Monthly Archives: January 2020
The chapter was another mixed bag, with a lot of different ideas, themes, and types of story. The first was the tale of Zaccheus. Two things stand out for me. The first is that the inclusion of a story set in Jericho indicates the spread and growth of the Jesus Legend. Much earlier in the gospel we had the story of Jesus raising the son of the widow of Nain from the dead. Both of these are unique to Luke, and both of them represent settings in places where no previous stories had been set. Indeed, Nain had never been mentioned; and while Jericho was the setting for the returning the sight of bar Timaeus, this had occurred outside the gates in previous tellings. The tale of Zaccheus takes place inside Jericho itself, which widens the net of places where Jesus acted. Presumably, the stories indicate locations where assemblies of the followers of Jesus– it is probably correct to call them Christians at this point– had taken root. Not wanting to feel left out, one suspects that they sort of grew their own tales to demonstrate their participation in the movement. Yes, of course, this flies in the face of the idea that all of the events described are factually accurate down to the smallest detail, but that idea is simply untenable. I suspect that anyone holding that view has long since abandoned reading anything I say, and I don’t blame them for that decision. So there you have it. To believe that the stories of the events in the life of Jesus circulated intact and underground until picked up by Matthew or Luke– and worst of all, by John– just is not tenable. It is at this point that someone starts to talk about the reliability of oral traditions and waves their hand as if disputing the accuracy of oral tradition is the height of folly. To which I respond: the Song of Roland is based on indisputably historical events, the course of which are known and pretty much settled. And yet, the Song of Roland relates these historical events and gets the enemy wrong. So, yeah, stories got made up to include Nain and Jericho.
While we’re talking about these two stories, there are a couple of things that should be pointed out, traits that carry a bit more weight than when considered in isolation. Luke has the story of the Widow of Nain; he does not have the story of Jairus’ daughter. I would suggest that Luke omitted the latter because he had a replacement for it. The import of Jairus daughter is that Jesus brought the dead girl back to life. Jesus does exactly that by revivifying the widow’s son, but the circumstances are much more dramatic. After all, Jairus’ daughter died just moments (hours?) before Jesus arrived; the widow’s son had been dead some time. Jesus raised the girl more or less in private; he raised the widow’s son while the latter was on his way to the tomb, and in front of all in the funeral procession. It was very public. The upshot is that Luke had a better story than that of Jairus, and the latter story had been well-covered by Mark and Matthew. We saw this same sort of abridgement later in this chapter when we read Luke’s versions of Palm Sunday, Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, and the Cleansing of the Temple. All of these stories are part of the triple tradition; all of them were reported in full by Luke’s two predecessors. As a result, Luke did not feel the need to tell the full story as he had done with the story of the Gerasene Demonaic, which Matthew shortened, and by a lot. So Luke, apparently, did not see the point of retelling the story of Jairus, but substituted that of the Widow of Nain, which carried a lot more dramatic wallop. In the same way, at the end of Chapter 18, we were told the story of bar Timaeus. Again, the story was carried in full by Mark and Matthew; again, Luke gave us a shorter version, to the point where Luke does not provide the name of the man whose sight was restored. So here we have a cluster of stories all exhibiting a common trait: Luke tells a short version when the longer version has been, to his mind, adequately covered. Are all these a mere coincidence? It’s possible, of course, but in these two chapters we have a half-dozen such examples, and there are others I don’t recall offhand. That’s a lot of coincidence. Of course, this carries the strong implication that Luke was, indeed, very well aware of Matthew. Luke never goes short when Matthew does; rather, Luke goes short when Matthew goes long. Put another nail in the coffin of Q.
The other part of the Zaccheus story is that we are told the Z-man merited salvation. The more exact cite would be that Jesus said that salvation had come to Zaccheus’ house; the cause of the salvation was given in the previous verse, when Z-man promised to make restitution, and to take no more than was due in the future. In short, he repented and promised to change his ways. Bingo. Also to be noted is that Luke used the word “salvation”, sōtēria. This is exactly the fourth time the word has been used in the gospels; the first three all came in Chapter 1, and they all come between Verses 69-77. They are part of the prophecy Zaccharias gives regarding his coming son, John-who-will-be-called-Baptist, after Zaccharias has regained his powers of speech that he lost for doubting that he and Elizabeth would have a son in their old age. John, Zaccharias says, is going to preach and offer salvation to the children of Abraham. There, however, the Lord God will give salvation Israel from their enemies; this is a different kind of salvation. So, this is the first time that the idea of salvation, in its Christian sense, is mentioned in the gospels. It’s also the first time in the whole NT where the nexus of salvation is connected to merit.
This distinction is important because it is not the first time the word salvation is used in the NT. Paul uses it several times, most especially in Romans, but also tracing back to Philippians and 1 Thessalonians. The last two, with Galatians, are the earliest pieces of writing in all of the NT; that Paul uses the term as Luke does here indicates that the concept of salvation dates back to the first days of the development of what would become Christianity. 1 Thessalonians 5:8-10 is very explicit about this: we are to obtain salvation from the wrath through the lord, who died for us that we might live with him. Then, after Paul, the concept more or less disappeared until showing up in the first chapter of Luke: Zaccahrias talks about salvation and the angels tell the shepherds that a saviour has been born this day. John’s Gospel uses each of the words exactly once. Then the terms salvation and saviour are used numerous times in the later epistles, like Timothy, Titus, Peter 1&2, and even in Revelations. Think about that: Jesus is referred to as The Saviour exactly twice in all four gospels, and only in the last two written.
What happened? I ask this because the term “saviour” became very popular with the Ante-Nicene Patristic writers. I’m currently reading The Refutation of All Heresies. This was written in the early 3rd Century CE by Hippolytus Romanus. He uses the term “saviour” for Jesus the Christ frequently, and by the time Eusebios wrote in the early-mid 4th Century, referring to Jesus as “our Saviour” was a standard form of address. So the question is what happened between Paul and Luke? Why was the term not used by the first two evangelists?
My first impulse is to exhibit this split up as powerful evidence of how the different traditions of Jesus told different stories. Backing up a step, it’s really good evidence that there were at least two different traditions. There was the tradition that ignored the term saviour and the tradition that kept it alive. In turn, it also reinforces, to some degree, my contention that Mark welded the traditions of the Wonder Worker and The Christ into a single story; but then if we notice that the Christ tradition did not include the saviour tradition, perhaps our count is now up to three separate story lines. And here is where Luke takes on a new level of significance: since he is the one who uses the term in his gospel, what he did was to merge the Pauline tradition into the two that were preserved by Mark and expanded by Matthew. Going forward, since the Christ tradition likely originated with Paul (so far as we know), the fact that the Christ was maintained by one group but the saviour tradition was lost perhaps indicates that the Pauline tradition itself was bifurcated. Then if we recall the tradition that resulted in the Didache, we can argue that there was a fourth– or fifth, depending on how you define it– tradition. Given the Pauline split, it should not surprise us that at least one–and probably more– Gnostic interpretation evolved later. In fact, Hippolytus Romanus describes a plethora of what he calls heresies, and heresies continued to develop until eventually one was called the Reformation.
As I mentioned, I’m currently reading (well, I’ve started to read; the book is 1000+ pages) the book James, Brother of Jesus, by Robert Eisenman. The author is reputable; he did a lot of work on the Dead Sea Scrolls, but he may have gone a bit off the rails in this one. As the title suggests, the book is an attempt to re-establish James in his rightful place in Christian development. He believes we can identify two major strains of Christian development: the Hellenistic, founded by Paul, which eventually became the orthodox version, and a Jewish or Palestinian branch, founded by James. This group, he says, was part of the sect that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls, which he dates to the First Century CE, rather than the widely accepted First Century BCE. This latter group was anti-Roman in both a religious as well as a political sense. The group included the Zealots, and Eisenman numbers James among them. They were, supposedly, much like the English Puritans, intellectual descendants of the Maccabees who were vehemently opposed to foreign rule. He identifies them with one branch of Saducees, which term he derives from the name of the High Priest Zadok. Saducees, he says, is the Hellenized form of Zadokites. There is much that I’ve found interesting so far, but I have a foreboding that he’s going to base too much on linguistic similarities and/or coincidences. Time will tell. But he is certainly on solid ground to argue that James was more or less erased from history by the Hellenizers, former pagans, who had no real connexion to Jewish Christians to start with, but who lost even this once James was killed in the mid-60s, which event was followed closely by the Jewish War. If nothing else, there is the Didache giving evidence that such a non-Pauline strain did hang on to leave the document.
What’s really fascinating is that he links James to the Ebionites–something everyone does–but then takes this a step further. The Ebionites, the Poor Ones, were concerned with the status of the downtrodden; we have noted that much of “Christian” concern with the poor and the meek is actually part of the Jewish tradition, something running through numerous books of the Hebrew Scriptures (HS). So if it were James who was concerned with the poor and the meek, perhaps the Sermon on the Mount originated with James, and not his more famous brother. This appeals to me for a couple of reasons. I have been harping on the idea that James was the head of the ekklesia for nigh on 30 years; as a result, it’s impossible that he did not have some kind of major impact on what the group believed and how it saw itself. I also want to believe I’ve suggested that material in the Sermon on the Mount may have originated with James and not Jesus, and that I came up with this thought independently. The problem is that I started reading this book at some point a couple of years ago, but I don’t remember how much I read. It wasn’t a lot, but how much is “not a lot”? Ten pages? One hundred (10% of a 1,000 page book…) So did these ideas lodge there to be reawakened “on my own” at a later date? This is sort of the phenomenon of “inadvertent copyright infringement. You hear a song once or twice, forget about it, and then one day you compose a song that sounds a lot like it. You didn’t knowingly steal it, but there it is.
The second reason the idea appeals, of course, because this all-but completely eliminates the need for Q. Jesus never said this stuff, so it never got written down, which means no Q, and Luke got it all from Matthew.
This has gotten way off topic. Regardless, it’s important to see the broader implications of what is going on in this writing. The focus in too much writing on the NT is much, much too narrow, usually only stepping back when needed to make a particular point. This is the risk, and the result, when non-historians try to write about the historical Jesus.
The rest of the chapter was dedicated to stories that are part of the Triple Tradition. These include the Triumphal Entry, Jesus Weeping Over Jerusalem, and The Cleansing of the Temple. In all three cases, the version presented here is short and sweet, almost to the point of perfunctory. This is in keeping with what I perceive to be a pattern: where Mark and Matthew present a full-length version of a story, Luke provides a condensed version as he does here in all three cases. Alternatively, if Matthew abridges one of Mark’s stories, such as that of the Gerasene Demonaic, Luke is content to give us a redacted form of the story as he did here.
The one place where Luke added material was in the Tale of the Talents. This is my term for the Gospel of Capitalism, where the slaves of the master are expected to turn a profit for him on the money he entrusted to them. As I’ve mentioned in the other two versions, I’ve always had a problem with this; however, I’ve finally figured out that the money is a metaphor for spiritual growth. The lord gave his slaves spiritual gifts; two of the slaves were able to increase their gifts, to become more spiritual, but the third was afraid to try. This is a metaphorical inducement that, as followers of Jesus, we can’t be passive and hide our spirituality by burying it in the ground. And now it occurs to me that this story is much more apt to refer to conditions in the 60s or 70s as in the 30s or 40s. There was unrest in Judea in the later 30s, so it could date to that period. After all, if the story was already in Mark who wrote shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem, that provides a pretty tight chronology for the events to occur and the story to be created. It’s possible either way. The point is that during times of trouble, certain followers likely buried their spiritual gifts by denying their religious affiliation rather than let their freak flag fly and face persecution. Of course, it’s always easy after the fact, from the comfort of a secure, non-threatening environment, to tell people how they should have behaved when placed in mortal danger.
One thing that is very important to remember about facing danger for one’s beliefs is that the idea of martyrdom was most emphatically not a Christian invention. Like concern for social justice, this was something the Christians appropriated from their Jewish forerunners, and then tried to imply that they were the only ones with this degree of courage of convictions. The fact is that Josephus relates several stories in which crowds of Jews bared their necks to Roman swords to force the Romans to choose between desecration of the Temple (e.g.) or the mass slaughter of hundreds of Jews, which would have inflamed passion against Rome even further. Nor is there any real reason to suspect that they would not have submitted to the execution; or, at least, they may have submitted to start, but I can see where after a few minutes the crowd may have chosen to riot rather than allow more slaughter.
But that’s all by way of incidental. The real issue with Luke’s adaptation is the addition of the part with the kingdom. In the other two versions, the lord is simply going on a journey. In this version, the lord is going to accept a kingdom. And once again, I failed to catch the symbolism intended. Of course the lord is Jesus. And of course the kingdom is the kingdom of God. And of course he’s “going away” because he’s been crucified. And he came back because that’s what he’s promised to do. And now that he’s back, he’s settling accounts. Who’s done what with the gifts, or the commission, or the instructions, that they’ve been given? Of course, you all knew all of that. I, OTOH, well, not so much. As such, this is not the major deviation I had originally thought it was. It’s just an addition, sort of filling out the story in order to make the meaning more obvious. But then, people like me come along and completely miss this.
So what is the point? I think that this represents a reminder. We saw in Paul how the Second Coming was expected hourly, if not sooner. We saw how Mark and Matthew stepped away from that, with injunctions that no one knows the day and the hour except the father, so be ready, but don’t hold your breath. Now I think Luke is using this story to remind us that it is going to happen. Maybe not immediately, but it will. Perhaps he believed that the sense of urgency about the Return had waned a bit too much, so he decided that a bit of a warning might be in order. So, while not earth-shattering, it’s a change from Mark and Matthew.