Monthly Archives: November 2018
The chapter opens with Jesus talking about people who were killed, either by Pilate during a riot (of sorts) or by sudden accident when a tower collapsed and fell on them. The interesting part is that Jesus appears to threaten his followers with this sort of unexpected and violent death if they do not repent. In fact, he repeats the warning. Of course, we have to stop and ask whether Jesus is referring simply to physical death. To confuse the matter, Jesus asks his crowd if they believe that this death was a punishment because they were more wicked than others.
A quick look at the compiled commentaries indicates that many of these authors saw the story of the tower as prophetic. They see this reference to something that Jesus indicates had happened to be a foreshadow of something that was yet to happen: the destruction of Jerusalem. In the latter event, the city was more or less razed, and doubtless many died as walls–and tower–collapsed upon people. Of course, Luke wrote after this event, but in the narrative Jesus is uttering these words before the event. If we assume that Luke accurately records words of Jesus spoken before, then of course they are prophetic, and they provide proof of Jesus’ divine foreknowledge. If you ask how Luke–and Luke alone–had record of Jesus saying these things, and conclude it to be unlikely that he did say the words, then we get another perspective. Of course, for our purposes here, we have to assume that Luke is simply putting words in Jesus’ mouth. As such, the focal point of our inquiry is not whether Jesus was uttering a prophecy, but what message Luke intended to put across to the community of believers 50 or 60 years after the events supposedly took place.
There are two sorts of ideas being yoked together here. Do we die a horrible death because we are being punished for our sins? There was certainly a school of thought in the Jewish tradition of such a quid-pro-quo punishment in this lifetime–one that ended this lifetime. Nor was this attitude restricted to Judaic thought, or to the ancient world. The second idea is whether Luke intends for Jesus to be taken literally, thereby buying into the first idea. Here we have to ask whether 2,000 years of Christianity has likely warped our understanding, or at least seriously influenced the way we read something like this. Reading this, I suspect most Christians would take it on faith that no, Jesus should not be taken literally; rather, losing one’s life in this world is symbolic for losing the prospect of eternal life in the next.
The question with this interpretation is whether or not it’s anachronistic. When did the standard Christian doctrine of eternal life after death really become fixed in the belief system? Answering this question was a major part of the reason I undertook this task of going through the NT line-by-line. At this point, it’s still not entirely clear that this is what Luke believes. If Luke doesn’t believe this, it will not appear in his gospel. Why else does he need to speak metaphorically here? Or maybe why does he speak metaphorically here? To hedge his bets? Or to put the point across by way of parable? Taken on its own, it’s difficult to say; in the context of the rest of the chapter, I think the implications become clearer.
Before continuing with that, I would like to set something down as a datum upon which we should build, which I believe will help clarify my question. In the late 6th Century BCE (the 500s), the Greek philosopher was promising punishments in the afterlife to fraudulent magicians and wonder-workers. As such, the idea of reward or punishment in the afterlife was not new–and it was apparently not a Jewish idea, at least in genesis. But books of the HS, some canonical, some apocryphal, written during the Hellenistic period (300 BCE and on) start to adopt this idea. So it was not something Jesus, or even Christians, invented. They did, perhaps, systematize it clearly and explicitly at some point in the late First/early Second Centuries CE. That should help us answer the question.
Moreover, the rest of the chapter reinforces this. The next section deals with Jesus healing a woman in the synagogue on a sabbath. So it is made fairly explicit that the woman’s illness was not a matter of being wicked, just as those Galileans killed by the falling tower were not more wicked than other Galileans. But let’s compare this to the healing of the paralytic, who was lowered down to Jesus through a hole in the roof of the house where Jesus was teaching. Jesus did not say “get up and walk”, at least, not at first. That is what he tells the woman here: you are released from your illness. Rather, he told the paralytic “your sins are forgiven”, which, of course, caused a stir among the onlookers because it could be taken as blasphemous. What is the difference? Why the difference?
First, let’s note that Luke does not include the story of the paralytic. This seems to be another of those instances where he felt that M&M had covered it in sufficient detail. But this goes a step further. In that story there was at least an implicit connexion between the man’s sins and his paralysis. Once the sins are forgiven, the man’s physical ailment is removed. That step is skipped in the story of the woman in this chapter. Jesus did not first forgive her sins and then heal her; he cut to the chase and healed her. In doing so, he severed the connexion between sin and bodily affliction. Affliction is not the result of sin. And so, too, the Galileans were not killed by the falling tower because they were wicked. The were killed because the tower fell on them. So that Jesus threatens his audience with sudden and horrible death if they do not repent, it seems fairly clear– upon reflection, at least– that he is talking about eternal life.
This is further reinforced in the remaining sections of the chapter. Immediately following the hubbub created by Jesus for healing the woman on the sabbath, he is questioned about being saved. Here Jesus launched into an oblique narrative about the narrow gate, and the competition to enter that narrow gate. At first, the idea of competing towards salvation seemed a bit…capitalist to me. But we need to bear in mind the oblique approach. The competition is not amongst individuals; it is amongst peoples. Specifically, Jesus is addressing this speech to the Jews. After all, they are the ones whom the master will shut out of the wedding feast, the ones who ate with him and the ones he taught. This relationship will avail them nothing, however; they will be left on the outside, wailing and gnashing their teeth. (Sorry; love that phrase.)
Then, in a stroke true brilliance, Luke concludes the chapter with Jesus, again obliquely, predicting his own death. He’s not afraid of the Herodians even though warned that “that fox” wants to kill Jesus. Rather, he has to go to Jerusalem to meet his fate. It is worth noting that Jerusalem was not part of Herod’s tetrarchy, which included Galilee. Jerusalem was part of Judea, an it was ruled directly by the Romans through Pilate. So, by going to Jerusalem, Jesus would be leaving Herod’s jurisdiction behind, effectively removing himself from Herod’s power. Later, when Pilate sends Jesus to Herod, Pilate is, again effectively, extraditing Jesus back into Herod’s jurisdiction. The brilliance of this passage comes from it’s context, following the story of the Galileans killed by the tower. Just as they were no more guilty than anyone else, but killed nonetheless, so Jesus is going to Jerusalem to be killed, even though he is blameless. Such were the prophets treated of old. \
This last bit is important because it gives Jesus a pedigree. I’ve often mentioned that the ancient Greeks and Romans were not impressed by novelty; they were impressed by antiquity. The Latin term for “revolution”, in the political sense, was res novae; literally, new things. New things were not good things; quite the opposite. Of course, this was the view of the conservative authors & politicians who had vested interest in maintaining the old things. The point here, is that by putting himself in the long line of prophets who had been killed in Jerusalem, Jesus was placing himself in their line. IOW, he was connecting himself to that ancient tradition that Judaism claimed, and the age of that tradition is what drew so many pagans to Judaism, pagans like Matthew.
Just a word about a word. I used the word “oblique” as a description for Jesus’ speech a couple of times. The first was descriptive; any that followed were rhetorical, a repetition when other words could be used. Why was Jesus so oblique? The answer to this has some connexion with the idea of the mysterion of ancient Greco-Roman culture. This, of course, is the root of “mystery”, especially as it relates to “mystery religions”, such as the rites of Eleusis or Isis. Such religions maintained secrets that were only divulged to those who became initiated into the cult. Jesus, and especially his later followers, adopted this approach, at least to some limited extent, and at least at first. This idea of secrets continued to develop into what became known as Gnosticism, based on a hidden gnosis, or knowledge. Mark in particular has undertones of a gnostic attitude; the parables are the clearest example of this. After all, Jesus spoke in parables to the public, but revealed the meanings in private to his disciples.
There are debates about whether Gnosticism pre-dated Christianity; many would argue that it did. I am not one of these. Marcion became a Christian heretic by advocating Gnostic ideas, and the Gospel of Thomas has a fairly explicit Gnostic aspect. Prior to Jesus, however, Gnosticism is not really on the radar. It’s not necessary to say that Gnosticism derived from Christianity; indeed, I believe that would be greatly overstating the case. Rather, it seems that Christianity and Gnosticism both derived from a pre- or proto-Gnostic milieu, which itself was a development on the idea of the mystery religions. Part of my argument for a later date for Gospel of Thomas derives from these explicitly Gnostic elements; they are too fully developed as such to date from the 50s, as the Q people want us to believe. There are simply no real precursors (to the best of my knowledge; I need to look into that) to ideas like those expressed in Gospel of Thomas at that early date. As such, a date from the mid-Second Century or later seems more appropriate. But that is an entirely different discussion.
Well, this is my mistake. Had I realized how short the remainder of the chapter was, this next section would have been tacked on to the end of the last.
In the last section, we were discussing the narrow way, and that only a few would be saved. This is something of an appendix to that. So, on to the
31) Ἐν αὐτῇ τῇ ὥρᾳ προσῆλθάν τινες Φαρισαῖοι λέγοντες αὐτῷ, Ἔξελθε καὶ πορεύου ἐντεῦθεν, ὅτι Ἡρῴδης θέλει σε ἀποκτεῖναι. (32) καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Πορευθέντες εἴπατε τῇ ἀλώπεκι ταύτῃ, Ἰδοὺ ἐκβάλλω δαιμόνια καὶ ἰάσεις ἀποτελῶ σήμερον καὶ αὔριον, καὶ τῇ τρίτῃ τελειοῦμαι. (33) πλὴν δεῖ με σήμερον καὶ αὔριον καὶ τῇ ἐχομένῃ πορεύεσθαι, ὅτι οὐκ ἐνδέχεται προφήτην ἀπολέσθαι ἔξω Ἰερουσαλήμ. (34) Ἰερουσαλὴμ Ἰερουσαλήμ, ἡ ἀποκτείνουσα τοὺς προφήτας καὶ λιθοβολοῦσα τοὺς ἀπεσταλμένους πρὸς αὐτήν, ποσάκις ἠθέλησα ἐπισυνάξαι τὰ τέκνα σου ὃν τρόπον ὄρνις τὴν ἑαυτῆς νοσσιὰν ὑπὸ τὰς πτέρυγας, καὶ οὐκ ἠθελήσατε. (35) ἰδοὺ ἀφίεται ὑμῖν ὁ οἶκος ὑμῶν. λέγω [δὲ] ὑμῖν, οὐ μὴ ἴδητέ με ἕως [ἥξει ὅτε] εἴπητε, Εὐλογημένος ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου.
At that moment (lit = ‘hour”) some Pharisees came up to him, saying, “Go away and depart from here, the Herodians want to kill you.” (32) And he said to them, “Going away, you tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and healings I complete today and tomorrow, and on the third (unspecified) I will be finished’. (33) Except it is necessary for me today and tomorrow and on the one coming (the next day) to go away, that it is not allowed to the prophet to die outside Jerusalem. (34) Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city having killed the prophets and having stoned (lit = thrown stones) those sent to her, how often have I wished to gather upon your children in which way a bird her brood under her wings, and you did not want this. (35) Look, your home goes away from you. [But] I say to you, you will not see me until [it has arrived (i.e., the time has arrived) that] you say, ‘Blessed is the one coming in the name of the lord’.”
There is a fair bit that could be said just about the Greek. In the last verse, the bracketed part about the time arriving is not in many mss traditions, so you may not see that in some translations. The ESV and the NIV do not have it; the KJV and the NASB do. As always, I’m agnostic about this; I do not have the chops to have an intelligent opinion on textual traditions and/or emendations. That’s way above my pay grade. One point worth making is the word I’ve rendered as “bird”. The Greek is “ornis”, which is the root of “ornithology”, the study of birds. All four of the translations mentioned render this as “hen”; however the Greek word is more generic. It doesn’t even translate to “fowl”, which identifies a subset of birds. And if it does refer to a chicken in Classical usage, it more often means “rooster” rather than hen. Now, the context makes it pretty clear that we are talking about a hen rather than a rooster, but I’m prickly enough that I want to remind everyone just how not-settled and inexact a lot of these words and terms are.
And aside from the actual Greek, some of the phrases used could be commented; especially coming to mind is calling Herod a fox. Luke is the only one to have Jesus saying this. Why? Perhaps by the time Luke wrote Herod had been dead long enough that he had passed, more or less, into folklore. The problem with this is that there was still a Herod with political power in Judea. This would be Herod Agrippa II, the grandson of the Herod who executed John the Dunker–usually called Herod Antipas, one of the tetrarchs, and the son of Herod the Great. So, not sure what to make of this. Perhaps the two are not mutually exclusive. Either way, it’s curious, and it is a virtual certainty that the use of the term does not trace back to Jesus. Luke may have picked it uo from Jesus’ lament that ‘foxes have their dens’, but the son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Or, Luke could certainly have come up with this on his own.
A few words should be said about the today and tomorrow section. The exact meaning of the Greek is a bit slippery. Anytime we see “the third” in conjunction with “days”, we generally leap to the idea of the third day, as in the Resurrection. I am not sure that is what Jesus is meant to mean here; but, if not, I’m not sure what it is meant to mean. He’s doing things today and tomorrow, but on the third he will…be finished, or go away. Of course “today & tomorrow” are metaphorical, meaning now and in the immediate future, whereas the third day is still some distance away, and then Jesus will no longer be on the earth. Again, nothing really earth-shattering, but, again, an indication of just how unsettled some of this verbiage is. It makes it difficult to accept the words as literally true if you’re not entirely sure what those words actually mean.
But overall, the point of this section is delivered in the last two verses. Jesus is going to Jerusalem because he is to die. More, it is the only place that a prophet can be killed. So this implies that he is a prophet, which is kind of interesting. A prophet was never a divine individual, so for Jesus to call himself a prophet is for him to step down from divinity to the merely human realm. Of course, he’s being metaphorical again, which brings us back to the whole literal interpretation. But all of that is beside the point to some extent. The passage is meant to foreshadow Jesus’ coming death. We get a lot of this in all the gospels so that the audience can feel assured that Jesus understood the trial coming to him, and that the eventual outcome will be his death; followed, of course, by the Resurrection.
We also need to recognize that the lament of Jerusalem is also intended to explain, or at least address, the fact that so few Jews became followers of Jesus. The latter wants to gather the children of the city, the Jews, under his protective grasp. Unfortunately, Jerusalem does not want this. Instead, the city kills prophets and stones those sent, just as the city will shortly (?–what is the time frame between the “now” of this section and the coming crucifixion?) kill the latest of the prophets and the latest one sent. And there is a bit of a prophecy–if not a curse–at the end. Jerusalem will not see Jesus until they say the words that the one coming in the name of the lord is blessed. As everyone hearing these words knows, the one coming is Jesus. Until Jerusalem recognises what has happened, the current situation will continue: the Jews have been replaced by the pagans; the home of the Jews has gone away from them.
And the verb is “lithoballo”; literally, this is “throw stones”.
31 In ipsa hora accesserunt quidam pharisaeorum dicentes illi: “ Exi et vade hinc, quia Herodes vult te occidere ”.
32 Et ait illis: “Ite, dicite vulpi illi: “Ecce eicio daemonia et sanitates perficio hodie et cras et tertia consummor.
33 Verumtamen oportet me hodie et cras et sequenti ambulare, quia non capit prophetam perire extra Ierusalem”.
34 Ierusalem, Ierusalem, quae occidis prophetas et lapidas eos, qui missi sunt ad te, quotiens volui congregare filios tuos, quemadmodum avis nidum suum sub pinnis, et noluistis.
35 Ecce relinquitur vobis domus vestra. Dico autem vobis: Non videbitis me, donec veniat cum dicetis: “Benedictus, qui venit in nomine Domini” ”.