Category Archives: Chapter 2

Summary Luke Chapter 2

This chapter includes the birth narrative, the story of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, and Jesus’ adventure in Jerusalem at the age of twelve. The birth narrative is the more famous of the two, with most of the details that we think of as surrounding the birth of Jesus: the journey of Mary & Joseph to Bethlehem, no room at the inn, the manger, the shepherds who were sore afraid, and the heavenly host. The only details missing from the popular iconography of Christmas are the star and the Magoi; the Slaughter of the Innocents and the flight to Egypt do not play a large role in Christmas pageants around the country. In fact, we are told that all of Matthew’s themes are completely absent from Luke, so obviously Luke never read Matthew.

Or did he?

This bears repeating: thematically, Luke is very, very closely tied to the elements that Matthew added. To list them once again, Luke accepts the idea of a virgin giving birth, that the child conceived to the virgin was by way of the sacred breath, the announcement of this news came by angel-messenger, that Mary’s husband’s name was Joseph, that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Even the timing of the birth is correlated to Matthew by putting the story of the birth of the Baptist in the reign of Herod, even though Jesus was born in the governorship of Quirinius. All of these details are found ony in Matthew. But it goes beyond even these details. Matthew is very keen to tell us that Jesus was the son of God, and that his birth was a world-historical event, heralded by a star. Well, Luke says that Jesus was the son of God, and that his birth was heralded by a heavenly host. And what is a star if not a different sort of heavenly host? Instead of magoi from the East, Luke gives us prophets in the Temple of Jerusalem. It is in this way that Luke conveys the prophecy of Jesus’ birth, but to the Jews rather than pagans. The shepherds in Luke fill the role of the Magoi in another way: in Matthew, people travel great distances, but the locals pretty much ignored the event. In Luke, both the locals (the shepherds) and the prophets (in Jerusalem) were aware of Jesus’ birth. So in both accounts it’s clear that the coming of Jesus was a world-historical event, presaged, foretold, and recognized and having been fulfilled.

In fact, if you tally up the different aspects of the story, pretty well all of them are found in Luke, but in altered form. But the alterations seem to dovetail very nicely and in complement, like a very well-crafted piece of furniture, with joints that are precise to the point of being invisible. What I am saying is that it feels, like Luke took the story of Matthew, digested the elements, took a step back, and then reconstituted these elements in a way that they carry the implication–and much of the fine detail–of Matthew and convey the message while providing an entirely different context for the different elements. The apparently complete lack of overlap between the two is more apparent than real, which, to my mind, signifies deliberate intent rather than creating an account that is wholly unaware of its predecessor. This is a very crucial point.

Much of the minimal argument that is put forth for Q rests on two things. The first is that Luke is completely unaware of places that Matthew added to Mark. Second is that Luke never, not once (well, except the “brood of vipers” thing from the Baptist) puts a story from Mark in the same context as Matthew does. Well, if Luke did follow Matthew in adding to, or changing Mark, that becomes Q material pretty much by definition; after all, Q is exactly that stuff that Matthew and Luke have that Mark doesn’t. So strike #1. As for #2, just by sheer dumb probability, Luke should have put at least one story from Mark in the same context that Matthew did. That this did not happen at all defies probability. If Luke’s choices were made completely independently of Matthew, there should be at least a couple of places where Luke used the same context as Matthew. The implication then becomes that, since he did not make the same placement, it’s because Luke chose not to make the same placement because he knew exactly where Matthew put the same stories. This fits in very nicely with what I’m saying about the nativity story, and Chapter 2 as a whole: Luke very nicely works around Matthew, he supplements and complements Matthew, but he also knows exactly where not to go. Matthew has pagan Magoi; Luke has Jewish prophecies. Matthew has a star; Luke has a multitude of the heavenly host. In each case, they announce the birth of Jesus. Luke’s placement, so far, has been very strategic.

There is one further aspect of this that needs to be mentioned. It has been pointed out numerous times that the story of Paul’s conversion that he provides in Galatians is very different from the more familiar version we find in Acts. The latter has the whole Road to Damascus immediacy and flamboyance. However, if you think about the experience being described, and think about what Paul says and take it allegorically, with a large dollop of drama added, the two descriptions are not dissimilar in their fundamentals. Yes, the outward appearance is very different, but the interior experience…maybe not so much. Both describe a revelation, a sudden and violent shift in perception; that one occurs while Paul is riding a horse and involves a blinding light, both of which are external events, or events perceived through the outward-facing senses, doesn’t change the inner experience. A sudden insight of life-changing proportions can certainly seem like a blinding flash of light; or, perhaps that’s a particularly effective way to describe the sensation to someone else.

Whether or not this is convincing or not will depend, I believe and to some extent, on whether one is willing to concede that a host of angels in the sky is another metaphor for the sudden appearance of a star. Both are miraculous; at least, the sudden appearance of a star would seem miraculous to someone unfamiliar with the concept of a supernova, which can cause a star to appear quite suddenly. And so the angels came and went. Suddenly. I believe there is a connexion, how each is a metaphor describing a celestial phenomenon meant to herald the occurrence of an event of great significance. If we notice that Luke does this on a consistent basis, then we have at least the potential for an argument that this is, indeed, what Luke was doing. And if he’s doing this, then he was bloody damn well aware of Matthew. And if Luke does this to Paul as well, then the case becomes stronger. In each case, I think, what Luke adds is the element of drama, in the sense of both stage direction and character development, but also heightened expectations and even dramatic tension. That is certainly true about Paul’s conversion.

So, in short, Chapter 2 is the backstory of Jesus. It’s about his birth in some detail, it adds episodes from Jesus’ early life. It also expands the role of Mary, something that I’ve been meaning to mention, but the time has not seemed ripe. Joseph remains a cipher; for whatever reasons, the cult of Joseph did not start to blossom until much later, to the point that he ended up the patron saint of Italy. But even then, he was not a truly popular figure who attracted tales and adventures. I suspect this is because he disappears so early in the story. He appears only in Chapter 1 of Matthew, and then only at the beginning. In Luke he makes it to Chapter 2, but that’s only after being wholly absent from Chapter 1. And it also occurs to me that Luke was very careful to tell his audience about the divine conception even before Joseph makes an appearance. Here is yet another way that Luke continues the story, retaining the character of Joseph, but also supplementing the story introduced by Matthew, smoothing out the rough edge of Joseph considering divorce. Matthew “corrected” the “problem” of Jesus having no father, leaving him open to charges of being illegitimate. Then Luke “corrects” the account of Matthew, eliminating completely the whole illegitimate thing. After all, Mary was pregnant when she was betrothed to/married to Joseph; the presumption was that the child had been fathered by another man, which was grounds for “putting her aside”. With Luke, that whole possibility of embarrassment is proactively eliminated by having the messenger Gabriel announce her impending conception before it happens. We do not know how the news was broken to Joseph, but that’s not really important; remember, Luke is not writing an account that he expects people to take seriously in all the details.

The point is, much is made of how different the birth stories are; why would Luke change Matthew? Answer: I’m not sure he did. He adds to Matthew, but nothing he says contradicts Matthew. He even retains most of Matthew’s additions to Mark: Joseph, virgin birth, annunciation by angels, reign of Herod, the birth heralded by celestial phenomena, Jesus’ identity understood by wise people, and probably a few other things that I’ve forgotten. Personally, I believe that I’m building a pretty decent case that Luke was very well aware of Matthew.


Luke Chapter 2:39-52

Chapter Two concludes with yet another story that is unique to Luke. Apparently, all of these stories transmitted in the “oral tradition” managed to bypass both Mark and Matthew. Or, Luke created them. This is the only story of Jesus between his birth and his public ministry. Here is yet another instance of Luke feeling the need to sort of round out the character of his personnae by providing background, which then gives insights into who these people were.

This story involves another trip to Jerusalem. It’s virtually impossible to know whether Jesus and his family would have made such trips. All Jews tried to go to Jerusalem for Passover; perhaps the idea of a family traveling from Nazareth to Jerusalem was plausible enough on the surface. But then, by this point, is Luke even trying to be plausible to a Jewish audience?

39 Καὶ ὡς ἐτέλεσαν πάντα τὰ κατὰ τὸν νόμον κυρίου, ἐπέστρεψαν εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν εἰς πόλιν ἑαυτῶν Ναζαρέθ.

40 Τὸ δὲ παιδίον ηὔξανεν καὶ ἐκραταιοῦτο πληρούμενον σοφίᾳ, καὶ χάρις θεοῦ ἦν ἐπ’αὐτό.

And as they finished all the matters according to the law of the lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. (40) The boy grew and strengthened and became filled by wisdom, and the favour of God was on him. 

First of all, this really should have been tacked onto the end of the previous section. At least, Verse 39 should have been. But I was trying to end that one ASAP, given the length.

As for content, there is no need to talk about Nazareth again. At the point by which Luke is writing, the tradition has been fixed, and Jesus was from Nazareth and the discussion was over. More interesting is how the author sort of breezily says they returned to their own city. After all, he contrived the whole story about everyone having to go to their home town. So maybe they traveled there, registered, and then returned. Of course, Mary had the baby, and they took a side trip to Jerusalem, but we are told that they finished their business in Jerusalem, but not that they had completed the whole registration process. That appears simply to have been forgotten.

And the Greek word “charis”, < χάρις >, does not mean “grace”*. Well, it does, but not in the Christian sense of the word. By the time the Vulgate was translated, the Latin word “gratia” was probably well on the way to our understanding of the word “grace”, but it simply did not mean that in Greek at the time Luke wrote. That would be an interesting investigation: to compare & contrast how the Greek patristic thinkers thought of “charis” vs. the way the Latin patristic thinkers thought of “gratia”. Were there differences? Did these differences cause problems? I don’t recall this being an issue. Why not? Because the concept of “charis” had been written about in Greek for a long enough time that it came to have some sense of the Latin word? That strikes me as an interesting question. 

*Yes, if you look it up in the Great Scott, “grace” is provided as a translation. But it is not the Christian concept of grace. 

39 Et ut perfecerunt omnia secundum legem Domini, reversi sunt in Galilaeam in civitatem suam Nazareth.

40 Puer autem crescebat et confortabatur plenus sapientia; et gratia Dei erat super illum.

41 Καὶ ἐπορεύοντο οἱ γονεῖς αὐτοῦ κατ’ ἔτος εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ τῇ ἑορτῇ τοῦ πάσχα.

42 καὶ ὅτε ἐγένετο ἐτῶν δώδεκα, ἀναβαινόντων αὐτῶν κατὰ τὸ ἔθος τῆς ἑορτῆς  

43 καὶ τελειωσάντων τὰς ἡμέρας, ἐν τῷ ὑποστρέφειν αὐτοὺς ὑπέμεινεν Ἰησοῦς ὁ παῖς ἐν Ἰερουσαλήμ, καὶ οὐκ ἔγνωσαν οἱ γονεῖς αὐτοῦ.

44 νομίσαντεςδὲ αὐτὸν εἶναι ἐν τῇ συνοδίᾳ ἦλθον ἡμέρας ὁδὸν καὶ ἀνεζήτουν αὐτὸν ἐν τοῖς συγγενεῦσιν καὶ τοῖς γνωστοῖς,

45 καὶ μὴ εὑρόντες ὑπέστρεψαν εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ ἀναζητοῦντες αὐτόν.

46 καὶ ἐγένετο μετὰ ἡμέρας τρεῖς εὗρον αὐτὸν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ καθεζόμενον ἐν μέσῳ τῶν διδασκάλων καὶ ἀκούοντα αὐτῶν καὶ ἐπερωτῶντα αὐτούς:

And his parents went away every year to Jerusalem on the feast of the Passover. (42) And when he was twelve years, they were making their trip according to custom of the festival. (43) And the days having been completed, in the their returning, the boy Jesus remained in Jerusalem, and his parent did not know of him. (44) Thinking him to be in the traveling group they went on the road for a day, and they sought him among their relatives and their acquaintances, (45) and not finding him they returned to Jerusalem seeking him. (46) And three days later they found him in the Temple seated in the midst of the teacher and listening to them and asking (questions) of them.

Of course, the first thing a modern-day parent thinks is “OMG! They LEFT him!”, which is followed by the impulse to run out and file charges against Mary and Joseph. Apparently, the parenting frame of mind was a bit more relaxed back then. Or, anyone hearing this would instantly understand that the story is not factually accurate; rather, it’s intended to convey a greater Truth. In a word, it’s a myth. As such, the audience would possibly not have given the way it happened much thought. Of course it’s not factually accurate. Get with the program already!

As an aside, I had the idea that they didn’t notice him missing until three days later. Misremembered that one.

Here we are told that Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem every year. This is certainly not impossible; Nazareth is not that far from Jerusalem. Or again, does Luke even care? Is this of a piece with them not noticing? If he’s writing for pagans in Rome, they aren’t going to have a really clear idea of how long the trip was, whether it was possible, or practicable for the Holy Family to make the trip. Once again, that was simply not the point. The point is to show that Jesus was not just a country bumpkin, that he was connected in a real way to the centre of Jewish life. In fact, much of this chapter seems to be devoted to this theme. 

41 Et ibant parentes eius per omnes annos in Ierusalem in die festo Paschae.

42 Et cum factus esset annorum duodecim, ascendentibus illis secundum consuetudinem diei festi,

43 consummatisque diebus, cum redirent, remansit puer Iesus in Ierusalem, et non cognoverunt parentes eius.

44 Existimantes autem illum esse in comitatu, venerunt iter diei et requirebant eum inter cognatos et notos;

45 et non invenientes regressi sunt in Ierusalem requirentes eum.

47 ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες οἱ ἀκούοντες αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τῇ συνέσει καὶ ταῖς ἀποκρίσεσιν αὐτοῦ.

48 καὶ ἰδόντες αὐτὸν ἐξεπλάγησαν, καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτὸν ἡμήτηρ αὐτοῦ, Τέκνον, τί ἐποίησας ἡμῖν οὕτως; ἰδοὺ ὁ πατήρ σου κἀγὼ ὀδυνώμενοι ἐζητοῦμέν σε.  

49 καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, Τί ὅτι ἐζητεῖτέ με; οὐκ ᾔδειτε ὅτι ἐν τοῖς τοῦ πατρός μου δεῖ εἶναί με;

All were astounded those hearing him in the comprehension of him. (48) And seeing him they were amazed, and said to him his mother, “Son, why did you do thus to us? Look, your father and I were worried sick looking for you”. (49) And he said to them, “Why did you seek me? Did you not know that among my those of my father it is necessary for me to be?”

I have to stop here for a moment. As the father of a seventeen and an eleven-year old, I can so hear the tone of voice Jesus used here. “What? How dense are you two? Jeez, get a clue already.” in the condescension of utter contempt. This is possibly the most human moment in the entire NT. And I broke my rule about literal translation with “worried sick”, but it just fits. And I’m not even sure if people say that any more. It was big, at least on TV, when I was a kid.   

46 Et factum est, post triduum invenerunt illum in templo sedentem in medio doctorum, audientem illos et interrogantem eos;

47 stupebant autem omnes, qui eum audiebant, super prudentia et responsis eius.

48 Et videntes eum admirati sunt, et dixit Mater eius ad illum: “Fili, quid fecisti nobis sic? Ecce pater tuus et ego dolentes quaerebamus te”.

49 Et ait ad illos: “Quid est quod me quaerebatis? Nesciebatis quia in his, quae Patris mei sunt, oportet me esse?”.

50 καὶ αὐτοὶ οὐ συνῆκαν τὸ ῥῆμα ὃ ἐλάλησεν αὐτοῖς.

51 καὶ κατέβη μετ’ αὐτῶν καὶ ἦλθεν εἰς Ναζαρέθ, καὶ ἦν ὑποτασσόμενος αὐτοῖς. καὶ ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ διετήρει πάντα τὰ ῥήματα ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτῆς.

52 Καὶ Ἰησοῦς προέκοπτεν [ἐν τῇ] σοφίᾳ καὶ ἡλικίᾳ καὶ χάριτι παρὰ θεῷ καὶ ἀνθρώποις.

And they did not understand the words he spoke to them. (51) And they went down and came to Nazareth and he was subjected to them, and his mother observed all his words in her heart. (52) And Jesus progressed [in] wisdom and age and favour from God and men.

50 Et ipsi non intellexerunt verbum, quod locutus est ad illos.

51 Et descendit cum eis et venit Nazareth et erat subditus illis. Et mater eius conservabat omnia verba in corde suo.

52 Et Iesus proficiebat sapientia et aetate et gratia apud Deum et homines.

Didn’t I say that his parents were dense? I mean, really? They don’t get it? The part they don’t get, of course, is the idea of the “things of my father” (not my father’s house. My father’s business would really work, too). Greek allows one to use just the demonstrative adjective without an actual noun, which the hearer supplies for herself. But it’s the ‘father’ part that they, apparently, don’t get. Again, this is probably not meant to be looked at too closely from an actual literal/practical perspective; it’s all so obviously allegory, or myth, that discussing it as if it were an actual event is really to miss the point. And something about the writing tells me that Luke had this tone in mind, that it was to be understood, as he wrote the words. This is not history. This is not biography. Any attempt to read it as such seriously distorts the message. Mark and Matthew did not have this same sort of tone, but we have to wonder if Luke–and most others–didn’t understand it in that manner? Did Mark and Matthew intend for their words to be taken as a literal description of an actual event? That is a serious judgement call, that should only be made after a really close reading of both texts. As such, it’s beyond me. I suspect that…I’m not actually sure what I expect about the other two evangelists that we’ve read. They definitely had a tone much more in ernest than Luke has, but I can’t say that means they expected to be taken literally.

The other possibility is that Luke expected his audience to be slightly more sophisticated, and slightly more literary than the people Mark and Matthew were addressing. This would allow Luke a bit more latitude in how he approached his subject. Not ironically, but with sort of a tacit understanding that, ‘yes, this is a myth. Don’t take it literally. Don’t pay attention to the actual details and setting. They aren’t the point here.’ The question then becomes whether my assessment of Luke as a novelist is affected by this. The answer is yes and no. When I say Luke is a novelist, I mean that he approaches his subject as a novelist would, and uses techniques that a novelist would: the Annunciation, the birth, the Circumcision, the episode here, all of them create a more fully human  character, especially in the case of Mary. But at the same time, he expects his audience to understand that these are just that, techniques, rather than the telling of a real event. In that, Luke would more accurately be said to be writing allegory, or maybe fables.

That isn’t said to raise eyebrows, but to drive home the point–much too frequently forgotten–that the gospels are not even biography, let alone history. As for the former, Plutarch is rightly famous for his lives; they are perhaps what a movie would call “based on a true story”. They are factual to a point, but there is also a high degree of moral instruction involved. A very high degree. And as I’ve mentioned–no doubt countless times–even the supposedly “scientific” historian Thucydides selected his material to convey a certain moral lesson; it is only by telling Truth that one can create a “possession for all time” as he describes his purpose. And I’ve been re-reading Tacitus’ Annales; for someone who claims to write “without flattery or anger”, he sure manages to do a hatchet job on Tiberius. Thus, given that even methodical historians had a different approach to facts than we do, trying to read the gospels as reliably factual is just missing the point. Luke had no illusions about what he was doing, and I would guess that he expected his audience to take much the same approach and share much the same attitude.

Luke Chapter 2:21-38

Again we have another long section. This time, it’s the adventures of the Holy Family in Jerusalem. This episode is completely unique to Luke. None of the material here appears anywhere else in any form. So it must–simply must!–have been part of the oral tradition, so for sure this can be traced back to the time of Jesus! IOW, this is all another way of saying, it’s stuff that “they say”, and we all know how that works. Honestly, given that Luke adds this after coming up with the backstory of John, the Annunciation, and reworking the birth narrative, and that he will add a number of stories like the Prodigal Son, and provide the only account of the Ascension, which is the only explanation of what happened to Jesus after he was raised from the dead, doesn’t it make sense to conclude that Luke created all of these stories? I’m not a textual analyst, I haven’t much expertise in examining word usage and such and determining thereby whether different pieces are the work of the same author. But it is much more economical, and much simpler–which makes it much more likely–to assume that Luke wrote them all.

The appeal of ascribing thing to the oral tradition is that, by squinting really hard and sticking ones’s fingers in one’s ears and saying “la-la-la, I can’t hear you”, one can fool oneself that there is some possibility that these stories trace back to Jesus, or at least his time. But think about the implications of having these stories come from different sources. Does that really help the case? Think about how adamantly scholars cling to Q; part of the reason they do so because they understand that having one source increases the likelihood of an uninterrupted line of transmission. Multiple sources telling different stories likely indicate that different people were making up different stories, which increases the likelihood that some of them are just that: made up. And no doubt people did make up stories, things that, if they weren’t true, they should have been; this is called a myth in the real sense of that word. The situation changed dramatically when the evangelists started writing the stories down, thereby helping to set a reasonably cohesive, if not terribly internally consistent set of beliefs. None of this really proves that Luke is actually the author of all this new material, but let’s keep going back to motivation. Why does someone sit down to write a new gospel? Because he or she believes he or she has something to say. As it turns out, the author of Luke had a lot to say. The author of John did, too.

In any case, these sections seem to go by pretty quickly. They are really difficult to break into pieces, but that means that truly microscopic analysis isn’t often required. This is more like gross anatomy than molecular biology.

21 Καὶ ὅτε ἐπλήσθησαν ἡμέραι ὀκτὼ τοῦ περιτεμεῖν αὐτόν, καὶ ἐκλήθη τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦς, τὸ κληθὲν ὑπὸ τοῦ ἀγγέλου πρὸ τοῦ συλλημφθῆναι αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ κοιλίᾳ.

22 Καὶ ὅτε ἐπλήσθησαν αἱ ἡμέραι τοῦ καθαρισμοῦ αὐτῶν κατὰ τὸν νόμον Μωϋσέως, ἀνήγαγον αὐτὸν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα παραστῆσαι τῷ κυρίῳ,

23 καθὼς γέγραπται ἐν νόμῳ κυρίου ὅτι Πᾶν ἄρσεν διανοῖγον μήτραν ἅγιον τῷ κυρίῳ κληθήσεται,

24 καὶ τοῦ δοῦναι θυσίαν κατὰ τὸ εἰρημένον ἐν τῷ νόμῳ κυρίου, ζεῦγος τρυγόνων ἢ δύο νοσσοὺς περιστερῶν.

And then the eighth day of cutting around (basically an exact translation, Latin form = circumcision) and they called his name Jesus, the name from the messenger before the conception in the womb. (22) And then days of purification according to the law of Moses having been fulfilled, they carried him (Jesus) to Jerusalem to be stood before/beside the lord. (23) according as it was written in the law of the lord that “All male children opening the womb (i.e., the firstborn being a son) will be called holy by the lord, (24) and the one giving sacrifice according to the thing that has been said in the law of the lord, a yoke of turtledoves or two young doves.

Not being an ornithologist (I converted), I won’t pretend to know the difference between two turtledoves and two young doves. Apparently, they are of approximate value. And these are the sort of things that were sold in the Temple itself, so it would have been things like this that Jesus upset when he (allegedly) cleansed the Temple.

Firstborn children that are males are the best. That’s the lesson that we have from part of this. The bit about “opening” the womb is a bit poetic, indicating the desirability of numerous children. OK, the womb’s open! Come on down! sort of thing. Also in here is the idea of purification of the mother; the whole menstrual/childbirth thing was really sort of mysterious and frightening and was decidedly not something that men back then wanted to deal with. I suspect that there is some connexion to the idea of the circumcision taking place eight days later. Many of these sorts of religious traditions do have some basis in medical practice; sheer trial and error may have told the Jews to wait eight days for whatever reasons. I really don’t know, never having had male children, the issue never came up for me.

Perhaps the most interesting, and uncommented aspect of this is that the family’s connexion to Jerusalem is much stronger here in Luke than it was even in Matthew. In both the latter and Mark, the trip to Jerusalem that resulted in Jesus’ death is the only time we are told he went to Jerusalem. But here we have him going as a babe, and then we will get a second when he is twelve; that one is coming up shortly. And in John, Jesus travels to Jerusalem at least twice, and I believe more often. After all, in John he cleanses the Temple twice. Jerusalem, of course, was the centre of the Jewish cult, and, indeed, the Jewish world. Jesus, in the eyes of pagan converts came to be seen as superseding (that is spelled correctly) the Temple authorities, especially as they faded from memory in the second and third decade after its destruction. As such, we get Luke and later John putting Jesus in Jerusalem more frequently in order to demonstrate that Jesus is the successor of the Temple authorities in the eyes of what we can now call Christians. These are the sorts of  progressions that are not discussed overmuch in the Q debates. The situation has changed decidedly from the world of Mark, and even from the world of Matthew; Luke is telling us this. Jesus is not a marginalised Jew stuck in the hinterlands of Galilee, but someone who is at home in the very focus of Jewish life. This will be made even more clear in the next section, or the one after that.

We assume that the Jesus of Mark and Matthew was circumcised; it was, rather a sine qua non for Jewish males. We just aren’t told if it was done in Jerusalem. Nor do I know whether it was done outside the Temple; it must have been. Many Jews live more than an eight-day journey from the Temple, so many Jews were simply unable to make that trip. But what about Jews living in Galilee? Did one bundle up a newborn and schlep him to Jerusalem? I don’t know. One thing about the birth story is that Bethlehem is closer to Jerusalem than Caphernaum is; the trip would have been much more practicable. So this trip to Jerusalem is another way in which Luke builds on Matthew. The latter put Jesus’ birth in the hometown of David, the founder of the state of Judah, even if he did not found Israel. Luke continues that tradition, keeping Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, and then amplifies it by adding the extra trips to Jerusalem to indicate how integrated Jesus was into the whole of Jewish cult and life. So again, it seems that Luke does follow Matthew, implicitly if not explicitly. And the latest connexion is the use of Herod the Great as a terminus post quem. 

21 Et postquam consummati sunt dies octo, ut circumcideretur, vocatum est nomen eius Iesus, quod vocatum est ab angelo, priusquam in utero conciperetur.

22 Et postquam impleti sunt dies purgationis eorum secundum legem Moysis, tulerunt illum in Hierosolymam, ut sisterent Domino,

23 sicut scriptum est in lege Domini: “ Omne masculinum adaperiens vulvam sanctum Domino vocabitur ”,

24 et ut darent hostiam secundum quod dictum est in lege Domini: par turturum aut duos pullos columbarum.

25 Καὶ ἰδοὺ ἄνθρωπος ἦν ἐν Ἰερουσαλὴμ ᾧ ὄνομα Συμεών, καὶ ὁ ἄνθρωπος οὗτος δίκαιος καὶ εὐλαβής, προσδεχόμενος παράκλησιν τοῦ Ἰσραήλ, καὶ πνεῦμα ἦν ἅγιον ἐπ’ αὐτόν:

26 καὶ ἦν αὐτῷ κεχρηματισμένον ὑπὸ τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ ἁγίου μὴ ἰδεῖν θάνατον πρὶν [ἢ] ἂν ἴδῃ τὸν Χριστὸν κυρίου.

27 καὶ ἦλθεν ἐν τῷ πνεύματι εἰς τὸ ἱερόν: καὶ ἐν τῷ εἰσαγαγεῖν τοὺς γονεῖς τὸ παιδίον Ἰησοῦν τοῦ ποιῆσαι αὐτοὺς κατὰ τὸ εἰθισμένον τοῦ νόμου περὶ αὐτοῦ

28 καὶ αὐτὸς ἐδέξατο αὐτὸ εἰς τὰς ἀγκάλας καὶ εὐλόγησεν τὸν θεὸν καὶ εἶπεν,

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem by the name Simeon, and this man was just and holding fast (to his faith; i.e., devout), awaiting the <consolation> of Israel, and the sacred breath was in him. (26) And the was to him an oracular response from the sacred breath that he would not die before he might see the anointed of the lord. (27) And he came in the breath to the Temple, and in the to have come in the parents of the child Jesus of the making according to the custom of the law about him (Jesus), and he (Simeon) saw him (Jesus) in the arms (of the parents) and (Simeon) praised God and said:

[ Here is a more readable translation of the last verse: (27) And he came into the Temple in the spirit, and Simeon saw Jesus in the arms of his parents as they entered (the Temple) to fulfill the custom of the Law regarding their firstborn son. Then Simeon praised God and said, ... ]

We are going to freeze frame leaving Simeon with his mouth open and ready to praise God. What follows is the second famous prayer from the early pages of Luke, and we’ll get to that in a moment.

There are several things to note here. First, let me mention that Verse 26 provides a bit of a challenge to my insistance on rendering the phrase “sacred breath”. The idea hear is that it was revealed to Simeon via an inspiration (breathing into) of the sacred breath that he would not die before seeing the anointed. The translation “oracular response” is how the word was used in Classical Greek. My crib translations use “revealed”, for which the Greek is “apocalypsos”; as such, I think that puts the wrong shade on the idea, but this may just be me being pedantic. It wasn’t a revelation so much as an inspiration; however, one can certainly argue that this is a distinction without a difference. To that I would say that the concept of the Holy Spirit revealing to him is rather different from my idea of Simeon being inspired via the sacred breath being breathed into him. It’s a subtle difference, IMO. Regardless, I have written what I have written. This insistence on my part may become a bit more problematic when we see Simeon entering the Temple “in the breath”. However, this is due more to my too-literal rendering of “en pneumati”; this does, literally, mean “in the breath”, but it could–and probably should–be rendered as “the breath in him”. The participles in Greek are very flexible’; they have to be since there aren’t as many of them in Greek as there are in English, and getting them correct can be one of the bigger challenges in getting the meaning of a segment of text. It requires being flexible, in trying out several possible meanings before settling on the one felt to be “best”. 

And–spoiler alert!–this is not the only old, wise Jew who understands the ways of the lord. I think I will leave my comment on this until after the second encounter with which this section closes.

25 Et ecce homo erat in Ierusalem, cui nomen Simeon, et homo iste iustus et timoratus, exspectans consolationem Israel, et Spiritus Sanctus erat super eum;

26 et responsum acceperat ab Spiritu Sancto non visurum se mortem nisi prius videret Christum Domini.

27 Et venit in Spiritu in templum. Et cum inducerent puerum Iesum parentes eius, ut facerent secundum consuetudinem legis pro eo,

28 et ipse accepit eum in ulnas suas et benedixit Deum et dixit:

29 Νῦν ἀπολύεις τὸν δοῦλόν σου, δέσποτα, κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμά σου ἐν εἰρήνῃ:

30 ὅτι εἶδον οἱ ὀφθαλμοί μου τὸ σωτήριόν σου

31 ὃ ἡτοίμασας κατὰ πρόσωπον πάντων τῶν λαῶν,

32 φῶς εἰς ἀποκάλυψιν ἐθνῶν καὶ δόξαν λαοῦ σου Ἰσραήλ.

33 καὶ ἦν ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἡ μήτηρ θαυμάζοντες ἐπὶ τοῖς λαλουμένοις περὶ αὐτοῦ.

34 καὶ εὐλόγησεν αὐτοὺς Συμεὼν καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς Μαριὰμ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ, Ἰδοὺ οὗτος κεῖται εἰς πτῶσιν καὶ ἀνάστασιν πολλῶν ἐν τῷ Ἰσραὴλ καὶ εἰς σημεῖον ἀντιλεγόμενον

35 {καὶ σοῦ [δὲ] αὐτῆς τὴν ψυχὴν διελεύσεται ῥομφαία}, ὅπως ἂν ἀποκαλυφθῶσιν ἐκ πολλῶν καρδιῶν διαλογισμοί.

“Now you dismiss your slave in peace, Master, according to your writings; (30) that my eyes have seen your salvation, (31) which you have made ready before the faces of all the people, (32) a light to reveal to the nations and show your people Israel”. (33) And there was his (Jesus) father and his mother marveling upon the things having been spoken about him (Jesus). (34) And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, “Behold he is ordained to the fall and the standing up of many in Israel and to be a sign having been contradicted (35)  {and your soul a sword will pass through} as how the considerations may have been revealed from the hearts of many.” 

Note that the part about the sword is not in all the textual traditions. That means it may not have been included in the original text as written by the author. Based on my rather poor understanding of the grammar, it is my considered opinion that this is an interpolation that was added later. The syntax gave me some problems, and it wasn’t until I disregarded the {bracketed} insertion that it unravelled in a comprehensible manner. However, this observation is not something that should be given very much credence. I’m not expert enough to have an opinion that is worth heeding. That being said, I also think that the sense of the passage works better without the insertion. This is a prophecy about the people of Israel and the peoples of the world–the non-Jews. As such, I don’t think that something so personal about Mary is really appropriate for the context and the general sense of the passage. But again, this is the sort of textual criticism about which the opinions of the Q people would be more valueable than mine; this is, after all, the sort of thing that they are trained to do. It’s their area of expertise. 

Back to the main thread, this prayer of Simeon is the Nunc Dimittis. If you glance down at the Latin below, you will see that these are the first two words of Verse 29. The literal meaning of this, and the Greek, is “now you dismiss”. It is an indicative, not an imperative, so it’s not “now dismiss”. This, like the Magnificat, is a prayer that has been recited and sung and chanted for two millennia; I personally have heard it sung countless times in the eight years since my oldest daughter joined the church choir. Given that both of these prayers have lodged so firmly in the mind of the subsequent church, does this make it more, or less, likely that the same hand composed them both?

As for the content of the prayer, I don’t think a lot of comment is required. The promise of YHWH has been fulfilled and that fulfillment is Jesus. Now, the thing is, I’m not entirely sure when or where that promise was made, nor exactly what the promise entailed, but that’s largely because I’m not versed enough in the HS. Or is it? One thing that I’ve been noticing is that not infrequently when the “scriptures are fulfilled”, there is no specific cite involved. And a lot of the cites that are there refer to very late prophets like Malachi. The implication of this is that whatever messianic expectations actually existed, they did not run all that deeply into Jewish tradition. Rather, a good deal of this probably arose with the coming of the Seleucids, especially the later Seleucids. We are told, frequently, of the “messianic fervor” of the times in which Jesus lived, but I’m not all that sure that Josephus really bears this out. In particular, the period covered by the reign of Tiberius seemed to be fairly quiescent. There were disturbances after the death of Herod the great, but that was, presumably, before Jesus was born. Then came the problem with Caligula, but that was, traditionally, some years after Jesus was already dead. For the period in between, Josephus doesn’t describe much more than garden-variety restiveness. The Jews had not been subject to the Romans all that long; people alive when Jesus was alive would have had parents, or certainly grandparent who remembered the time before the coming of Pompeius Magnus in the 60s BCE, so they had yet to settle into the reality of being occupied–which they did after the bar Kochba revolt in 132 CE. But this is a bit off-the-cuff; I really need to read Josephus again to make sure that I’m correct–or more likely to be correct than to be wrong–about this.

The “salvation” that Simeon has seen is also interesting. As we have seen, this word often means the saving of one’s corporeal life, rather than salvation in later, standard Christian usage. What does it mean here? That is hard to pin down, I think. But it is probably closer to our understanding of the word than it is to “saving one’s life”. That’s how it feels to me.

The last point I want to mention concerns the interpolation. The word used is “psyche”; Mary’s psyche will be pierced by a sword. If you will recall, the word sort of vacillates between “soul” and “life”. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is intended. In this case, I have rendered it as “soul”, which agrees with all four of my crib translations. I tried to use “life”, but it just doesn’t work. The Latin is “anima”, which became the standard word for “soul” in Western Christianity; in English, of course, our word “soul” is derived from German, “seele”. But if you think about it, “soul”, in the later, standard, Christian sense doesn’t really fit here, either. In English, we would say something more on the lines of “your heart will be pierced”, referring to the seat of the emotions rather than the immortal soul that will go to Heaven or Hell. So here we get a fairly subtle use of the word “psyche” by Luke, a usage that conveys the ambiguity in the Greek term. This comes hard on the heels of the ambiguous “psyche”, so Luke seems to have a native speaker’s comfort with multiple senses of a single word. Luke’s Greek is, by far, the most sophisticated that we have encountered. 

29 “Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, / secundum verbum tuum in pace,

30 quia viderunt oculi mei / salutare tuum,

31 quod parasti / ante faciem omnium populorum,

32 lumen ad revelationem gentium / et gloriam plebis tuae Israel”.

33 Et erat pater eius et mater mirantes super his, quae dicebantur de illo.

34 Et benedixit illis Simeon et dixit ad Mariam matrem eius: “ Ecce positus est hic in ruinam et resurrectionem multorum in Israel et in signum, cui contradicetur

35 — et tuam ipsius animam pertransiet gladius — ut revelentur ex multis cordibus cogitationes”.

36 Καὶ ἦν Αννα προφῆτις, θυγάτηρ Φανουήλ, ἐκ φυλῆς Ἀσήρ: αὕτη προβεβηκυῖα ἐν ἡμέραις πολλαῖς, ζήσασα μετὰ ἀνδρὸς ἔτη ἑπτὰ ἀπὸ τῆς παρθενίας αὐτῆς,

37 καὶ αὐτὴ χήρα ἕως ἐτῶν ὀγδοήκοντα τεσσάρων, ἣ οὐκ ἀφίστατο τοῦ ἱεροῦ νηστείαις καὶ δεήσεσιν λατρεύουσα νύκτα καὶ ἡμέραν.

38 καὶ αὐτῇ τῇ ὥρᾳ ἐπιστᾶσα ἀνθωμολογεῖτο τῷ θεῷ καὶ ἐλάλει περὶ αὐτοῦ πᾶσιν τοῖς προσδεχομένοις λύτρωσιν Ἰερουσαλήμ.

And there was a prophetess Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser. She had proceeded in many days (was older), living with her husband seven years after her being a virgin. (37) And she was a widow of eighty-four years, who did not leave the Temple, fasting and praying and worshipping night and day. (38) And at the hour having stood upon, she praised God and spoke about him to all those waiting of the redemption of Israel.  

There is quite a bit of stuff packed into three fairly short verses. First note that we get her lineage, which is a bit rare where women are concerned. In some ways, that Luke tells us this is more remarkable than that she is a prophetess. [Note: I’m a bit on the fence with the -ess endings, like “actress”. But in gender-specific languages, which is most of the Indo-European languages except English, it really is appropriate since the words have gender-specific endings.] Then he tells us about her marriage and subsequent long widowhood. We didn’t get anything like either of these details about Simeon; so why her? Part of it, of course, is that Luke has been interested in filling in the backstories of his characters, so we get that here. It’s part of the novelist’s impulse.

But here is the real significance. One of the “arguments” used by Q people to “prove” that Luke hadn’t read Matthew is the absence of the Magoi in Luke. The latter, we are assured, is very Gentile-friendly, so of course he would never, ever, possibly leave out the recognition of Jesus by the Gentile Magoi. So, there you go, iron-clad, smoking-gun proof. Or not. The thing is, the addition of Simeon and Anna sort of take the place of the Magoi. No, they aren’t pagans the way the astrologers were; they are both Jews. But once again, Luke has mimicked Matthew, thereby reinforcing Matthew’s account without repeating it. Luke throughout has reinforced what Matthew has said by using the same themes–Joseph, angels, Bethlehem, virgin–but in a complementary fashion. He follows Matthew’s lead, but doesn’t just parrot what he finds. He fills it out, provides sort of an alternative version that does not contradict Matthew in any significant way (we have one of those coming up, however). So here. Simeon and Anna replicate the role of the Magoi while providing a distinct take on the theme. And that they are Jews, I think, is important. Think ahead to the the Road to Emmaus story, where Jesus is discussing the HS, describing the passages that foretell the coming of the anointed; it would really be nice to have the cites, but, alas, it’s not to be. As mentioned earlier, the cites don’t come all that often. So here, too, Luke is tying Jesus more securely into the Jewish tradition. He did the same with the story of the Visitation, setting Mary into a kinship relationship with a priest of the Temple. It may be that, by the time of Luke, the ties to Judaism had been weakened considerably, so Luke found it necessary, or at least expedient, to re-establish these connexions to fix Jesus more firmly into that ancient tradition. So here, two aged individuals, both wise, one a prophetess no less, see Jesus and recognize him for what he is: the ransom of Israel

Which is the last point: we get that word again. As a reminder, the base meaning is ransom, the fee paid to free someone captured by enemies, or bandits, or kidnappers. It has become blandly ‘redemption’, but the soteriological connotations have overborne the more practical ones, so that we forget the actual meaning. Jesus, essentially, got us out of hock by paying back the loan, thereby redeeming the pawn ticket given to…God…by…the Devil? Yes, the concept causes some problems.

36 Et erat Anna prophetissa, filia Phanuel, de tribu Aser. Haec processerat in diebus multis et vixerat cum viro annis septem a virginitate sua;

37 et haec vidua usque ad annos octoginta quattuor, quae non discedebat de templo, ieiuniis et obsecrationibus serviens nocte ac die.

38 Et haec ipsa hora superveniens confitebatur Deo et loquebatur de illo omnibus, qui exspectabant redemptionem Ierusalem.

Luke Chapter 2:1-20

Here we begin Chapter 2. There is a lot of text here; it’s the entire Nativity story. I tried finding a place to break it, but that destroyed the continuity too much, so I left it intact. But, because it’s so familiar, there may not be much to say about it. Or, the comment will come on chunks at a time, as it did with much of Chapter 1.

1Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις ἐξῆλθεν δόγμα παρὰ Καίσαρος Αὐγούστου ἀπογράφεσθαι πᾶσαν τὴν οἰκουμένην.

αὕτη ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη ἐγένετο ἡγεμονεύοντος τῆς Συρίας Κυρηνίου.

3 καὶ ἐπορεύοντο πάντες ἀπογράφεσθαι, ἕκαστος εἰς τὴν ἑαυτοῦ πόλιν.

4 Ἀνέβη δὲ καὶ Ἰωσὴφ ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας ἐκ πόλεως Ναζαρὲθ εἰς τὴν Ἰουδαίαν εἰς πόλιν Δαυὶδ ἥτις καλεῖται Βηθλέεμ, διὰ τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν ἐξ οἴκου καὶ πατριᾶς Δαυίδ,

5 ἀπογράψασθαι σὺν Μαριὰμ τῇ ἐμνηστευμένῃ αὐτῷ, οὔσῃ ἐγκύῳ.

It occurred in those days there came a thing having been written from Caesar Augustus that all the inhabited world to be recorded. (2) This first thing having been written came in the governorship of Syria of Quirinius. (3) And everyone went out to be recorded, each to his own city. (4) And Joseph went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David which was called Bethlehem, because he was from the house and lineage of David, (5) to be recorded with Mariam, to whom he was married, she being pregnant.

This section is sort of a ‘fun facts to know and tell’ sort of thing. First, there was a Quirinius, and he was governor of Syria. The problem, as most everyone knows, is that his governorship did not overlap with the reign of Herod the Great. The latter died in 4 BCE, and Quirinius didn’t become governor until several years after that. So, right off the bat we have Matthew and Luke giving conflicting evidence. How can this be? Doesn’t this indicate that Luke didn’t use Matthew, since the former got this wrong? This one is actually pretty easy to explain. Assuming that Matthew wrote in the East, he would be more likely to be aware of Herod’s reign; Luke, OTOH, was probably writing in Rome, where Herod was a nonentity, so using a Roman official would be more meaningful to a western audience. Bottom line is that there was no general consensus on when Jesus was born; from the distance of seventy years, the discrepancy in dates between the two gospels would scarcely have been noticed.

The second point is that the idea of having people return to their home cities for a census count is preposterous. It’s even more preposterous to have them return to the home of an ancestor dead for nearly a millennium. The disruption to commerce and life would have been much too great, and would have served so little purpose as to make the idea of commanding such a thing seem nonsensical. The Romans took a census for the tax records; there is no reason to have people wandering hither and thither when they could be taxed just as–or more–efficiently and effectively where they were living when the census was announced. So, just as Matthew comes up with a gross fabrication with the story of the Slaughter of the Innocents, so Luke comes up with his own whopper of having everyone returning to their home town to get registered. And note that the text seems to indicate that Joseph was born in Bethlehem, not that he was going there because his long-ago ancestor had hailed from Bethlehem, which is how I had always heard it presented. The point of all of this is to drive home that Joseph, and so Jesus, was of the house of David. More on that later.

The most important things in these five verses, however, are: Joseph, Bethlehem, and Mary being pregnant. Those are all from Matthew. Jesus’ father is not named in Mark. Nor does Mark say anything about Bethlehem. And notice how Mary is pregnant here, at the outset of the story, just as she was in Matthew. And both Joseph and Bethlehem, like the conception by a virgin, only occur in Matthew and Luke, and only in conjunction with the Nativity story, and only in the first few chapters of these two gospels, and none of this is said to be in Q. So where did Luke get all of this? None of it is in the larger tradition, it occurs nowhere else, and yet we are to believe that Luke got this from…where, exactly? The ambient air? That is pretty much what the Q people would argue, that it was from the amorphous, undefined, and undefinable “oral tradition”. Now, it is completely possible that it was part of the oral tradition. But which one? Which one carried it from Antioch, where Matthew supposedly wrote, to Rome, where Luke supposedly wrote. Yes, it could happen, but it requires a chain of events that is complex, even if it’s not impossible. The much, very much simpler explanation is that Luke got these things from Matthew. One of the big (ahem) “arguments” against Luke using Matthew is that Luke is totally unaware of Matthew’s additions to Mark. Well, that’s convenient. The stuff that Matthew adds to Mark that Luke also adds is ascribed to Q.  And things like the themes we have here are simply ignored in the debate about Q; instead, we get blather about the placement of Mark’s pericopae, which is doubly ridiculous. First and foremost, it ignore chunks of text, and secondly it completely ignores the actual historical development of the legend. This latter aspect is what we see here in the birth narrative: Luke embellishing Matthew’s bare-bones account of the birth of Jesus.

1 Factum est autem, in diebus il lis exiit edictum a Caesare Au gusto, ut describeretur universus orbis.

2 Haec descriptio prima facta est praeside Syriae Quirino.

3 Et ibant omnes, ut profiterentur, singuli in suam civitatem.

4 Ascendit autem et Ioseph a Galilaea de civitate Nazareth in Iudaeam in civitatem David, quae vocatur Bethlehem, eo quod esset de domo et familia David,

5 ut profiteretur cum Maria desponsata sibi, uxore praegnante.

ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ εἶναι αὐτοὺς ἐκεῖ ἐπλήσθησαν αἱ ἡμέραι τοῦ τεκεῖν αὐτήν,

καὶ ἔτεκεν τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς τὸν πρωτότοκον: καὶ ἐσπαργάνωσεν αὐτὸν καὶ ἀνέκλινεν αὐτὸν ἐν φάτνῃ, διότι οὐκ ἦν αὐτοῖς τόπος ἐν τῷ καταλύματι.

It became in their being there the days were fulfilled of her giving birth, (7) and she gave birth to her firstborn son, and she swaddled him and laid him in a manger because there was not for them a place in the lodging.

It has always struck me as odd that Luke sort of tosses this off, that Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger (French, manger, to eat; took me the longest time to figure that out. And then there’s the Italian mangia, mangia!) because there was no room in the inn. Maybe it’s too many years of Christmas pageants, watching the hard-hearted innkeepers sternly telling the couple NO! and turning them away. Really, this detail is so off-hand that it’s tempting to see it as an interpolation. But, it is repeated in the narrative shortly ahead, and is obviously integral to the story. So it seems it’s not the manger that the problem, but the explanation for it that is glossed over. For the life of me, I can’t figure out exactly why this would be.

And note that “swaddled” is a verb here. She swaddled him, she did not wrap him in swaddling clothes.

6 Factum est autem, cum essent ibi, impleti sunt dies, ut pareret,

7 et peperit filium suum primogenitum; et pannis eum involvit et reclinavit eum in praesepio, quia non erat eis locus in deversorio.

8 Καὶ ποιμένες ἦσαν ἐν τῇ χώρᾳ τῇ αὐτῇ ἀγραυλοῦντες καὶ φυλάσσοντες φυλακὰς τῆς νυκτὸς ἐπὶ τὴν ποίμνην αὐτῶν.

καὶ ἄγγελος κυρίου ἐπέστη αὐτοῖς καὶ δόξα κυρίου περιέλαμψεν αὐτούς, καὶ ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν.

10 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ ἄγγελος, Μὴ φοβεῖσθε, ἰδοὺ γὰρ εὐαγγελίζομαι ὑμῖν χαρὰν μεγάλην ἥτις ἔσται παντὶ τῷ λαῷ,

11 ὅτι ἐτέχθη ὑμῖν σήμερον σωτὴρ ὅς ἐστιν Χριστὸς κύριος ἐν πόλει Δαυίδ:

12 καὶ τοῦτο ὑμῖν τὸ σημεῖον, εὑρήσετε βρέφος ἐσπαργανωμένον καὶ κείμενον ἐν φάτνῃ.

13 καὶ ἐξαίφνης ἐγένετο σὺν τῷ ἀγγέλῳ πλῆθος στρατιᾶς οὐρανίου αἰνούντων τὸν θεὸν καὶ λεγόντων,

14 Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας.

And shepherds were in that area abiding in the fields and guarding the night guard on their flock. (9) And the messenger of the lord stood upon them and the glory of the lord shone around them and they feared a great fear. (10) And said to them the messenger, “Do not fear, for behold, I announce good news to you a great joy which is to all the people. (11) And this day to you the saviour, who is the anointed one, the lord in the city of David. (12) And this is to you a sign, you will find a newborn having been swaddled and laid in a manger.” (13) And suddenly there was with the messenger a full army of the sky praising God, saying (14) “Glory in the highest (reaches, places) to God and upon earth peace to good-willed people”.

First, it is my great sorrow that I was not able to post this on Christmas Eve. in 2014 I posted Linus reciting the scene from the KJV, complete with “sore afraid”; it would have been nice to have done the same with this section. 

Unfortunately, from Linus we have to get a little dirt under our fingernails with the Greek. As above, the babe has been swaddled; not wrapped in swaddling clothes. And “I announce good news” is a single word, a verb. “Stood upon”, of course, is overly literal. But the aspect of standing, I think, matters to our image of this scene. The Greek says that the messenger, essentially, was standing on the ground, rather than floating in the air as is usually depicted. And the heavenly host, the “army of the sky” because we forget that “host” means army, is not necessarily in the sky, either. They could have been standing with the first, which is, more or less, what the Greek says. But there’s literal and then there’s poetic, so do with this what you will. After all, what Linus did for this scene far transcends any literal reading of this text. And it’s not “glory to God in the highest”, which means that “highest” modifies God; it does not. “Highest” is plural, so it can’t modify God. Hence I added the reaches/places, which is totally an interpretation on my part, but we have to assume a plural noun in there, because there simply is not one in the text. Nor is there one in Latin. So we’ve been making assumptions about this for going on six hundred years. Finally, good-willed “people” vs. “men”. The Greek is ‘anthropos’, which in a technical sense means “man”. But it doesn’t mean a man; for example, when the husband is referred to as the wife’s man, the word used is ‘aner/andros’, and at least almost never ‘anthropos’. This is the “man” when we talk about “man is a rational animal”. So there is a sense of “human, not necessarily gender-specific” in there. And “good-willed” is an adjective. And second finally, the word I rendered as “new born” is the same word, “brephos”, used to describe the foetus in Elisabeth’s womb. It generally means “baby in utero”, but it can mean “new born” (or “newborn”) as well.

Oops, almost forgot; there is a third “finally”. The “great joy to the people” uses a certain word for “people”. At root, it’s “men”, usually specifically soldiers. But it also means “a people”, as in an ethnic or linguistic division. For example, the Dorian People, meaning the Greeks who spoke the Dorian–as opposed to the Aeolian or Ionian–dialect of Greek. The Spartans were Dorians. So this is not a generic word for “everybody”; it really says “all of the people”. This would/could be thought of as the people of Israel, for example

To get off the grammar for a moment, I’ve heard it said that shepherd would not be out with their flock in December. I don’t know that, but there is no hint of the time of year aside from that. If it’s true, then here’s another bit of proof that December 25 was, indeed, chosen deliberately to supplant the Saturnalia and/or the Feast of Sol Invictus, the Unconquerable Sun. Which makes sense. Much of our “Christmas” decor is derived from pagan solstice festivals, much of it Nordic: the evergreen tree, the Yule (log), mistletoe and holly, the lights. Not all of it, of course, but a lot of it.

8 Et pastores erant in regione eadem vigilantes et custodientes vigilias noctis supra gregem suum.

9 Et angelus Domini stetit iuxta illos, et claritas Domini circumfulsit illos, et timuerunt timore magno.

10 Et dixit illis angelus: “ Nolite timere; ecce enim evangelizo vobis gaudium magnum, quod erit omni populo,

11 quia natus est vobis hodie Salvator, qui est Christus Dominus, in civitate David.

12 Et hoc vobis signum: invenietis infantem pannis involutum et positum in praesepio ”.

13 Et subito facta est cum angelo multitudo militiae caelestis laudantium Deum et dicentium:

14 “ Gloria in altissimis Deo, /et super terram pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis ”.

15 Καὶ ἐγένετο ὡς ἀπῆλθον ἀπ’ αὐτῶν εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν οἱ ἄγγελοι, οἱ ποιμένες ἐλάλουν πρὸς ἀλλήλους, Διέλθωμεν δὴ ἕως Βηθλέεμ καὶ ἴδωμεν τὸ ῥῆμα τοῦτο τὸ γεγονὸς ὃ ὁ κύριος ἐγνώρισεν ἡμῖν.

16 καὶ ἦλθαν σπεύσαντες καὶ ἀνεῦραν τήν τε Μαριὰμ καὶ τὸνἸωσὴφ καὶ τὸ βρέφος κείμενον ἐν τῇ φάτνῃ:

17 ἰδόντες δὲ ἐγνώρισαν περὶ τοῦ ῥήματος τοῦ λαληθέντος αὐτοῖς περὶ τοῦ παιδίου τούτου.

18 καὶ πάντες οἱ ἀκούσαντες ἐθαύμασαν περὶ τῶν λαληθέντων ὑπὸ τῶν ποιμένων πρὸς αὐτούς:

19 ἡ δὲ Μαριὰμ πάντα συνετήρει τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα συμβάλλουσα ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτῆς.

20 καὶ ὑπέστρεψαν οἱ ποιμένες δοξάζοντες καὶ αἰνοῦντες τὸν θεὸν ἐπὶ πᾶσιν οἷς ἤκουσαν καὶ εἶδονκαθὼς ἐλαλήθη πρὸς αὐτούς.

And it happened as they went from them to the sky the messengers, the shepherds spoke to each other, “Let us go indeed to Bethlehem and we will see this having become having been said which the lord has made known to us”. (16) And they went hurrying and they found Mary and Joseph and the newborn lying in the manger. (17) Seeing they were made aware about the things having been spoken of the speaking to them about this child. (18) And all those hearing marveled about the things having been said by the shepherds towards them (i.e., those hearing) (19) Mary observed all these things having been said (and) she stored them up in her heart. (20) 

We were talking about whether the angels were on the ground or in the air. Whichever it was, they returned to the sky, which I think is the proper translation for “ouranos” in this instance. Of course, it’s always translated as “heaven”, although with a lower-case ‘h’. Normally in English, the lower-case ‘h’ is plural, ‘the heavens’, which is the neutral synonym for ‘sky’, but it’s difficult to be sure what was on the minds of the translators when they rendered this the way they did. I just think that anything like “Heaven” with pearly gates is rather anachronistic at this point, but I can’t say that with a great deal of certainty. At this point I don’t know whether Luke is a singular heaven guy like Mark, or a plural-heavens guy like Matthew. We shall see. But the question of heaven/sky/Heaven makes the Pater Noster a bit problematic, doesn’t it?

And here is where the manger comes back, for the second time since we first saw it. This repetition makes it really difficult to suggest that the first one was an interpolation. It’s obviously not, but an integral part of the text. So that makes the whole of Verse 7 seem a bit awkward. But there it is.

The most important part of this section, I think, is the bit about Mary. Mark named her; Matthew told us she conceived through the sacred breath, but neither of them really say anything about her. Luke, OTOH, seems to take a real interest in Mary. We’ve already had the Annunciation, her visit to Elisabeth, the Magnificat, and now in this section the actual giving birth, swaddling Jesus, culminating with this bit about storing things in her heart. Joseph, meanwhile, has already faded into the background. It’s interesting to note how his character pretty much failed to develop at all; but then, he only appears–via a cameo mention of his name–in two of the four gospels. John will include at least one more story about Mary, at the wedding feast in Cana; there may be others that escape me at the moment. These sorts of anecdotes are what nudges me to call Luke a novelist; he’s concerned to humanize Mary, or to make her a real person, a mother, a new mother with her firstborn who was a son. It’s been a journey for her and here she is at the culmination with Jesus’ birth. Of course, it’s not the culmination, but she doesn’t know that. But it is the finale of the part of her life when the messenger of the lord suddenly appeared from nowhere to tell her she’s going to conceive through the sacred breath. That’s got to be a bit of a head scratcher; and now it’s happened, and she is taking a moment to reflect. Is that a human thing to do, or what?

So why, the Q people ask, are none of the details of the Nativity story found in Matthew not in Luke? Where are the Magoi? Luke, you see, was very Gentile-friendly, so the recognition of the child by other pagans woulda/shoulda been something that Luke picked up on and ran with. Really? Luke should have? According to whom? See, there’s the problem with the Q “argument”: it depends on the ability to interpret the mind of Luke so we can tell why he did what he did, such as demolishing the “masterful organization” of the Q material found in Matthew. Yes, the stories are different, and there is very little apparent overlap. What most Q people don’t consider often enough, or fully enough, is that Luke was not in the least interested in copying out Matthew. Rather, Luke set out to write a brand-new gospel, one with it’s own points and point-of-view. I’m sure I’ve said that, and no doubt I will say it again because it really bears repeating. You write a new gospel because you’ve got something new to say. There is nothing contradictory in the two accounts, aside from the fact that Herod the Great and the governorship of Quirinius did not overlap in time; however, that’s a factual mistake, and those happen. So if we think of the accounts as complementary, where is the problem? Now, in truth, that’s not a terribly compelling explanation of why the two accounts have almost no details in common; but what is compelling, I think, is that Luke repeats Joseph–who appears nowhere else–the visitations by angels, and that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

My apologies, that last bit was something of a tangent and a rant. The point is that Luke has an interest in Mary that is not shared elsewhere. It will continune in the next stroy, but it’s something to watch beyond that.

Summary Matthew Chapters 1 & 2

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.

Matthew Chapter 2:13-23

We are in the final part of the birth narrative.

13 Ἀναχωρησάντων δὲ αὐτῶν ἰδοὺ ἄγγελος κυρίου φαίνεται κατ’ ὄναρ τῷἸωσὴφ λέγων, Ἐγερθεὶς παράλαβε τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ καὶ φεῦγε εἰς Αἴγυπτον, καὶ ἴσθι ἐκεῖ ἕως ἂν εἴπω σοι: μέλλει γὰρ Ἡρῴδης ζητεῖν τὸ παιδίον τοῦ ἀπολέσαι αὐτό.

They (the magoi) having left, behold, an angel of the lord appearned in a dream to Joseph, saying, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. And there remain until which (time) I telll you. For Herod to seek the child for his (the child’s) destruction.”

OK, another dream, the third so far. God, the Lord, is heavily involved in all of this. We’ll save the rest for later. 

I really do have to figure out what to do with << ἰδοὺ >>. “Behold” is really out of place in English, but it’s there. If this is going to be useful as a crib, I can’t just ignore it.

13 Qui cum recessissent, ecce angelus Domini apparet in somnis Ioseph dicens: “ Surge et accipe puerum et matrem eius et fuge in Aegyptum et esto ibi, usque dum dicam tibi; futurum est enim ut Herodes quaerat puerum ad perdendum eum ”.

14 ὁ δὲ ἐγερθεὶς παρέλαβεν τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ νυκτὸς καὶ ἀνεχώρησεν εἰς Αἴγυπτον,

He having gotten up, took the child and his mother by night and departed the coutry to Egypt.

Does anyone else have the sense, or get the impression that the wording here is more about Mary than it is about Joseph? The formula “take the child and his mother” is repeated twice. Such formulae are part of a poetic tradition, which starts to take us out of a truly historical narrative. But what it does is make the two of them a unit; it sort of leaves Joseph on the outside looking in. It’s like, ‘take care of them, because they’re the important part here’.  To some degree, I believe this reinforces the message we got at the end of the genealogy, when we are told that the mother of Jesus was Mary, when we have gotten no other female ancestors in the whole lineage. And this is consistent with Joseph’s name not being mentioned by Mark. In the earliest tradition(s), Jesus was the son of Mary; no father was named. This was unseemly; the patronymic was a hugely important part of one’s identity in the Hebrew, Greek, and Roman worlds. Not having a recognized father was pretty much an open statement of bastardy. No doubt the followers of Jesus felt this lack, and so came up with Joseph. And not only that, they came up with a lineage tracing back to the most famous family and forebear in the Hebrew tradition: David.

The question we (or at least I, anyway) would like to answer is who created Joseph and the lineage? Now, there is no reason that these two pieces were created by the same person(s), at the same time, or in the same place. I have said, and I want to continue to stress that there were many traditions about Jesus, not all of them consistent. Remember, Paul has stated in two separate letters that there were different gospels. I hate to keep harping on this, but it’s a staggeringly important fact to remember at all times. Jesus’ identity differed in different traditions, so there is no reason why the name of Jesus’ father, and his royal ancestry had to come from the same group or the same place.

I referred to “the child and his mother” as a formula. The choice of that term is deliberate, because it’s what you get from oral poetic traditions: “The child of Morning, rosy-fingered Dawn”, or “Achilles, fleet of foot”. I seriously doubt that an epic poem was constructed about Jesus; rather, I’m wondering if the same sort of conditions, or impulses, that eventually created The Iliad  weren’t at work in the period between Jesus’ death and the time that Matthew wrote. I suggested that the reason Mark wrote his gospel was to weld some of these disparate traditions into a single narrative. My tentative hypothesis is that Matthew wrote to fill in the holes left by Mark. This would explain the addition of a birth narrative, a father, and a grand lineage.

The point is, assuming that Matthew knew Mark’s gospel, Matthew must have felt that important pieces were missing, that Mark was somehow incomplete. Why else do you sit down to write a different version of essentially the same story? 

14 Qui consurgens accepit puerum et matrem eius nocte et recessit in Aegyptum

15 καὶ ἦν ἐκεῖ ἕως τῆς τελευτῆς Ἡρῴδου: ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν ὑπὸ κυρίου διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος, Ἐξ Αἰγύπτου ἐκάλεσατὸν υἱόν μου.

And he was there until the death of Herod.  This was so the the writing might be fulfilled, according to the prophet of the lord, saying, “From Egypt I have called my Son.” 

The prophecy is from Hosea. The “son” in the quote is the nation of Israel, and the entire quote is a reference to the Exodus. So…Given the original context of the quote, it really makes the insertion of this whole part of the story so that a non-existent prophecy could be “fulfilled” seem like it’s taking the long way around to get to the point it wants to make. I say “non-existent” because , in Hosea, it’s a reference to a event that had occurred long, long ago, not to something that will happen which is pretty much the definition of a ‘prophecy’. That Matthew went so far out of his way to work this in provides, I think, some really keen insight into the purpose, the reason why Matthew wrote. So far, we’ve had an event of such cosmic experience that it required the introduction of a new star. Now, we have the Lord stating flatly that Jesus was the son of the Lord: he is the “my son” of the prophecy. Recall how tentative Mark was about this throughout most of his gospel. I suspect this has a lot to do with why Matthew felt a new telling was necessary. We’ll come back to this in a moment.

15 et erat ibi usque ad obitum Herodis, ut adimpleretur, quod dictum est a Domino per prophetam dicentem: “Ex Aegypto vocavi filium meum”.

16 Τότε Ἡρῴδης ἰδὼν ὅτι ἐνεπαίχθη ὑπὸ τῶν μάγων ἐθυμώθη λίαν,καὶ ἀποστείλας ἀνεῖλεν πάντας τοὺς παῖδας τοὺς ἐν Βηθλέεμ καὶ ἐν πᾶσι τοῖς ὁρίοις αὐτῆς ἀπὸ διετοῦς καὶ κατωτέρω, κατὰ τὸν χρόνον ὃν ἠκρίβωσεν παρὰ τῶν μάγων.

Then Herod, seeing that he had been deceived by the magoi, became enraged, and he sent out to kill all the children of Bethlehem and its surroundings from two years and down, according to the time which he had enquired about diligently from the magoi.

Here is where we really see just how far Matthew has gone to work in the cite from Hosea about calling “my son” out of Egypt. We are told that Herod killed all the (male) children two years and younger in Bethlehem and its environs. There is absolutely no evidence from anywhere that such an atrocity ever occurred. And an event of this magnitude could be expected to have been mentioned somewhere; even the other evangelists ignore it. Josephus was not exactly well-disposed to the memory of Herod; he tells us in prurient detail how Herod murdered many, many members of his family. A crime like this would have been an awfully juicy tidbit to corroborate this reputation, so that Josephus is silent on it must carry weight. There is another reason to doubt this: we do not know that Jesus was born while Herod was alive. Luke places it in the governorship of the Roman Quirinius; the two periods did not overlap. Herod was dead before Quirinius became governor. Now, there are reasons to prefer Matthew over Luke, but the point remains that this was not a settled matter. Otherwise, Luke would not have felt free to change the date of Jesus’ birth the way he did.

As as result, the implication seems to be that Matthew so badly wanted to work in that line from Hosea, that he had to come up with a very compelling reason for Jesus to be in Egypt; he succeeded in coming up with that reason, but only by coming up with a pretty monstrous lie. Or the creation of a monstrous act.

One final point. We are not told how much time passed between the departure from Jerusalem of the magoi and the Slaughter of the Innocents–as it became known in the Roman tradition. But the fact that Herod killed all the boys under two gives us a pretty good indication that the journey of the magoi had taken some time. Granted, no doubt Herod would have erred on the side of caution and raised the age just to make sure, but there is a recognition that some time had passed. I mention this because I find it fascinating that Matthew took this into consideration when making up the story. On the one hand, he has no qualms about telling a whopper, but OTOH, he calculates in that a certain amount of time had elapsed between the birth and the arrival of the magoi. Now, someone might want to point out that this actually provides some support for the whole story, and I would have to agree that it does. However, this slender reed of an argument is far outweighed by the mighty tree of the story of the Slaughter of the Innocents. 

16 Tunc Herodes videns quoniam illusus esset a Magis, iratus est valde et mittens occidit omnes pueros, qui erant in Bethlehem et in omnibus finibus eius, a bimatu et infra, secundum tempus, quod exquisierat a Magis.

17 τότε ἐπληρώθη τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ Ἰερεμίουτοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος,

Then the pronouncement of the Prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled, which said (lit = saying),

Comment deferred

17 Tunc adimpletum est, quod dictum est per Ieremiam prophetam dicentem:

18 Φωνὴ ἐν Ῥαμὰ ἠκούσθη, κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὀδυρμὸς πολύς: Ῥαχὴλ κλαίουσα τὰ τέκνα αὐτῆς, καὶ οὐκ ἤθελεν παρακληθῆναι, ὅτι οὐκ εἰσίν.

“A great voice in Ramah was heard, with great crying and wailing, ‘Rachel weeps for her children, and she did not wish to be consoled, because they were no more’.”

Overall, this is pretty much the same idea as the quote from Hosea: a reference that to an event that happened centuries before, and one that was backward-looking even when it was written. The only difference is that it’s from a much more prominent prophet, this time Jeremiah. Again, I have to wonder who the intended audience was here; was it fellow Jews who might crinkle their brow at this odd use of an old prophet? Or was the intended listener a pagan, who might be impressed that the destruction of the children Matthew describes had been “predicted” several centuries prior? Remember, Paul sometimes played a little fast and loose with his OT references, perhaps knowing that the audience may not be keenly aware of Hebrew Scripture. And so, in a slightly different way, perhaps Matthew sought OT references that sounded good–if they weren’t scrutinized too closely.

The thing is, I believe that the reason Matthew has Herod kiiling the children od neighboring towns was to allow him to use this verse, thereby including Ramah as one of those nearby towns. Now, I checked a map; there are actually at least two (possibly three) places called Ramah, but none of them are particularly near Bethlehem. Bethlehem of Judea is south of Jerusalem; Ramah is north of Jerusalem, which makes it even more odd. All in all, Matthew certainly went out of his way to work this in. 

18 Vox in Rama audita est, ploratus et ululatus multus: Rachel plorans filios suos, et noluit consolari, quia non sunt ”.

19 Τελευτήσαντος δὲ τοῦ Ἡρῴδου ἰδοὺ ἄγγελος κυρίου φαίνεται κατ’ ὄναρ τῷ Ἰωσὴφ ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ

Then, Herod having died, behold, an angel of the lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, (saying)

Comment deferred

19 Defuncto autem Herode, ecce apparet angelus Domini in somnis Ioseph in Aegypto

20 λέγων, Ἐγερθεὶς παράλαβε τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ καὶ πορεύου εἰς γῆν Ἰσραήλ, τεθνήκασιν γὰρ οἱ ζητοῦντες τὴν ψυχὴν τοῦ παιδίου.

“Get up (and) take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those seeking the life of the child have died”.

First, we’re now up to our fourth dream. The thing is, I just realized how special the whole dream thing is. Matthew will use it again in V-22 below, and once more when Pilate’s wife has her dream. And that’s it. For the entire NT. Five times in Matthew Chapter 2,  once in Matthew Chapter 22. And nowhere else. Admittedly, I don’t know exactly what the significance of this is, but I have no doubt that it is significant. Does this represent an older block of a story that Matthew incorporated more or less whole? Perhaps like the story of the Gerasene demonaic that we found in Mark? The (over)use of the dream motif indicates a certain world-view, an attitude towards the interaction between the divine and the human. But the attitude disappears, or goes dormant, for twenty chapters. Why? I wish I knew.

And again, we have the “the child and his mother” formula. This, in conjunction with the repeated dream motif, may indeed indicate that this had become something like a folk-legend, perhaps in verse? An oral poem? The story of Jesus and Herod and the magoi from the east?

Here’s a question. Why do we call it Israel? This was Judah, or Judea, as the Romans called it. Note that Israel had not existed for half a millennium or longer at this point. But is that the point? Again, I keep coming back to the need for a pedigree, the longer the better, to impress the pagans. As such, “Israel” is perhaps a deliberate archaism. Because how would a Jew react to this? Would there be a sense of wistful nostalgia? Again, hard to say. Regardless of the audience, or the reaction, it’s an anachronism here.

Internal update: I wrote the bit above about Israel a day or two ago. In the meantime, something has occurred to me. Of the two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, Israel had much the more storied past. As such, I believe Matthew is trying to connect Jesus to that more storied past. Here’st the thing: I seriously doubt that there was ever a united monarchy; or, if there was, Judah was under the rule of Israel, and Israel was more pagan than not. But it was more powerful. Much more powerful. So after the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians, the now independent (mostly so, but recognizing Assyrian suzerainty) aspired to place itself as not only an integral part of Israel, but somehow dominant, by placing David at the apex of both kingdoms. But Israel had the name recognition, so Matthew wants Jesus associated with the royal splendor of the unified kingdom.

One last thing: “those who sought the life of the child”. Two things. Again we get “psyche”, in the sense of “physical life” rather than anything non-material.  Second, why “those”? It was Herod who wanted the life of the child. I suppose this could include the court and the sycophants and the hangers-on who surrounded the king, but it seems a bit of an odd formulation. Here’s a thought: is it an indication that this story was in verse? In epic poetry, the formulations would change with the case of the noun. So, in some cases, Achilles was the “son of Peleus”, while in others he was “fleet of foot”. The choice would depend on the requirements of the metre. So, here, did “those who sought” fit the metre, where simply “Herod”, or “the king”, or something else didn’t work?

20 dicens: “ Surge et accipe puerum et matrem eius et vade in terram Israel; defuncti sunt enim, qui quaerebant animam pueri ”.

21 ὁ δὲ ἐγερθεὶς παρέλαβεν τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰσῆλθεν εἰς γῆν Ἰσραήλ.

Having risen, he took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.

Comment deferred

21 Qui surgens accepit puerum et matrem eius et venit in terram Israel.

22 ἀκούσας δὲ ὅτι Ἀρχέλαος βασιλεύει τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἀντὶ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ Ἡρῴδου ἐφοβήθη ἐκεῖ ἀπελθεῖν: χρηματισθεὶς δὲ κατ’ ὄναρ ἀνεχώρησεν εἰς τὰ μέρη τῆς Γαλιλαίας,

Hearing then that Archelaos was the King of the Jews, against his (Archela0s) father Herod, he (Joseph) feared to enter (Judea). He was warned in a dream to depart for the land of Galilee.

That’s the last dream until Chapter 22. And, strictly speaking, Archelaos was not the King of Judea. He was a tetrarch, because the territory of Herod the Great was divided into four (tetra) parts as a result of civil unrest bordering on civil war among the would-be successors. The outcome was that four of Herod’s relatives were given nominal privileges of rule, but all were under the auspices of the new Roman governor; Quirinius, of Luke, was the first of these. Pilate would come later. 

22 Audiens autem quia Archelaus regnaret in Iudaea pro Herode patre suo, timuit illuc ire; et admonitus in somnis, secessit in partes Galilaeae

23 καὶ ἐλθὼν κατῴκησεν εἰς πόλιν λεγομένην Ναζαρέτ, ὅπως πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ τῶν προφητῶν ὅτι Ναζωραῖος κληθήσεται.

And coming they dwell in the city called Nazareth, so that fulfilled was the dictum from the prophet that, “He will be called a Nazarene”.

23 et veniens habitavit in civitate, quae vocatur Nazareth, ut adimpleretur, quod dictum est per Prophetas: “ Nazaraeus vocabitur ”.

This is interesting. My hard copy Greek NT (English Bible Society; I bought it at the University of Toronto Bookroom a decade or two or three ago) cites this bit about the Nazarene to Isaiah, 11:1 & 53:2.. However, upon looking, I find no mention of Nazareth. So I googled it. As it turns out, there is no direct quote of this in the OT. Rather, it’s an allegorical interpretation, such as was, apparently, fairly common in First Century Jewish interpretation; Philo of Alexandria, of course, was the most famous of these. So what does it mean? Well, that turns out to be an excellent question. One school of thought believes that this should be read as “He shall be called a Nazirite”, this being a term for one consecrated to God. It seems that Biblical scholars have sought the cite, in vain, for about 2,000 years. Calvin says that St John Chrysostom was baffled by the reference.

One possibility is that Matthew misunderstood what he heard. “Nazirite” is a Hebrew term, and we have already seen that Matthew read his Scripture in Greek. So maybe this came from an oral source, and Matthew garbled it, so that the word morphed into “Nazarene”, as something that he recognised. There is a term in Linguistics for this: where someone hearing a word, especially in a foreign language, and interprets it in terms that the hearer can understand. The example my prof always used was an Anglophone hearing the term “contre danse“, and repeating it as “country dance”. Now, if this is true, it sure shoots holes in the “Jesus of Nazareth” theme. If you’ll recall, based on the internal evidence in Mark, my inference was that Jesus actually lived in Caphernaum. Based on what we’ve read here, I’m not convinced he was from Nazareth.

Matthew Chapter 2:1-12

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

Comment deferred.

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

Comment deferred

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. 

Comment deferred.

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.

Mark Chapter 2 Summary

We get deeper into the story.

The chapter opens with some fairly mundane issues: where did Jesus really live? Was he from Nazareth, really? Aside from Mark telling us that Jesus of Nazareth (a phrase ever so easy to add to a text) appeared on the scene, we have nothing to indicate that he is from Nazareth.

On top of this, we go on about Jesus’ popularity. But then we get the really interesting story of the paralytic. Jesus forgives his sins, outrages the Scribes, and demonstrates that The Son Of Man has the power to forgive sins as well as to heal paralysis. This, incidentally, makes us ask what the connection was between sin and sickness in the thought of First Century Jews.  But the end result is that Jesus has thrown down the gauntlet.

Then more about how popular Jesus was. This will get tiresome.

Jesus calls Levi. This gets interesting. First, it seems like Jesus may be having dinner parties at his house. This definitely moves Jesus up the social scale. Then, there’s the whole idea of consorting with sinners and tax collectors, who are collaborators as well as sinners. But Jesus tells us he was “sent”–by whom unspecified–to call the sinners rather than the just. So Jesus has now stuck his finger in the eye of respectable society and the Scribes. What is he up to?

Then, not content with that, Jesus separates himself from both the Baptist and MSJ, and manages to predict his death while he’s at it. He doesn’t fast like the disciples of John, or the Pharisees. Nor does he feel obliged to follow the rules about the Sabbath. If his disciples are hungry, they can pick the ears of grain. AND–yes, there’s more!–he compares himself to King David.

But he’s still not done. He proclaims that the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. I didn’t mention this in the chapter, but isn’t The Lord (Adonai) the Lord of the Sabbath?  In using this “Son of Man” term twice, Mark has made it clear that it refers to Jesus.

So, in all, Jesus has started taking shots at MSJ as it was being practiced. He is casting off fasting and following the rules of the Sabbath. He is also claiming the mantle of David, which would give him the right to set Judaism onto another course. And Jesus seems to be intent on doing this.  It would also let him step into the penumbra of being recognized as the Messiah. Whether this activity dates back to Jesus, however, is an open question.

So Mark is revealing the identity of this Jesus, step by step.

Mark Chapter 2:18-28

We come to the end of Chapter 2.

18 Καὶ ἦσαν οἱ μαθηταὶ Ἰωάννου καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι νηστεύοντες. καὶ ἔρχονται καὶ λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Διὰ τί οἱ μαθηταὶ Ἰωάννου καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ τῶν Φαρισαίων νηστεύουσιν, οἱ δὲ σοὶ μαθηταὶ οὐ νηστεύουσιν;

And there were learners (disciples) of John and the Pharisees fasting. And they came and said to him, “Why do the learners of John and the learners of the Pharisees fast, but your learners do not fast?” 

I’ve probably made my point; the word that is always translated as “disciples”, which is <<discipuli >> in Latin, literally means ‘learners’ in both Latin and Greek.  I’ll switch back to the standard translation, but it seemed like a good idea to remind everyone what the word really means.

18 Et erant discipuli Ioannis et pharisaei ieiunantes. Et veniunt et dicunt illi: “ Cur discipuli Ioannis et discipuli pharisaeorum ieiunant, tui autem discipuli non ieiunant? ”.

19 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Μὴ δύνανται οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ νυμφῶνος ἐν ᾧ ὁ νυμφίος μετ’ αὐτῶν ἐστιν νηστεύειν; ὅσον χρόνον ἔχουσιν τὸν νυμφίον μετ’ αὐτῶν οὐ δύνανται νηστεύειν:

And Jesus said to them, “How are the sons/children (guests?) of the bridegroom in which the bridegroom is with them able to fast?  

A word about << υἱοὶ >>. The base translation of this is “sons.” However, there is a chance that it’s metaphorical here. Of the four crib translations, two translate as ‘guests’, one as ‘attendants’, and the KJV taking it literally as ‘sons’. It probably matters in some way, but I don’t think it’s at all critical.

19 Et ait illis Iesus: “ Numquid possunt convivae nuptiarum, quamdiu sponsus cum illis est, ieiunare? Quanto tempore habent secum sponsum, non possunt ieiunare;

20 ἐλεύσονται δὲ ἡμέραι ὅταν ἀπαρθῇ ἀπ’αὐτῶν ὁ νυμφίος, καὶ τότε νηστεύσουσιν ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ.

“The day (lit = ‘days’) will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.”

20 venient autem dies, cum auferetur ab eis sponsus, et tunc ieiunabunt in illa die.

21 οὐδεὶς ἐπίβλημα ῥάκους ἀγνάφου ἐπιράπτει ἐπὶ ἱμάτιον παλαιόν: εἰ δὲ μή, αἴρει τὸ πλήρωμα ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ τὸ καινὸν τοῦ παλαιοῦ, καὶ χεῖρον σχίσμα γίνεται.

“No one sows a new patch upon an old garment. If one does, in time the new from the old raises up, and the tear grows worse.”

21 Nemo assumentum panni rudis assuit vestimento veteri; alioquin supplementum aufert aliquid ab eo, novum a veteri, et peior scissura fit.

22 καὶ οὐδεὶς βάλλει οἶνον νέον εἰς ἀσκοὺς παλαιούς εἰ δὲ μή, ῥήξει ὁ οἶνος τοὺς ἀσκούς, καὶ ὁ οἶνος ἀπόλλυται καὶ οἱ ἀσκοί ἀλλὰ οἶνον νέον εἰς ἀσκοὺς καινούς.

And no one puts new wine into old skins; if you do, the wine rips open the skins, and the wine is spoiled and the skins also; rather new wine (is put) into new skins.

Several different and interlocking ideas/concepts here. First, the parables.  Some claim that the parables represent the oldest stratum of Jesus’ teaching. The thinking is that these are the sorts of things that those hearing him would remember. This has a certain amount of credibility. It’s a classic form of wisdom teaching; so, if one believes Jesus was a wisdom teacher, then there is a good case that the parables do represent a low stratum of Jesus’ teachings.  Against this, it sometime seems that these are the sorts of things that would grow up around a legendary figure. Think the story of Alexander the Great and Diogenes, in which the only thing the latter wants from the King of the World is that he stop blocking Diogenes’ sun. The analogy is not completely accurate, but stories do accumulate around legendary figures. For the moment, I will remain agnostic about this; when it becomes necessary, I will take my stand.

Then we get to the topics. We start with John’s disciples, and the Pharisees and the issue about fasting. This was a time-honored tradition in Jewish practice, and very much a part of Mainstream Judaism (MSJ), whatever that might be. And yet, Jesus eschews it. What does this imply?  I have also started reading E.P. Sanders’ book Jesus and Judaism.  This came as a reference from Bond’s book.  Kind of interesting about Sanders’ book is that the introduction takes up the first fifty pages. In this, he surveys the state of the argument to date. Since the book was published 25 years ago, there’s a bit less of it than is presented by Bond; however, this allows him to go into a bit more depth. One of the main areas of contention is “What was Jesus’ Intention?” Was he planning to overturn the practices of Judaism? Judging from this story, we might say that the answer is “Yes”. Of course, the reality is more complex than that, but that seems the prima facie idea behind Jesus’ disdain for fasting.

Or is it? The second part, the parable, hints at something more. We don’t fast while the bridegroom is at the feast; rather, we wait until he has left. What does this mean? One of the favorite conceptions of the historical Jesus is that he was a preacher of apocalypse, predicting the end of times and the coming of judgement. Paul mentioned the coming wrath several times. However, this doesn’t seem to fit that category, either, because people will fast after the bridegroom has departed. This implies that there will continue to be people. So, this seems to fall into another category: Jesus’ prediction of his death. You can fast, he says, after I’m dead.

What does this say about Jesus’ relation to the Baptist?  Has he stepped away? Or, was he never that attached to begin with? There was an implied connection in the early part of the gospel, and Jesus seemed to take John’s place, but was that an actual relationship? Or one that the evangelists created to provide Jesus with a pedigree? Given his quick disavowal of John’s practice, perhaps my whacky suggestion might seem a little less whacky now?

As for the disavowal of the Pharisees, this is blatant, but it’s in character with his previous attitude towards the Scribes. These were not the same group, but both could be said to represent Mainstream Judaism (MSJ). So, is this the point? Whatever the intent was, the result is that Jesus has separated himself from both the Baptist, and MSJ. Personally, I suspect this is something added by later tradition, as part of the gradual divergence of the Jesus Assemblies from MSJ.

Then there are the parables of the cloth, and the new wine. The analogy is the same in both cases: the new is separating itself from the old. In this way, they both fit in rather nicely with the separation from John and the Pharisees. The new patch will not readily attach to the old cloth, and the new wine will burst the old skins. IOW, Jesus is the new thing; the old has been superseded and is now out-of-date. 

22 Et nemo mittit vinum novellum in utres veteres, alioquin dirumpet vinum utres et vinum perit et utres; sed vinum novum in utres novos ”.

23 Καὶ ἐγένετο αὐτὸν ἐν τοῖς σάββασιν παραπορεύεσθαι διὰ τῶν σπορίμων, καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἤρξαντο ὁδὸν ποιεῖν τίλλοντες τοὺς στάχυας.

And it happened on the Sabbath (that) he was passing through the fields, and his learners began to make way plucking the ears of grain.

Quick note about the Greek: <<αὐτὸν ἐν τοῖς σάββασιν παραπορεύεσθαι>> is a construction known as accusative and infinitive.  This is a very common grammatical construction in Latin, but doesn’t get used nearly so much in Greek. It’s a method of subordinating a clause.  

23 Et factum est, cum ipse sabbatis ambularet per sata, discipuli eius coeperunt praegredi vellentes spicas.

24 καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι ἔλεγον αὐτῷ, Ἴδε τί ποιοῦσιν τοῖς σάββασιν ὃ οὐκ ἔξεστιν;

And the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are you doing on the Sabbath what is not allowed?”

24 Pharisaei autem dicebant ei: “ Ecce, quid faciunt sabbatis, quod non licet? ”.

25 καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Οὐδέποτε ἀνέγνωτε τί ἐποίησεν Δαυίδ, ὅτε χρείαν ἔσχεν καὶ ἐπείνασεν αὐτὸς καὶ οἱ μετ’ αὐτοῦ;

And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he needed to eat and to feed also those who were with him?”

25 Et ait illis: “ Numquam legistis quid fecerit David, quando necessitatem habuit et esuriit ipse et qui cum eo erant?

26 πῶς εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸν οἶκον τοῦ θεοῦ ἐπὶ Ἀβιαθὰρ ἀρχιερέως καὶ τοὺς ἄρτους τῆς προθέσεως ἔφαγεν, οὓς οὐκ ἔξεστιν φαγεῖν εἰ μὴ τοὺς ἱερεῖς, καὶ ἔδωκεν καὶ τοῖς σὺν αὐτῷ οὖσιν;

“How he came to the house of God under Abiathar the high priest and they ate the bread having been purposed/set aside = consecrated, which is not allowed to eat except the priests, and he took and gave it to those being with him.”

26 Quomodo introivit in domum Dei sub Abiathar principe sacerdotum et panes propositionis manducavit, quos non licet manducare nisi sacerdotibus, et dedit etiam eis, qui cum eo erant? ”.

27 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Τὸ σάββατον διὰ τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἐγένετο καὶ οὐχ ὁ ἄνθρωπος διὰ τὸ σάββατον:

And he said, “The Sabbath because of man has become and not man because of the Sabbath.”

27 Et dicebat eis: “ Sabbatum propter hominem factum est, et non homo propter sabbatum;

28 ὥστε κύριός ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ τοῦ σαββάτου.

“In this way the son of man is also the lord of the Sabbath. “

28 itaque dominus est Filius hominis etiam sabbati ”.

After the stated separation of the section before, now we get positive identification. Rather than distinguishing himself from the past, Jesus is claiming to be the heir–spiritual, perhaps–of King David. This is a really bold move, for reasons that are probably obvious. David was The King. He was The Pinnacle of Israel’s worldly prowess, the Golden Age of Israelite History. To do as David did was to place himself in very rarefied company. What does he mean by this? That he will re-institute the kingdom of David?  One has to believe that any Jew in the First Century would have drawn that conclusion. What else could it mean?  And then he has the nerve–the nerve!–to overturn the traditional–or, at least, the way it had been normalized in his day–view of the Sabbath. This, certainly, is nothing more than a radical revision of what it would mean to be Jewish.

So radical, perhaps, that the intent wasn’t to address Jews, but Gentiles. This is Paul’s preaching to the Gentiles to the next level. Personally, all of this strikes me as later interpretations of Jesus, as a programme that was written back into the record from a viewpoint of someone living forty years after-the-fact. Look, “Mark” seems to be saying, “Even Jesus didn’t go for all that Jewish heritage.”

Now,  let’s take these two together. Jesus has separated himself from MSJ, and even the “reforming” variety as preached (probably) by John. Then he associates himself with David. The way this sequence is understood would have been very different, I believe, for a Jew and for a Gentile. For Jews, Jesus is taking on the authority of David; for Gentiles, he would be seen as stepping away from Judaism. Either way, the message is (relatively?) clear: there is a new sheriff in town.

This leaves us with “The Son Of Man”, who is the “Lord of the Sabbath.” I have separated these because they are two separate concepts. First, who is the Son of Man?

This is the second time Mark has used the term. The first time was in 2:10, when Jesus heals the paralytic to show the authority of the Son of Man to forgive sins. Here, he’s the Lord of the Sabbath. The first time is clearly meant to be Jesus. Here, it’s pretty clearly Jesus as well. So, uses #1 and #2 point to Jesus. Paul was pretty emphatic about Jesus being the son of God; Mark, for whatever reasons, prefers this term. Regardless, Mark is using the term to indicate Jesus’ authority–granted by whom we have not yet been told explicitly, unless it was breathed upon him at Jesus’ baptism.

The usual genesis of the term is cited as Daniel 7:13, in which “one like the son of man” comes down from the clouds, very much resembling what Paul predicted in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, when Jesus would come down from/on the clouds to meet those saved. In Daniel, the implication is that it simply means that the being is in human form–like a son of man; i.e., like a man. In Mark, we’ve stepped away from this. Some say that the term is an affirmation of Jesus’ humanity, as opposed to ‘son of God’, which stresses his deity. Others say that the term does not always and everywhere reflect back to Jesus in an unambiguous manner.  We will pay attention to this. Here, Mark is referring to Jesus. He forgave the paralytic’s sins, and he showed himself lord of the Sabbath.

So, if Mark is clearly referring to Jesus, why not use the more obvious “Son of God”? Here, perhaps, is where Mark’s ability as a weaver of different narratives comes into play.   What the ‘ambiguity’ of the term tells me is that, a) the term was in use; it seems highly unlikely that Mark made it up; and b) that the tradition that used this term was, perhaps, a bit hazy on whether Jesus was divine. Paul predates this; he does not use the term. Therefore, I believe we are justified to infer that a different tradition did. Mark retains the term; why, is difficult to say. But I believe the tradition he used was not completely clear on whether or not Jesus was divine; this is why we don’t get a birth narrative, or a resurrection story.


Mark Chapter 2:13-17

This is a fairly short sequence, but including it either with the post before or the post after made each of them too long.  So, we have a short segment of Chapter 2.

13Καὶ ἐξῆλθεν πάλιν παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν: καὶ πᾶς ὁ ὄχλος ἤρχετο πρὸς αὐτόν, καὶ ἐδίδασκεν αὐτούς.

And he went out again along the Sea (of Galilee). And the whole crowd came to him, and he taught them.

Repeated from the section before, want to make a point or two.  

Traveling along the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. He did this before in Chapter 1. Looking at a map, there are a number of towns along the shore, one of them being Magdala–as in, Mary the Magdalene. The idea is that the shore line probably was fairly well populated.  As such, it would not be difficult to raise a crowd. Once again, Mark is telling us just how popular Jesus has become.

Now, about this. Based on what we have read, Jesus has not been out teaching for very long. All in all, we know that he spent time in the wilderness–but an unspecified amount–and he had a series of Sabbath days when he taught in the synagogue in Caphernaum, and then more Sabbaths teaching in the other neighboring towns. So, all in all, Jesus has probably been engaged in his ministry for perhaps 3, perhaps 6 months. And he has managed to attract such large followings that he can’t enter towns openly, and a crowd follows him around the shore of the lake. That’s pretty impressive.

But–how much of this is due to his association with the Baptist?  Any of it? Being associated with John would could have given him something of a ready-made audience, which would help explain how he got to be so popular so quickly. However, we aren’t told that he baptised people; we’re told he healed them, cast out demons, etc.

Another possibility for the level of Jesus’ popularity is that more time has passed since his baptism than the events here would indicate. Perhaps it’s been more than six months. John’s gospel seems to indicate that Jesus’ ministry lasted a bit longer than the three years traditionally assigned to it.  Maybe that’s how Jesus’ popularity spread.

Or, there’s always the possibility that Mark is simply exaggerating. Because the circle that we have to square is, if Jesus was as popular as Mark indicates, what happened to all of these followers after Jesus died?  Keep this in mind when we hear how Jesus admonished silence, as he did to the unclean spirit, and to the leper in Chapter 1.

The question with this is, how embarrassing was it for Assemblies of Jesus that there were so few followers in his homeland? Was this known? Did this matter? Because, on the one hand, if Jesus was as popular in Galilee as Mark says he was, why wasn’t there a larger Assembly there?  Or did other new followers, in Rome or Carthage or Macedonia particularly care about what had happened in Galilee?

I do not know that answer; I imagine the question has been asked, by those opposed to Christianity, whether in the ancient or the modern world.

13 Et egressus est rursus ad mare; omnisque turba veniebat ad eum, et docebat eos.

14καὶ παράγων εἶδεν Λευὶν τὸν τοῦ Ἁλφαίου καθήμενον ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον, καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Ἀκολούθει μοι. καὶ ἀναστὰς ἠκολούθησεν αὐτῷ.

And going along, he saw Levi, son of Alphaios, seated among the tax collectors, and he (Jesus) said to him (Levi), “Follow me.” And, standing up, he (Levi) followed him (Jesus).

I am admittedly a bit unclear on the rules for pronoun antecedents in Greek. In Latin, one distinguishes by using hic or illius, the latter vs the former. We have the distinction of the non-specified subject vs and the object, but that is not always clear without context.  That is the case here.

14 Et cum praeteriret, vidit Levin Alphaei sedentem ad teloneum et ait illi: “ Sequere me ”. Et surgens secutus est eum.

15Καὶ γίνεται κατακεῖσθαι αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ αὐτοῦ, καὶ πολλοὶ τελῶναι καὶ ἁμαρτωλοὶ συνανέκειντο τῷ Ἰησοῦ καὶ τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ: ἦσαν γὰρ πολλοὶ καὶ ἠκολούθουν αὐτῷ.

And it happened that, reclining in his home, and many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his learners; for they were many and they followed him.

This is a great example of where the rules of antecedent really matter.  I spent a certain amount of time trying to work out the antecedents for the ‘his’ that’s in ‘in his home.’ Whose home? Levi’s? But, after a couple of  go-rounds, I concluded that they were eating in Jesus’ home. Then I checked my crib translations; the KJV, and the Revised English Bible agree with me. The NIV says they were eating at Levi’s house, and the ESV and the NASB take the coward’s way out and don’t pin it down. They leave the ‘his house’ ambiguous.  In this case, the Latin is no particular help, merely echoing the ambiguity of the Greek.  

They are eating at Jesus’ house. This is significant. This indicates that Jesus was of a level of means, not only to entertain a crowd at his house, but he was able to entertain what appears to be a fairly large gathering. In reading stuff about the Historical Jesus, there is some back and forth about Jesus’ economic status. Some say he was poor, some say he had adequate, if modest means. But this would seem to indicate that he may have been of substantial means, if he was able to entertain a decent party of tax collectors, who were often fairly well-off themselves. But I have not come across any citation of this passage; however, that may just mean I need to get out (and read) more.

But this also reflects back on 2:1, when he was said to be ‘at home’. At the time, my question was, had he moved to Caphernaum? Had he moved in with Simon & Andrew? Now it really seems like it’s Jesus’ house. So when did he move from Nazareth? When he first came along the Sea of Galilee, as he was about to call Simon and Andrew, the implication is that he was coming into a new place. But now, some unspecified amount of time later, he’s living there, in a house suitable for large parties. What’s up with that? Which leads me to ask, did he ever live in Nazareth? If we check Matthew, we are told that Jesus, Mary, & Joseph only moved there upon the return from Egypt. So, all in all, it doesn’t seem like Jesus has any real connection with Nazareth, except that the word was that he came from there. Matthew cites the OT to say that ‘he will be called a Nazarene.’ I get the sense that his biography may have been adapted to fit some such words of the prophets. When you get inconsistent stories, you have to ask if the official story may have been cooked up by the PR department.

And then we have Jesus breaking bread with people who were not respectable by the Jewish standards of the times. Tax collectors were not popular. The Romans were firm believers in small government. They would twist themselves–and their government–into pretzels to avoid creating any sort of bureaucracy. One manifestation of this was that they contracted out the collection of taxes. That is, they left it up to the private sector. The Romans put the contract up for bid; the highest bidder was awarded the contract. Then, the one who got the contract had to collect something over and above what had been promised to the Romans. This represented the tax collector’s profit. So, if I win the bid by saying I can collect 1,000 denarii, I have to collect that and give it to the Romans, then I have to collect more than that to make a profit. So the system was inherently corrupt, and tax collectors were hated for the levels of greed they exhibited since their incentive was to squeeze as much as possible. The only real check on their greed was tax riots and armed insurrection. Not a great system; but not so bad that it hasn’t been proposed in the US in the 21st Century. La plus ça change, la plus ça meme chose.  

But that’s not all. In addition to those bastard tax collectors, we have Jesus also consorting with sinners, of unspecified type. Again, this put Jesus outside the scope of ‘polite’ society. More on this in a moment.

15 Et factum est, cum accumberet in domo illius, et multi publicani et peccatores simul discumbebant cum Iesu et discipulis eius; erant enim multi et sequebantur eum.

16καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς τῶν Φαρισαίων ἰδόντες ὅτι ἐσθίει μετὰ τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν καὶ τελωνῶνἔ λεγον τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ, Οτι μετὰ τῶν τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν ἐσθίει;

And the scribes of the Pharisees seeing that he ate with sinners and tax collectors said to his learners, “Why with tax collectors and sinners does he eat?”

16 Et scribae pharisaeorum, videntes quia manducaret cum peccatoribus et publicanis, dicebant discipulis eius: “ Quare cum publicanis et peccatoribus manducat? ”.

17καὶ ἀκούσας ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγει αὐτοῖς [ὅτι] Οὐ χρείαν ἔχουσιν οἱ ἰσχύοντες ἰατροῦ ἀλλ’ οἱ κακῶς ἔχοντες: οὐκ ἦλθον καλέσαι δικαίους ἀλλὰ ἁμαρτωλούς.

And hearing Jesus said to them [that] “The strong have no need of a physician, but those having illnesses. I did not come to call the just, but the sinners.

First, this is the second time that Jesus has said that he has come for a specific purpose. The first was in 1:38, when he said he came to preach to the other towns. However, there was a certain ambiguity about that one, since it could have just meant that he had come out of his house to go on to the neighboring towns. Now, he is stating that he has a purpose, and the purpose is to call the sinners.

Call them to what? The kingdom of God, presumably, since that’s what he started preaching after John’s arrest. Now, since his message is to repent, because the kingdom is at hand, it would make sense to call sinners. But is there more to it than that? So far he’s tweaked the noses of the scribes a couple of times already, and he does so again here. Is his message one of provocation? Why? 

Here it’s hard for the historian in me not to notice mention something about the power structure. After the disturbances of the very early First Century, Judea had been reorganized as a formal Roman province, ruled by an official sent from Rome.  That position was held by Pontius Pilate at the time this story takes place. Galilee, OTOH, was still ruled through a client king, Archelaus, Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great. As such, even though Archelaus was a Jew, he was a collaborator, and such men are generally not looked upon fondly by those ruled. Now, the question is, would the scribes be seen as part of the collaborators’ regime? Is this why Jesus provokes them? But then, why fraternize with the tax collectors, who were every bit as much collaborators?

My point is that it’s one thing to minister to the sinners, the dispossessed, and such; it’s quite another to provoke the respectable class quite deliberately. What is it that Jesus has against these people? Or, does he have anything? I’ve been corrupted by the notions of the Historical Jesus quest, so I’m asking: Did Jesus have anything against the scribes as a group? Or did the evangelists write the issues of the 70s and 80s back into the story of Jesus? Perhaps as I read more of the Historical Jesus Quest (HJQ), I will have some answers for this.

In the meantime, Jesus is telling us he has come to call the sinners. Let’s keep an eye on this.   

17 Et Iesus hoc audito ait illis: “ Non necesse habent sani medicum, sed qui male habent; non veni vocare iustos sed peccatores ”.