Luke Chapter 1:57-66

Several times I went back and forth on whether to include the last 13 Verses here, or to make that a separate post. I chose the latter, since two shorter posts are probably better than a single post that is too long.

To set the scene, Mary has just left the home of Elisabeth and Zacharias. Mary went there after being told she would conceive by the sacred breath; apparently that happened prior to the trip, because the baby in Elisabeth’s womb–the future Baptist–leapt inside Elisabeth at Mary’s greeting.

57 Τῇ δὲ Ἐλισάβετ ἐπλήσθη ὁ χρόνος τοῦ τεκεῖν αὐτήν, καὶ ἐγέννησεν υἱόν.

58 καὶ ἤκουσαν οἱ περίοικοι καὶ οἱ συγγενεῖς αὐτῆς ὅτι ἐμεγάλυνεν κύριος τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ μετ’ αὐτῆς, καὶ συνέχαιρον αὐτῇ.

59 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ ὀγδόῃ ἦλθον περιτεμεῖν τὸ παιδίον, καὶ ἐκάλουν αὐτὸ ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ Ζαχαρίαν.

60 καὶ ἀποκριθεῖσα ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ εἶπεν, Οὐχί, ἀλλὰ κληθήσεται Ἰωάννης.

61 καὶ εἶπαν πρὸς αὐτὴν ὅτι Οὐδείς ἐστιν ἐκ τῆς συγγενείας σου ὃς καλεῖται τῷ ὀνόματι τούτῳ.

62 ἐνένευον δὲ τῷ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ τὸ τί ἂν θέλοι καλεῖσθαι αὐτό.

To Elisabeth came the time of her giving birth, and she gave birth to a son. (58) And those living about her and her relatives heard that the lord increas(ed)ing his mercy and co-rejoiced with her. (59) And it became on the eighth day to they went to circumcise the boy, and they had called him after the name of his father, Zacharias. (60) And having answered, his mother said, “No, rather call him John.” (61) And the said towards her that “No one from your relatives is so called by that name.” (62) And they made signs to father made signs what he might wish him to be called. 

Let’s stop there. We have a nearly unique event in front of us. “What he might wish” is one of two or three occurrences of this particular verb tense in the entire NT. (I don’t remember exactly how many instances of this tense there are exactly, but it’s not more than three. I believe the actual number is two, but don’t quote me on that.) This tense is the optative. This is not a form found in any of the other Ind0-European languages I’ve studied, but there are numerous ones I haven’t. Essentially, this is an historical subjunctive, so it has the subjunctive element of uncertainty or doubt or unreality, but occurring in the past. This is, to our minds perhaps, a bit odd that there might be uncertainty in the past, and I suspect that this is part of the reason the tense disappeared. I’ve been reading Xenophon’s Anabasis in a fairly desultory fashion, and I can tell you that the optative is a very common occurrence, and Xenophon is not considered one of the more literary of authors. It would seem that perhaps the tense was on its way out by the time the NT was written, 300-400 years after the Anabasis, and perhaps it was especially on the way out among less-than-erudite authors. Although Luke’s Greek seems rather more upscale than even Matthew’s Greek.

Latin does not have an optative tense, nor anything really quite like it. One thing about languages is that, the earlier in its development that it becomes written, and especially a literary language, the more old-fashioned aspects it preserves. The peculiarities of English spelling vs pronunciation have a lot to do with the fact that English has been written continuously for about 600 years–I’m going back approximately to Chaucer. As such, a lot of archaic spellings are trapped in amber, as it were, because the writing has preserved the spelling of the way the word was pronounced back then. “Knight” is a great example. If you hear a version of the Canterbury Tales, you will note that the initial “k” and the interior “gh” are actually pronounced. So too, I think, with the optative. Greek became a written language about 700 years before Jesus, and it became a literary language almost immediately. Now, there are a lot of forms in Homer that were dropped in mainstream Greek long before Herodotus began making inquiries; the Great Scott is full of notes about Homeric forms of the word being defined. Really, though, this is no different from the forms we find in Chaucer, except that Homeric Greek is more comprehensible to a reader of Classical Greek than Chaucer is to a contemporary reader.

As for the content, how many of you remember (or ever knew) that New Year’s Day was once upon a time a Holy Day of Obligation in the Roman Church? For that matter, it may still be. This means (or meant) that a Catholic is obligated to go to mass or face the pains of Hell for committing a mortal sin. NY Day is eight days after Christmas, or rather, the eighth day, and this is when Jesus was taken to be presented in the Temple and to be circumcised and named. As such, it was known, at one time, as the Feast of the Circumcision. Having worked in life insurance, one cannot insure a child that is less than two weeks old. This is because the mortality rate in these first two weeks is significantly higher than after. So the eight-day interlude was sort of a wait-and-see period, to see if the child would survive. If he did, the boy was taken to the Temple to be circumcised, named, and accepted into the religion and the community. The parallel with infant baptism among most Christian groups are real and deliberate. The Catholics are among the earliest to baptise their children; this is likely a holdover from the days of high infant/child mortality. The idea was to have the child baptised ASAP so that the child would go to heaven should he or she die. Tough world back then.

The other thing to note is that the Temple authorities were going to name the boy after his father. This is different from contemporary practice, among some Jews anyway, where a child is not named after anyone who is alive. I have no idea of the genesis or the timing of this change, but I experienced it as a living practice within a contemporary Jewish community. Even more interesting is that when Elisabeth says that his name is to be John, the authorities push back and are not willing to take her word on the matter, so they immediately turn to Zacharias, since he is the patriarch of the family.

57 Elisabeth autem impletum est tempus pariendi, et peperit filium.

58 Et audierunt vicini et cognati eius quia magnificavit Dominus misericordiam suam cum illa, et congratulabantur ei.

59 Et factum est, in die octavo venerunt circumcidere puerum et vocabant eum nomine patris eius, Zachariam.

60 Et respondens mater eius dixit: “ Nequaquam, sed vocabitur Ioannes ”.

61 Et dixerunt ad illam: “ Nemo est in cognatione tua, qui vocetur hoc nomine ”.

62 Innuebant autem patri eius quem vellet vocari eum.

63 καὶ αἰτήσας πινακίδιον ἔγραψεν λέγων, Ἰωάννης ἐστὶν ὄνομα αὐτοῦ. καὶ ἐθαύμασαν πάντες.

64 ἀνεῴχθη δὲ τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ παραχρῆμα καὶ ἡ γλῶσσα αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐλάλει εὐλογῶν τὸν θεόν.

65 καὶ ἐγένετο ἐπὶ πάντας φόβος τοὺς περιοικοῦντας αὐτούς, καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ὀρεινῇ τῆς Ἰουδαίας διελαλεῖτο πάντα τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα,

66 καὶ ἔθεντο πάντες οἱ ἀκούσαντες ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτῶν, λέγοντες, Τί ἄρα τὸ παιδίον τοῦτο ἔσται; καὶ γὰρ χεὶρ κυρίου ἦν μετ’ αὐτοῦ.

And asking for a writing tablet he wrote, saying, “John is his name.” And they all marveled. (64) And opened was his mouth and immediately and also his tongue, and he spoke, praising God. (65) And there was a fear among all his neighbors, and in the whole hill-country of Judea, they all spoke his words, and all hearing put in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be? And for the hand of God is with him.”

There will be much more to say about this. First, the idea that the boy was names something no one expected, and that this caused some consternation in and of itself is a good indication of how conservative and tradition-bound this community was. Or, at least, Luke wants to portray them this way, and wants us to believe it was so. Here is a very clear indication, I think, that Luke was unquestionably writing for a pagan audience. As argued, I believe Matthew was as well, and I believe Mark was, too, to a much greater extent than is generally recognised, or certainly more than is generally acknowledged. Second, we have the miracle of the restoration of Zacharias’ speech. This set tongues wagging (pun intended. But, does anyone use that expression any more? Or does it only exist in Penguin translations from a generation or two ago?). But people saw this as more than a ma temporarily made mute regaining his speech. This was divine intervention: it was God who made him mute and it was God who loosened his tongue again. Keep this in mind, that this was viewed as a miracle. It demonstrates very clearly that Luke was aware of Matthew’s version of the nativity, and that Luke was going to take that an expand upon it. Because not only do we have two miraculous births, but we have two miraculous births announced by angels who command, in exactly the same words, one of the parents on what to name the boy that has been (Matthew) or will be (Luke) conceived. Matthew used this to set up the divine nature of Jesus, the nature that was there from even before Jesus was born; Luke takes that back a step further and tells us that, not only Jesus, but his herald John was the result of a divine intervention. And, I would argue, Luke wrote all of this about John on the assumption that the person hearing this version of the nativity would be aware of what Matthew had already written. There is a tacit acknowledgement of Matthew’s story here.

We can, and will, discuss this more in the next section, and in the summary to the chapter.

63 Et postulans pugillarem scripsit dicens: “ Ioannes est nomen eius ”. Et mirati sunt universi.

64 Apertum est autem ilico os eius et lingua eius, et loquebatur benedicens Deum.

65 Et factus est timor super omnes vicinos eorum, et super omnia montana Iudaeae divulgabantur omnia verba haec.

66 Et posuerunt omnes, qui audierant, in corde suo dicentes: “ Quid putas puer iste erit? ”. Etenim manus Domini erat cum illo.

 

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on February 4, 2017, in Chapter 1, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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