And the messenger said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mariam, for you have found grace beside God. (31) And look, you will conceive in your belly and will give birth to a son, and you will call his name Jesus. (32) He will be great, and he will be called son of the most high, the lord the God will give him the throne of David his father, (33) and he will reign in the home of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom will be no end.”
There is a whole lot of allusions to Matthew here. We mentioned this regarding John, but the “you will call the name to him Jesus” is pretty much verbatim from Matthew, and it’s used in the very same context that Matthew has it. Granted, the person on the other end of the prophecy has change, and even changed sex, but the idea is identical. And yet, this never comes up in the Q discussions as part of Q, nor is it ever mentioned as an agreement that has to be explained. Why not? Because I don’t think it can be explained, at least not in terms of Q. I’ve just been re-reading one of Kloppenborg’s books, Q The Earliest Gospel, and he talks about “Minimal Q”. This includes all the stuff that’s in Luke and Matthew that’s not in Mark. This would certainly qualify under that criterion, but it’s nowhere to be found in the reconstructions. Instead, we get all these unprovable discussions about why Matthew or Luke deviated, or kept close to the source.
There is also a lot of connecting to the HS as well. We have the reference to David, and that Jesus is of the line of David. Now, do we have to take this literally? Because, strictly speaking, in Matthew Jesus is not of the line of David, because Joseph was not Jesus’ father. There I think we have a pretty clear indication of how the whole virgin birth got grafted onto another version of who Jesus was. And also note that Matthew called Joseph the son of David, so this seems like another instance where Luke is very thematically linked to Matthew, even if the story seems to be very different. Here perhaps is a good introduction to the idea of Luke as a novelist; Matthew’s creation of Joseph is very functional, but not much more. Here, the announcement, perhaps I should call it the Annunciation, is so much more than that, to the point that people don’t even particularly notice just how the two versions of the messenger story are linked together by themes. The underlying idea is Matthew’s, but the decoration is all from Luke, who has turned this into a story, with a beginning, middle, and end, and he’s given us dialogue, not just an announcement from a herald or messenger, and he’s given us psychological insights, for we are told Mary was troubled by all of this. As well she might be when a divine creature suddenly shows up in your living room.
Finally, I think that the idea of Jesus’ kingdom being eternal is a new development; I don’t recall that from previous gospels or epistles. However, I cannot say that with certainty. I’ll keep an eye out and see.
28 Et ingressus ad eam dixit: “Ave, gratia plena, Dominus tecum”.
29 Ipsa autem turbata est in sermone eius et cogitabat qualis esset ista salutatio.
30 Et ait angelus ei: “Ne timeas, Maria; invenisti enim gratiam apud Deum.
31 Et ecce concipies in utero et paries filium et vocabis nomen eius Iesum.
32 Hic erit magnus et Filius Altissimi vocabitur, et dabit illi Dominus Deus sedem David patris eius,
33 et regnabit super domum Iacob in aeternum, et regni eius non erit finis”.
34 εἶπεν δὲ Μαριὰμ πρὸς τὸν ἄγγελον, Πῶς ἔσται τοῦτο, ἐπεὶ ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω;
35 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ ἄγγελος εἶπεν αὐτῇ, Πνεῦμα ἅγιον ἐπελεύσεται ἐπὶ σέ, καὶ δύναμις ὑψίστου ἐπισκιάσει σοι: διὸ καὶ τὸ γεννώμενον ἅγιον κληθήσεται, υἱὸς θεοῦ.
Mariam said towards the messenger, “How will this be, since Ido not know a man?” (35)And answering the messenger said to her, “The sacred breath will complete this upon you, and the power of the most high will overshadow you. And on which account these occurrences holy he will be called, the son of God”.
The “sacred breath will complete this.” Once more, we have a bit of Matthew’s Christology, or theology, or explanation used in exactly the same context by Luke. In both these gospels, and nowhere else, Jesus was conceived within Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. God literally breathed on her and effected this miracle. Again, the details match up exactly. The angel, the virgin, the holy spirit. Where did Luke get this? I stated this before, and I will restate it here for additional emphasis, that these pieces of the story are not to be found anywhere else. They show up in no gospel, nor in Thomas nor in Q. So whence did they come? Where did Luke find them? The answer is pretty close to being blindingly obvious: he got them from Matthew. Yes, yes, they could be parallel development, but the degree of agreement pretty much excludes a coincidental arrival at the same place by two separate authors. This is not the result of a random set of circumstances. And yes, each evangelist could have tapped into the same oral tradition, but that is not an argument, nor an hypothesis. There is no way either to prove or disprove this contention. And it falls into the same category as Q: it was there for Matthew and Luke and then subsequently vanished without a trace. If this is so probable, why didn’t Mark disappear, too? He was cannibalized pretty much completely. Are we to assume that a gospel that was squishy on Jesus’ divinity was preserved, where the collected sayings of The Man Himself were tossed into the junk pile? Does that really seem credible? Sure, it’s possible, but does it really, and I mean really make sense?
That is the question you have to ask yourself, and answer for yourself. But you must ask that question.
34 Dixit autem Maria ad angelum: “Quomodo fiet istud, quoniam virum non cognosco?”.
35 Et respondens angelus dixit ei: “ Spiritus Sanctus superveniet in te, et virtus Altissimi obumbrabit tibi: ideoque et quod nascetur sanctum, vocabitur Filius Dei.
36 καὶ ἰδοὺ Ἐλισάβετ ἡ συγγενίς σου καὶ αὐτὴ συνείληφεν υἱὸν ἐν γήρει αὐτῆς, καὶ οὗτος μὴν ἕκτος ἐστὶν αὐτῇ τῇ καλουμένῃ στείρᾳ:
37 ὅτι οὐκ ἀδυνατήσει παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ πᾶν ῥῆμα.
38 εἶπεν δὲ Μαριάμ, Ἰδοὺ ἡ δούλη κυρίου: γένοιτό μοι κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμά σου. καὶ ἀπῆλθεν ἀπ’ αὐτῆς ὁ ἄγγελος.
“And you know, Elisabeth your kinswoman, she also has conceived a son in her old age, and this indeed in the sixth month to her the barren one is called. (Six months ago she was called barren). (37) That is not impossible for God, the all the writings (say). [Translation here is very literal; the more idiomatic would be that nothing is impossible. And in a literal sense, the “say” has to be understood.] (38) Mary said, “Behold the slave-girl of the lord. It may be according to your words.” And went away from her the messenger.
Here’s another question: is “slave girl” over the top? Or is it unflinchingly accurate. But “handmaid” and “servant” really don’t capture the word. “Doule” means “slave”, in this case female. I would take “bondmaid”. It’s just that this word has become distasteful to us; “slave” was even too much for the KJV. The NASB preserves the sense by using “bondmaid”, but there is a degree of separation even there. This sort of thing, along with “baptize”, “angel”, and “Holy Spirit” have become, I think, impediments to our being able to see the NT as anything but a work that is somehow outside the realm of human existence. It is a creation, a whole, a separate entity protected by this veil of euphemisms (handmaid) and what have become pre-conceived notions (Holy Spirit) in our culture. We fall into those “everybody knows” traps, in which basic premises are never challenged. They’re really not even recognized as premises; they are understood a priori as having a very specific and rock-solid meaning when they have no such meaning. This is the problem I have with “NT Greek”. Even conceding that such a thing exists–which I don’t, except in terms so abstruse as to be almost meaningless–it becomes a closed system, self-referential and never seeing itself in context. Words have pre-set meanings that may–or may not–have a strong connexion to the meaning of the word in the rest of Greek literature. To dislodge us from these mental ruts is the biggest reason I insist on being a crank and looking outside the world of “NT Greek” and seeing these words and these texts in the larger context of the Greek language.
36 Et ecce Elisabeth cognata tua et ipsa concepit filium in senecta sua, et hic mensis est sextus illi, quae vocatur sterilis,
37 quia non erit impossibile apud Deum omne verbum ”.
38 Dixit autem Maria: “ Ecce ancilla Domini; fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum ”. Et discessit ab illa angelus.
As the scene opens, we are with Zacahrias inside the temple sanctuary where he is holding conversation with a herald of God. It did not occur to me before, but presumably (obviously?) this is the Temple in Jerusalem. This would mean that Zacharias is at least a few rungs up on the socio-economic scale. The priests were well-t0-do, because all God’s friends were rich, an attitude that, unfortunately, too many still share today. And it wasn’t just among Jews, either. The pagans felt much the same way. That is a very important bit of knowledge to carry in your head as we progress through this gospel.
12 καὶ ἐταράχθη Ζαχαρίας ἰδών, καὶ φόβος ἐπέπεσεν ἐπ’ αὐτόν.
13 εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτὸν ὁ ἄγγελος, Μὴ φοβοῦ, Ζαχαρία, διότι εἰσηκούσθη ἡ δέησίς σου, καὶ ἡ γυνή σου Ἐλισάβετ γεννήσει υἱόν σοι, καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰωάννην.
And disturbed was Zacharias seeing, and fear fell upon him. (13) And said towards him the herald, “Do not fear, Zacharias, because your need was heard, and your woman Elisabeth will bring forth a son, and you will call the name to him John”.
First of all, let’s look at the last bit. “You will call the name to him…” Sort of reminds me of <<καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν>>. That is Matthew 1:21; here we have << καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰωάννην>>. The two are verbatim with the obvious exception of the name. This is not part of Q by anyone’s definition, or edition. Now, one can suggest that this is a standard expression, and that would be a valid statement. But…In both cases, we have an angel announcing a miraculous birth to a man, whether Joseph in Matthew, or here to Zacharias. Granted, perhaps this one is not quite as miraculous, because this baby has a human father. That detail aside, the two scenarios, and the words used, are remarkably similar, verbally and thematically. It’s this latter that is virtually ignored in the discussion about Q and whether Luke used Matthew. Here we have Luke doing everything he can to evoke those verses of Matthew when Joseph is told a son has been conceived within Mary. Oh, and the angel also tells Joseph “Don’t be afraid”. And yet, I’ve never seen this discussed in regard to Q. Why not? Part of it is that the Q people have set the terms of the debate for the past century, and those terms are the order and placement of material in Matthew vs. Luke. IOW, the debate is virtually without real substance.
While looking into this in the commentaries, I came across a really interesting interpretation. And it was not put out by just one commentator, but by several. They suggest that Zacharias and Elisabeth had reconciled themselves to being childless, especially given their advanced years. So, their entreaty–this is not the standard word for “prayer”–was not for a child. The couple had, we are told, given up on that years before; rather, the entreaty was for the kingdom of God. Have to say, that seems a bit of a stretch. It’s the sort of thing that comes up after a topic has been debated endlessly for decades; I’m betting that this interpretation is post-Reformation, so the debate was one of decades rather than centuries.
12 et Zacharias turbatus est videns, et timor irruit super eum.
13 Ait autem ad illum angelus: “ Ne timeas, Zacharia, quoniam exaudita est deprecatio tua, et uxor tua Elisabeth pariet tibi filium, et vocabis nomen eius Ioannem.
14 καὶ ἔσται χαρά σοι καὶ ἀγαλλίασις, καὶ πολλοὶ ἐπὶ τῇ γενέσει αὐτοῦ χαρήσονται:
15 ἔσται γὰρ μέγας ἐνώπιον [τοῦ] κυρίου, καὶ οἶνον καὶ σίκερα οὐ μὴ πίῃ, καὶ πνεύματος ἁγίου πλησθήσεται ἔτι ἐκ κοιλίας μητρὸς αὐτοῦ,
16 καὶ πολλοὺς τῶν υἱῶν Ἰσραὴλ ἐπιστρέψει ἐπὶ κύριον τὸν θεὸν αὐτῶν.
“And there will be joy to you and rejoicing, and many upon the birth of him will rejoice. For he will be great before the lord, and wine and strong drink he will not drink, and with the sacred breath he will be filled already from the womb of his mother, (16) and he will turn many of the sons of Israel towards the lord their God.”
Anyone who claims that the early church was embarrassed by Jesus’ connexion to John should be made to explain this passage, and this whole section. Far from being swept under the rug, which is what you do with embarrassing things, John is being elevated here, to a very dizzying height. We are told he will induce many in Israel–more properly, Judea–to repent of their sins and turn back to God. This is extremely high praise.
A word while we’re on the subject of Israel. Strictly speaking, the Kingdom of Israel ceased to exist after its conquest by Assyria. The successor kingdom, centered on Jerusalem was just that: a successor state. It was assuredly not a continuation of the earlier state of Israel. This latter had remained largely a pagan state, which is why the kings so often did evil in the sight of YHWH. Israel and her kings worshipped other gods because they had not really accepted YHWH as it’s chief–let alone sole–god. And yet, because Israel had been a large state that ruled some of the richer land in the area, the successors in Jerusalem wished to portray themselves as the legitimate heirs of the older kingdom. This is why they elevatated their bandit-in-chief David to the purely mythological throne of the United Kingdom. As such, the kings who sat in Jerusalem maintained their dynastic pretensions for centuries, until “Israel” became a spiritual kingdom inherited by the Christians, or until the State of Israel was resurrected in 1948. Even after all those centuries, the regime in Jerusalem still insisted that the whole of the land from Dan to Beersheba was their heritage. That’s not intended to be anti-Zionist; rather, it’s a commentary on the power of a foundation myth.
One thing I have to comment on is Luke’s vocabulary. It’s pretty remarkable. The man was erudite. He sort of coins a lot of words, by giving older words new forms. I’m not sure what to make of this quite yet; or, rather, I’m not quite sure how to fit this into the overall interpretation of the gospel, but presumably this will work itself out.
14 Et erit gaudium tibi et exsultatio, et multi in nativitate eius gaudebunt:
15 erit enim magnus coram Domino et vinum et siceram non bibet et Spiritu Sancto replebitur adhuc ex utero matris suae
16 et multos filiorum Israel convertet ad Dominum Deum ipsorum.
17 καὶ αὐτὸς προελεύσεται ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ ἐν πνεύματι καὶ δυνάμει Ἠλίου, ἐπιστρέψαι καρδίας πατέρων ἐπὶ τέκνα καὶ ἀπειθεῖς ἐν φρονήσει δικαίων, ἑτοιμάσαι κυρίῳ λαὸν κατεσκευασμένον.
18 Καὶ εἶπεν Ζαχαρίας πρὸς τὸν ἄγγελον, Κατὰ τί γνώσομαι τοῦτο; ἐγὼ γάρ εἰμι πρεσβύτης καὶ ἡ γυνή μου προβεβηκυῖα ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις αὐτῆς.
19 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ ἄγγελος εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἐγώ εἰμι Γαβριὴλ ὁ παρεστηκὼς ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ, καὶ ἀπεστάλην λαλῆσαι πρὸς σὲ καὶ εὐαγγελίσασθαί σοι ταῦτα:
“And he will go forward before him in the spirit and the power of Elijah, converting hearts of the fathers upon the children and disbelief in the prudence of the just, to have made ready the people of the lord having been prepared. (18) And Zacharias said to the herald, “According to what will I know this? For I am old, and my wife is advanced in years”. (19) And answering the herald said to him, “I am Gabriel the one standing beside in front of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to announce these things to you.
Quick note: the Greek for “announce” in the last sentence is “euangelizai”. This includes the announcing and the glad tidings all in one word. That is impossible in English. Or, I couldn’t come up with a solution, anyway.
Did I mention that, far from being swept under the rug, John was being elevated here? For he will have the spirit and the power of Elijah, and in Jewish circles Elijah was pretty much the pinnacle of human accomplishment. Of course, by elevating John, Jesus will be elevated even further. And here, again, I think, we see an example of Luke following Matthew’s lead, and then expanding upon it. For this is what Matthew did with the announcement of the (unnamed) angel to Joseph: he elevated Jesus to the divine level. Here, (spoiler alert!) not only will we get an announcement to Mary about Jesus, but we get the announcement about Jesus’ forerunner, who could also be called an “angelos”, a “herald”. In this way, Luke raises the playing field even further. We are truly talking about cosmic-scale, divine-level actions here. In a way, it reminds me of the Prologue in Heaven that we find at the opening of Goethe’s Faust, or even the conversation between God and the slanderer (ho diabolos) at the beginning of Job.
As an aside, this is really interesting. In Job 1:6, we are told that
ἦλθον οἱ ἄγγελοι τοῦ θεοῦ παραστῆναι ἐνώπιον τοῦ κυρίου, / καὶ ὁ διάβολος ἦλθεν μετ᾽ αὐτῶν.
There came the angels of God standing beside before the lord, / and the slanderer came with them…
The (very clumsy) expression “standing beside before the lord” is pretty much exactly what we got from Gabriel. The participle is “standing”, but with the prefix for “beside”, so the entire verb is “standing beside”, which is then followed by a preposition for “before”, as in “before the lord”. So the image is a bit of a foreshadow of The Apocalypse of John, with all the elders seated around the throne of God, “before” him in the sense of being in his presence. So the point is that I suspect that Luke deliberately meant to evoke this quote, and I also suspect that it’s something of a standardized formula that appears in various places throughout the LXX, replacing an underlying formula in the Hebrew.
One final note about this quote from Job. Several translations, including the KJV, translate “angeloi” as “sons” of God. There is a good lesson here for not using the same stock word to translate a word in Greek, or Hebrew. In the context, I actually think “sons” might be closer to the sense of the Greek, even if it is a bit more poetic. In fact, the Vulgate renders it as “filii”, which is the standard Latin word for “sons”.
Also, the idea of “standing beside in front of God” is a bit of a foreshadow of some later ideas that will evolve into the Gnostic/Hermetic ideas of the Emanations. The idea that there is a Power at the centre, and then slightly lesser beings around that, spreading out in concentric circles. The Creator is a level–or several, depending on the source–removed from the centre. Yes, this is a bit of a stretch, perhaps, but only a bit. Ideas are fluid things that eddy and swirl about and within each other. And that poetic element should never, ever be forgotten. Because what English so clumsily conveys as “poetry”–a bunch of words strung together that may or may not rhyme–is itself a poor and dulled reflection of the Greek “poesis”. This contains both the idea of doing, as in doing a task, as well as creating a long poem meant to explain the Nature of Things (de Rerum Natura, Epictetus).
And I think Zacharias’ questions to the messenger sort of indicate that the “entreaty” back in Verse 13 was indeed, about a child. I suppose that these questions are natural enough given the news, but we also need to be careful, I think, about reading too much into this. Of course the parallel to Abraham is too obvious to need mention, but then I just did. The conception of Isaac was miraculous, and so is the conception of John. But, while miraculous, they are also human-scale miracles, where the child–the son, always a son–conceived has two human parents.
Finally, just want to stress the idea that this angel has a name. Here we have such a classic example of the growth of legend that it’s worth dwelling on for a moment or two. This is exactly how legends grow. Matthew added the angel, Luje gave the angel a name, and later thinkers would ascribe roles and adventures to the angels. The same happened with the Twelve; once created, they had to have names. Then, once named, they had to have stories and adventures, and so these sprang up, just the way Arthur became surrounded by a host of knights, all of them with their own tale. So this further development of the story is, I firmly believe, another example of how Luke expanded on Matthew’s edifice, which was itself an expansion of the foundation laid by Mark. And here is where the Q people, and the whole Q debate goes so horribly wrong: instead of nitpicking over the order of the placement of the (alleged) Q material, look at the storied told as separate entities that each complement, rather than repeat or supersede the previous one. There is nothing about an angel in the Q material, which starts with the preaching of John. So where did Luke get the idea? Is this parallel development? It could be. But that is where you have to start looking at the numbers of incidents, how many times does Luke pick up a theme from Matthew and run with it? To that end, I’m going to be taking notes. Because one of the big “arguments” (I’m being kind) for Q is that Luke is never aware of Matthew’s additions to Mark. Well, we have an example here of Luke being well aware of an addition of Matthew.
Second finally, the whole idea of finding precedents from the HS is another example. Matthew added references to texts from the HS; Luke appears to be doing the same thing here, borrowing a line from Job (which may also appear elsewhere).
17 Et ipse praecedet ante illum in spiritu et virtute Eliae, ut convertat corda patrum in filios et incredibiles ad prudentiam iustorum, parare Domino plebem perfectam ”.
18 Et dixit Zacharias ad angelum: “ Unde hoc sciam? Ego enim sum senex, et uxor mea processit in diebus suis ”.
19 Et respondens angelus dixit ei: “ Ego sum Gabriel, qui adsto ante Deum, et missus sum loqui ad te et haec tibi evangelizare.
20 καὶ ἰδοὺ ἔσῃ σιωπῶν καὶ μὴ δυνάμενος λαλῆσαι ἄχρι ἧς ἡμέρας γένηται ταῦτα, ἀνθ’ ὧν οὐκ ἐπίστευσας τοῖς λόγοις μου, οἵτινες πληρωθήσονται εἰς τὸν καιρὸν αὐτῶν .
21 Καὶ ἦν ὁ λαὸς προσδοκῶν τὸν Ζαχαρίαν, καὶ ἐθαύμαζον ἐν τῷ χρονίζειν ἐν τῷ ναῷ αὐτόν.
22 ἐξελθὼν δὲ οὐκ ἐδύνατο λαλῆσαι αὐτοῖς, καὶ ἐπέγνωσαν ὅτι ὀπτασίαν ἑώρακεν ἐν τῷ ναῷ: καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν διανεύων αὐτοῖς, καὶ διέμενεν κωφός.
23 καὶ ἐγένετο ὡς ἐπλήσθησαν αἱ ἡμέραι τῆς λειτουργίας αὐτοῦ ἀπῆλθεν εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ.
“And behold, may you being silent and not able to speak until the days that these things become, before which not believing the my words, which will be fulfilled in their season (i.e., proper time)”. (21) And there were people expecting Zacharias, and they marveled at the time he being in the Temple. (22) Coming out, he was not able to speak to them, and they knew that a vision he had seen in the temple. And he gestured to them, and he remained mute. (23) And it became as fulfilled the days of his liturgies, he went to his home.
The first thing that strikes me is that God will punish your disbelief. OK. That shouldn’t surprise me, and it doesn’t, but it still strikes me as interesting. That’s the problem with being a rationalist, I suppose. These sorts of actions seem rather arbitrary, or even whimsical; but mainly, they seem rather petty and beneath the dignity of a God that laid the foundations of the cosmos.
The second thing is that this is a very perceptive lot of fellow priests. They knew that he had seen a vision inside. But then, maybe this sort of thing happened frequently? Who’s to say? The word I translated as “liturgies” is actually more or less a transliteration. “Leitourgious” would be the exact translation, so the relation should be obvious. Were I truly a biblical scholar, I would be able to explain the rotation of the priests more effectively, but it’s simply not that important. What matters more is whether his home was in Jerusalem–at least, the Greater Jerusalem Metro Area? I would suspect so. We’ll see if, or how much, this matters in the next section.
20 Et ecce: eris tacens et non poteris loqui usque in diem, quo haec fiant, pro eo quod non credidisti verbis meis, quae implebuntur in tempore suo ”.
21 Et erat plebs exspectans Zachariam, et mirabantur quod tardaret ipse in templo.
22 Egressus autem non poterat loqui ad illos, et cognoverunt quod visionem vidisset in templo; et ipse erat innuens illis et permansit mutus.
23 Et factum est, ut impleti sunt dies officii eius, abiit in domum suam.
Having done a fair bit of research into Q since the last summary of Matthew was published, the conclusion I’ve arrived at is that the best way to contextualize Matthew is by way of comparison to Luke. My sense is that the Q people are still missing the forest for the trees; moreover, I believe a certain amount of this “missing” is willful, the result of a deliberate effort not to look at the Q hypothesis. While the effort is deliberate, it may not be wholly conscious; Mark Goodacre seems to be one of the leading proponents of the Mark without Q theory which believes, as I do, that Luke used Matthew, describes the Q proponents as a bit arrogant, and more than a bit miffed that there are these annoying people who still won’t accept Q. After all, it was settled a century ago! Er, wasn’t it?
No, it wasn’t settled. It was postulated and accepted and then just taken on faith. The Q people have so firmly entrenched the theory that it is somehow incumbent on the naysayers (myself included) to prove that Q did not exist. This is completely backwards. The burden of proof lies on those who believe to prove that the document existed. For the umpteenth time, there is absolutely no proof that such a document existed. None. There are no oblique references by later sources, no tradition of a sayings collection, nothing. That’s bad enough. Worse is that there is no argument for Q. The proponents of Q have never, ever, come up with anything resembling a cohesive or coherent case to show why it’s likely that Q existed. The entirety of their case rests on the premise, “if Luke knew Matthew, Luke would never have…” Largely Luke would never have messed with the “masterful” arrangement of the material presented in Matthew. And that is the whole case: an argument (being kind), that the way Luke arranged the Q material is simply…substandard, if not simply wrong, or bizarre, or “unscrambling the egg with a vengeance”. So let’s look at some of this.
Please note that some of this may be a bit of a rerun from the Introduction to Luke post. My apologies, but some of this is worth seeing in more textual context than we had in the Introduction.
1 Ἐπειδήπερ πολλοὶ ἐπεχείρησαν ἀνατάξασθαι διήγησιν περὶ τῶν πεπληροφορημένων ἐν ἡμῖν πραγμάτων,
2 καθὼς παρέδοσαν ἡμῖν οἱ ἀπ’ἀρχῆς αὐτόπται καὶ ὑπηρέται γενόμενοι τοῦ λόγου,
3 ἔδοξε κἀμοὶ παρηκολουθηκότι ἄνωθεν πᾶσιν ἀκριβῶς καθεξῆς σοι γράψαι, κράτιστε Θεόφιλε,
4 ἵνα ἐπιγνῷς περὶ ὧν κατηχήθης λόγων τὴν ἀσφάλειαν.
Inasmuch as many have attempted to order the narrative of the fulfillment in our affairs, accordingly those having been eyewitnesses and servants of the account handed (it–i.e., the account) over to us from the beginning, and it seemed to me to the one following all (of them) diligently afterwards to have written to you, most excellent Theophilos, so that you may come to know certainty about these accounts, having been instructed.
My translation is slightly different from what you may read elsewhere. First, it’s a bit less definitive on some of the ideas, but I believe that some of the ideas are a bit overconfidently expressed in other places. At least, I’m going to present the ambiguity to provide, I hope, some sense of the amount of interpretation present in other translations.
As an incidental, the word in V4 that is rendered as “instructed” is “katachesis”. Any child of the Roman Church should see the word “catechism”, and now perhaps better understand its root. Oddly–to my mind, anyway–the word does not get transliterated into Latin. Rather, it’s translated as “eruditis”.
Now to the substance. Anyone who’s read the historical accounts written in the Middle Ages will be familiar with this sort of introduction. Luke did not start this, but he popularized it among Christian historians of the monastic sort, so this has a long tail moving into the future. But the interesting thing is that Luke is placing himself in context by discussing the eyewitnesses of the events, and then the “servants” of the account. [What I have translated as “account” usually gets rendered as “word/words”; however, this is done, I believe, for consistency with John 1:1: in the beginning was the Word…] He is, in effect, saying that what he has written down is the account that was created at the beginning, and then entrusted to the “servants” of the account. This I would take as the others who have written the account. Who are these others? Interestingly, as I was checking commentaries on this, I found that the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges adamantly insists that this does not refer to other evangelists. That is, not even Mark, let alone Matthew. This, obviously, is an extremist position; just as obviously, I think, we have no need to take this position seriously.
So who are these “servants”? One of them has to be Mark. And I say “one of them” because the word is plural; Luke is attesting that there are multiple servants of the account. The plain sense understanding of this, at least to someone with historical training, is that Luke has read more than one account of the story of Jesus. Immediately we could understand this to mean Mark and Matthew, or Mark and Q. But the way this reads indicates, to me at least, that there were even more than two different sources available to Luke. And this should not surprise us. This, of course, leads to (but does not “beg”) the question of what these sources might be. Given this statement, it’s not inconceivable that one of them might, indeed, be a collection of Jesus’ sayings. Oddly, this is never suggested by the Q people, and I don’t quite understand why not. One of the sources very clearly carried some evidence of Paul or his activities. This is the first gospel written for which we can be certain that the evangelist had some knowledge of Paul. We do not know if Luke had available to him any of Paul’s letters; perhaps we can tell from the writing.
This is actually a crucial question, because it would give us great insight into Luke’s methods, purpose, and outlook. We commented in Galatians on the difference between the conversion story related by Paul with the much more famous version in Acts. At first glance, the two share little; however, if you squint your eyes a bit, I think that it’s possible to see Paul’s revelation from God as the basis for the flash of light from heaven and the voice of God/Jesus coming down from the sky. The version in Acts is, possibly, an over-dramatized version of what Paul himself described. If we can, or do, accept this connexion, then this may provide us a glimpse into the way Luke thought and wrote. In describing the Four Evangelists, I used to describe Mark as a journalist, Matthew as a rabbi (albeit converted), John as a theologian, and Luke as a novelist. The comparison of Acts to Hellenistic novels is old and widespread, so I’m hardly breaking new ground, but this approach is worth keeping in mind as we proceed through the text.
The whole question of who Theophilos was needn’t concern us overmuch. Stated bluntly, it really doesn’t matter. I see no reason not to believe that there was a Theophilos; there is no profit in making someone up. What is important is the statement of purpose. Luke wants to educate this other person, even if the “other person” is the audience in general. This hearkens back to what I said in the Introduction to Luke about why the evangelists wrote a second, third, and fourth gospel. They wrote because they had something they felt was important to say. And if you read between the lines a bit, there is an implicit implication that Luke needs to provide some additional information, explain a few things, or generally set the record straight. It is very tempting to use that first purpose of providing additional information as a point of departure to fly off on a tangent, but it would be pure speculation. Or would it? Let us remember that Luke adds a lot of new material, a lot of stories that have become central to Christianity, and via that to Western culture as a whole. We can talk about being a “good Samaritan” because of Luke’s story. So I don’t think it’s completely bonkers to suggest that this new material is part–a big part?–of the reason Luke decided he needed to retell the story again. Yes, we can say that this is due to source material that was lying hidden from the other evangelists, but the simplest, and most reasonable explanation for the new stories that Luke adds is that they arose from within Luke himself.
1 Quoniam quidem multi conati sunt ordinare narrationem, quae in nobis completae sunt, rerum,
2 sicut tradiderunt nobis, qui ab initio ipsi viderunt et ministri fuerunt verbi,
3 visum est et mihi, adsecuto a principio omnia, diligenter ex ordine tibi scribere, optime Theophile,
4 ut cognoscas eorum verborum, de quibus eruditus es, firmitatem.
5 Ἐγένετο ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου βασιλέως τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἱερεύς τις ὀνόματι Ζαχαρίας ἐξ ἐφημερίας Ἀβιά, καὶ γυνὴ αὐτῷ ἐκ τῶν θυγατέρων Ἀαρών, καὶ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτῆς Ἐλισάβετ.
It happened in those days of Herod ruling the Jews there was a priest to whom the name was Zacharias of the course of Abiah, and his wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
We need to pause a minute to consider the word << ἐφημερίας >>. This word is only found twice in the LXX, once here, and then nowhere else. It appears to be a compound of << epi-hemeras >> the literal meaning of which would most likely mean something like “upon the day”, which in standard usage would mean, more or less, “daily”. However, the two English words associated are “course” or “division”. And there is the sense of a connexion to religious ritual. My suspicion is that it originally referred to a round of ritual, say a week in length, in which the same priest performed the same ritual for the length of the given cycle. From there it came to have genealogical implications, because here it pretty clearly means that he was a descendant of Abiah, since we are then told of his wife Elisabeth’s lineage. Regardless, it’s rather an odd word, but here, at least, the context does help. And the Latin is interesting: “de vice”, the latter being the first part of “vice versa”. So at root there is the idea of change. This does point to a cycle of ritual performance, I believe. But Lewis and Short don’t give us any clue of any connexion to family lineage. Perhaps St Jerome knew something that Lewis and Short forgot?
5 Fuit in diebus Herodis regis Iudaeae sacerdos quidam nomine Zacharias de vice Abiae, et uxor illi de filiabus Aaron, et nomen eius Elisabeth.
6 ἦσαν δὲ δίκαιοι ἀμφότεροι ἐναντίον τοῦ θεοῦ, πορευόμενοι ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ἐντολαῖς καὶ δικαιώμασιν τοῦ κυρίου ἄμεμπτοι.
7 καὶ οὐκ ἦν αὐτοῖς τέκνον, καθότι ἦν ἡ Ἐλισάβετ στεῖρα, καὶ ἀμφότεροι προβεβηκότες ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις αὐτῶν ἦσαν.
8 Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ ἱερατεύειν αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ τάξει τῆς ἐφημερίας αὐτοῦ ἔναντι τοῦ θεοῦ,
They were both just people against God, following all the commandments and the decrees of the lord and blameless. (7) And there were to them no progeny, on account that Elisabeth was barren, and both well along their days (i.e., well-along in years). (8) He went in the temple in the arrangement of the daily cycle of him before God.
Here I think is where we can make out the sense of << ἐφημερίας >>. Basically, Verse 8 is saying that it was Zacharias’ turn to perform the daily ritual. I have the vague sense that the cycle of ritual was divided by priestly families or clans, with each clan being appointed to perform a given series of days. So, Zacharias was of the division of Abia, who performed the course of the ritual in a specified period of days.
6 Erant autem iusti ambo ante Deum, incedentes in omnibus mandatis et iustificationibus Domini, irreprehensibiles.
7 Et non erat illis filius, eo quod esset Elisabeth sterilis, et ambo processissent in diebus suis.
8 Factum est autem, cum sacerdotio fungeretur in ordine vicis suae ante Deum,
9 κατὰ τὸ ἔθος τῆς ἱερατείας ἔλαχε τοῦ θυμιᾶσαι εἰσελθὼν εἰς τὸν ναὸν τοῦ κυρίου,
10 καὶ πᾶν τὸ πλῆθος ἦν τοῦ λαοῦ προσευχόμενον ἔξω τῇ ὥρᾳ τοῦ θυμιάματος:
11 ὤφθη δὲ αὐτῷ ἄγγελος κυρίου ἑστὼς ἐκ δεξιῶν τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου τοῦ θυμιάματος.
According to the custom of the temple he was chosen by lot of the incense going in to the sanctuary of the lord. (10) And all the whole of the people prayed outside in the hour of the incense. (11) Was seen by him the herald of the lord outside on the right of the alter of the incense.
This is clear enough in Greek; the English maybe not so much. At least not the way I rendered it. I can say right off the bat that Luke’s vocabulary is much richer than either Mark’s or Matthew’s, and his prose feels a bit more sophisticated. Basically, it was Zacharias’ turn to go into the inner part of the temple and burn incense. When he got there, he found a herald of the lord. I’ve decided to stop translating this as “angel” because, once again, English has made a special word of a word that is not particularly special in Greek. In Xenophon, there are angels running back and forth between the Greeks and the Great King every few pages.
And I deliberately broke the story at the appearance of the angel. This is purely for dramatic purposes. Note how we have set this all up: they are childless and advanced in years, just like Abraham and Sarah. And now we get an angel. Novelist? I report, you decide.
9 secundum consuetudinem sacerdotii sorte exiit, ut incensum poneret ingressus in templum Domini;
10 et omnis multitudo erat populi orans foris hora incensi.
11 Apparuit autem illi angelus Domini stans a dextris altaris incensi;
It appears that I am hardly the first person to suggest that Matthew began life as a pagan. Apparently there was a school of thought that believed and argued this point back in the 1940s. This is not surprising. I have read some sniffy pieces from biblicists complaining about how Classicists have a tendency to see everything revolving around Greece. And this, in some degree, is what I am doing. In fact, the whole Jesus-as-Jew movement of the last several decades was, doubtless, somewhat in reaction to the Graeco-Roman bias that had existed. Let’s not forget that, for several centuries, an education meant a Classical education. I read once that English schoolboys, on the whole, were more familiar with the characters in Livy (Horatio at the bridge, e.g.) than with their Anglo-Saxon heritage. So the attempts to put Jesus into his Jewish context more or less coincided with the decline in Classical learning that took hold in the 1960s, when “relevant” was the buzzword for eduction.
So, I’m not breaking new ground in suggesting Matthew’s pagan background. Rather, it’s a matter of what goes around, comes around. The great cycle. Honestly, though, I think the over-emphasis on Jesus’ Jewish heritage leaves too many things unexplained. The Baptist was thoroughly Jewish; he was more popular than Jesus; but Western Civilisation became followers of Jesus, not John. Why? I suspect it’s because Jesus’ teaching was more amenable to being absorbed by Greek philosophy, perhaps because it was more steeped in Greek thought than the Baptist’s more simple message of repentance.
No, this isn’t close to the final word on Matthew.
The next destination on our voyage of discovery is the Gospel of Luke. This direction was not inevitable, but for many reasons it seems the best choice. The reason I chose Luke is because of sources. In Luke 1:1-3, he talks about the account handed down to him by the eyewitnesses and the servants. Note that the account is singular, but the eyewitnesses and servants are plural. This means that a single story line was created by multiple witnesses and transmitted by multiple recorders. There is no possibility to know the identity of the former; those who told the story from the time of Jesus are impossible to reconstruct. Two good guesses would be Peter and James, the brother of Jesus. These are the only two names that Paul mentions, and the only two that also occur in the NT. All the others, such as the sons of Zebedee and Andrew and all the rest disappear for several decades, if not forever. The rest are filler, side characters used to bring Jesus out in relief. Let’s face it: what did any of them actually do? Aside from Judas betraying Jesus, none of them are credited with any sort of independent activity, with one exception: the sons of Zebedee arguing about who would be the greatest in heaven. Other than than, basically nothing. Peter plays his role, and Paul attests to James, and a brother of Jesus named James is identified in Mark 6. So Peter and James are the only two eyewitnesses that we can hope to determine.
Do we have any better hope of identifying the “servants” who transmitted the account of the eyewitnesses? We can be reasonably certain of Mark. Luke’s or Matthew’s use of Mark is by no means proven, but there is no theory that explains the Synoptic situation better than that the latter two both knew and used Mark as a source. In a wrinkle, Luke is the first evangelist of whom we can be absolutely certain that he was aware of Paul; at least, we can be certain if the author of Luke is also the author of Acts, which I am going to take on faith. I will be better able to judge that when I actually translate Acts. Now, knowing about Paul’s career is not the same thing as knowing about and having read what Paul wrote. Luke could have known the former without ever having read a word of what Paul wrote. At this point, I’m completely undecided about whether Luke had ever read anything authored by Paul. Regardless, he had a source, or sources, to tell him about Paul’s missionary activities; I am too ignorant at this point to know whether Acts mentions any of the Communities to whom Paul wrote letters. Paul did spend time in Greece in Acts, and that is verified in Galatians and Corinthians. Acts also describes Paul’s time in Ephesus in some detail, but Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians is not considered authentically Paul. The overlap of Paul’s adventures in Acts, and the names of the places that received Paul’s letters will possibly provide clues about whether Luke had read any of these letters.
Note: if this were a proper research paper, which it assuredly and vehemently is not, I would have answered some or all of these questions already. But the entire exercise of this blog represents the preliminary research. Reading the works in Greek and translating them provides a much more intimate knowledge of the texts than I would garner from reading them in English, no matter how closely I annotated the texts. So I hope that this explanation of the thought process I use is useful as a how-to for further historical inquiry.
The sources for Paul that Luke encountered may have been written, or they may have been oral. Either way, the question is to what level of detail did they record and relate Paul’s adventures? And “adventures” is a proper description for what Paul experiences in Acts: shipwrecks, angry mobs, last-minute escapes, arrests, these are the stuff of an Indiana Jones movie. In fact, I have come across more than one modern scholar who referred to the similarity between Acts and Hellenistic novels. If you take these adventures and add some of the material that only Luke contains, in particular the material leading up to the public ministry– like the birth narrative–I think that an overall picture of how Luke approaches his gospel and its sequel emerges. When I think about the four evangelists and their different approaches to the narrative of Jesus’ life, I categorize them as such: Mark is a journalist, Matthew is a rabbi (albeit one who converted), John is a theologian, and Luke is a novelist.
Because one serious fault (there are more) I find in biblical scholarship is the failure to ask why each of these evangelists decided to write a gospel. What would possess someone to sit down and write out an account of Jesus’ life? But that’s just a variation on the question of why does anyone write anything? Why am I writing this blog? We write because we believe we have something to say. In the treatment of Mark we discussed some of his motivations: that the Temple had been destroyed, the generation that knew him had died, that there were a number of different interpretations of Jesus’ life and it was necessary to record a story of Jesus in order to preserve the stories and create a single narrative that wove the various traditions–in particular the Wonder-Worker and the Christ traditions–into a unified whole. Matthew’s intent, it seems to me, was to take Mark a step further, to submerge the Wonder-Worker tradition more firmly into the Christ tradition, especially to emphasize Jesus’ divinity and his status as the son of (a) g/God. Why did Luke write? It may seem that, to some degree at least, the answer to this might depend on whether or not Luke knew about Matthew; that knowledge of Matthew might have changed Luke’s motivation, but I don’t think this is true. Because I think Luke approached the topic as one needing to be filled out; and, in a sense, I think this is more true if we assume Luke knew about Matthew. In fact, it may make more sense if Luke knew about Matthew.
Here is where we have to talk about Q. It must always be remembered that there is no argument for Q. No one has ever made a case for its existence. The entirety of the case for Q is that Luke butchered the “masterful” arrangement of the Q material that Matthew created. Thus, the “argument” goes, shows that Luke did not know about Matthew, or the former would never have violated the latter’s organization of the Q material. Please note that this is not an argument. It’s an expression of aesthetic preferences. It’s akin to saying, “I can’t believe Dali butchered Da Vinci’s treatment of the Last Supper so badly”. Or, “I can’t believe Picasso butchered the arrangement of nature by putting both of that woman’s eyes on the same side of her nose”. So Dali obviously never saw Da Vinci’s Last Supper, and Picasso obviously never saw a normal person with only one eye on each side of her nose. That’s ridiculous, but that is the entire gist of the Q argument, and it has been for over a century. The biggest point the Q people make is that Luke always–always!–changes the placement of the material from Mark relative to Matthew. This alteration, I would suggest, is because Luke deliberately set out to tell the story differently from Matthew. Otherwise, why not just copy Matthew, stick in the Good Samaritan and Prodigal Son and call it a day? That seems to be what the Q people think should have done. Now, there is no real “argument” for this supposition of mine, but there is no argument for Q, either. At least I’m honest enough to admit what I lack.
This is all very important because it ties in with the “servants” to which Luke alludes in 1:1-3. A combination of Mark and Paul–or sources about Paul, whether written or oral–puts us into plural territory; with just these two we can talk about “servants” who handed over the tradition of the eyewitnesses. So right off the bat, we know that Luke had some kind of source material that was not available to either Mark or Matthew. What about Q? One of my problems with the idea of Q is that it seems very odd that so much of what Jesus taught should have completely bypassed Mark. The early Church put Matthew first and contemporary scholars still value Matthew over the other Synoptics because Matthew seems to have the complete story. It has the Sermon on the Mount, for heavens’ sake! Try to imagine a Christianity based solely on Mark, and what you get is something very different from what we have received. As such, is it possible to imagine a Jesus who did not say, “blessed are the poor in spirit…”? Most of us could not; ergo, Q. But can we imagine a Jesus who did not tell the story of the Prodigal Son? Or the Good Samaritan? Aren’t those such quintessentially Christian stories that the religion would be very different if they were not part of the corpus? If the Sermon on the Mount came from Q, where did the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son originate? Were these part of source material that bypassed both Mark and Matthew? I find it difficult to believe that a written source like Q completely bypassed Mark; I find it impossible to believe something bypassed both Mark and Matthew.
So did Luke invent these magnificent stories? The Q researchers talk about M and L material–stuff that’s unique to Matthew and Luke respectively–and insinuate, if they don’t blatantly claim that this new material is drawn from an earlier source. Never (as far as I know, anyway) is it suggested that maybe Matthew and or Luke wrote the new material themselves. They can’t do this, because that would be to admit that maybe there was no Q, because the Q material was pretty much all composed by Matthew. And that would, in turn, pretty much scuttle the idea of Q, because Matthew was Q. And that would mean that Matthew and Luke are not independent of each other. As I see it, and from the point of view of historical development, it is pretty much impossible to conceive that any of the new material in Luke and John traces back any further than, perhaps the time of Matthew. It is possible that each Luke and John came across a story here or there, or a detail that belonged to a source from an undisturbed community that had maintained something handed down for several generations. It’s possible. But these would be no more than snippets; certainly there would have been nothing like the Prodigal Son nor the Wedding Feast at Cana. Those are later inventions, much later.
To be clear, I do believe that Luke had more than two, or even three sources available to him. Aside from the Paul source and Mark, there was Matthew/Q–which I believe are the same thing. That brings us to three. I believe it highly likely that he had more. We know that new voices of witness continued to be created for several hundred years after the death of Jesus, so there is little reason to think that the time between Matthew and Luke was any exception. Likely the impetus to new creation picked up steam as time passed: witness the number of letters attributed to the “apostles” that came about in the decade either side of the turn of the century, as well as works like the Didache. Most of these sources would have proved ephemeral; or perhaps “preliminary” is a better word. These are the traditions that coalesced into the Didache or the Epistle to the Colossians and later, much later, into the Gospel of Thomas. If I’m willing to concede the existence of other sources available to Luke, why am I so adamantly opposed to Q? That is a legitimate question. The problem with Q is that it is much too important a source to have come into being as a written document, influenced half of the canonical gospels, and then disappear without a trace, a ripple, or the vaguest, most off-hand allusion to its existence. If it was important enough for Matthew and Luke to use it the way they did, it was important enough for someone else to preserve, or at least remember a decade or two later, when the later epistles or the pieces that ended up being non-canonical were being written. But there is absolutely nothing. I’m not sure of the context I read this, but someone raised the question of “Why did Mark survive?” If all, or the vast majority of his material was absorbed by Matthew, as the Q material supposedly was, why did Mark not vanish along with Q? This question is conveniently not asked, so I have no idea what the “correct” responses would be. Based on what happened with Q, Mark should have disappeared without a trace as well.
We are not finished with Q. It will be a source of discussion throughout Luke. It’s a huge topic, but it’s also something of the elephant in the room: no one really wants to discuss it; everyone does want to repeat reassuring phrases that, Yes, Virginia, there is a Q.
There is one final issue to be discussed. Let’s go back to the whole idea of Luke being a novelist. That is a very bold claim on my part, made in the security of knowing that I will never be seriously challenged on it. My point is this: we noted that Paul’s description of his conversion is very different from the more famous version that we all know from Acts; the one that is so famous that the term “Road to Damascus moment” is a cliché in the English language. What I would ask, however, is if they are really so different? Paul tells us he received the gospel through a revelation (Greek: apocalypsos) directly from God. And what happened on the Road to Damascus? Paul was struck from his horse and converted, as through a revelation from God. In short, the version in Acts is a more dramatic, more highly dramatized moment, but the underlying principle is the same: God/Jesus intervened directly in Paul’s life, changing its course forever, turning him into a follower and a missionary and an apostle, as he calls himself. If Luke can transform Paul’s description like that, what other term than “novelist” would fit? Poet? Sure, the story is told in prose. So this is a description that, I think, is not wholly ridiculous.
We shall see.
On to Luke.
Several weeks have passed since I posted the last section on the context of Matthew. Since that time, I’ve gotten back into the Q issue. The good news is that I’ve finally figured out what the actual case for Q is. Or what it isn’t. Or something
The upshot is that I’m going back over my notes, and (re-)reading more stuff by John Kloppenborg, who seems to be one of the most significant proponents of Q. I also feel somewhat responsible for him since he teaches at the University of Toronto, my alma mater. And I think what this is going to do is launch me into Luke. I’d been waffling about what to do next; 2 Corinthians, Romans, Luke, perhaps the Didache. It may end up being Luke.
The benefit of Luke is that he has a lot of stories that make up substantial blocks of text: think Zaccheaus, or The Good Shepherd, or The Prodigal Son, or the Good Samaritan. Such blocks should not require the sort of line-by-line comment that much of Mark and Matthew have. But then, I always think that.
So be prepared for another diatribe on Q.
The beauty of a blog like this is that I can be as self-indulgent about topics like this as I wish. But one hopes that one doesn’t test the patience too much of our gentle readers.