Category Archives: Q
I just realized that this has never been published. It was sitting in drafts. So, here it is. The summary to Chapter 12 will follow shortly–whatever that means.
Of course we begin with the usual disclaimer that there does not seem to be much to say about this chapter. Virtually all of it is in material covered by Matthew and so is part of the material of the hypothetical Q. Thus the proper theme of this discussion should be the differences between Matthew’s versions of these stories, and Luke’s version. However, much of that was covered in the commentary to the translation. Perhaps the recurring discussion of Q has become a bit worn; perhaps a slightly different tack would be to get back to the roots of what this blog was supposed to do: discuss the actual beliefs set out, and to provide insight into how–or if?–these beliefs developed over time.
The proper place to start on this is with the Lord’s Prayer. And, conveniently, it’s the first section of the chapter. There is, of course, the debate over which version–that of Matthew or that of Luke–is the more primitive; that is, which of the versions is the closest to the original version allegedly captured in the hypothetical Q. I have a copy of The Q Thomas Reader, chief editor John Kloppenborg of the University of Toronto (alas!). Kloppenborg is one of the leading proponents of Q, and one of the leading authorities on its reconstruction. Interesting how a fictional entity can be “reconstructed”; sort of on the lines of “reconstructing what the original unicorn looked like”, as it were. Anyway, in the text of the cited book, the prayer follows Luke’s opening, using just “father”, rather than “our father” as Matthew says. This is presumably more primitive, because the more primitive version has fewer words. Except that’s a ridiculous statement. If you were to read an early draft of a Hemingway short story, I daresay you would find a whole lot of more words that were excised from the final version. So in this case, saying Luke’s version is more primitive because of the lack of “our” really is not terribly convincing. Yes, I’m sure there are other reasons for believing that Luke is the more primitive, but that does not imply that they are any more convincing.
Let’s ask this question: is there a dogmatic or theological difference between addressing “our father” as opposed to just saying “father”? Of course, any time a word is changed or added or omitted, the meaning of the text changes to some degree. So it’s not a question of “if it changes”, but “how, or how much does it change?” Here’s how I see this. My siblings and I have used the term “our father”, or “our mother”, or “our brother”. But when do we speak thus? When we are conversing amongst ourselves. I would not say “our father” unless it’s addressed to a sibling, or perhaps to “our father” when I am addressing said paternal parent in the company of a sibling. Think about that for a minute. OTOH, when alone with pop, I would never say “our father”. Rather, I would simply address him as “father”. Does that offer a clue about the difference between Matthew and Luke? I suggest it may. Matthew’s version, with the first person plural possessive pronoun, is necessarily a collective address, something that’s said in a collective situation. That is, it’s appropriate when a group of worshippers are at a service and praying communally. It’s most appropriate for use with “we” as the pronoun. In contrast, simply saying “father” is most appropriate with the pronoun “I”. Does this provide some insight, that perhaps the addition/omission of the possessive pronoun suggests different intended context? Is one public, while the other is private?
Of course, for most of the last two millennia, people in their solitude have been praying “our father”. But that is after the prayer has become systematized, after it’s become part of the process of worship, when it’s become a standard, to be used in all settings. What about when the prayer was new? I would suggest that the communal setting, saying “our” father, is the earlier context. It’s a truism–but nevertheless a mostly forgotten one–that people in the ancient world did not do a lot of solitary reading in silence. Rather, the written word was read aloud, and usually to an audience. Books were too expensive and so too rare for solitary reading. So when people heard the words of Jesus, they most likely heard them; they didn’t read them silently to themselves, but heard the words from someone else who was reading the words aloud. Extrapolating from this, did people pray alone? Generally speaking, no. In the pagan world religious ritual was mostly a communal affair, whether conducted in a familial setting, or at a large, public sacrifice. Jesus admonished people not to be like the hypocrites who stand in front of a crowd and pray; rather, he said, do it locked in a closet, away from everyone. Can we extrapolate from these to things, communal reading and communal prayer to suggest that Matthew’s is the more “primitive” version. It came first temporally, and it represents the oldest stratum of behaviour. In such communal settings “our father” is most appropriate. By the time Luke wrote, perhaps the admonition of Jesus had taken root, and prayer had become more of a solitary activity. In these contexts, “father” would be the more reasonable.
And this ties in with another difference between Matthew’s version and that of Luke. Matthew says we should prayer that our debts–and the word is not allegorical, but blatantly monetary–be forgiven. Luke, OTOH, prays that our sins be forgiven. These are two very different words, and represent two very different requests. And we noted in the commentary that both versions then go on to say “as we forgive debts against us…:” I have to say, using “debt” in both places seems a lot more consistent than the sins/debts combination. That is to say, it seems more likely that Luke changed the first one rather than Matthew. Yes, it’s possible that Matthew changed Q to be more consistent, but what combination of circumstances led to the prayer being recorded first in Q as sins/debts?
Again, it should be stressed that this is hardly a knockout punch for the “argument” for Q. There could certainly be times when one or the other of the evangelists decided to change or retain the words found in the hypothetical Q. There is no reason that one gospel is always more primitive than the other. This is ceded by Q people; they have no choice. However, the fewer times that can be shown that Luke is not the “more primitive”, the further the foundation of the Q argument is eroded. If Matthew is “more primitive” most of the time, then what exactly is to stop us from saying that it’s most likely that Luke simply used Matthew? There is a point in there where it stops making sense to posit a pre-existing work if Matthew is the more primitive, say, 67% of the time. No?
Aside from this, the rest of the chapter is retellings of stories which we encountered in Matthew. The biggest theme was the disparagement of the Pharisees, throwing in the lawyers for good measure. I believe that it is an open question of how much friction there really was between Jesus and the religious leaders and/or political powers during the former’s lifetime. I honestly expect it wasn’t nearly what it was anything close to half as bad as we’ve all come to believe. I keep coming back to the point that none of Jesus’ followers were arrested with Jesus, or even shortly after Jesus. Acts gives us a full (if not exactly credible) account of the apostles out and about and preaching. Sure, we’re told there were episodes when the authorities cracked down, but only after provocation. As described in Acts, the apostles were not persecuted per se for being followers of Jesus; they were persecuted when they raised too much of a ruckus and disturbed the peace. Paul talks about “pressuring” Jesus’ followers, but there is nothing to corroborate what he says about this. Josephus doesn’t really say anything about it, and none of the Roman sources had much to say about the followers of Chrestus, as Tacitus calls them. Nero blamed them for the fire, which means that they were probably a group that people knew existed, but these same people likely did not know much about them. This sort of non-specific recognition makes the perfect scapegoat: you know who they are, but not enough to judge whether they’re the sort of people to start a fire. So if the emperor says they did, hey, who am I to gainsay the emperor? Saying this, however, puts an onus on me to explain why this became so firmly entrenched in the narrative, in the legend, if it were not true. The obvious answer to this is that it provided a plausible–and even honourable–reason for Jesus’ crucifixion. He was a martyr, and that always makes for a good story and and it makes Jesus into an heroic figure. Hmmm…son of a god and a mortal, a hero…can anyone say “Achilles”? We’ve discussed this before, probably in conjunction with the idea that Matthew was a pagan, but this sort of semi-divine figure was not at all common in Jewish folklore, but it was very common in Greek myth. Coincidence?
That’s really enough for this chapter. Most of what remains to say has been said about these stories in Matthew. The sign of Jonas, the wicked generation, the Queen of the South…these are all interesting and important, but they’ve been covered. So let’s trudge onward.
There have been numerous instances when I’ve spoken rather skeptically about the prophesies Jesus utters. I’ve been on any number of websites where the author is rather critical of those who, like me, dismiss the possibility of actual predictions. That is to say that I assume, every prediction that Jesus makes is ex post facto. Authors with a more religious, or perhaps faith-based approach do take the idea of legitimate prophesy by Jesus as not only possible, but likely.
There is one point to be made about this. The main reason I’m skeptical about the prophesies of Jesus–or of Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or any other in the HS–is that, unfailingly, they come true. Now, this is not surprising for a divine individual; but if the individual is not divine, then it defies probability that all Jesus’ prophesies came to be. I bring this up because I’m currently reading a book about the Persian invasions of Greece in the period 490-479 BCE. In the telling of these invasions by Herodotus, there are a number of prophesies given by the oracle of Delphi. As it happens, the author of the book I’m reading (a secondary source, rather than Herodotus himself) just discussed these oracles. This is a topic of some debate among historians; are any of the oracles recorded by Herodotus or elsewhere, genuine. That is, were they actually uttered by the Pythia, recorded by the priests and set into hexameter verses before the event in question? Or were these also ex post facto creations? The author brings up an excellent point about the authenticity: a lot of the oracles were wrong. For example, when the Athenians asked if they should resist the Persian onslaught, the oracle told them to “fly, doomed ones”. Prior to the invasion, that sure woudl have seemed to be wise and excellent advice, predicting an outcome very likely to come to pass. How the Greeks actually managed to pull off the defeat of the enormous invasion force is one of the more unexpected events in history. Yet, defeat them the Greeks did.
IOW, the oracle was wrong. In fact, a lot of the oracles Herodotus records were wrong. If they weren’t they were so craftily worded that they would prove correct in either case. The most famous is the Lydian King Croesus, who asks if he should fight the Persians. The answer was, “if you fight the Persians, you will destroy a mighty empire”. Taking that as a positive response, Croesus fought and lost. The “mighty empire” he destroyed was his own. And the Spartans got a similar answer about whether they should attack the city of Tegea. The oracle predicted that the Spartans would measure the plain of Tegea with dancing steps. Thinking this prophesied success, the Spartans attacked, were defeated, and ended up as slaves working in the fields, thus measuring the plain. Anyway, the author of the book (Persia and the Greeks; The Defence of the West 560-479, by A.R. Burns) says that anyone making up an oracle after the fact should be expected to get the correct answer. That many of these oracles were wrong is a good prima facie case for their authenticity.
So yes, I am skeptical. A 100% accuracy rate is impossible. For a human, anyway. If you accept Jesus’ divinity, of course all standards of human measure go by the way. Since I am writing history and not religion, it is impossible to accept these predictions as anything other than after-the-fact.
This, of course, has implications for the Q debate. But then, what doesn’t? The point is that when Jesus makes a prediction that is only in Matthew and Luke, and so supposedly came from Q, there is almost a zero percent chance that the words recorded were spoken by Jesus. Much more likely, they were invented after the fact. But if there is material in Q that was not spoken by Jesus, then what do we have? A collection of stuff that was said by…someone. That could have been said by anyone. In which case, the whole definition of Q changes. And this is a big problem I see with Q: the content and definition is very malleable. As such, we have to ask whether Q has any meaning at all.
Supposedly, this chapter is about Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, which takes up nearly the entire chapter. In actual fact, however, the theme of this chapter is Q. So much of the Q debate is taken up by the sheer brilliance of the Sermon on the Mount, that we are forced to compare Luke’s Sermon on the Plain to that other masterpiece. It has been decreed that this version of the Q material preserves a more primitive version of Q, and that this version is decidedly inferior. Those statements are not to be gainsaid if one wishes to be included in polite company of NT scholars. Well, the problem is that I’m not an NT scholar (or, I suppose, a scholar of any sort, except maybe a wannabe…), so I’ll likely never be invited into polite company, anyway, so I can throw a few bricks, or, with luck, start a food fight. It’s time we talked about the content of the two gospels.
Let’s start at the very beginning. Matthew says they went up the mountain. Luke says they went up the mountain, but came back down, and then he stresses that he began speaking on a plain. Luke does not sort of drift off, leaving it vague; he very specifically says “a level place”. So which is the original? Remember, Luke supposedly preserves the more primitive version of Q, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Oh, right, alternating primitivity. Either way, if this came from Q, Luke had to decide to bring Jesus down from the mountain and stand in a level place. Why does he do this? Why not leave him on the mountain? Or did Luke make the change exactly because Matthew had Jesus on the mountain? Is this the emergence of the puckish humor of Luke? That he’s sort of tweaking Matthew a bit? We mentioned that in the penultimate section, in which Luke launched into a stream of unusual words that are not found in Matthew, and very few other places as far as that goes.
But there’s even a more basic question. The Gospel of Thomas is a sayings gospel. Its discovery was hailed as a vindication of the Q thesis, demonstrating that sayings gospels were, indeed, written. Since it was a sayings gospel, it was immediately declared to be very early, tracing back to Jesus himself (perhaps), and proving that Q could exist, which basically meant Thomas was taken to prove that Q did exist. But Thomas has one striking dissimilarity to Q, as reconstructed. Thomas has no physical descriptions of place or action. Pretty much everything starts with “Jesus said…” And yet, the reconstructed Q is full of all sorts of physical descriptions and settings in place such as the “up/down the mountain”. Thomas does not have stuff from the Baptist. It doesn’t talk about centurions. It is, truly, what we would expect of a “sayings” gospel. Reconstructed Q, on the other hand, simply is not. There is stuff from the Baptist, and physical description. And there is so much of this that those doing the reconstructing were more or less forced to say that it all came from Q. Otherwise, how to explain the overlaps? It’s impossible to do so without either putting this extraneous stuff in Q, or admitting that Luke read Matthew. Since the latter has to be rejected on ideological grounds, the former is the only choice.
The upshot, right from the start, we have a pretty good indication that Luke was, indeed, aware of Matthew. He was aware that Matthew’s sermon was on a mountain, so Luke put his on a level place. Why? The Q people say I have to explain every deviation from Matthew in a manner that is supported by a consistent editorial attitude. So I posit mine to be puckish humor. That suggestion comes with a guarantee of originality, that you will not find that in the, ahem, serious literature. And I don’t mean to be flippant or facetious. My suggestion is entirely serious, if only to show the range of interpretation that is possible in these situations. “Deadly serious” is not the only setting for discussion, just because it’s the default setting. I’m going to continue to look for this humourous edge throughout the gospel. Let’s see how that stands up to scrutiny.
So Matthew has the primitive “up the mountain”, but Luke has the primitive version of the first Beatitude. Matthew’s poor are poor in spirit; Luke’s are just poor. This is not a matter of primitive vs developed. It’s a situation in which each evangelist is saying a very different thing. Puckish humor again? Perhaps a bit more wry this time, with a bit of an edge. “Poor in spirit” is all very fine and good, but what about those who are just poor? And not only do they hunger and thirst for justice, they’re just damn hungry. Yes, this is more primitive, if by that you mean the more pointedly addressing fundamental needs. Why do they hunger for justice? Because they’re poor, really poor, and not just “poor in spirit”. Being poor in spirit almost implies that they are not poor in actuality, that we are not discussing physical privation, but sort of a moral discomfort. So yes, it is quite easy to say that Luke is more primitive, but he’s also more righteous.
There is one more aspect of “primitivity” that sorely needs to be addressed. The idea that one version or the other is more primitive completely begs the question. It assumes that there is a total of three versions; one is original, and the other two are derivative. Ergo, one of the derivatives is more primitive than the other. But if there is no third version, to say that Matthew or Luke is more primitive becomes meaningless. In all cases, Matthew is the more “primitive” because it was written most of a generation earlier. So discussing primitivity is meaningless absent Q; discussing primitivity assumes the existence of Q, which is what we’re trying to determine, whether Q existed or not. By shifting the battleground to discussions of primitivity, the Q people have already won the debate since we’re now taking Q as given. This is admittedly deft rhetoric, but it’s also bad logic.
There’s another aspect of Q that never gets discussed. This has to do with the actual content of the sayings. Do they truly seem appropriate to the time in which they were, supposedly, uttered? Or do they make more sense to a later time and place? If the latter, what does that do to the idea of Q? Especially if these anachronisms are repeated in both Matthew and Luke? That really puts a crimp into the supporting pillars of the Q position. I keep coming back to what Q is supposed to be: a collection of sayings that predate Mark and presumably Paul and trace back to Jesus, usually by way of one of his close associates. The list of eligible associates is probably limited to Peter, Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee. They perhaps did not write the sayings themselves, but they remembered them and dictated them to a scribe. From this list we can strike Peter, because he was John Mark’s source for the first gospel to be written. According to church tradition, Mark the Evangelist was John Mark, the associate of Paul. Mark went to Rome and became part of Peter’s community, and Peter provided the information for Mark’s gospel. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum: Mark’s gospel does not include any of the so-called Q material. This means one of several things, the most likely of which is that the entire tradition is a later fabrication. Either John Mark was not Mark the Evangelist, or Peter never went to Rome or whatever, but wherever Mark got his material for the gospel, it likely did not come from an eyewitness to Jesus because the source, or sources, were completely ignorant of most of the really important stuff that Jesus said. This ignorance, in turn, is predicated on the data that Q existed and that it is an accurate record of what Jesus actually said. The result is that there is a gaping hole in the explanation provided; it then becomes a question of figuring out the most likely location of that hole.
This leaves us with a couple of choices: either Mark’s gospel did not derive from an eyewitness account, or Jesus didn’t say the things in Q. There are others, such as that Mark chose not to include Jesus’ teachings; however, that strikes me as a bit unlikely. Why on earth would Mark’s source not tell Mark what Jesus taught, or why would Mark deliberately choose to leave this stuff out of the gospel? I would really like to hear someone try to explain that one.
Another consideration is whether the things Q says Jesus said make sense for Jesus’ time. We touched on this in the commentary, in verses 22 & 23, in which they are blessed who are reviled for Jesus’ sake. These seem to be references to some sort of “persecution” of the followers of Jesus. As pointed out, there is no indication in any of the gospel accounts that Jesus or his followers really suffered any kind of persecution during his lifetime. Yes, we have the account of Paul, but that came later. So we are faced with the situation in which something that Jesus said is likely due to circumstances that only came about after Jesus’ death. And we know that Jesus said this because it’s part of the Q material, and we know that it’s part of the Q material because it’s included in both Matthew and Luke. But if it is unlikely that Jesus said this, that makes the Q hypothesis rather untenable because it, apparently, includes material from after the time of Jesus’ death.
Which leads us to one of the more annoying aspects of the Q hypothesis. In order to cover some of these embarrassing moments, it is posited that Q exists in strata, in layers, that accumulated through time. The implication of this is that some of the material obviously does not trace back to Jesus. This is an eminently convenient suggestion, because it means that Q can include whatever those reconstructing it say it includes. In this way it has all sorts of stuff that a true sayings gospel does not have. We also mentioned this in the commentary: Thomas is a true sayings gospel. Virtually all the passages begin with “Jesus said”. This is how a true sayings gospel should be set up. Much of the hullaballoo about Thomas was that it vindicated the Q theory by being a sayings gospel. Well, Q is not a true sayings gospel. It includes too much extraneous information about John the Baptist, the set-up for the Centurion’s son/servant, the setting of Jesus going up the mountain. All this points to a Q thesis that is not internally consistent, which makes the construction of the entire story suspect.
The point of all this is simple. When the Q debate is taken from the safe environs the Q people have created for it, the conclusions are not nearly so secure. The implication of this is that a legitimate Q debate needs to happen.
There’s no way this section isn’t going to be short. We have a total of four verses. Of course, this is another story allegedly from Q, from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount vs Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, so there will likely be some back-and-forth on that. Who knows what will turn up? So, without any further ado, let’s proceed to the
46 Τί δέ με καλεῖτε, Κύριε κύριε, καὶ οὐ ποιεῖτε ἃ λέγω;
47 πᾶς ὁ ἐρχόμενος πρός με καὶ ἀκούων μου τῶν λόγων καὶ ποιῶν αὐτούς, ὑποδείξω ὑμῖν τίνι ἐστὶν ὅμοιος:
48 ὅμοιός ἐστιν ἀνθρώπῳ οἰκοδομοῦντι οἰκίαν ὃς ἔσκαψεν καὶ ἐβάθυνεν καὶ ἔθηκεν θεμέλιον ἐπὶ τὴν πέτραν: πλημμύρης δὲ γενομένης προσέρηξεν ὁ ποταμὸς τῇ οἰκίᾳ ἐκείνῃ, καὶ οὐκ ἴσχυσεν σαλεῦσαι αὐτὴν διὰ τὸ καλῶς οἰκοδομῆσθαι αὐτήν.
49 ὁ δὲ ἀκούσας καὶ μὴ ποιήσας ὅμοιός ἐστιν ἀνθρώπῳ οἰκοδομήσαντι οἰκίαν ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν χωρὶς θεμελίου, ἧ προσέρηξεν ὁ ποταμός, καὶ εὐθὺς συνέπεσεν, καὶ ἐγένετο τὸ ῥῆγμα τῆς οἰκίας ἐκείνης μέγα.
“And why does someone call me, “Lord, lord,” and not do what I say? (47) All coming towards me and hearing the words of me and doing them, I will show you someone the same as this: (48) he is like unto a person building a home who dug and went deep and placed the foundation upon the rock. There became a flood the river beat that house, and not strong to shake it on account of the beautiful building of it. (49) And the one hearing is not like the man building his house upon the land without a foundation, which the river battered and immediately it collapsed, and it became a great ruin of that house.”
First of all, Luke is really going to town on the unusual vocabulary. About a half-dozen of the words in here occur in Luke and nowhere else in the NT. Recall how a few verses back we got the bit about lending at interest, which Matthew used but once while Luke jammed it in three times in two verses. Here, we had Luke slavishly following the verbiage of, ahem, Matthew–I mean Q–in the story of the good and bad trees, only then to cut loose and let fly with barrage of fairly obscure words, to the point that there is very little overlap of vocabulary between Luke’s version and Matthew’s. What do we make of that? Is it me? Am I the only one who sees a bit of puckish humour in Luke’s approach here? Given the enormous creative ability of Luke as an author–the author of The Good Samaritan, The Prodigal Son, etc–and Luke’s obvious depth of Greek vocabulary, would we not expect him to come up with more stories like this one, in which he does not follow the letter of Q so closely? This proves beyond doubt that he had the capability, so why didn’t he do it more often? I don’t know the answer to that; nor do I fully understand whether the number of times Luke adheres to “Q” (by which I mean Matthew) vs the number of times he doesn’t supports or undercuts my dismissal of Q. No doubt a decent rhetorician could make the case either way. Heck, if I thought about it, I could probably argue it either way.
And again, either the previous example or this one could easily be written off, but do not the two of them together add up to something a bit more? That’s a very difficult question, but it’s one I would like to see discussed in the context of the pro/con arguments for Q. And it’s exactly the sort of thing that we do not see in the literature, and more’s the pity.
46 Quid autem vocatis me: “Domine, Domine”, et non facitis, quae dico?
47 Omnis, qui venit ad me et audit sermones meos et facit eos, ostendam vobis cui similis sit:
48 similis est homini aedificanti domum, qui fodit in altum et posuit fundamentum supra petram; inundatione autem facta, illisum est flumen domui illi et non potuit eam movere; bene enim aedificata erat.
49 Qui autem audivit et non fecit, similis est homini aedificanti domum suam supra terram sine fundamento; in quam illisus est fluvius, et continuo cecidit, et facta est ruina domus illius magna ”.
The last two sections of the chapter will be fairly short, especially since I got all the commentary on Verse 39 out of the way. I think the quick hitters are probably easier to read, especially if something takes me off on a tangent like in the last section. However, the tangents are rather the point; they indicate something of significance. The Sermon on the Plain continues. We left off with a parable. With that by way of introduction, let’s get on to the
40 οὐκ ἔστιν μαθητὴς ὑπὲρ τὸν διδάσκαλον, κατηρτισμένος δὲ πᾶς ἔσται ὡς ὁ διδάσκαλος αὐτοῦ.
The student is not over the teacher. All having been prepared will be as his teacher.
I have to confess that I’ve never quite understood this aphorism. Taken either literally, or perhaps to its logical extreme, it means that this is as good as it gets? We can never advance because the teachers we have today will never be surpassed? How does that work? It has me wondering if this isn’t a sideways shot at James the Just, who maybe tried to put on airs as if he were superior to Jesus? I don’t know. I doubt that’s the intent, but it makes very little sense to me. FYI, I resisted the impulse to render this as “All having been mended”; the Greek word is the same one that was used to describe the sons of Zebedee mending their nets when called by Jesus in Matthew. The Latin is “perfectus”, but that means something more on the order of completed, or prepared, than something made perfect as we use the word. Or then, I could just be suffering from hyper-literalness due to reading too much philosophy, where “perfect” has a pretty specific meaning.
40 Non est discipulus super magistrum; perfectus autem omnis erit sicut magister eius.
41 Τί δὲ βλέπεις τὸ κάρφος τὸ ἐν τῷ ὀφθαλμῷ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ σου, τὴν δὲ δοκὸν τὴν ἐν τῷ ἰδίῳ ὀφθαλμῷ οὐ κατανοεῖς;
42 πῶς δύνασαι λέγειν τῷ ἀδελφῷ σου, Ἀδελφέ, ἄφες ἐκβάλω τὸ κάρφος τὸ ἐν τῷ ὀφθαλμῷ σου, αὐτὸς τὴν ἐν τῷ ὀφθαλμῷ σοῦ δοκὸν οὐ βλέπων; ὑποκριτά, ἔκβαλε πρῶτον τὴν δοκὸν ἐκ τοῦ ὀφθαλμοῦ σοῦ, καὶ τότε διαβλέψεις τὸ κάρφος τὸ ἐν τῷ ὀφθαλμῷ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ σου ἐκβαλεῖν.
“Who sees the small, dry particle in the eye of his brother, but the bearing-beam in his own eye he does not perceive? (42) How can he say to his brother, ‘Brother, begone, cast away the bearing-beam, the one in your eye’, while he that bearing-beam in his own eye not seeing? Hypocrite, cast away first the bearing-beam from your own eye, and then stare with wide eyes to cast out the bearing-beam in the eye of your brother.
Here again, we have another instance of an unusual word. “Diablepō” means something like “stare with wide open eyes” in Classical Greek, and I’ve rendered it so here. It’s most often given as “see clearly” in this context. Matthew and Luke both use the exact same word in this exact context, and nowhere else. Mark uses it once in a different context, and L&S provide a handful of Classical cites. By this point I don’t need to point out the significance; however, I will say that each one of these diminishes the likelihood of Q. What is the probability that two different authors will choose to use the exact same word on so many occasions? That probability seems to be decreasing. Of course, why would Luke copy Matthew verbatim? That question is unanswerable, and no amount of redactionist explanation (or whatever the “proper” term is) can provide an answer to satisfy everyone. The question comes down to whether two different authors are more likely to choose to follow a common text in a half-dozen (more or less, but we’re also still counting) times, or whether it’s more likely that one author followed another. Each time two choices are involved, the probability is cut at least in half. Luke using Matthew’s words, OTOH, only requires a single choice in each instance. We haven’t gotten into editorial fatigue yet, but to continue to come up with a word different from Matthew each time seems like it could easily induce editorial fatigue. But that’s another question.
41 Quid autem vides festucam in oculo fratris tui, trabem autem, quae in oculo tuo est, non consideras?
42 Quomodo potes dicere fratri tuo: “Frater, sine eiciam festucam, quae est in oculo tuo”, ipse in oculo tuo trabem non videns? Hypocrita, eice primum trabem de oculo tuo et tunc perspicies, ut educas festucam, quae est in oculo fratris tui.
43 Οὐ γάρ ἐστιν δένδρον καλὸν ποιοῦν καρπὸν σαπρόν, οὐδὲ πάλιν δένδρον σαπρὸν ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλόν.
44 ἕκαστον γὰρ δένδρον ἐκ τοῦ ἰδίου καρποῦ γινώσκεται: οὐ γὰρ ἐξ ἀκανθῶν συλλέγουσιν σῦκα, οὐδὲ ἐκ βάτου σταφυλὴν τρυγῶσιν.
45 ὁ ἀγαθὸς ἄνθρωπος ἐκ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ θησαυροῦ τῆς καρδίας προφέρει τὸ ἀγαθόν, καὶ ὁ πονηρὸς ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ προφέρει τὸ πονηρόν: ἐκ γὰρ περισσεύματος καρδίας λαλεῖ τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ.
For a good tree does not make rotten fruit, nor again does a rotten tree make good fruit. (44) For each tree is known from the individual fruit; for from an acanthus spinus they do not collect figs, nor from a bramble do they gather grapes. (45) The good person from the treasure of goodness of the heart brings forth good, and the wicked from their wickedness brings forth wickedness. For from the abundance of their heart speaks his/her tongue.
The question is whether this represents an improvement, a diminution, or something neutral in relation to Matthew’s version of the tale. There is enough verbatim overlap that it’s pretty apparent that both are getting the wording from the same source. Of course, that means we have to decide if they are both getting it from a third source, or if Luke is paraphrasing Matthew. But since Matthew’s handling of the Q material is masterful then the question is settled. Correct? So the Q people will tell you. The interesting thing about Matthew’s version is that there are, essentially, two versions of this extended metaphor set out in “by their fruits ye shall know them”. The first comes in Matthew’s Chapter 7, which is smack in the middle of the (masterful) Sermon on the Mount. The second occurs later, in Chapter 12:33 & c. Now, here’s another question. Matthew repeats himself. Does that mean that he got the stuff from another source, forgot that he’d already used it, and so used it again, then never went back and read the whole of his work to see the flow, or failed to realize he’d used it twice. And it’s not just the “by their fruits”; he also repeats the “brood of vipers” injunction, also in this same section of Chapter 12. So did Matthew forget? Or did he just like it so much that he used it twice, even at the cost of being redundant? And if he realized he was being redundant, was he more apt to do this because he thought that the stuff in Q was absolute dynamite, or was he so impressed with his own creativity that he wanted to work it in the second time? Personally, I have often found that writers tend to be on the vain side, especially when it comes to stuff they’ve created. So we know where I fall on this last question.
But there is another aspect of this to consider. Luke’s version here actually has elements of both these sections of Matthew. The basic bit about “by their fruits” comes, as I said, from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, and appears here in Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. (That’s a coincidence? Really?) Both refer to the acanthus spina, which is a species of acanthus with spines; i.e., thorns, which is how KJV renders it. Matthew says that one does not find grapes among acanthus, while here Luke says it’s figs. Much of the verbiage is very, very close, with the “kalon” and “agathon”, and both use “sullegein” as the word for “to gather”. This is not terribly unusual, but it’s not the first word I think of when thinking of a verb for “to gather”. So that’s all very interesting. What makes it remarkable is that Matthew throws the part about the “treasure of good” into Chapter 12. IOW, Luke combined what are two passages in Matthew. Now, it appears that most of the reconstructions of Q see these two as sections of a single whole; that is, the scholars doing the reconstructing agree with Luke’s version. Of course, part of the reason they do that is because Luke supposedly preserves the more “primitive” version of Q. So let’s ask the question: does Luke’s version here seem more primitive? I suppose that depends on your definition of the word. If by “primitive” one means “less redundant”, then I would agree with the assessment. Is Matthew’s version more “masterful”? That is a more difficult question. What it comes down to is that, given Q, Matthew had to make a conscious decision to split the two sections into two parts. Is that a good thing? Or a bad thing? Personally, I prefer Luke’s method, but that is, one imagines, a personal choice. The point being that either Matthew chose to split the two or to repeat himself, and both of these choices seem, to my mind, less than ideal.
So masterful? Not really. And this does matter as a question beyond mere personal taste or literary preference. So very much of the (ahem) “argument” for Q rests on Matthew’s “masterful” handling of the Q material. If than handling was, perhaps, not so masterful, then much of the “argument” (sic) collapses.
43 Non est enim arbor bona faciens fructum malum, neque iterum arbor mala faciens fructum bonum.
44 Unaquaeque enim arbor de fructu suo cognoscitur; neque enim de spinis colligunt ficus, neque de rubo vindemiant uvam.
45 Bonus homo de bono thesauro cordis profert bonum, et malus homo de malo profert malum: ex abundantia enim cordis os eius loquitur.
When setting this section up, I had no intention of making this single verse a stand-alone post. However, the commentary on this ran rather long, so I made the radical decision to put this one out there all by its lonesome. Hope it works for you all.
The last The Sermon on the Plain continues. We left off with an admonition not to judge. We start with a parable. With that by way of introduction, let’s get on to the
39 Εἶπεν δὲ καὶ παραβολὴν αὐτοῖς: Μήτι δύναται τυφλὸς τυφλὸν ὁδηγεῖν; οὐχὶ ἀμφότεροι εἰς βόθυνον ἐμπεσοῦνται;
And he also told a parable ( lit =throwing-beside) to them. Are the blind at all able to lead the blind? Would not both fall into a pit?
These two short sentences present three vocabulary issues. The first is “parable”. This is another of those words that has an absolutely specific meaning in English, whereas in Greek it was nothing special. If you break down the components (para-bole), you get a “throw beside”. More figuratively, it basically means “analogy” or even “metaphor”. We have come to regard parables as class of literary output, along with fables. Both are stories that have a homely exterior yet which contain a lesson. In fact, in this instance, the “blind leading the blind” would be better served by translating the word as “metaphor”. There really is no story, even though there is a lesson. I’ve been leaving this as parable for the duration so far, without really giving it much thought. A great example of the buried assumption. Time to dig it up and look at it.
But the real value of this verse are two other words. They are the ones translated as “lead” and “pit”. The first is a very unusual word; the Great Scott (Liddell & Scott, unabridged; as opposed to the Middle Liddell, the abridged version) provides barely a half-dozen cites of the word. The standard word for “to lead” is “agō”. But that’s not even the truly remarkable word. That is “pit”. What makes this stand out is that the word here, “bothunos” is not even a standard Greek word. The L&S does not even provide a definition. Rather, the reader of L&S is presented with a cross-reference to “bothros”. And even this “standard” is barely used, with about as many cites as the word for “to lead”. And to underscore, both Matthew and Luke use both these words in exactly the same context, with the metaphor of the blind leading the blind, and both falling into the pit.
What does this mean? I think that, without reservation, we can conclude that Luke read both of these words. And more, we can conclude one of two possibilities. Either 1) They both found the words in Q; or 2) Luke got them both from Matthew. This takes us back to the discussion we had in the previous section about the word for “lending at interest”. What is Q supposed to be? A writing-down of the sayings of Jesus. More, it’s supposed to be a very early recording, dating back no later than the early 40s, shortly after Jesus’ death. And one more: Q was also written by an early follower of Jesus, one who was an eyewitness, one who heard these utterances from Jesus with his own ears. Absent any of these three conditions, and the degree of the probability of authenticity plummets. Remember, Q is all about having an unbroken source that traces directly back to Jesus. If it’s not that, if the provenance cannot be determined, then much of the value of Q evaporates. Oh, sure, it’s still interesting, but if the stuff got into Matthew and Luke, then how interesting is it, unless it can be posited that the words recorded trace directly back to Jesus himself?
Now, who were the early followers of Jesus? Those who would have heard him speak? To have been a witness to the entire story, it would have to have been Peter, James, John, or Andrew. These men, by the words of the texts themselves, were fishermen. Perhaps they could read and/or write a little Greek, but to come up with really and truly obscure words like the three we’ve come across in the last few verses staggers the imagination. None of them are even remotely likely to have been erudite enough to come up with the vocabulary here. And there is more; I’ve only just begun to collect these, but there were others before. So, maybe Matthew Levi? As a tax collector, he was more likely to have been better versed in Greek than his more humble fellows. I admit the possibility. But Matthew Levi was not there for the whole story. He missed part. Sure, he could have been filled in by the others, or maybe Jesus had a fairly standard stump speech and repeated things. But note that this adds an additional layer of complexity to the story; each layer decreases the likelihood of the suggested chain of events. Each layer presents another place where the chain has a weak link. The other possibility is that one of the early disciples dictated the sayings to someone well versed in Greek. After all, this is what Paul did. In antiquity, persons of importance had a secretary or amanuensis, to do this. Julius Caesar is said to have been flanked by two such secretaries as he went about his business. He dictated to both of them alternatively, saying something to one, then while that secretary wrote down the words, he’d give the other a sentence for a different letter. But think about this. If this dictation were done early, who were Jesus’ followers? Remember, we’re talking about the very early days, possibly even before Paul began his career. So these followers would have been Jews, from the general area of Galilee, Judea, and possibly Tyre or Sidon or the Dekapolis. Would the secretary, presumably very well versed in Greek, have seen fit to write down what Jesus said in words that the audience would not have known? Would I be generally understood if I used the word “obfuscate” to an audience with a minimal level of education?
And it’s not like we don’t have evidence of this. Paul provides it. In Galatians, he very clearly describes the clash of cultures when he, obviously for the first time, begins to bring significant numbers of pagans into the fold, creating the questions that divided him and James and left Peter/Cephas sort of stuck in the middle, depending on whether he was dining with pagans or under the watchful eye of James. So we are safe again to conclude that Q was not written in Greek for the first several decades of its alleged existence.
But moving the translation back several decades does not solve the problem, not really. You are still left with the question of why the translator chose such non-normal words, even at a later date. Does it not make more sense to suppose that the unusual words were chosen by someone who had been raised in a Greek-predominant milieu, who read the LXX in Greek rather than Hebrew, who was familiar with the pagan world, and was quite likely a pagan himself chose the words? And then another Greek-speaker saw them, repeated them, and then sort of riffed on the “lending at interest” by repeating it two additional times?
Once again, it’s very important to appreciate that I am not presenting a smoking gun. Nor is a smoking gun ever likely to be found. It’s a question of probability. And it’s also a question of why haven’t these points been raised before? Why is the whole argument over Q predicated on explaining why Luke would deface the “masterful” arrangement of the Q material as presented by Matthew? That’s not an argument. It’s quibbling over stylistic preferences. It’s time we made the Q proponents actually defend their thesis. They’ve had a free ride long enough.
39 Dixit autem illis et similitudinem: “ Numquid potest caecus caecum ducere? Nonne ambo in foveam cadent?
Chapter 4 wraps up with a very short section. For some reason I thought the chapter had 48, rather than 44 verses. As such, it probably could have been tacked on to the previous post, but what’s done is done. Jesus has just expelled a demon, and his reputation and stories of him have spread far and wide around the countryside on the shores of the Sea* of Galilee.
40 Δύνοντος δὲ τοῦ ἡλίου ἅπαντες ὅσοι εἶχον ἀσθενοῦντας νόσοις ποικίλαις ἤγαγον αὐτοὺς πρὸς αὐτόν: ὁ δὲ ἑνὶ ἑκάστῳ αὐτῶν τὰς χεῖρας ἐπιτιθεὶς ἐθεράπευεν αὐτούς.
The sun having westerned (= set, as in the west), how many they had being weakened by illness they brought to him. He, laying his hands on upon each of them, healed them.
Let’s begin with first word in the verse. It is a very rare word, even in secular Greek. It’s used a few times to represent the furthest point of something; in this case, the furthest (western) point of the sun, which occurs at sunset. I rendered it as “westerned” to get this aspect of the word across; however, that translation is really more based on the Latin from the Vulgate, which is occidens. The Greek is non-specific, able to refer to any furthest point. The Latin specifically means “westerned”. Occidens, west, is opposed to oriens, the east. Hence the division of the globe Orient and the Occident, East and West.
With this word I’m beginning to get some appreciation of what the Q people mean when they say that Luke never agrees with Matthew against Mark. Here is a great example of what they mean. The first word in the sentence is used twice in the NT; once here, and once by Mark in the same context of this same story. So Luke obviously is following Mark very closely in some respects, as in not having Jesus dwell in Caphernaum. One of my points about the Q argument is that if Luke always–as in like, every time–then I think you have to consider, at the very least, that Luke made deliberate choices to agree with Mark against Luke. To match up with Mark very single time indicates perfect correlation, and that does not occur outside of physical laws of the universe, like gravity. And even then quirky things happen. So it is, perhaps, telling that Luke agrees with Mark here; we know it’s telling us something, but what, exactly? As we saw in previous sections of this chapter, Luke is not afraid to mess with Mark’s order or other things; so when he chooses to agree, it’s significant. So why does he agree with Mark, and so often?
Let’s go back to the first few verses of the gospel, in which Luke sets out his intention. He has, he tells us, gone through previous accounts and done some cross-checking, I was just on another Bible-themed blog and the author referred to this stated intention. His conclusion was that there were other gospels written than have been lost. So not only are we creating Q, but we’re creating other gospels. This is certainly not out of the question. But–and you knew that was coming–why create more gospels when we already know with a pretty high level of confidence that there were two of them written before Luke. This is exactly the sort of thing that is so exasperating about the Q “argument”; it basically starts at the pre-determined conclusion–that Q existed–and work back from there, explaining anything else in terms of Q. My point is this: if Luke always agrees with Mark, and if his purpose is to set the record straight, then that really implies that he’s implying that he takes Mark at greater historical value than he does Matthew. And, since Matthew has a lot of stuff that’s not in Mark, Luke does not see it as sacrosanct as far as the order goes. Indeed, the idea that there was one definitive version of Q, that set the sayings (and stuff that John said and Jesus did) in a very specific order which was not to be abused is ludicrous. It there was one “sayings of Jesus” collection floating about, there were probably a number of them, each with its own contents and order. So again, the Q argument assumes its existence, which is bad enough, and then takes this further to assume –or to insist, really–that there was a definitive version of Q. Matthew and Luke could easily have been working from a document that fits the definition of Q, but that is not to say they were the same document, with the same content, with the same order. That’s pretty much willful blindness to historical probability.
40 Cum sol autem occidisset, omnes, qui habebant infirmos variis languoribus, ducebant illos ad eum; at ille singulis manus imponens curabat eos.
41 ἐξήρχετο δὲ καὶ δαιμόνια ἀπὸ πολλῶν, κρ[αυγ]άζοντα καὶ λέγοντα ὅτι Σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ. καὶ ἐπιτιμῶν οὐκ εἴα αὐτὰ λαλεῖν, ὅτι ᾔδεισαν τὸν Χριστὸν αὐτὸν εἶναι.
42 Γενομένης δὲ ἡμέρας ἐξελθὼν ἐπορεύθη εἰς ἔρημον τόπον: καὶ οἱ ὄχλοι ἐπεζήτουν αὐτόν, καὶ ἦλθον ἕως αὐτοῦ, καὶ κατεῖχον αὐτὸν τοῦ μὴ πορεύεσθαι ἀπ’ αὐτῶν.
43 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτοὺς ὅτι Καὶ ταῖς ἑτέραις πόλεσιν εὐαγγελίσασθαί με δεῖ τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ, ὅτι ἐπὶ τοῦτο ἀπεστάλην.
44 καὶ ἦν κηρύσσων εἰς τὰς συναγωγὰς τῆς Ἰουδαίας.
Demons also came out from many, crying out and saying that, “You are the son of God!” and rebuking (them) he would not allow them to speak, that they knew him to be the Christ. (42) Happening one day going out he came to a deserted place; and the crowds sought him, and they came up to him, and they held him so that he he could not go away from them. (43) He said to them that, “And to the other cities it is necessary for me to evangelize the kingdom of God, that upon this I was sent”. (44) And he was announcing to the synagogues of the Jews.
Here we have a compression of several themes from Mark that are also paraphrased, to some extent, by Matthew. Here we have at least a hint of the Messianic secret in the circumstances of Jesus expelling unclean spirits and then shushing them into silence so that they could not tell the crowds who Jesus was. The whole idea of this is a bit odd, especially since earlier in the chapter Jesus announced to the crowd in the synagogue in Nazareth that the prophecy if Isaiah had been fulfilled, which was enough to infuriate the crowd that heard him. Or, given that he infuriated the crowd, was this silencing of demons his way of not broadcasting his identity? Actually, that suggestion assumes that anything like this actually happened; of course, it didn’t. Rather, this is Luke following Mark–again–in substance, but putting a slightly different spin on the matter. Because here again we have the contradictory keeping of the secret, but the wild popularity of Jesus. The two are, to some extent, incompatible, especially if later parts of the gospel story are to be taken as accurate; of course, however, they should not be taken as factually accurate, because that was never the intent.
From these verses we are to glean that Jesus understood himself to have a mission to preach. One thing we do not know, however, is the subject about which he is to spread the good news. Luke has not yet mentioned the idea of a “kingdom of heaven”. In both Mark & Matthew, we are told that both John and Jesus were intent to spread the good news about this kingdom, but so far in Luke, nothing. It is difficult to calibrate how much this lack matters; is it that Luke took it for granted at this point that his audience would understand that this was Jesus’ theme? That’s sort of on par with the questions about why Paul was so vague on certain points; did he take them as understood? Or, in that case, had the details familiar to us now had not yet crystalized into a tradition? Here, OTOH, this formation of the details had occurred, so the underlying situation is very different even if the outward circumstances appear to be similar. Of course, in the end, there is no answer to the question of ‘why the silence?’ If made to guess, I would say that the silence is not particularly significant, except to underscore that, while he seems to be following Mark very closely, Luke was not welded to Mark’s outline or content. Luke, it appears, had no qualms about adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing Mark’s material and arrangement. So, in that very real sense, this lack of reference to the “kingdom of heaven” is significant since it demonstrates that willingness to depart from Mark very clearly.
41 Exibant autem daemonia a multis clamantia et dicentia: “ Tu es Filius Dei ”. Et increpans non sinebat ea loqui, quia sciebant ipsum esse Christum.
42 Facta autem die, egressus ibat in desertum locum; et turbae requirebant eum et venerunt usque ad ipsum et detinebant illum, ne discederet ab eis.
43 Quibus ille ait: “ Et aliis civitatibus oportet me evangelizare regnum Dei, quia ideo missus sum ”.
44 Et erat praedicans in synagogis Iudaeae.
*Sea of Galilee: it’s fresh water, so I believe technically it’s a lake. I have, in fact, seen it labeled as the “Lake of Galilee”, or even “Lake Tiberias”.
As the scene opens, we are with Zacahrias inside the temple sanctuary where he is holding conversation with a herald of God. It did not occur to me before, but presumably (obviously?) this is the Temple in Jerusalem. This would mean that Zacharias is at least a few rungs up on the socio-economic scale. The priests were well-t0-do, because all God’s friends were rich, an attitude that, unfortunately, too many still share today. And it wasn’t just among Jews, either. The pagans felt much the same way. That is a very important bit of knowledge to carry in your head as we progress through this gospel.
12 καὶ ἐταράχθη Ζαχαρίας ἰδών, καὶ φόβος ἐπέπεσεν ἐπ’ αὐτόν.
13 εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτὸν ὁ ἄγγελος, Μὴ φοβοῦ, Ζαχαρία, διότι εἰσηκούσθη ἡ δέησίς σου, καὶ ἡ γυνή σου Ἐλισάβετ γεννήσει υἱόν σοι, καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰωάννην.
And disturbed was Zacharias seeing, and fear fell upon him. (13) And said towards him the herald, “Do not fear, Zacharias, because your need was heard, and your woman Elisabeth will bring forth a son, and you will call the name to him John”.
First of all, let’s look at the last bit. “You will call the name to him…” Sort of reminds me of <<καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν>>. That is Matthew 1:21; here we have << καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰωάννην>>. The two are verbatim with the obvious exception of the name. This is not part of Q by anyone’s definition, or edition. Now, one can suggest that this is a standard expression, and that would be a valid statement. But…In both cases, we have an angel announcing a miraculous birth to a man, whether Joseph in Matthew, or here to Zacharias. Granted, perhaps this one is not quite as miraculous, because this baby has a human father. That detail aside, the two scenarios, and the words used, are remarkably similar, verbally and thematically. It’s this latter that is virtually ignored in the discussion about Q and whether Luke used Matthew. Here we have Luke doing everything he can to evoke those verses of Matthew when Joseph is told a son has been conceived within Mary. Oh, and the angel also tells Joseph “Don’t be afraid”. And yet, I’ve never seen this discussed in regard to Q. Why not? Part of it is that the Q people have set the terms of the debate for the past century, and those terms are the order and placement of material in Matthew vs. Luke. IOW, the debate is virtually without real substance.
While looking into this in the commentaries, I came across a really interesting interpretation. And it was not put out by just one commentator, but by several. They suggest that Zacharias and Elisabeth had reconciled themselves to being childless, especially given their advanced years. So, their entreaty–this is not the standard word for “prayer”–was not for a child. The couple had, we are told, given up on that years before; rather, the entreaty was for the kingdom of God. Have to say, that seems a bit of a stretch. It’s the sort of thing that comes up after a topic has been debated endlessly for decades; I’m betting that this interpretation is post-Reformation, so the debate was one of decades rather than centuries.
12 et Zacharias turbatus est videns, et timor irruit super eum.
13 Ait autem ad illum angelus: “ Ne timeas, Zacharia, quoniam exaudita est deprecatio tua, et uxor tua Elisabeth pariet tibi filium, et vocabis nomen eius Ioannem.
14 καὶ ἔσται χαρά σοι καὶ ἀγαλλίασις, καὶ πολλοὶ ἐπὶ τῇ γενέσει αὐτοῦ χαρήσονται:
15 ἔσται γὰρ μέγας ἐνώπιον [τοῦ] κυρίου, καὶ οἶνον καὶ σίκερα οὐ μὴ πίῃ, καὶ πνεύματος ἁγίου πλησθήσεται ἔτι ἐκ κοιλίας μητρὸς αὐτοῦ,
16 καὶ πολλοὺς τῶν υἱῶν Ἰσραὴλ ἐπιστρέψει ἐπὶ κύριον τὸν θεὸν αὐτῶν.
“And there will be joy to you and rejoicing, and many upon the birth of him will rejoice. For he will be great before the lord, and wine and strong drink he will not drink, and with the sacred breath he will be filled already from the womb of his mother, (16) and he will turn many of the sons of Israel towards the lord their God.”
Anyone who claims that the early church was embarrassed by Jesus’ connexion to John should be made to explain this passage, and this whole section. Far from being swept under the rug, which is what you do with embarrassing things, John is being elevated here, to a very dizzying height. We are told he will induce many in Israel–more properly, Judea–to repent of their sins and turn back to God. This is extremely high praise.
A word while we’re on the subject of Israel. Strictly speaking, the Kingdom of Israel ceased to exist after its conquest by Assyria. The successor kingdom, centered on Jerusalem was just that: a successor state. It was assuredly not a continuation of the earlier state of Israel. This latter had remained largely a pagan state, which is why the kings so often did evil in the sight of YHWH. Israel and her kings worshipped other gods because they had not really accepted YHWH as it’s chief–let alone sole–god. And yet, because Israel had been a large state that ruled some of the richer land in the area, the successors in Jerusalem wished to portray themselves as the legitimate heirs of the older kingdom. This is why they elevatated their bandit-in-chief David to the purely mythological throne of the United Kingdom. As such, the kings who sat in Jerusalem maintained their dynastic pretensions for centuries, until “Israel” became a spiritual kingdom inherited by the Christians, or until the State of Israel was resurrected in 1948. Even after all those centuries, the regime in Jerusalem still insisted that the whole of the land from Dan to Beersheba was their heritage. That’s not intended to be anti-Zionist; rather, it’s a commentary on the power of a foundation myth.
One thing I have to comment on is Luke’s vocabulary. It’s pretty remarkable. The man was erudite. He sort of coins a lot of words, by giving older words new forms. I’m not sure what to make of this quite yet; or, rather, I’m not quite sure how to fit this into the overall interpretation of the gospel, but presumably this will work itself out.
14 Et erit gaudium tibi et exsultatio, et multi in nativitate eius gaudebunt:
15 erit enim magnus coram Domino et vinum et siceram non bibet et Spiritu Sancto replebitur adhuc ex utero matris suae
16 et multos filiorum Israel convertet ad Dominum Deum ipsorum.
17 καὶ αὐτὸς προελεύσεται ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ ἐν πνεύματι καὶ δυνάμει Ἠλίου, ἐπιστρέψαι καρδίας πατέρων ἐπὶ τέκνα καὶ ἀπειθεῖς ἐν φρονήσει δικαίων, ἑτοιμάσαι κυρίῳ λαὸν κατεσκευασμένον.
18 Καὶ εἶπεν Ζαχαρίας πρὸς τὸν ἄγγελον, Κατὰ τί γνώσομαι τοῦτο; ἐγὼ γάρ εἰμι πρεσβύτης καὶ ἡ γυνή μου προβεβηκυῖα ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις αὐτῆς.
19 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ ἄγγελος εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἐγώ εἰμι Γαβριὴλ ὁ παρεστηκὼς ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ, καὶ ἀπεστάλην λαλῆσαι πρὸς σὲ καὶ εὐαγγελίσασθαί σοι ταῦτα:
“And he will go forward before him in the spirit and the power of Elijah, converting hearts of the fathers upon the children and disbelief in the prudence of the just, to have made ready the people of the lord having been prepared. (18) And Zacharias said to the herald, “According to what will I know this? For I am old, and my wife is advanced in years”. (19) And answering the herald said to him, “I am Gabriel the one standing beside in front of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to announce these things to you.
Quick note: the Greek for “announce” in the last sentence is “euangelizai”. This includes the announcing and the glad tidings all in one word. That is impossible in English. Or, I couldn’t come up with a solution, anyway.
Did I mention that, far from being swept under the rug, John was being elevated here? For he will have the spirit and the power of Elijah, and in Jewish circles Elijah was pretty much the pinnacle of human accomplishment. Of course, by elevating John, Jesus will be elevated even further. And here, again, I think, we see an example of Luke following Matthew’s lead, and then expanding upon it. For this is what Matthew did with the announcement of the (unnamed) angel to Joseph: he elevated Jesus to the divine level. Here, (spoiler alert!) not only will we get an announcement to Mary about Jesus, but we get the announcement about Jesus’ forerunner, who could also be called an “angelos”, a “herald”. In this way, Luke raises the playing field even further. We are truly talking about cosmic-scale, divine-level actions here. In a way, it reminds me of the Prologue in Heaven that we find at the opening of Goethe’s Faust, or even the conversation between God and the slanderer (ho diabolos) at the beginning of Job.
As an aside, this is really interesting. In Job 1:6, we are told that
ἦλθον οἱ ἄγγελοι τοῦ θεοῦ παραστῆναι ἐνώπιον τοῦ κυρίου, / καὶ ὁ διάβολος ἦλθεν μετ᾽ αὐτῶν.
There came the angels of God standing beside before the lord, / and the slanderer came with them…
The (very clumsy) expression “standing beside before the lord” is pretty much exactly what we got from Gabriel. The participle is “standing”, but with the prefix for “beside”, so the entire verb is “standing beside”, which is then followed by a preposition for “before”, as in “before the lord”. So the image is a bit of a foreshadow of The Apocalypse of John, with all the elders seated around the throne of God, “before” him in the sense of being in his presence. So the point is that I suspect that Luke deliberately meant to evoke this quote, and I also suspect that it’s something of a standardized formula that appears in various places throughout the LXX, replacing an underlying formula in the Hebrew.
One final note about this quote from Job. Several translations, including the KJV, translate “angeloi” as “sons” of God. There is a good lesson here for not using the same stock word to translate a word in Greek, or Hebrew. In the context, I actually think “sons” might be closer to the sense of the Greek, even if it is a bit more poetic. In fact, the Vulgate renders it as “filii”, which is the standard Latin word for “sons”.
Also, the idea of “standing beside in front of God” is a bit of a foreshadow of some later ideas that will evolve into the Gnostic/Hermetic ideas of the Emanations. The idea that there is a Power at the centre, and then slightly lesser beings around that, spreading out in concentric circles. The Creator is a level–or several, depending on the source–removed from the centre. Yes, this is a bit of a stretch, perhaps, but only a bit. Ideas are fluid things that eddy and swirl about and within each other. And that poetic element should never, ever be forgotten. Because what English so clumsily conveys as “poetry”–a bunch of words strung together that may or may not rhyme–is itself a poor and dulled reflection of the Greek “poesis”. This contains both the idea of doing, as in doing a task, as well as creating a long poem meant to explain the Nature of Things (de Rerum Natura, Epictetus).
And I think Zacharias’ questions to the messenger sort of indicate that the “entreaty” back in Verse 13 was indeed, about a child. I suppose that these questions are natural enough given the news, but we also need to be careful, I think, about reading too much into this. Of course the parallel to Abraham is too obvious to need mention, but then I just did. The conception of Isaac was miraculous, and so is the conception of John. But, while miraculous, they are also human-scale miracles, where the child–the son, always a son–conceived has two human parents.
Finally, just want to stress the idea that this angel has a name. Here we have such a classic example of the growth of legend that it’s worth dwelling on for a moment or two. This is exactly how legends grow. Matthew added the angel, Luje gave the angel a name, and later thinkers would ascribe roles and adventures to the angels. The same happened with the Twelve; once created, they had to have names. Then, once named, they had to have stories and adventures, and so these sprang up, just the way Arthur became surrounded by a host of knights, all of them with their own tale. So this further development of the story is, I firmly believe, another example of how Luke expanded on Matthew’s edifice, which was itself an expansion of the foundation laid by Mark. And here is where the Q people, and the whole Q debate goes so horribly wrong: instead of nitpicking over the order of the placement of the (alleged) Q material, look at the storied told as separate entities that each complement, rather than repeat or supersede the previous one. There is nothing about an angel in the Q material, which starts with the preaching of John. So where did Luke get the idea? Is this parallel development? It could be. But that is where you have to start looking at the numbers of incidents, how many times does Luke pick up a theme from Matthew and run with it? To that end, I’m going to be taking notes. Because one of the big “arguments” (I’m being kind) for Q is that Luke is never aware of Matthew’s additions to Mark. Well, we have an example here of Luke being well aware of an addition of Matthew.
Second finally, the whole idea of finding precedents from the HS is another example. Matthew added references to texts from the HS; Luke appears to be doing the same thing here, borrowing a line from Job (which may also appear elsewhere).
17 Et ipse praecedet ante illum in spiritu et virtute Eliae, ut convertat corda patrum in filios et incredibiles ad prudentiam iustorum, parare Domino plebem perfectam ”.
18 Et dixit Zacharias ad angelum: “ Unde hoc sciam? Ego enim sum senex, et uxor mea processit in diebus suis ”.
19 Et respondens angelus dixit ei: “ Ego sum Gabriel, qui adsto ante Deum, et missus sum loqui ad te et haec tibi evangelizare.
20 καὶ ἰδοὺ ἔσῃ σιωπῶν καὶ μὴ δυνάμενος λαλῆσαι ἄχρι ἧς ἡμέρας γένηται ταῦτα, ἀνθ’ ὧν οὐκ ἐπίστευσας τοῖς λόγοις μου, οἵτινες πληρωθήσονται εἰς τὸν καιρὸν αὐτῶν .
21 Καὶ ἦν ὁ λαὸς προσδοκῶν τὸν Ζαχαρίαν, καὶ ἐθαύμαζον ἐν τῷ χρονίζειν ἐν τῷ ναῷ αὐτόν.
22 ἐξελθὼν δὲ οὐκ ἐδύνατο λαλῆσαι αὐτοῖς, καὶ ἐπέγνωσαν ὅτι ὀπτασίαν ἑώρακεν ἐν τῷ ναῷ: καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν διανεύων αὐτοῖς, καὶ διέμενεν κωφός.
23 καὶ ἐγένετο ὡς ἐπλήσθησαν αἱ ἡμέραι τῆς λειτουργίας αὐτοῦ ἀπῆλθεν εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ.
“And behold, may you being silent and not able to speak until the days that these things become, before which not believing the my words, which will be fulfilled in their season (i.e., proper time)”. (21) And there were people expecting Zacharias, and they marveled at the time he being in the Temple. (22) Coming out, he was not able to speak to them, and they knew that a vision he had seen in the temple. And he gestured to them, and he remained mute. (23) And it became as fulfilled the days of his liturgies, he went to his home.
The first thing that strikes me is that God will punish your disbelief. OK. That shouldn’t surprise me, and it doesn’t, but it still strikes me as interesting. That’s the problem with being a rationalist, I suppose. These sorts of actions seem rather arbitrary, or even whimsical; but mainly, they seem rather petty and beneath the dignity of a God that laid the foundations of the cosmos.
The second thing is that this is a very perceptive lot of fellow priests. They knew that he had seen a vision inside. But then, maybe this sort of thing happened frequently? Who’s to say? The word I translated as “liturgies” is actually more or less a transliteration. “Leitourgious” would be the exact translation, so the relation should be obvious. Were I truly a biblical scholar, I would be able to explain the rotation of the priests more effectively, but it’s simply not that important. What matters more is whether his home was in Jerusalem–at least, the Greater Jerusalem Metro Area? I would suspect so. We’ll see if, or how much, this matters in the next section.
20 Et ecce: eris tacens et non poteris loqui usque in diem, quo haec fiant, pro eo quod non credidisti verbis meis, quae implebuntur in tempore suo ”.
21 Et erat plebs exspectans Zachariam, et mirabantur quod tardaret ipse in templo.
22 Egressus autem non poterat loqui ad illos, et cognoverunt quod visionem vidisset in templo; et ipse erat innuens illis et permansit mutus.
23 Et factum est, ut impleti sunt dies officii eius, abiit in domum suam.
Several weeks have passed since I posted the last section on the context of Matthew. Since that time, I’ve gotten back into the Q issue. The good news is that I’ve finally figured out what the actual case for Q is. Or what it isn’t. Or something
The upshot is that I’m going back over my notes, and (re-)reading more stuff by John Kloppenborg, who seems to be one of the most significant proponents of Q. I also feel somewhat responsible for him since he teaches at the University of Toronto, my alma mater. And I think what this is going to do is launch me into Luke. I’d been waffling about what to do next; 2 Corinthians, Romans, Luke, perhaps the Didache. It may end up being Luke.
The benefit of Luke is that he has a lot of stories that make up substantial blocks of text: think Zaccheaus, or The Good Shepherd, or The Prodigal Son, or the Good Samaritan. Such blocks should not require the sort of line-by-line comment that much of Mark and Matthew have. But then, I always think that.
So be prepared for another diatribe on Q.
The beauty of a blog like this is that I can be as self-indulgent about topics like this as I wish. But one hopes that one doesn’t test the patience too much of our gentle readers.
A few weeks ago, I picked up a copy of the book Who Killed Jesus?, by prominent NT scholar JD Crossan. Professor Crossan (emeritus) is an eminent figure in biblical scholarship, with a number of highly-regarded books to his credit. I’ve read a couple of others by him, but exactly which ones I no longer recall. Since the book currently under discussion deals with the subject of, and comes at exactly the point in the narrative where we are–the Passion Narrative–I’ve held off forging ahead with my translation and comment while I read the book, the idea being to see if there were interesting and useful points that could inform and enlighten my understanding and the discussion of the topic. But first, this is not a review of the book in any standard sense, for several reasons. First, the book is twenty years old, so a review is rather beside the point at this time. Second, the purpose of reading the book was to see if the scholarly argument provided further insight into the topic, not whether the book is worth reading. Finally, part–a large part–of the purpose of the book is set out in the subtitle: Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of The Death Of Jesus. This is a worthy and necessary goal, but not one that is fundamental to our purposes here. This topic does overlap with our research, since it helps to provide possible motivation for why the authors of the gospels wrote what they did and in the way they did.
Having glanced at the Amazon review section for the work, it seems that “John D. Crossan is generally acknowledged to be the premier historical Jesus scholar in the world”. That is a very weighty designation. Given this title, one should approach a confrontation with Crossan as one would approach the possibility of fisticuffs with the UFC champion of the world: she is the best; who the heck are you? Would you challenge LeBron James to a game of one-on-one? Personally, I would not challenge Rhonda Rousey, even though she’s no longer the champion, nor would I be so rash as to take on King James. Crossan? Absolutely. And why? Because he is/was a professor of Religious Studies, but he is writing history. That is to say, he’s on my turf; a pro athlete is great at whatever game he or she plays, but that does not mean they can play another game equally well, or even competently. Some pro athletes are also good golfers; most are not. (I am certainly not, but that’s irrelevant.)
One problem with this book, and pretty much every book I’ve ever read on the subject of the Historical Jesus is that these books are not written by historians. They are written by biblical, or religious studies people. They may know their NT textual analyses, but can they play golf? The other problem is that most of these books were written by people who, if not practicing Christians, were raised as such, and they approach the topic of historicity based on study of the Bible, and not study of history. Oh, they’ve read Tacitus and Josephus–at least, I’m sure, the relevant sections–but they’ve never studied Tacitus, or history in general, as an historian would study the text. These two problems–or, perhaps they are really only different facets of the same problem–is that their perspective is off; they never truly engage the topic as historians should. This is why all the books I’ve read by religious studies people sort of blur together. They have all come at the subject with the same approach, and so they, ultimately, make the same case. Oh, they may regard different stories as historical or non-historical for sound and valid and good reasons, but they never get themselves out of that single approach that largely predetermines their outcome: much of the NT is historically accurate.
The key aspect of this approach, this method that is unsound, is that they believe that all of the writers of the NT, and of at least some of they apocryphal texts, are writing to illumine and preserve a single, unitary, and ultimately factual account of the life and death of Jesus. That is, the scholars all assume that, ultimately, all of the evangelists and the authors of Thomas and the Gospel of Peter, are telling exactly the same story. And they never, ever challenge, even in their own minds, this assumption. I would hazard to guess that most–if not quite all–are fundamentally unaware that they are making this assumption. It’s the classic “buried assumption”: something that affects nearly everything, but is never acknowledged because almost no one realizes it’s there. This assumption, I would argue, is the direct result of coming into the topic from a background of biblical or textual or literary analysis, and not from a background in history.
There is a corollary to this assumption: it leads to positing the existence of shadowy texts for which there is not a shred of evidence, and then taking it as a given that these hypothetical texts did, in fact, exist. Of course, Q is the most famous, and the most pernicious, example of this. In Crossan’s book, we come across another, called The Cross Gospel. This is a text of the Passion Narrative that was put to paper in the 50s, or about the time that Q was. This narrative them became the basis for the four canonical gospels and, according to Crossan, the Gospel of Peter. The evidence for these texts is completely literary, and completely dependent on being able to get into the mind of the evangelist whose work is considered. This leads to a lot of, “well Mark really means”, and “Luke would never mess with a masterpiece like the Sermon on the Mount”, and “the Matthew changed Mark because it’s consistent with Matthew’s overall intention”, and other such things. This is what happens, I suspect, when living in a world of textual and literary analysis. I’ve studied enough literature qua literature to know how the process works, even if I was never very good at it.
With those two–or one-point-five–points, perhaps we can encapsulate the whole of Crossan’s case, just as one can deduce Hercules from just his foot*. The fatal flaw in Crossan’s case comes very early in the work, within the first 30 pages, as he’s setting out the evidence. He admits that the Synoptics are all dependent on Mark for their passion narrative. Indeed, he concedes that John’s passion narrative is based, largely, on Mark. As such, Matthew, Luke, & John are dependent sources; they cannot be assessed historically as anything but an appendage to Mark. More or less. That’s a bit strong, but in historical research, and “dependent” has a fairly specific, perhaps technical meaning. The most significant aspect of this is that one cannot take a variation in the dependent source as more historical than what the original source said. This simply means that if Matthew contradicts Mark on a point of fact, we should take Mark’s words as more likely to be accurate. Unless there is strong indication that Matthew also had access to a second source that was not Mark. Hence, Q becomes very, very handy, and the willingness to jettison Q turns into obstinance .
But, Crossan is not content to let John rest there. Noticing how different John’s treatment of the miracles of Jesus are, he goes on to posit that John is independent of Mark on these miracle stories. Since much of my case depends (pun?) on this assumption, or assertion, of Crossan, we need to be very clear on why this is a problem. To be blunt, I do not know, exactly, what Crossan means by “for me, (John) is independent of the Synoptics for the miracles and sayings of Jesus”. As mentioned, for historical studies, “in/dependent” has a fairly specific–almost to the point of technical– meaning. I do not know if Crossan understands and uses the word in this historian’s sense. If he simply means that John has a different take on the miracles and sayings, I don’t have a problem with that–in fact I’d agree with that–but I would not, could not accept the description of this as an “independent” source. From the historian’s perspective, an source that is truly independent is one that has access to knowledge that the first source does not. Given Q, Matthew becomes an independent source for the sayings of Jesus. So the question becomes, is Crossan saying that John had access to a second, now lost, collection of the sayings of Jesus that dated back prior to Mark, and that represented a tradition that was unaware of Mark, and of which Mark was unaware?
That is the essence of Q: the author(s) of Q were unaware of Mark, and Mark was unaware of Q. Is Crossan saying that John also had his own source? Reading this from the perspective of an historian, that is what I understand by him saying “John was independent of the Synoptics”. Is that what he means? If so, then the entire case becomes untenable because he provides no evidence that such a source existed, that it was independent of Mark, and that John was the sole evangelist (or epistle writer) aware of this source. Contrariwise, if that is not what Crossan means, then what he’s saying is that John (or someone) made stuff up. In which case, there is no historical validity in taking John as in any way independent of the Synoptics. People have been making stuff up about Ronald Reagan for a couple of decades now; that doesn’t mean that they can be used as historical arguments. Amity Shlaes argues that FDR had a time machine because the policies he implemented were able to cause the Great Depression after he took office in 1933, when, in fact, it started in 1930 (or thereabouts; the point is, it was several years before FDR took office). They’ve made this stuff up; it is not necessary to present an argument against these positions in an argument about history because they are not based on fact. In the same way, I don’t have to account for unicorns in the evolution of the modern horse.
Crossan then compounds this error, and then magnifies it. He freely admits that Gospel Peter (GPtr) is an independent source for the Passion Narrative. He claims that GPtr influenced the Synoptic gospel writers by influencing Mark. What’s more interesting is that he asserts this after admitting that there is no evidence for the GPtr before the end of the Second Century, at least a century after Mark wrote. How is this possible? It’s possible because GPtr retained traces, or even sections of something called the Cross Gospel. Apparently, he realized that the idea of arguing that this independent tradition survived, uninfluenced by the mainstream traditions for 150 (approx) years was a fool’s errand, so he credited it with being incorporated into Mark, and so the other three canonical gospels. I am not sure, exactly, what this encompasses or implies, or what purpose it serves. Yes, it pushes the beginning of the Passion Narrative back into the 50s, but so what? That’s still a generation after Jesus’ death. So late a date is more apt to produce legend than it is to record fact. It’s enough of a time lapse that real memories have been supplemented–or supplanted–by what people want to remember. But it remains that, if it influenced Mark, and so the other gospels, it’s no longer an independent source. Or rather, Mark is no longer independent. The net result is that we still have only one real source for the Passion Narrative, whether it started with Mark, or with GPtr. Crossan is trying to have it both ways, but the math just doesn’t work out. It’s still 1 + 0 = 1, whether the 1 is the Cross Gospel (so-called) or Mark.
Now, of course Mark–probably–had earlier material available to him. It seems like he must have. But we have no evidence that Paul was aware of any such available evidence, that he had any knowledge of a Passion Narrative. As such, there is no reason to believe that such a narrative existed. It’s certainly possible, and maybe there’s a 25% probability that such a story existed, but neither of those are proof. This, of course, is the argument from silence, and that is a dangerous bit of reasoning when applied to the ancient world, when there is so much evidence that is missing because it never existed. But the fact remains that our only written source from the 50s and into the 60s is Paul, and he provides no hints about the causes of Jesus’ death, no explanation of who ordered the execution–because it was no doubt carried out by the Romans–or why this happened.
Crossan is fully convinced that something like the cleansing of the Temple really did happen, and tries to tie Jesus into John’s programme of individual repentance divorced from the Temple structure, which in turn threatened the Temple structure, which is what caused the Jewish authorities to get nervous and connive for Jesus’ execution in the same way that Herod Antipas executed the Baptist. That is one serious causal chain of events. But we have no evidence for any of this. Josephus supposedly talks about Jesus, but he never, ever connects him to John. Really, Josephus short paragraph on Jesus does no more than repeat the gospel story: that the best men of the Jews had Jesus put to death. But this was written in the 9os, long after the orthodox story of the gospels had become The Gospel account. Josephus seems completely unaware of who these “best men” among the Jews were, even though he is well aware of Caiaphas and mentions him in other contexts. It’s this sort of selective use of Josephus that makes me say that biblical scholars, no doubt, have read Tacitus or Josephus, but they’ve never studied it and they may have only read the few paragraphs in question without understanding Josephus as an historian.
What are we left with? A bunch of stories that probably don’t date back before the 60s, if they are that early. There were, without doubt, a number of traditions about Jesus. While discussing Mark, I used the analogy of a weaver, taking many individual threads and weaving them into a whole cloth. Most of these threads were probably oral, stories and traditions. Most likely after that, what was recorded by Mark became dominant, what was not faded into the background and then faded away. In the meantime, other traditions sprang up, ones that resulted in the Sermon on the Mount; the social consciousness of many of these teachings may point to an origin with James the Just and the Jerusalem Assembly, but that is still a suspicion, or a perhaps a working hypothesis. It has not been solidified with a real argument.
Notice what I said up there: other traditions sprang up. We–and perhaps Professor Crossan in particular–need to bear constantly in mind that revelation did not end with John’s Apocalypse (which was probably not even the latest of the books of the NT). Revelation continued. We have an array of Gospels and Acts and stories attributed to all sorts of people: Peter, Pilate, and even Judas Iscariot. Elaine Pagels documented this decades ago in her Gnostic Gospels. This was why the Church eventually had to set which works were canonical, and which weren’t. The Gospel of Peter falls into this latter category. In a sense, all of these apocryphal sources present evidence that is “independent” of the canonical scripture, at least by Crossan’s use–or misuse–of the term “independent source”. No doubt you can see where this is going, even if Crossan can’t, or more likely, doesn’t want to see it. Making stuff up doesn’t make it evidence, or a viable source, or anything really useful, except to see the very broad range of interpretations that were attached to Jesus. This failure–perhaps willful–to see much of this as creative writing, couple with the way Crossan manipulates the word “independent”, dooms any argument that he can put forth.
Which takes us back to the first point I made above: that there is an assumption that all writers of Gospels and Acts that deal with Jesus or his close companions, whether they were determined to be canonical or apocryphal, set out to tell exactly the same story has had been told before, but using different evidence. This simply cannot be true. We have already seen the very significant differences between Mark and Matthew, and between the evangelists and Paul. They are telling significantly different stories. The biggest part of this goes back to the question of “Why did anyone after Mark sit down to write a new gospel?” Why indeed? The answer is simple, but, nevertheless, is often overlooked. New authors write new gospels because they believe that they have something new to say. That is, they either have new or different evidence or traditions to draw upon, or they have a different understanding of Jesus or the time after his death. In other words, they are writing to correct some aspect that they feel is missing, incomplete, or just plain wrong. We have to keep going back to the Arthur legend for our analogy: new characters were added as time passed, so that, by the time of Malory, there were dozens of new faces sitting around the Round Table. Even the Greek myths are disconcertingly unstable. The details and they understanding changed. Euripides did not tell the same stories as Hesiod had, half a millennium earlier. The difference is that we understand Arthur and Greek myth as literary creations, but we treat the NT as essentially fixed and singular and unitary. In fact, the variation in Greek myth can disconcert a modern neophyte reader because modern Christian neophyte readers approaches Greek myth as they approach the Bible and NT: as a single, unitary, and fixed account of Jesus. The author of the Gospel of Peter is not necessarily, or at all, interested in telling the same story as Mark or Matthew. If he had been, why did he even bother to write at all?
Just to be clear, Crossan believes that GPtr is early and has an elaborate argument for the date. In fact, it is so elaborate that he believes he can date it to a range of less than five years. If this were a proper scholarly paper, I would set out his case and then demolish it. But this is a blog post. Suffice it to say that he insists that the progression towards anti-Judaism indicates a later date. John is the most anti-Judaic, so his gospel is the latest. In Crossan’s judgement, GPtr is the least anti-Judaic, so it must be the earliest. Q.E.D. Case closed. To put it mildly, this assumed progression is hardly an indicator set in stone. Yes, there does seem to be a progression to John, except that Luke is somehow less anti-Judaic than Matthew. So maybe this doesn’t work like Carbon-14 dating, where the progress is steady and inexorable. Bear in mind that the fragment that we have of GPtr is fairly small, so it’s impossible to assess the overall attitude of the author to Jews. Even if it were possible, there could be a myriad of reasons why someone in the late Second Century chose to depict the villains as the Jewish authorities while exonerating the Jewish people. The most obvious is that the author wanted to explain why there were still Jews. Well, it was all the fault of the rascally high priests and Herod (!) This limits the damage to Jesus’ reputation by keeping the number of doubters as small as possible. It’s pretty simple, after all, since by the end of the Second Century, the Jews were no longer the primary enemy; the Church was more concerned with explaining itself to pagans than it was to Jews. The Jews were no longer much of a threat, so it was easy to pull back on the vitriol against them. Oh, and yes, Herod. In the GPtr, the trial is conducted before Herod, and Herod and the high priests and Pilate and a bunch of Romans all witness the Resurrection. Really, that says all we need to say about the author’s understanding of the situation in the mid-First Century.
And really, from the historical point of view, I believe that nothing written after Luke, or even Matthew, can be expected to contain previously unreleased material. Luke was aware of Paul, which indicates a coalescence of Christian thinking. After that point it’s hard to credit that any Christian anywhere, sixty years after the fact, could have possessed knowledge of things that dated back to Jesus. Indeed, it seem unlikely enough with Matthew. By the time of Luke, the story of Jesus was well-enough known that Josephus takes it as true. So we have entered into the age where the basic story was set, even if it was still possible to tinker around the edges. I suspect that very little of Acts can be taken seriously as history. That it uses the names of actual Roman officials and titles and events does not mean that the rest of it is true. A Tale of Two Cities takes place during the French Revolution, which certainly happened; however, the events of the novel are just that: events in a novel. So looking for new historical information–aside from the incidentals that all writing includes–is probably not a terribly wise or effective thing to do.
As an aside, Crossan distinguishes between anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism, and rightly so, I think. Anti-Judaism is more of a conflict with, and denigration of, the religion qua religion. Anti-Semitism blatant racism. So they are not exactly the same thing, but anti-Judaism did eventually lead to full-blown anti-Semitism.
There are a few other useful bits to be gleaned from the book. They will be presented in the appropriate context since this has gone on way too long!
* “Ex pede, Herculem“, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ex_pede_Herculem