Category Archives: Chapter 1
The very large bulk of this chapter is dedicated to the story of John the Baptist. Or, rather, it’s given over to his rather miraculous origins. As such, calling this the Chapter of John the Baptist is not much of a stretch. Yes, we also have the story of the Annunciation, which became a major event on the Catholic calendar, but that is really sort of shoe-horned in amongst the tale of John’s parents and his parentage. This attention to John should tell us a lot about what the early church thought about Jesus’ precursor.
There have been countless times when I have encountered protestations that the early church was embarrassed by the connexion of Jesus to the Baptist. This chapter should drive a stake through the heart of that idea; indeed, this chapter should have driven that stake centuries ago. Time and again I have pointed out that one does not expand the attention given to a character that is supposed to be an embarrassment. Mark introduces John; there, if one is not paying attention, one could consider John is decidedly a second-, or even third-tier character. He appears, we are told a bit about him, he baptises Jesus, he gets executed. But think about that; given that Mark is not a terribly long gospel, the amount of space given to John is not inconsequential. So, even in Mark, we have the sense that John is someone important. Worse, from the Christian standpoint, is that Jesus seeks out John, and the John is the one performing the ritual baptism on Jesus, putting the Jesus in a decidedly inferior position. This is the source of the embarrassment.
If we accept that early, or proto-Christians found this embarrassing, we should expect that Matthew would take steps to downplay, or even omit entirely, the episode of the baptism. On the contrary, Matthew increases John’s role by giving him dialogue. More, this dialogue is supposedly part of Q, which supposedly means this dialogue was deemed important enough to be included in what is suppose to be a collection of Jesus’ teachings. More, it was included in Christian lore from a very early time in the development of the belief system. So, on one hand, John was embarrassing, but his teaching was included in sayings of Jesus; the two of those don’t quite match, do they? This is, yet another, indication that Q is not to be taken seriously; the definition of what Q is supposed to be changes to fit the circumstances the Q people wish to explain. John’s “brood of vipers” speech is found in Matthew and (spoiler alert!) Luke, but not Mark. Ergo, by definition, it had to have been part of Q or the tidy package of Q’s contents begins to unravel a bit. If there is material in Matthew and Luke that is not in Mark, but it’s not part of Q, then that opens the door to questions about what else in Matthew and Luke but not Mark (M&LbnM) might not be part of Q? And if we start picking out such pieces, the raison d’être for Q starts to come apart.
So, if Q is eliminated–as it should have been a century ago–and yet Matthew gave John dialogue that was not in Mark, then we are faced with the situation where Matthew is focusing even more on a personage about whom he’s supposed to be embarrassed. But wait, there’s more. Luke then follows up with expanding John’s story even more. The result of this expansion is the bulk of this chapter. This enlargement of John’s character fits very nicely into the way that legends grow. A name is remembered–or invented–in the first layer of the story. As time passes, the name attracts stories. I keep going back to the Arthur legend, but it is such a good example of the process. First we get Launcelot. Then Guinevere (or the other way around). Then we get their adulterous affair. Then Launcelot has a bastard son. Then that bastard son is given a name, and eventually Galahad becomes one of the knights who find the Grail. And so on. So, in the early layer, we get John. Matthew kinda sorta gives John some lines, the sort of thing that he thinks John woulda shoulda coulda said. Then Luke comes along and gives John a lineage. And not only is John not swept under the rug, he’s made into a kinsman of Jesus! They are first cousins!
Really, though, what Luke has done is to complete the domestication of John. The embarrassment of John was that Jesus began by seeking him out for baptism, putting Jesus in the subordinate role; it wasn’t John per se. Matthew, rather half-heartedly, attempts to solve the problem by having John demur upon Jesus’ request for baptism, John saying that it is he who should be baptised by Jesus. Very nice, but not enough for Luke. The new interpretation that Luke provides is brilliant, because it both elevates John while subordinating him even further. For when Mary goes to visit, even in utero John recognises that he is in the presence of the divine lord. His mother states that she is truly blessed to be visited by the mother of her lord. Zacharias provides a prophesy that is sort of a greatest hits from the HS, a compilation of prophecies that could be applied to Jesus, but all of them emphasizing John’s role as the precursor and herald of the mightier Jesus. It is Jesus who is the one everyone has been waiting for. John has been sent to make straight Jesus’ path. All of this emphasizes and re-emphasizes that it is John, not Jesus, who plays the subordinate role.
Even so, Luke subordinates John while raising him to nearly divine heights himself. John’s conception is modeled after that of Isaac, and no one with even a cursory knowledge of Hebrew myth would–could–miss this. John is conceived by a barren woman who is past the age of child-bearing, just as Sarah was before Elisabeth. In other words, John was important enough to the cosmic scheme that God himself intervened in order to make sure that John is conceived. And beyond that, he sent a messenger to tell Zacharias, just as the angels came to visit Abram, and his descendant Joseph. All in all, this indicates that John has a most important role to play in the unfolding of the divine plan; the subtle genius of Luke is that, by making John so important, he double-underscores the even greater significance of Jesus. After all, if God went to all this trouble about John, and John is just the herald, then well boy howdy Jesus must really be important. So Luke’s tale provides a double-whammy, kills two birds with one stone, and all those other two-for-one clichés. This is quite an accomplishment.
When discussing the messenger, Gabriel, sent to Zacharias, we mentioned the parallel to Matthew. He, too, had an angel reveal to Joseph the identity and the provenance of the child in Mary’s womb. This messenger returns, this time with a name. This is the first time in the NT that an angel is named. Michael appeared in Daniel, which would be the first canonical naming of an angel. It is interesting to note that 1 Enoch mentions Gabriel and six others; the date of 1 Enoch is the source of much speculation; most often it seems like it’s put in either of the first centuries, whether before or during the Common Era. This makes it possible, or even likely, that Luke got the name from 1 Enoch, if not directly, then indirectly because this angelology was in circulation in the time that Luke was writing. Did Matthew not name his angel because he wasn’t aware of 1 Enoch, or that angels were being given names? That strikes me as a very interesting question, one that could have some bearing on the date of 1 Enoch, pushing it later, rather than earlier. The other aspect of this is where did Matthew and Luke write? If Matthew wrote in Antioch, and Luke wrote in Rome, how is it that Luke (seemingly) knew about Enoch but Matthew didn’t? The point of all of this is that, once again, Luke is expanding on a theme introduced by Matthew. He doesn’t repeat Matthew, but he takes the basic concept, uses it, and enlarges the story.
Along with that, of course, is the idea of the virgin birth. As mentioned, this theme is found only in Matthew and Luke. It wasn’t part of the overall tradition, because it doesn’t show up anywhere else. Nor is it considered part of Q, largely because there is no single point of contact between the two gospels. And yet, there it is, along with the messenger of God and (spoiler alert!) Bethlehem. But we’ll get to that shortly.
It would be remiss not to say something about the Annunciation. Except I have no idea what to say about it. It’s another way that Luke expands on Matthew, although the announcement comes to Mary, and not to Joseph. This may be significant. But enough for now. On to Chapter Two.
Update: A possible explanation for the Annunciation has just occurred to me. Recall that, in Matthew, Joseph was not aware of the conception of Jesus by the sacred breath. The messenger had to come and tell Joseph so that he wouldn’t divorce Mary for carrying the child of another man. This way, that bit of awkwardness is eliminated; we all know going in that Jesus was of divine origin, and so Joseph has no need to contemplate divorce.
This is the end of Chapter One. The whole of this section is given over to the prophecy uttered by Zacharias about his son, and the state of the cosmos as a whole. It’s not a section I’m terribly familiar with, but having been raised in the Roman Rite, reading the Bible was not emphasized, and there are chunks of it with which I’m not familiar. With the NT, these are relegated mostly to some of the lesser epistles-James, Peter, Jude & such–and odd corners of the gospels, like this one.
The sections are going fairly quickly. I attribute this to the high level of “literary” content; since there is so much material devoted to the setting the scene, and since the scenes themselves are quite long and are woven tightly into a cohesive unit, there is a great deal of supporting detail that doesn’t really need to be broken out. This section is a good example: it’s the prophecy of Zacharias, all of it following a single theme. As a result, there are not a lot of different aspects requiring comment.
67 Καὶ Ζαχαρίας ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ ἐπλήσθη πνεύματος ἁγίου καὶ ἐπροφήτευσεν λέγων,
68 Εὐλογητὸς κύριος ὁ θεὸς τοῦ Ἰσραήλ, ὅτι ἐπεσκέψατο καὶ ἐποίησεν λύτρωσιν τῷ λαῷ αὐτοῦ,
And Zacharias the father of him was filled with sacred breath and he prophesied, saying
“Blessed is the lord the God of Israel, that visited and made ransom for his people…”
Have to break in here for a moment. First of all, there are about three words in here that are forms, if not unique, then are very narrowly used by NT authors, Luke being the primary example. Greek is a fluid language that allows for creation and manipulation of the forms of verbs, in particular.
But the real point here is the “ransom”. To begin with, this is one of the variant forms, appearing twice in the NT, once in the LXX, and once by Plutarch, which gives the word validity. Interestingly enough, Plutarch was more or less contemporary with Luke, so the use by the two authors perhaps indicates a) that the word was in general circulation in the late First Century; and b) that perhaps Luke had a literary background and pretensions. The standard form of the word is “lutron”, and is used as such by both Mark and Matthew–and no one else in the NT.
But to the real point is the theology of the word. We are so accustomed to the terms “redemption” and “redeemer”–or “Redeemer” that the underlying concept is a bit lost. It’s the idea of ransom; in the ancient and Mediaeval world, the capture of an enemy of means meant holding him for ransom, a payment of cash, the more noble the captive, the higher the net worth. Hence the term “king’s ransom”. In modern terms, it’s usually the price paid to kidnappers for the release of the victim, but the idea is the same. It also means to redeem a pledge with a pawnbroker; that is, to pay off the fee to get something back from a pawnbroker. In the ancient world it was used as the term for the price paid to free a slave. In all these cases, the underlying concept is the same: a cash payment in exchange for the release of someone or something. So I want to bring that meaning to the forefront instead of using ‘redeemer’, a word so specialized that we don’t even think of it. How many “Holy Redeemer” schools or churches have you encountered in your lifetime? So it’s a case of giving the reader a bit of a jolt by using a non-standard word in translation. We need these jolts; otherwise we get complacent in our “understanding” of the Bible.
But to the theology. The idea of ransom requires that we ask the question: To whom was the ransom paid?” This creates all sorts of sticky theological wickets. Why does a Triple-O God (omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent) have to pay anything to anyone? God has to pay off the devil? Or the Devil? Or Satan? That implies that God has to cut a deal and give the devil some tangible benefit so that the devil does something in return. Which means God is not omnipotent, which doesn’t square with the Greek philosophy definition of God; but it does fit very nicely with a polytheistic view of things in which the gods have powers over each other. Zeus, for example, could not simply intervene in the dispute of Demeter/Ceres and Hades/Pluto over the fate of the former’s daughter Persephone, and compel Hades to let her go. There were rules that bound even Zeus, so a ransom was paid for the release of Persephone for at least part of the year. A God of Israel, who is one tribal god among many, could find himself in a situation where he would have to pay ransom to another, equal god, for the release of the former’s people from some sort of bondage, or predicament. This is just a great insight as to how the idea of God for the writer’s of the NT was markedly different from God as conceived by later Mediaeval theologians who filtered their ideas through the lens of Greek philosophy. The two ideas are not the same.
Finally, as a bit of a side note, let’s not overlook that Zacharias was filled with sacred breath. God, IOW, breathed into Zacharias, a concept perfectly captured by the word “inspire”, which has that exact literal meaning. Not everyone gets filled with this; it’s a rare mark of God’s favour. That God chose Zacharias for such an honour is another red flag to the audience that this is a big deal. And I’ve been holding back on this for most of the chapter, but it needs to be mentioned here, even if we go into it in more detail a bit later. This is a great example of how foolish and how ridiculous it is to claim that the early church, or the prot0-church was embarrassed by Jesus’ connexion to the Baptist. They have it exactly backwards. The early communities, or the communities that came a bit later did everything in their power to expand the role of the Baptist in Jesus’ life. In each gospel, John has become ever-more important to the story. Mark mentions him; Matthew gives him dialogue; Luke gives him a genealogy. But more on this later.
67 Et Zacharias pater eius impletus est Spiritu Sancto et prophetavit dicens:
68 “Benedictus Dominus, Deus Israel, / quia visitavit et fecit redemptionem plebi suae
69 καὶ ἤγειρεν κέρας σωτηρίας ἡμῖν ἐν οἴκῳ Δαυὶδ παιδὸς αὐτοῦ,
70 καθὼς ἐλάλησεν διὰ στόματος τῶν ἁγίων ἀπ’ αἰῶνος προφητῶν αὐτοῦ,
71 σωτηρίαν ἐξ ἐχθρῶν ἡμῶν καὶ ἐκ χειρὸς πάντων τῶν μισούντων ἡμᾶς:
72 ποιῆσαι ἔλεος μετὰ τῶν πατέρων ἡμῶν καὶ μνησθῆναι διαθήκης ἁγίας αὐτοῦ,
73 ὅρκον ὃν ὤμοσεν πρὸς Ἀβραὰμ τὸν πατέρα ἡμῶν, τοῦ δοῦναι ἡμῖν
74 ἀφόβως ἐκ χειρὸς ἐχθρῶν ῥυσθέντας λατρεύειν αὐτῷ
75 ἐν ὁσιότητι καὶ δικαιοσύνῃ ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ πάσαις ταῖς ἡμέραις ἡμῶν.
“And he has raised a horn of salvation for us in the house of David, his child, (70) accordingly he has spoken through the mouths of his holy prophets forever, (71) salvation from our enemies and the hand of all hating us. (72) To have made mercy with our fathers, and to be remembered by his holy covenant (73) the oath (subject of the sentence) he swore to Abraham our father, that given to us (74) fearlessly from the hand of enemies having delivered to serve him (75) in holiness and justification before him for all of our days.
FYI, this speech is composed of a number of quotes from a number of books from the HS; there is Genesis, Numbers, Psalms, Malachi and others. By this point someone has been scouring the HS for all the possible places where the HS could possibly have been contorted into being relevant to the arrival of the Messiah, the Redeemer, the Savior. The reference to Abraham is particularly apt here, since Zacharias is, in a sense, a second Abraham, one whom God favoured by giving him a son in his old age, to a wife who was past normal child-bearing years. With all this OT context in mind, note the way “salvation” is used. It’s very literal, referring to one’s physical life on earth. There are no implications of a salvation in the afterlife here, nor should we expect that. One of the really interesting things I’ve seen is how these concepts from the HS are sort of changed via sleight of hand into a slightly different meaning. One that’s the same, but different. We saw this with “redeemer”, and it’s especially evident here with saviour. Another example is “psyche”; while that is not a term nor a concept from the HS, it gradually comes to have a specific meaning that was not necessarily the primary use of the word.
76 Καὶ σὺ δέ, παιδίον, προφήτης ὑψίστου κληθήσῃ, προπορεύσῃ γὰρ ἐνώπιον κυρίου ἑτοιμάσαι ὁδοὺς αὐτοῦ,
77 τοῦ δοῦναι γνῶσιν σωτηρίας τῷ λαῷ αὐτοῦ ἐν ἀφέσει ἁμαρτιῶν αὐτῶν,
78 διὰ σπλάγχνα ἐλέους θεοῦ ἡμῶν, ἐν οἷς ἐπισκέψεται ἡμᾶς ἀνατολὴ ἐξ ὕψους,
79 ἐπιφᾶναι τοῖς ἐν σκότει καὶ σκιᾷ θανάτου καθημένοις, τοῦ κατευθῦναι τοὺς πόδας ἡμῶν εἰς ὁδὸν εἰρήνης.
80 Τὸ δὲ παιδίον ηὔξανεν καὶ ἐκραταιοῦτο πνεύματι, καὶ ἦν ἐν ταῖς ἐρήμοις ἕως ἡμέρας ἀναδείξεως αὐτοῦ πρὸς τὸν Ἰσραήλ.
“And you, child, will be called prophet of the most high, for you will go forward before the lord to prepare his road, (77) the having given knowledge of the salvation of his people in remittance of our sins, (78) through the bowels of the mercy of our God, in which will visit us the east (= dawn) from on high, appearing to them sitting in the darkness and shadow of death, of the directing our steps to the road of peace. (80) The child will grow and be strong in the spirit, and the one in the desert until the days showing him to Israel”.
Yes, that says “bowels”. Apparently in Hebrew thought, the bowels were the seat of the tender emotions. That’s what I read, anyway, and I can neither confirm nor deny this. Other than that, this entire prophecy is really just directed to make us understand the divine mission and the divine purpose of John. By building up John like this, who was “merely” the herald of Jesus, Luke is building up Jesus.
See, here’s the thing. Building up Jesus was begun by Matthew. Here, Luke not only follows suit, but he takes it to the next level. Just as Matthew sought to elevate the Jesus described in Mark, so Luke wants to elevate even more the Jesus described by Matthew. And the kicker is that the stuff of Q is not at all about Jesus as divine. Quite the contrary, in fact. So where did Luke get this idea of raising up Jesus? To be fair, we could–and should–ask exactly the same question about Matthew: where did he get it? We can’t answer either one. The Q people would simply say that this all came from the ubiquitous oral tradition, thereby making the question unanswerable. Actually, that’s not accurate. Citing the oral tradition allows one to answer the question howsoever one wishes it to be answered. Whatever answer we provide cannot be authenticated against the oral tradition, so who can say that our answer is wrong? No one. But let’s talk probabilities. Is it more likely, or less, that Luke would have chosen this path of elevating Jesus by elevating the Baptist if he knew that Matthew had already started down that road? I would think it more likely. So again, not even close to smoking gun, but a bump in that direction. We have to count up these little bumps and see where we are at the end.
69 et erexit cornu salutis nobis / in domo David pueri sui,
70 sicut locutus est per os sanctorum, / qui a saeculo sunt, prophetarum eius,
71 salutem ex inimicis nostris / et de manu omnium, qui oderunt nos;
72 ad faciendam misericordiam cum patribus nostris / et memorari testamenti sui sancti,
73 iusiurandum, quod iuravit ad Abraham patrem nostrum, / daturum se nobis,
74 ut sine timore, de manu inimicorum liberati, / serviamus illi
75 in sanctitate et iustitia coram ipso / omnibus diebus nostris.
76 Et tu, puer, propheta Altissimi vocaberis: / praeibis enim ante faciem Domini parare vias eius,
77 ad dandam scientiam salutis plebi eius / in remissionem peccatorum eorum,
78 per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri, / in quibus visitabit nos oriens ex alto,
79 illuminare his, qui in tenebris et in umbra mortis sedent, / ad dirigendos pedes nostros in viam pacis”.
80 Puer autem crescebat et confortabatur spiritu et erat in deserto usque in diem ostensionis suae ad Israel.
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.
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;
Something more than half of Chapter 1 was the genealogy of Jesus. Since this is basically a work of creative writing, I didn’t see much point in going through it. I am not even remotely qualified to comment, or to compare this genealogy with that of Luke. There is one very interesting aspect to the begats, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
I am combining the summary of the two chapters because the major theme of both is the birth narrative. It starts in one and takes up most of Chapter 2 as well. There are a number of interesting aspects. First, if I had to guess, or were forced to chose, I would say that the basic narrative pre-dated Matthew. There are too many clumsy moments, places where what Matthew says and what the narrative say don’t exactly line up. They are small things individually, but as a composite, they carry weight. The most significant one, I think, deals with Joseph and the working of the spirit to impregnate Mary. It’s done rather awkwardly, as if Matthew wanted to add things to the narrative, but didn’t feel he could make wholesale changes, perhaps because the community for whom he was writing was too familiar with the pre-existing birth story. Another is the repetition of “the child and his mother”. This almost has the feel of an epithet from epic poetry. Like I said, small things, easy to explain individually, but with a cumulative weight. This is a sense I get, rather than something I firmly believe. It’s hard to pin down. But, if forced, I would say it did pre-date Matthew.
Then there are the parts in which it almost seems the narrative is built around Mary rather than Joseph. The purpose of the birth narrative is to give Jesus both a father and a lineage. The latter effort is wildly successful, putting Jesus into the royal house of Judah, and associating him with Israel, the more renowned of the two kingdoms (that were not unified under David). Jesus was the “son of Mary” in Mark; that was, or could be taken as, an admission that he was a bastard. That simply would not do. But the cover-up was not complete; Mary is the only woman mentioned in the patrilineal list; her prominence cannot be swept completely under the rug. It would be very interesting to know if Matthew was the father of Joseph, if the latter were the creation of the former. I suspect not, given the large role of dreams in the birth story, and the subsequent dearth of dreams in the rest of the gospel. To me this says that Matthew was working with pre-existing material.
And the odd thing is that, in the final analysis, Joseph was not actually Jesus’ father anyway. As H. D. Kitto said in The Greeks. having a god as a forebear was sometimes the equivalent of saying, “And who his father was, god only knows…” And here is where I wonder if we’re not dealing with two separate themes that Matthew tried to weld together. The first version said that Jesus’ father was Joseph; the other said that Jesus was the son of God via God’s sacred breath. In short, Jesus was a demigod, pretty much like Herakles: a divine father and a human mother. And honestly it’s this this second version that truly matters. For here Jesus is, from the outset, from birth and before, divine. Matthew wants to leave no doubt.
And just to make sure we get this, there is added the whole story of the star and the Magoi. And it’s not just any star, but his star. Anyone who has a star pretty much has to be divine, right? He was foretold and ordained from on high, to the point that the Magoi had understood that the universe had arranged not only Jesus’ birth, but the appearance of a star to announce it to those who knew how to read it. IOW, God sent a sign. And as if being divine isn’t enough, Jesus is also of royal birth, of the House of David. The Magoi thus do double-duty; they underscore and affirm both Jesus’ divinity and his royal title by calling him the King of the Jews. And they use this title to describe Jesus to the real King of the Jews, Herod the Great. That’s about as in-your-face as one can get to a sitting king. Finally, just to cover all the bases, we are told that this king is also called the Anointed. However, while it didn’t occur to me at the time, the way this is written, it could easily have been a later insertion.
Then there are the prophecies. One from Hosea, one from Jeremiah, and one from…no one is exactly sure. It seems to echo some of the sentiments found in Isaiah. It’s not a direct quote, but we’re meant to take it as foretold. And there is the whole moving about, from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth in Galilee, all of which seems rather contrived. And recall that Mark said nothing about Bethlehem; this was obviously introduced for the connection to David. Nor is it a very clear narrative. But the truly contrived aspect of this is the creation of an atrocity by Herod, the sole purpose of which seems to be to allow Matthew to insert two of these prophecies. This should provide fairly conclusive proof that we are not reading an author who is writing history.
All in all, on the surface there really nothing very tentative about all of this. Matthew wants us to know from the opening bell that something very special has happened here, that Jesus was someone very special, even from before his birth, conceived as he was by way of the sacred breath of God. And yet, and yet…there are all these little cracks in the edifice, minor things that seem odd, peculiar, and just a bit out of joint. What this points to, I believe, is that we are dealing with another work of assimilation, in which the (nominal) author is actually piecing together a number of different stories. I suppose we should be used to that by now.
Chapter 2: Update 12.26.16
It appears I have provided a sloppy, or even flat wrong translation for <<ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ >>. I rendered this as we have seen his star “in the east”. Then I asked, if they saw his star in the east, why did they then travel west? But the word here, anatole, which is a noun, is not a direction (East/West…) It means “rising”. So this should be rendered more like, we have seen his star on the rise. Since the sun, moon, and stars rise in the east, this word for rising became synonymous with the east; just as “occidens”, which means “setting”, has come to mean the west. So, my apologies for that.
We left off with the newly-born child being named Joshua. Oddly, he has not been born yet, since this appears to be what happens at the beginning of this chapter.
1 Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου τοῦ βασιλέως, ἰδοὺ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα (2) λέγοντες, Ποῦ ἐστιν ὁ τεχθεὶς βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων; εἴδομεν γὰρ αὐτοῦ τὸν ἀστέρα ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν προσκυνῆσαι αὐτῷ.
Jesus having been born in Bethlehem in Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Magoi from the east having journeyed to Jerusalem, saying, (2) “Where is the king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and we have come to worship him.
We have Jesus’ birth fixed in a particular place, and within a particular time.This has huge historical implications in the sense that, by situating Jesus to that degree, he really increases the likelihood that there was a Jesus.This may sound silly, but that is not a given. Aside from the NT and the (probable/possible) mention by Josephus, we really don’t have any direct evidence for Jesus. Later Roman writers talk about the followers of Jesus, but none of them actually mention Jesus himself. What this does is make Jesus plausibly deniable–at least, to a certain sort of person. I had an ongoing argument on a blog with a blogger who, apparently sincerely, believed that Jesus was a legend just like Herakles. I tried to explain the patent absurdity of this position, how Jesus was fixed in time and space and Herakles was not, but, to no avail. Alas. So let me just say that I am reasonably certain that Jesus did actually live. The analogy I use is that of the astronomical argument for the existence of planets: while they cannot be seen directly, their existence can be detected via their gravitational field. Jesus casts a large gravitational field.
Anyway, the place is Bethlehem, in Judea, the time somewhere prior to 4 BCE, which is when Herod, who was king of Judea, died. This, of course, is Herod the Great, the last true king of the Jews. Josephus tells us that, after Herod’s death, several would-be successors contended for the crown, leading to a level of civil unrest that went beyond Roman tolerance. To that point the Romans had been content to leave Herod on the throne with a level of nominal independence, with the stipulation that Herod kept the peace and did nothing that the Romans didn’t like. This was the preferred Roman method of governing at this time; or, at least, it had been. By the time Herod died, Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus, originally known as Octavian, had been the First Citizen in Rome for several decades. He was gradually rationalizing the operation of the Empire. So, the disturbance after Herod’s death was sufficient cause for him to turn Judea and the surrounding environs into a direct province of the Empire, ruled over by a Roman governor (prefect or procurator; the title changed by the time we get to Pilate) sent from the capital.
And those who saw the star were Magoi; it is the root of our word “magic”. “Astrologers” is probably the best term for them, so long as we realize that what we call astrology was based very much on actually scientific astronomy. One thing: they are from the East; if they traveled from the East, following a star, should they not have seen the star in the West from their vantage point? Perhaps this is a great indication of the author of this story not quite thinking it through: they were from the East, the home of astrology/astronomy for a thousand years, and so the star appeared in the East, where they were. Or perhaps this is taking it all too literally. They saw the star, and knew what it meant and so traveled to Bethlehem. Note, they are not kings, nor specified as three; that number is inferred from the three gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. “Wise men” is sort of a fudge from a time when astrology was disreputable.
Also, let’s look at the overall implication here. Matthew is telling us this is an event of cosmic significance; so significant, in fact, that a new star appeared to announce the birth. That Matthew tells us this demonstrates just how far the story of Jesus had evolved in the period since Mark wrote his much more tentative account, in which Jesus was, or perhaps was not, a divine personage. Here that connection is explicit; there is no doubt. Jesus’s birth is a divine happening. Also, this, I think, provides excellent proof that Matthew wrote after Mark. If one looks at the way legends develop, they do not move backwards. The main character of a legend does not become more humble as time passes. If this happened, the legend would die from lack of interest. Here, the focus of the legend has become more elevated. No doubt that in the first telling, Achilles was not a demi-god. But he was by the time Homer told the story. I bring this up because most of the “who wrote first” controversy focuses on the form of the text, whether one is more “primitive” than another. The actual content, the way the story develops from one evangelist to the next is, if not ignored, then relegated to a minor significance. This, in my opinion, is the key to assessing the temporal priority of which gospel came first. Mark is the shortest. It has the least amount of information. It is uncertain–or at least ambivalent–whether Jesus is divine. Those three factors pretty much indicate that Mark represents the earliest version of the story. He wrote first, IMO.
Because let’s point out one other thing: This story, none of the Nativity story was in Mark. Luke has a different one. What does this tell us? Well, supposedly, the stuff that Matthew and Luke have that Mark doesn’t comes from Q. But Q, supposedly, was a collection of sayings. Funny thing, there are no sayings here. This is stuff that’s not in Mark, and it’s not a saying so it didn’t come from Q, either. Where did it come from? Well, this is the so-called “M” material; stuff that is in Matthew alone. It’s all supposed to be part of a tradition stretching back to Jesus, that Mark was not aware of because of their different locations. Mark supposedly wrote in Rome; Matthew supposedly wrote in Syria. There is another possibility: Matthew made this stuff up. Too often the evangelists are looked upon as scribes, or perhaps secretaries taking down the stories they had collected, when, in fact, the likelihood is that they were all original authors. They wrote something down because they had something to say, something they thought was incredibly important. Yes, stories came down to them. They had heard things said. Mark gave the story shape. Matthew expanded the story, filled in some of the missing pieces, fleshed it all out in various ways.
The most likely situation is that Matthew did inherit a certain amount of material, which he then shaped and augmented as he felt necessary. There is just enough confusion of details here in the Nativity story that I am inclined to believe that Matthew was trying to work some of his inherited material into the narrative framework he was trying to create. Remember, there were probably a lot of competing and downright contradictory stories and traditions about Jesus circulating at the time Matthew wrote. Perhaps he was inspired by all of this that he wanted to set down an authoritative account. Or something like that. Recall that I imputed a similar motivation to Mark. I suspect that Matthew, confronted with a bunch of such stories in addition to Mark, wished to make sense of it all. But–I believe that Matthew thought that he, personally, had a lot to contribute. And I believe that he did so.
Which leads us to the belief that the gospels–the entire Bible–represents the inspired word of God. And I think that that is true; or perhaps Truth. We saw how Paul had no qualms about making judgements and decisions on his own authority, and that his description of how he came to these decisions pretty much resembles what we would call ‘inspired thinking’, in all the ramifications of that word. Remember, the sky hung low in the ancient world, and the traffic was heavy in both directions. It seems hard to doubt that Matthew had a copy of Mark; what would be the point in merely repeating what Mark said? Very little. Rather, Matthew saw the need to expand on Mark, to complement the earlier evangelist, or perhaps to complete the story. Or, at least, to tell a more complete story. As for where Matthew got his additional information, his more complete information, we’ll come back to that later. And frequently.
One last point. Is Matthew’s star the origin and/or inspiration for Luke’s “heavenly host”?.
1 Cum autem natus esset Iesus in Bethlehem Iudaeae in diebus Herodis regis, ecce Magi ab oriente venerunt Hierosolymam
1 Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου τοῦ βασιλέως, ἰδοὺ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα (2) λέγοντες, Ποῦ ἐστιν ὁ τεχθεὶς βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων; εἴδομεν γὰρ αὐτοῦ τὸν ἀστέρα ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν προσκυνῆσαι αὐτῷ.
Jesus having been born in Bethlehem in Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Magoi from the east having journeyed to Jerusalem, saying, (2) “Where is the king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and we have come to worship him.
1 Cum autem natus esset Iesus in Bethlehem Iudaeae in diebus Herodis regis, ecce Magi ab oriente venerunt Hierosolymam (2) dicentes: “ Ubi est, qui natus est, rex Iudaeorum? Vidimus enim stellam eius in oriente et venimus adorare eum”.
Quick point: the penultimate and antepenultimate words are pretty much, “Come let us adore him…”
3 ἀκούσας δὲ ὁ βασιλεὺς Ἡρῴδης ἐταράχθη καὶ πᾶσα Ἱεροσόλυμα μετ’ αὐτοῦ,
Hearing this. the king was unsettled, and all of Jerusalem with him.
This is what I mean about writing history. “And all of Jerusalem with him”. Matthew has zero way of knowing that. It’s a perfect example of projecting backwards. The fact is, no one marked the event at the time. But it tells a higher Truth. It’s like the old expression, “if it isn’t true, it ought to be”. It goes along with the “King of the Jews”, that I forgot to comment on in the previous section. Matthew is not telling stories that were told from the time of Jesus. He is recording, or, IMO, making up stories that explain Jesus better than the tradition that Mark received. Remember, Mark was ambivalent; it would be entirely reasonable to infer that one of the reasons–perhaps the chief reason–Matthew wrote may have been to “correct” this ambivalence. So we start with an event of cosmic significance, a new star, one recognised as such by learned men who lived far away and so were not part of the Jewish thought-word, and one that was understood by Herod and “all Jerusalem”. This is meant to drive a stake through the heart of that ambivalence right off the bat. Jesus was divine.
It should at least be mentioned that, of course, part of the reason Herod was disturbed is that he was the King of the Jews. He was the legitimate king, recognised as such by the population of Judea, and by the Romans. If there’s one thing that a king cannot stand, it’s to be told that there is another king. So news such as this is going to disturb him mightily. If he did not know the actual historical circumstances, Matthew certainly understood this historical implication.
3 Audiens autem Herodes rex turbatus est et omnis Hierosolyma cum illo;
4 καὶ συναγαγὼν πάντας τοὺς ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ γραμματεῖς τοῦ λαοῦ ἐπυνθάνετο παρ’ αὐτῶν ποῦ ὁ Χριστὸς γεννᾶται.
And gathering all the high priests and scribes of the people, he sought from them where the Anointed was to be born.
And, just to be clear, Matthew has changed gears, substituting “the Anointed” for “King of the Jews”. We are meant to understand that there was an identity between these two terms. They are synonyms, titles that can be used interchangeably. The Jewish tradition on this is a bit unclear; who was the Messiah to be? But the identification of one with the other is not too strained. The interesting thing is that, for the time anyway, “king” and “kingdom” would be taken here as earthly, political terms rather than spiritual ones. It will be interesting to see how Matthew develops this theme.
4 et congregans omnes principes sacerdotum et scribas populi, sciscitabatur ab eis ubi Christus nasceretur.
5 οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ, Ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας: οὕτως γὰρ γέγραπται διὰ τοῦ προφήτου:
They told him, “in Bethlehem of Judea. For it is written in the prophet
5 At illi dixerunt ei: “ In Bethlehem Iudaeae. Sic enim scriptum est per prophetam:
6 Καὶ σύ, Βηθλέεμ γῆ Ἰούδα, οὐδαμῶς ἐλαχίστη εἶ ἐν τοῖς ἡγεμόσιν Ἰούδα: ἐκ σοῦ γὰρ ἐξελεύσεται ἡγούμενος, ὅστις ποιμανεῖ τὸν λαόν μου τὸν Ἰσραήλ.
(cont’d from prev verse) “And you Bethlehem, will not be the the least in the leaders of Judea. For out from you will come a leader, who will feed my people Israel.” (lit= ‘feed’; metaphorically, “to lead/rule”, “to shepherd”)
Who is the prophet cited? Isaiah? Elijah? Jeremiah? No. It’s Micah, one of the later, so-called “minor” prophets. Now, a reference to Bethlehem is not terribly odd; it was, after all, “David’s City”, so it held a place in the Jewish tradition; or perhaps the Judahite position. David was the King of Judah, after all–but I am not at all convinced that he was ever the King of Israel–whose made his capital in Jerusalem, perhaps after conquering it. But the point is that Matthew is rather going out of his way to come up with ways to connect Jesus to David to underscore the idea of being King of the Jews. Or, perhaps we should say, “King of Judea”. Or even, “King of Judah”. Part of the idea was that Herod was not a legitimate king in the eyes of many, being really just a Roman puppet.
Here’s a question that should be asked, but almost never is. For whose benefit is Matthew making this connection? That is, whom is he trying to convince that Jesus is a royal scion? Fellow Jews (assuming Matthew was a Jew, as most consider him to be)? I’m not so sure. Honestly, at this point a full two generations after Jesus’ death, I’m not sure that Matthew was targeting Jews. Almost everyone believes that Matthew wrote after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70. This means that the Jerusalem Community had either been destroyed or scattered, or some of both. According to Josephus, James the Just, the brother of the Lord, was dead, executed in the early 60s. Peter had, traditionally, gone to Rome where he had been martyred. In the meantime, Paul, and probably Mark, had been establishing communities in a number of Gentile cities, such as Corinth. and Paul’s letter to the Romans demonstrates that there was a community in Rome, whether or not Peter ever got there. My suspicion is that, somewhere between Mark and Matthew, the “tipping point” had been reached, and that most new converts were coming from the Gentiles and not the Jews.
This is important. Recall Paul saying that the cross was an impediment, something that repelled people from Jesus’ message. How better to overcome the notion that Jesus was a common criminal who had been executed by Rome, than by telling new listeners that Jesus was of royal blood? This sort of thing carried a lot of weight back then. A lot of weight. Of course it gave Jesus elevated status; royalty were considered better than regular folk. Perhaps more importantly, though, it gave Jesus a pedigree. Being able to trace your ancestry back a long way was a very important aspect of the upper classes, the nobles of the ancient world. By going back to David, Jesus’ pedigree–theoretically, at least–covered centuries. Even Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus could not trace his lineage back that far. There was perhaps no one in the First Century who could claim an ancestry that was longer.
So I suspect that this royal lineage was more important for a pagan audience than a Jewish one.
6 “Et tu, Bethlehem terra Iudae, / nequaquam minima es in principibus Iudae; / ex te enim exiet dux, / qui reget populum meum Israel””.
7 Τότε Ἡρῴδης λάθρᾳ καλέσας τοὺς μάγους ἠκρίβωσεν παρ’ αὐτῶν τὸν χρόνον τοῦ φαινομένου ἀστέρος,
Then Herod privately having called together the magoi, he asked of them the time of the appearance of the star
7 Tunc Herodes, clam vocatis Magis, diligenter didicit ab eis tempus stellae, quae apparuit eis;
8 καὶ πέμψας αὐτοὺς εἰς Βηθλέεμ εἶπεν, Πορευθέντες ἐξετάσατε ἀκριβῶς περὶ τοῦ παιδίου: ἐπὰν δὲ εὕρητε ἀπαγγείλατέ μοι, ὅπως κἀγὼ ἐλθὼν προσκυνήσω αὐτῷ.
and sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Going (there) ask sharply about the child. When you find (him), announce it to me, so that I also coming I will worship him.
First, there is something to be borne in mind here. I owe this to the nun who taught Grade 4 (?) religion. She pointed out that it would take some time for the magoi to travel from afar to reach Bethlehem. This is, of course, recognised by the fact that Epiphany is celebrated on the 12th day after Christmas, but we are likely talking about an interval of months, rather than a dozen days. Hence, Herod has to ask about the time of the appearance. This time lag will come to play again later.
Second, there was a time lag. The implication is that Jesus and his family lived in Bethlehem as full-time residents. There was no traveling there because of the census–more on that when we get to Luke. Some of this goes back to what I said about Jesus’ town of residence when we were discussing Mark. To me, it seems like he most likely lived in Caphernaum, based on the internal evidence of Mark’s text. Here, I suspect we have Jesus situated in Bethlehem for the connection to David and to fulfill the prophecy. And let’s bear in mind that Luke has them travel to Bethlehem from their actual home in Nazareth. What does all of this tell us? That no one actually knew where he was from. As a result, there were a bunch of different stories that got started at some point after Jesus died; a couple of them picked up on prophecies; the one above, and one we will see shortly stating that “he will be called a Nazarene”, so that Jesus had to be from Nazareth. What I would suspect is that the original story had him in Bethlehem, to connect him to David, but the Nazarene part came along later and the two of them were combined by Luke.
8 et mittens illos in Bethlehem dixit: “ Ite et interrogate diligenter de puero; et cum inveneritis, renuntiate mihi, ut et ego veniens adorem eum”.
9 οἱ δὲ ἀκούσαντες τοῦ βασιλέως ἐπορεύθησαν, καὶ ἰδοὺ ὁ ἀστὴρ ὃν εἶδον ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ προῆγεν αὐτοὺς ἕως ἐλθὼν ἐστάθη ἐπάνω οὗ ἦν τὸ παιδίον.
They having heard the king, went away. And, behold! the star which they had seen in the east went before them until coming it stood over where was the child.
This does imply that the star moved, since it ‘came to rest’. I’m still a little uncertain about them seeing it in the east and then traveling west, but, hey, these are wise men. And all sorts of theories have been put forward about the star: comet, nova/supernova, & c, but this again sort of misses the point. The star is Truth; whether it actually happened in any measurable sense is just beside the point. This was an event with cosmic significance. That is what we are meant to take away from this. We’re not getting an astronomy lesson.
9 Qui cum audissent regem, abierunt. Et ecce stella, quam viderant in oriente, antecedebat eos, usque dum veniens staret supra, ubi erat puer.
10 ἰδόντες δὲ τὸν ἀστέρα ἐχάρησαν χαρὰν μεγάλην σφόδρα.
Seeing the star, they rejoiced exceedingly a great joy.
10 Videntes autem stellam gavisi sunt gaudio magno valde.
11 καὶ ἐλθόντες εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν εἶδον τὸ παιδίον μετὰ Μαρίας τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ, καὶ πεσόντες προσεκύνησαν αὐτῷ, καὶ ἀνοίξαντες τοὺς θησαυροὺς αὐτῶν προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ δῶρα, χρυσὸν καὶ λίβανον καὶ σμύρναν.
And coming into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and falling, they worshiped him, and opening their treasures they gave him gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
11 Et intrantes domum viderunt puerum cum Maria matre eius, et procidentes adoraverunt eum; et apertis thesauris suis, obtulerunt ei munera, aurum et tus et myrrham.
First, note that they come into the house. Not a stable, but a house, presumably where they live. Second, he is with his mother. No mention of Joseph. Why not? Well, perhaps he was out working, making a living for the family. We don’t know what time of day or night it is. And besides, a young child would normally be with his mother. Note that he is not a newborn at this point, given the several months it was likely to take to travel from some place like Persia. We aren’t given an exact point of origin, but the magoi were a fixture at the Persian court; Herodotus mentions them often when talking about the Persian kings.
12 καὶ χρηματισθέντες κατ’ ὄναρ μὴ ἀνακάμψαι πρὸς Ἡρῴδην, δι’ ἄλλης ὁδοῦ ἀνεχώρησαν εἰς τὴν χώραν αὐτῶν.
And having received a response (as a response from an oracle) in a dream not to return to Herod, by another road they departed towards their own country.
12 Et responso accepto in somnis, ne redirent ad Herodem, per aliam viam reversi sunt in regionem suam.
The verb in the first clause that I translated as “received a response (as a response from an oracle)” is rather an odd choice, I would think. The base meaning is ‘to negotiate, as in a business setting’, since the first part of the word is actually “money”. But it does have the sense that I gave it, a response, as from an oracle. And this makes one wonder about how the oracles worked. We suspect there is an undertone of “pay to play” involved here.
But we’re back to dreams here. This is the second of three that we will encounter in the first two chapters of Matthew. What is the significance of this? I think that Matthew is trying to communicate to us that the heavenly hotline is wide open. God is taking a direct interest in the events that are occurring, and he’s providing a lot of direction to make sure the humans involved know what they’re supposed to do. At the very least, God’s inordinate interest in all of this should–does–tell us that these matters occurring on earth are important, and very much worth paying attention to. But I am still a little perplexed about why Matthew chose to use dreams as he did. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think this is terribly common in the Jewish thought world. Is it a clue that he really is targeting pagans? For them, all of this would be very much within standard practice. “For a dream, too, is from Zeus”. I get to end with that on two successive posts. Score! For whatever reason, I love that line.
Re-reading my last 2-3 posts, I realize there are a few things that deserve a bit more attention than they got.
1) John the Baptist
There has been a concerted effort to tie John the Baptist to the Essenes, who were more or less the community that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. As humans, we like patterns. We like endings to books and movies where all the questions and hanging threads get answered and resolved and nicely & neatly tied into a pretty bow.
Life, unfortunately, is not like that.
More: always, always be suspicious of any historical thesis that ties up all the loose ends*. It’s very likely wrong. Case in point: What caused the Great Depression? Economists and historians are still arguing over this. That no one has been able to find The Answer is a pretty good indication that there is no Answer, so be suspicious of anyone telling you that it was all…[fill in the blank with pet thesis…]. As for the negative side of this, the main ‘evidence’ that JFK conspiracy theorists provide for additional gunmen, etc, is that the story as we have it, does not tie up all the loose ends, and it seems improbable on its face. It does. But that’s how it works. Just because the guy in the crowd opened an umbrella doesn’t mean this had anything to do with the assassination. Coincidences happen all the time.
Those who would have John be an Essene really have no actual evidence to support this. At least, I’ve never seen any. If there is any, let me know and I’ll revise my opinion. Akenson did an excellent job in pointing out that “Judaism” at the time of Jesus was a splintered, hydra-headed thing, lacking any real central cohesiveness, and had nothing like the consistency of a truly ‘organized’ religion. And, as anyone who’s read a history of Christianity will realize, the central beliefs of Christianity were not fixed for 3-400 years, and, in fact, are still in flux. So, to see the Baptist as an Essene is to connect two dots that may not have had a connection. John may have believed similar things, he may have been influenced by the Essenes, he may have been a member of the community for a while. But, given that he was a solitary figure, IMO, indicates that he was not an Essene. Rather, he was sui generis, a lone gunman, if you will. He was more OT prophet, or later Christian hermit than a member of a group.
And, remember, if the gospel writers wanted to hitch themselves onto John’s lingering popularity, why not stress that he, too, belonged to an even older community? Remember: to the Greeks and Romans, antiquity was a very good thing. It granted prestige and seriousness. The further back the Jesus followers could go, the more street cred they gained in the eyes of religious seekers, of whom there were very many at the time. This is why, ultimately, the earliest Christians retained the connection to Judaism: it gave them an ancient pedigree.
And, read Robin Lane Fox’s book Pagan and Christian , and you’ll realize how multi-faceted religious thought was in the pagan world. It was all over the place. So lots of thinkers and communities shared lots of the same beliefs.
(h/t J W Cole, Prof of Classics; R.I.P)
2) The sacred breath
Seriously, whenever you read ‘holy spirit’ in the NT, substitute ‘sacred breath’. It is every bit as accurate a translation as it’s more common rendering, and it gives you a very different idea of what was going on. The sacred breath came down in the form of a dove. What it does is eliminate the separation implied–linguistically in English–of God and the Spirit. The breath of God is not seen as something separate from God; the thought is borderline nonsensical. But we who are the products of a dualistic culture, in which the soul, or the self, or our spirit, are seen as separate from our physical bodies do see a distinction between Spirit and the Entity. This is a tad more problematic when dealing with a non-corporeal entity like God, but the picture is there. Rather than see the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, think of God acting through its breath. Just as God breathed on the water in Genesis 1:2.
Because, remember, the Third Person, and the Trinity itself, were not really invented–deduced, is probably the most accurate term–until well into the Third Century. As far as that goes, Jesus as the Second Person really was a bit hazy for quite a while, too. This led to the Arian Heresy, in the second and third centuries. The Arians held that Jesus was subordinate to the Father, and that helped solidify the orthodox position that Jesus was somehow indistinguishable from the Father (don’t want to go into the Christology here. Sorry!)
The whole point of ‘sacred breath’ is just to get out of the mindset that there was a Holy Spirit in the mind of the author of Mark.
3) Mark as Intermediate
Having tossed the idea of Mark as an intermediate step between Paul’s conception of The Christ, and Matthew’s idea of Jesus the Christ from birth, I had the opportunity to hear my local priest give a sermon on Mary’s meeting with Elizabeth. This meeting produced that wonderful piece of music called the Magnificat. Having heard Fr Mike Coburn–a wonderful sermonizer (sic!) with some very keen insights–talk about this episode really drove home what I’m suggesting.
First, let me plainly state that I have never come across this suggestion: that, with time, the idea of Jesus as The Christ sort of crept backwards: starting with after the Resurrection with Paul, to the baptism by John in Mark, then to birth in Matthew, then prior in Luke, then to co-eternal in John. Much of this, I suppose, has to do with the idea that Paul only saw him as The Christ after the Resurrection. I got this as formally set out in Akenson’s book, but I had encountered the concept–if obliquely, and by implication–on a number of occasions. Perhaps this has not moved into consensus opinion yet.
Now, I find it impossible to believe that no one has made this suggestion before: that the becoming of the Christ worked its way backward with time. But, it this is true, then Wow. If someone has suggested it, I will gladly bow to my predecessor and compliment her/him on her/his perception.
Also, it helps to be aware of how this all developed after the point when we can reasonably talk about a Church. As mentioned above, Arianism had a different notion of Jesus as subordinate. Then the additions of ὅμο-ουσιος, and later, ‘filioque‘ to the Nicene Creed caused big problems. The first, “homo-ousios” is the part about “of one being” with the Father. This is not in the earlier Apostles’ Creed, and its addition was very controversial. I won’t/can’t get into the ontology here, but it basically means that Jesus = God; they cannot be separated in the way the angles of a triangle cannot be separated and remain a triangle. The second was an addition of the Western Church, which is why the term is in Latin, rather than Greek. It simply means, “and the son”. As in, the Holy Spirit proceeds from “the Father and the Son…” This seemed a logical deduction if the Father and the Son were of the same being. But it was a deduction.
So, that all being the case, the idea of The Christ, and what that idea implied, evolved over time. The NT was not a coordinated effort; there are points when it’s contradictory (who was first at the tomb? faith alone <> faith without works is dead; & c). Yes, many of these can be resolved, sort of, but that’s the point. They have to be resolved. It’s not like the various evangelists are simple complementary to each other; they do conflict–Was the Last Supper a Passover Seder or was it held on the night before the Seder would properly have been celebrated? Depends on if you consult the Synoptics or John.
And recall: the earliest versions of Mark do not have a resurrection story. Why not?
So the point is, this idea is kind of a Big Deal. It needs to be addressed. Otherwise, we’re just like the ox hooked up to the millstone, endlessly going ’round and ’round in the same circle.
4) A new source
When I started this, my intention was deliberately not to read secondary sources on this. That may sound perverse; it may indeed be perverse. The idea was to avoid being unduly influenced by what these sources say. I wanted to approach the text fresh.
Well, like a lot of good intentions, it has proven much harder to do so than I’d imagined. Akenson’s work has crept in here repeatedly; I’ve been using Pelikan, and R L Fox, so I haven’t been as staunch as I should have been. Oh well.
The new source is The Historical Jesus: A Guide for the Perplexed. The whole “guide for the perplexed” thing is that this is part of a series of other such books, and I am not at all familiar with either the series or any of the individual works. A quick trip to Amazon would cure that, but, again, oh well. The author, Dr Helen Bond, is a Senior Lecturer in the New Testament at the University of Edinburgh.
Honestly, the whole Historical Jesus thing is, IMO, rather beside the point for what I’m doing here. However, the book is new, so the bibliography will be up to date, and I may encounter some new ways of looking at this. In particular, a bit of insight and knowledge of First Century Judea would definitely be a good thing. And I’ve already learned that the idea of grace was something kicking around in Jewish thought of the time. So that’s interesting. As time goes on, and I get further into the book, I may have more to say on this.