Category Archives: Summary
These chapters do not necessarily have theme. Very few of them do, except perhaps for Mark 5 and Mark 6. The former is mostly composed of the story of the Gerasene Demonaic, and the latter to the two stories of the Bleeding Woman and the Daughter of Jairus. Even then, the first perhaps doesn’t so much have a theme as it is almost wholly committed to a single story. I think that Chapter 6 can be said to have a theme of how faith can save/heal/make someone whole without too much danger of being gainsaid. Does this chapter have a theme? That is the question I always ask when I start writing a chapter summary like this. In the back of my mind was a lingering impression that the major theme was The Poor vs The Rich. This impression doubtless was left by the Rich Young Man and the Pharisee and the Publican. But the latter is not about wealth per se, as the story of the rich ruler is. The Pharisee and the Publican leads into Jesus telling his audience that the Kingdom must be accepted as a child: in innocence and humility. These are not traits the Pharisee exhibits. And even then the Rich Ruler follows the Children, so that the latter is sandwiched between two other stories that demonstrate exactly the wrong attitude for someone wishing to enter the Kingdom. The Pharisee and the Rich Ruler are too enamoured of this world with its trappings and its possessions; these are not the innocence and humility of the child that we are to emulate. So by sheer weight of words, the idea of innocence and humility would properly be taken as the theme; this assumes, of course, that it is proper to claim that the chapter has a theme. But three of the five stories thus form a unit to instruct us on the proper approach towards the goal of entering the kingdom.
And yet it feels like the idea of the poor is lurking there, just below the surface. It never quite leaves our consciousness even if it never takes center stage, which is how it leaves its imprint on our mind. Note that I’m using my own experience to generalize; this is the impression it left on me, and I can’t be unique in this assessment, can I? Some of it derives from the placement of the Rich Ruler at the end of the chapter, so it’s a rhetorical thing. But it feels like the idea of the poor is a more significant theme in Luke than it was for the previous evangelists. This perception makes me question whether the concern for the poor evinced by Luke is this another example of Luke trying to ‘correct’ the record of Matthew, by bringing up the emphasis on social justice? This is a fairly bold suggestion, since Matthew is said to be the most “Jewish” of the gospels, and that Matthew was a Jew while Luke was, supposedly, a pagan. But this sort of goes away if Matthew, in fact, was a pagan as well. Then we could read this as Luke believing that the pagan Matthew rather lost sight of this part of Jewish tradition; as such, Luke attempted to re-invigorate the idea of social justice. I am convinced that Luke was deeply aware of Matthew, and that the construction & content of Luke’s gospel were a response, or even a reaction to what he read in Matthew. They both read Mark, and each interpreted Mark in his own way. This is rather a complex and very difficult argument to make; it requires almost line-by-line comparison of Matthew and Luke. I’m not up to that task. Yet. Regardless, this is another example of a question that needs to be asked and brought into the open. If nothing else, it will help clarify the Q discussion as well, by forcing scholars to assess the relationship rather than simply assuming–on no real evidence–that there was no direct relationship between Matthew and Luke because the latter certainly had not read the former.
Let’s take this in a different direction. Mark mentions the poor five times; in his much longer gospel, Matthew mentions them five times. In both evangelists, two of the uses of the word “poor” come in the single story in which one of the disciples says of giving the proceeds from the sale of the costly perfume to the poor. (He is named as Judas Iscariot, but only by John.) Jesus more or less dismisses this by saying that the poor will always be with you. Also, another incidence in Matthew comes when he blesses the “poor in spirit”. In contrast, Luke mentions them eleven times in his gospel, but not once in Acts. From these numbers it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Jesus and the earliest Christians may not have been all that concerned with the poor. In fact, John is even worse; he uses the word four times, three of which are in his version of the “poor will always be with you” story. The two who bring it up the most, especially as a percentage of their text, are Luke and the Epistle of James, and probably not in that order. The implication of this is that Christian concern for the poor, and so perhaps social justice as a whole, comes from and through its Jewish roots rather than through any increased emphasis on this by Jesus.
More, all of Mark’s first use of the word “poor” comes in Chapter 10, and the others are later. This is the part of his gospel that emphasizes the Christ tradition rather than the Wonder-worker tradition. Paul uses the word sparingly, but one salient incidence comes in Galatians, where James, brother of Jesus, admonishes Paul to “remember the poor” as part of the deal James and Paul cut on what Paul’s message can and should include. This leads to the possible connexion between James and the Ebionites, which may be carried on to the Epistle of James, even though the general consensus is that this letter is not properly ascribed to James, brother of Jesus. The Ebionites got their name from the Aramaic (?) word for “poor”. And the assembly (ekklesia) led by James was likely more in line with mainline Judaism; as such, James’ group put more emphasis on the poor than Jesus did. This, in turn, highlights the earlier half of Mark in which Jesus was, first and foremost, a wonder-worker. A very elaborate theory; it’s most likely wrong, but it’s an interesting set of connexions. I can think of several problems immediately. It requires that they nascent church became more concerned with social justice as it became less Jewish, as the number and percent of pagan followers far outstripped Jewish followers. But viewing Jesus as primarily a wonder-worker would help account for the lack of social message in the first half of Mark.
As sort of an interesting side-bar to this, we should note one of the elements Luke left our of one of the stories– pericopae– in the chapter. After the “eye of the needle” proclamation, in Verse 28 Peter asks what will happen to them who have given up all to follow Jesus. In fact, we get the sense that Peter is rather uncomfortable about this, he’s feeling a little unsure of himself. In the other two gospels Jesus is quick to assure a return of a hundredfold to those who have followed him, AND will inherit eternal life. Mark is even more interesting because his version of Jesus promises a return of a hundredfold in this age AND eternal life in the age to come. IOW, following Jesus was to be a money-making proposition. Matthew toned this down, and Luke holds out only the promise of a reward to come. This is a fascinating little bit of doctrine and its evolution. Mark’s promise, again, seems more appropriate for a wonder-worker than for an ascetic follower of Jesus. So once again Luke sort of stresses the idea of poverty as an ideal much more so than his predecessors. And the three-step process from Mark to Matthew to Luke again helps reinforce the suggestion that Luke is writing with Matthew very much in mind. Yes, he could have eliminated the idea of a return in this age without knowing Matthew, but it seems to make more sense if Luke had read Matthew. However, note that this is a stylistic judgement and not one based on real textual evidence.
Finally, in this chapter we take a very big step towards finalizing the Christian meaning of being “saved”. For the first time we have a very clear connexion drawn between the Kingdom of God, eternal life, and being saved. There has been a fair bit of transitive-property* equating of the three terms, but I believe this is the first time the this equivalence is made as explicitly clear as it has been in this chapter. I don’t want to make too big a deal of this because the degree of significance is very much in the eye of the beholder. However, I have been watching this develop, and for the first time I am convinced all three terms are meant to be used interchangeably, as synonyms. Remember that John the Dunker also preached the Kingdom; given the ambivalence of Jewish belief in an afterlife, we cannot dismiss the idea that this was an earthly kingdom. Here we are very clearly, and finally, told that it is not.
*If a=b, and b=c, then a=c
Doing a review of the text in preparation for writing this, I noted that it was difficult to find any sort of common theme running between the various episodes. These include an admonition about not corrupting the little ones, telling a mulberry tree to throw itself into the sea, the cleansing of ten lepers, all ending with sort of a trailer for the coming prediction of the apocalypse. It would be possible to suggest that the common thread is faith, and it would not be difficult to argue against such a conclusion; however, the theme of faith is so generic, and so common to so much of the NT that claiming this as the central theme is almost meaningless. It’s simply too broad of a concept. So let’s return to the metaphor of the thread; perhaps we should thing of it as a string, as in the connecting thread used to create a string of pearls. I’ve used this analogy before in describing the text of the various gospels. They are only loosely connected around the theme of Jesus preaching and then taking the fatal trip to Jerusalem. As such, they do not form a coherent whole; rather, they are more reminiscent of a string of beads, each distinct and possibly unique, only connected to the other beads by the string.
This tells us something about how the stories of Jesus came about, how they came into existence. There was no unifying narrative at first. What happened was that individual stories popped up here and there, sort of like mushrooms: each one is unique, each one is separate, and the sole unifying common denominator is that they are all mushrooms. They might not even be the same species: some could be button mushrooms, others porcini, others portobello. And so it is, I truly believe, with stories about Jesus. They popped here and there. Some were about his healing powers. Some were about the kingdom. Some were about faith. Different stories featured, or emphasized different aspects of Jesus’ life and career. But note the difference: was he a teacher? A wonder worker? A preacher of repentance? Or of salvation? The answer, of course is “yes”, he was each of these things; at least, that’s what the stories tell us. And this, I think, is the key to the eventual “success” of Christianity as a religion: Jesus was– or could be made to be– all things to all people. We discussed how Mark seemed to be a concerted effort to converge the two primary traditions, the two main threads of the Jesus cult in his gospel. These are stories of Jesus the Wonder-Worker, and Jesus the Christ.
In addition, recalling that Luke adds a lot of rich detail to the tapestry, one could argue that he represents another tradition: What it means to be a Christian*. And it is wholly appropriate to describe the people Luke was writing for as Christians*. These are the stories of The Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan, and Dives and Lazarus. Here we get the story of the Ten Lepers, which, while novel, doesn’t quite fit the category I’m describing.
As far as the stories in this chapter, given the lack of thematic connexion, it seems difficult to summarize the chapter as a whole. We get a little of this and a little of that. The apocalypse will recur later, so perhaps the two most salient features of the chapter are the returning leper was a Samaritan, and the idea that just doing your duty is not enough. The former fits in with the Good Samaritan parable in two ways. It does demonstrate how we should behave as Christians. In addition, it is a not-so-subtle disparagement of the Jews. Who was the neighbor? The Samaritan. Which of the lepers returned? The Samaritan. We are now at the point when Christians start doing the doublespeak on their Jewish heritage. On the one hand, writers like Hippolytus Romanus (circa 200 CE) stress the connexion, even while disparaging certain leaders of “heretical” sects as introducing “novel” ideas and doctrines. I have said this repeatedly, but it bears repeating even more: to the mind of someone in the Roman world of Jesus, novelty was not a good thing. One respected ideas that were old, that had withstood the test of time. Egypt is the premiere example of this. Even half a millennium before Jesus, the Greeks were in awe of the civilisation of Egypt. Many teachings, Pythagoras being an outstanding example, were said to trace back to Egypt. So in order to fit into this, Christians needed– almost desperately– to claim the centuries-old heritage of the Jews. At the same time, however, they had to explain why the Jews had rejected Jesus. This was a bit of an awkward, or inconvenient fact. Stories like the Good Samaritan and the Ten Lepers do not, in fact, explain why the Jews rejected Jesus, but they do emphasize that the Jews did reject Jesus. And the way they rejected him leads us into the story of the lepers.
The first section we discussed ended with Jesus using the metaphor of the slave. He has returned from working all day in the fields, but the master does not wait on the slave. Rather, the slave is then expected to wait on the master while the latter is at his meat. This leads Jesus to ask if we are not grateful for such slaves, but adds the admonition that doing what we are told is not enough. We must go, in modern parlance, over and above mere duty. When read, this seems a bit of a non-sequitur. Jesus makes a logical jump, and the landing on the other side is a bit jarring. The slave was told to wait on the master; how was this going the extra mile? I’m not sure. This admonition to do more is what leads us into the Ten Lepers. These lepers approached Jesus as a group. Jesus healed all ten, and then gave them instructions to go show themselves to the priests, to show that they were now ritually cleansed, and then they were to make the sacrifices as prescribed by Moses. Again as a body, the ten trundle off to do what they were told. At least, ten of them started to do this; nine of them continued, but the tenth returned, groveled before Jesus, and gave thanks. In other words, he did more than just what he was told to do. He took the extra step, went the extra mile, went over and above mere duty. This is how the Christian is expected to act. And, as a personal note, I’ve always felt this way. Think about situations when you’ve done something for someone and they are thankful, and say “you didn’t need to do this”. Well, of course not; that is exactly the point. Doing only what is expected is good, but it’s expected. Not doing this, of course is bad; but the point is, what is expected is necessary, but it’s not sufficient.
*The term “Christian” came into existence sometime in the period of Matthew, so by the time of Luke it was probably not uncommon. In particular, Tacitus uses the term writing in or around 112 CE.
This chapter contains both the stories of the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son. Both are Christian “standards”, or even cliches; many non-observant Christians, or even non-Christians, understand the reference of a ‘prodigal son’ who ‘returns to the fold’ even if the finer points of detail are, at best, vague. The same is perhaps true of the maxim ‘lost sheep’, if to a lesser degree and less specifically. Yet, both of these stories, so fundamental to Christian self-image are unique to Luke; this means there is barely any chance that either of them actually traces back to Jesus. Rather, it is highly likely that Luke composed them both. This likelihood increases, it would seem, when we realize how closely linked the stories are both thematically and in terms of the lesson conveyed. This makes analysis much easier, since it’s really a compare and contrast situation.
First, there is the minor issue of Jesus’ behaviour, specifically the sort of people he hung around with. At the beginning of the chapter we are told that the respectable elements of society tsk-tsk over Jesus’ choice of companions. These latter are described as “tax-collectors (or publicans) and sinners. Christians have long seized on this as meaning the sort of people the Pharisees didn’t like; one meaning of “sinner” is prostitute. The classic example of this is in Luke Chapter 7, where the woman who is a “sinner” anoints Jesus with the contents of an expensive box of perfume. This is understood to mean that she was a prostitute. Of course, at this point I cannot describe how I know this, or where I first heard this, but it was long ago. I’m old enough to remember when Jesus Christ Superstar came out. I was in high school. In this, Mary Magdalene is portrayed as a prostitute, and I know that this did not phase me; I fully understood that Mary M was a prostitute. This was one of those things that “everyone knows” about her. The problem is that neither of the other two gospels mention this about the woman. More, in Luke, the introduction of Mary M comes very shortly after this episode, but there is no apparent connexion between the two women. The anointing occurs in the end of Chapter 7; the introduction of Mary M comes a few verses in to Chapter 8. There is neither a grammatical nor a narrative link between the two women. The implication is that, once again, what “everyone knows” has no real scriptural basis. This is where tradition filled in the cracks with anecdotes and explanations. This, in turn, is an excellent demonstration of how stories grow. This is a great demonstration to explain why Matthew and Luke are so much longer than Mark; the story had grown by the time they wrote. There were more anecdotes. And Matthew and Luke more than likely created some of their own.
This is a bit of a digression. The point is that we are told numerous times that Jesus consorted with sinners. When sinners are mentioned, it is often in conjunction with tax collectors, as it is in this chapter. Apropos of this, another thing “everyone knows” is that Jesus spent time with the poor. The interesting thing is that tax collectors were decidedly not poor. Very much the opposite, in fact; they were very rich, and they got rich by squeezing the average person for as much as they could get. (We’ll discuss this more when we get to the story of Zaccheus.) Any sinners hanging around with publicans were not likely to be poor, either. When, exactly, are we shown Jesus consorting with the poor? The Bleeding Woman comes to mind, but that was a one-off contact. He raises the centurion’s slave, and the daughter of Jairus from the dead, but neither of these men were poor. In fact, use of the word for ‘poor’ is very sparse in the gospels. Jesus also spent a lot of time hanging around with Pharisees. The setting for the Lost Sheep is at a dinner with Pharisees. They were generally not poor either, but that is a broad statement that has no real evidence to support it. All that can be adduced is that people who gave the sort of dinner parties that Jesus frequently attended were not likely to be poor. So we have numerous instances of Jesus spending time in the company of the well-off, and very little with him actually consorting with the poor. Interestingly, some for of the word “poor” occurs less than 30 times in the NT. Several of those are repetitions between gospels (poor/poor in spirit; give the money to the poor, etc), so this is not a terribly common theme for Jesus and his followers. It occurs five times each in Mark and Matthew, but three times in the much shorter epistle of James. Luke is the most frequent user, coming in at nine, but it does not appear at all in Acts. The implication seems to be that we need, perhaps, to reconsider just how solicitous of the poor Jesus was. How integral was this message to his mission?
The rest of the chapter is given over to the stories of the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal son, with the parable of the Lost Coin shoe-horned in between. The theme of all stories is being lost and then found. This leads us to ask what it means to be “lost” and “found”. Doing this we immediately run into yet another “everybody knows” situation. Being lost means we’re lost to a life of sin; found, means we’ve found our way back to God and so attained our salvation. We’ve been saved. Funny, thing, however; the term ‘saved’ does not appear even once in this chapter. We saw that ‘poor’ was used less than 30 times in the whole NT; some variation of ‘saved’ occurs more than three times as often, upwards of 100 instances (I lost count of the exact amount; doesn’t matter. It’s a lot) in the NT. But, you say, there is joy in the sky when a lost sheep is found, or the prodigal son returns. This is true. But joy and celebration by whom? By those who have been saved before? Or by God and the Heavenly Host? Remember, the injunction is to repent; that can simply mean to honor the God of Judah, the way that King Hezekiah did in 2 Kings. Note that during a quick skim through some of the HS dealing with the apostasy of Israel and the faithfulness of Judah (most of the time), I did not see the word “saved” at all. Unfortunately, since it’s written in Hebrew I can’t search the Greek on the site I use for translations. I tried– half-heartedly, perhaps– to find a Greek Septuagint that would let me search the Greek for specific words without success. This means I cannot compare vocabulary at this point, which means we cannot be terribly certain about the rejoicing in heaven. There is no reason why we cannot equate being found and being saved; there is nothing to exclude one from the other. We have to ask whether it feels right, if it feels like this is what Luke means by “found”. Being the skeptical, cantankerous sort that I am, I tend not to think so. Luke used the word ‘saved’ enough; he was no stranger to it. So why not here?
Of course, that question cannot be answered. And of course, I have no real argument to convince anyone of my position. It’s a sense I get from having read the text word-for-word as I have, one develops a feel for what the text is doing. Or, one comes to believe that one has developed such a feel. This again, cannot be proven one way or the other. I’m rather surprised that there is not more to say on this. The point is the degree of interpretation required. Just bear that in mind, always. These topics are not nearly as settled as we would like to believe. Even the Reformation Protestants did not take a chainsaw to Tradition nearly to the they imagined. There is still a lot of “everyone knows” thinking that continues to be perpetuated.
Once again we got a chapter that is largely to be seen as a single unit. Until Verse 25, all of the action takes place while Jesus is having dinner with some Pharisees. It’s odd, but much has been made about how Jesus consorted with the undesirable element of society, the poor, tax collectors, women, etc., and he certainly did. But it’s not often pointed out, or commented upon, that Jesus also spent a fair bit of time being entertained by the upright members of society as is happening here. This aspect of Jesus’ ministry has certainly escaped my notice up to this point by hiding in plain sight. The question then must be asked if this consorting with the establishment was accurate, or if it merely served as a setting whereby the audience served as foil for Jesus’ teaching. For example, in this chapter Jesus provides two lessons that are particularly apt for such an audience. The first is on the virtue of humility which comes in the admonition not to take the best seats at a dinner party, but the worst. This ends in the admonition that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, which helps establish humility as an ideal virtue. This was novel understanding of social behaviour, for pagans as well as for Jews. The setting of the story drives this latter home very effectively. In fact, it may be a little too effective.
By this I am implying that Jesus likely did not spend much time hanging out with Pharisees. Mark has a version of the last/first dichotomy, but his is set very differently. The first expression is after being questioned by a rich young man in Chapter 10:31, the second a dozen verses later when he admonishes the sons of Zebedee for asking to be seated at the right & left hand when Jesus comes into his kingdom. The wording there is not identical to the wording here. In Mark, Jesus says the first shall be last; in Matthew & Luke the wording is that those exalting themselves will be humbled. Different words, but the thought behind them is identical. The latter two turn it into self-exaltation, but that is what James & John attempted to do. And yet, despite the overwhelming similarity of the sentiment, this is considered to be part of Q because Matthew & Luke use the humbled/exalted language where Mark did not. However, fascinating as that is, the topic here is the authenticity. Since Mark does not include any instances of Jesus eating with the establishment while Matthew and Luke does, I believe it is safe to infer from this that the setting we find here is completely fictional. It runs against the grain of pretty much all of Mark, where Jesus is truly an itinerant preacher who encounters those listening to him as he moves from place to place. We have to ask where this all transpired, what the circumstances were that led to Jesus dining with Pharisees? Where is he? In Caphernaum? We were told in Chapter 7 that he had entered that town, but later we are told he went from town to town. At one point, he was at the house of Mary and Martha, which was in Bethany, hard under the walls of Jerusalem, but there is also reason to suspect he was still traveling. This is important for the question of who– or what– Jesus was, how he was seen by the various groups he encountered, or what his reputation was. In Mark, the itinerant nature of Jesus career is very consistent with that of a wonder-worker. They would travel about since staying in one place too long would probably result is an accumulation of failures; this would help explain why the prophet was not honored in his home town.
Just as a bit of a side note. Matthew places the humbled/exalted injunction in the speech when he casts woes onto the various social groups. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees, he says, love the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogue. Luke places the scene in the house of a Pharisee, where the guests are all angling for the places of honor. Coincidence? Do you still think that Luke hadn’t read Matthew?
While at the house, Jesus also cures a man of dropsy on the Sabbath. This gives him the opportunity to override the Jewish idea of what was allowed and not allowed to be done on the Sabbath. In theory, one was supposed to do little or nothing that wasn’t devoted to God. Hence the Puritan custom of spending a big chunk of time in church, and devoting the rest to scripture reading and psalm-singing. Jesus sort of says that this isn’t the way it needs to be. And this sentiment is found very early in Mark, where he cures a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, which causes some consternation. This reaction rather makes me suspect that this story did not trace back to Jesus; as with the supersession of the Jews– a parable about which we also get in this chapter– this seems more suited to a time after Paul. Recall that Paul tells us of his dispute with James, brother of the lord, concerned Jewish customs, or laws, such as dietary practice and circumcision; James thought their retention necessary, Paul did not. Exerting oneself on the Sabbath, or the extent to which this was permissible was another such custom. Bear in mind that the idea of a week, with a weekend, did not exist in the pagan world. The Roman calendar just numbered the days in a month without breaking them into weeks. This practice was an innovation of the Christin Empire, when celebrating the sabbath on a recurring basis became a priority. As such, early pagan followers of Jesus probably found it difficult not to work on one day out of seven. This would be particularly true of a follower of Jesus who was the slave of a pagan master. In fact, this habit of wanting one day in seven off was a major criticism of Christians by their pagan contemporaries, who found the Christians lazy. So not needing to be overly concerned about Jewish custom regarding the Sabbath would have been a real concern to pagan converts.
In addition, it is significant that the sentiment traces back to Mark. For something to be traceable back to Jesus, its presence in Mark is probably a necessary, but not sufficient condition to be considered as authentic. That this appears already in Mark indicates that the transition to pagan converts occurred much earlier than is generally assumed. At the very latest, my suspicion is that the destruction of Jerusalem was a major impetus to this transition; therefore, the inclusion of the story in Mark probably points to a date post-destruction for the writing of that gospel. It must be noted, however, that this is not conclusive; if the transition was underway already in the 50s, as a result of Paul’s evangelizing, then it would not be necessary for this to have come about after 70. So again, put all of this on a scale and weigh all the pieces as units to determine the date of Mark. As mentioned, the anachronistic nature of this story ties in with the parable of the man giving a banquet. This was clearly meant as an explanation of why the Jews hadn’t converted en masse; as such, it’s completely out of place in the 30s.
There is one aspect of the story of the banquet that was not discussed in the commentary section because the connexion had not occurred to me. So much ink has been spilled on the distinction between “blessed are the poor” and “blessed are the poor in spirit” that the topic has become cliché; normally, that would give me pause about discussing it further. The problem is that the focus of the topic has been, IMO, misplaced. The debate almost always centers on which of the two is “more primitive”, and this idea of “primitivity” is a core tenet of the Q debate. Since Luke’s version has two fewer words, this is taken as conclusive proof that Luke’s version is “more primitive”. Well, okay, that’s a bit harsh on my part. “Poor in spirit” is rather more of a subtle concept than “poor”; but then, that is really my point. The one is not necessarily more primitive; it’s just different. Luke’s version has a different emphasis than Matthew’s version. Matthew is talking about humility; Luke is talking about actual poverty. Being humble is a behaviour, or a tenet, of Christianity as we understand it, and Matthew speaks to this. Luke, OTOH, is talking about social justice. More, he underscores this message twice in this chapter. In the first, he admonishes his well-to-do audience that they should invite the downtrodden to the banquets they give; of this class of people, Jesus singled out the poor. He does not instruct the Pharisees to invite the poor in spirit. The second instance comes in the discussion of the wedding banquet. When the invited guests, which would have included the sort of people gathered at the actual dinner Jesus attended, demur their invitations, Jesus once again instructs the slave to invite those same downtrodden, and again among them are the poor.
I wanted to blow this into a big demonstration that Luke shows much more concern for the actual poor than Matthew; one avenue I pursued was to check the number of instances when the word “poor” (ptōchoi, and variants) occur in each gospel. This is a standard analysis. Luke shows an increase of usage of the word of 33% over Matthew; and that goes up to a 40% increase if we eliminate the “poor in spirit” cite in Matthew. Now, if you have any sense of statistics, you immediately realized that the elimination of a single occurrence resulting in such a large increase indicates that we are working from very low numbers. If I have a dollar and get another, my wealth has doubled, it has increased 100%. If I have a million dollars and have a 1% increase in my wealth, I’ve picked up a whole lot more money* than I did when I doubled from a single dollar. So it is here. Matthew uses the word six times; Luke uses it eight times. 8 – 6 = 2, and 2 is 33% of 6.
The results were less conclusive than I’d hoped, but still, I believe, significant. Despite the low numbers, it can be argued that the message in Luke is qualitatively– if not so much quantitively– different from the message in Matthew. There is nothing in the first gospel such as we have here. In fact, Matthew, in his version of what The Q Reader calls “the Great Supper”, does not specify whom his slaves should invite. In Matthew, the lord simply tells his slaves to go out to the roads & highways and invite whomever they might find. Luke, in contrast, specifies that the poor and others are to be those invited– or compelled. And then Matthew simply has no correlation to the passage about inviting the poor to one’s banquets as we find in Luke 14:12. In Matthew, the poor are more theoretical; sell your goods, or the expensive perfume and give to the poor; the poor will always be with you; the poor have the gospel preached to them. For those of you keeping score at home, you only counted four, not five uses of “the poor”. That is because the six cites of “the poor” in Matthew includes its use twice in the same passage. In the tale of the expensive perfume, the disciples say it could have been sold and the proceeds given to the, to which Jesus says “the poor will always be with you”. The contrast to Luke is sharp. Luke not only has the two passages in this chapter, he also has the searing tale of Dives and Lazarus. So the poor in Luke are real to a degree, or they have a presence, that does not appear in Matthew.
*$10,000, to be exact.
The chapter opens with Jesus talking about people who were killed, either by Pilate during a riot (of sorts) or by sudden accident when a tower collapsed and fell on them. The interesting part is that Jesus appears to threaten his followers with this sort of unexpected and violent death if they do not repent. In fact, he repeats the warning. Of course, we have to stop and ask whether Jesus is referring simply to physical death. To confuse the matter, Jesus asks his crowd if they believe that this death was a punishment because they were more wicked than others.
A quick look at the compiled commentaries indicates that many of these authors saw the story of the tower as prophetic. They see this reference to something that Jesus indicates had happened to be a foreshadow of something that was yet to happen: the destruction of Jerusalem. In the latter event, the city was more or less razed, and doubtless many died as walls–and tower–collapsed upon people. Of course, Luke wrote after this event, but in the narrative Jesus is uttering these words before the event. If we assume that Luke accurately records words of Jesus spoken before, then of course they are prophetic, and they provide proof of Jesus’ divine foreknowledge. If you ask how Luke–and Luke alone–had record of Jesus saying these things, and conclude it to be unlikely that he did say the words, then we get another perspective. Of course, for our purposes here, we have to assume that Luke is simply putting words in Jesus’ mouth. As such, the focal point of our inquiry is not whether Jesus was uttering a prophecy, but what message Luke intended to put across to the community of believers 50 or 60 years after the events supposedly took place.
There are two sorts of ideas being yoked together here. Do we die a horrible death because we are being punished for our sins? There was certainly a school of thought in the Jewish tradition of such a quid-pro-quo punishment in this lifetime–one that ended this lifetime. Nor was this attitude restricted to Judaic thought, or to the ancient world. The second idea is whether Luke intends for Jesus to be taken literally, thereby buying into the first idea. Here we have to ask whether 2,000 years of Christianity has likely warped our understanding, or at least seriously influenced the way we read something like this. Reading this, I suspect most Christians would take it on faith that no, Jesus should not be taken literally; rather, losing one’s life in this world is symbolic for losing the prospect of eternal life in the next.
The question with this interpretation is whether or not it’s anachronistic. When did the standard Christian doctrine of eternal life after death really become fixed in the belief system? Answering this question was a major part of the reason I undertook this task of going through the NT line-by-line. At this point, it’s still not entirely clear that this is what Luke believes. If Luke doesn’t believe this, it will not appear in his gospel. Why else does he need to speak metaphorically here? Or maybe why does he speak metaphorically here? To hedge his bets? Or to put the point across by way of parable? Taken on its own, it’s difficult to say; in the context of the rest of the chapter, I think the implications become clearer.
Before continuing with that, I would like to set something down as a datum upon which we should build, which I believe will help clarify my question. In the late 6th Century BCE (the 500s), the Greek philosopher was promising punishments in the afterlife to fraudulent magicians and wonder-workers. As such, the idea of reward or punishment in the afterlife was not new–and it was apparently not a Jewish idea, at least in genesis. But books of the HS, some canonical, some apocryphal, written during the Hellenistic period (300 BCE and on) start to adopt this idea. So it was not something Jesus, or even Christians, invented. They did, perhaps, systematize it clearly and explicitly at some point in the late First/early Second Centuries CE. That should help us answer the question.
Moreover, the rest of the chapter reinforces this. The next section deals with Jesus healing a woman in the synagogue on a sabbath. So it is made fairly explicit that the woman’s illness was not a matter of being wicked, just as those Galileans killed by the falling tower were not more wicked than other Galileans. But let’s compare this to the healing of the paralytic, who was lowered down to Jesus through a hole in the roof of the house where Jesus was teaching. Jesus did not say “get up and walk”, at least, not at first. That is what he tells the woman here: you are released from your illness. Rather, he told the paralytic “your sins are forgiven”, which, of course, caused a stir among the onlookers because it could be taken as blasphemous. What is the difference? Why the difference?
First, let’s note that Luke does not include the story of the paralytic. This seems to be another of those instances where he felt that M&M had covered it in sufficient detail. But this goes a step further. In that story there was at least an implicit connexion between the man’s sins and his paralysis. Once the sins are forgiven, the man’s physical ailment is removed. That step is skipped in the story of the woman in this chapter. Jesus did not first forgive her sins and then heal her; he cut to the chase and healed her. In doing so, he severed the connexion between sin and bodily affliction. Affliction is not the result of sin. And so, too, the Galileans were not killed by the falling tower because they were wicked. The were killed because the tower fell on them. So that Jesus threatens his audience with sudden and horrible death if they do not repent, it seems fairly clear– upon reflection, at least– that he is talking about eternal life.
This is further reinforced in the remaining sections of the chapter. Immediately following the hubbub created by Jesus for healing the woman on the sabbath, he is questioned about being saved. Here Jesus launched into an oblique narrative about the narrow gate, and the competition to enter that narrow gate. At first, the idea of competing towards salvation seemed a bit…capitalist to me. But we need to bear in mind the oblique approach. The competition is not amongst individuals; it is amongst peoples. Specifically, Jesus is addressing this speech to the Jews. After all, they are the ones whom the master will shut out of the wedding feast, the ones who ate with him and the ones he taught. This relationship will avail them nothing, however; they will be left on the outside, wailing and gnashing their teeth. (Sorry; love that phrase.)
Then, in a stroke true brilliance, Luke concludes the chapter with Jesus, again obliquely, predicting his own death. He’s not afraid of the Herodians even though warned that “that fox” wants to kill Jesus. Rather, he has to go to Jerusalem to meet his fate. It is worth noting that Jerusalem was not part of Herod’s tetrarchy, which included Galilee. Jerusalem was part of Judea, an it was ruled directly by the Romans through Pilate. So, by going to Jerusalem, Jesus would be leaving Herod’s jurisdiction behind, effectively removing himself from Herod’s power. Later, when Pilate sends Jesus to Herod, Pilate is, again effectively, extraditing Jesus back into Herod’s jurisdiction. The brilliance of this passage comes from it’s context, following the story of the Galileans killed by the tower. Just as they were no more guilty than anyone else, but killed nonetheless, so Jesus is going to Jerusalem to be killed, even though he is blameless. Such were the prophets treated of old. \
This last bit is important because it gives Jesus a pedigree. I’ve often mentioned that the ancient Greeks and Romans were not impressed by novelty; they were impressed by antiquity. The Latin term for “revolution”, in the political sense, was res novae; literally, new things. New things were not good things; quite the opposite. Of course, this was the view of the conservative authors & politicians who had vested interest in maintaining the old things. The point here, is that by putting himself in the long line of prophets who had been killed in Jerusalem, Jesus was placing himself in their line. IOW, he was connecting himself to that ancient tradition that Judaism claimed, and the age of that tradition is what drew so many pagans to Judaism, pagans like Matthew.
Just a word about a word. I used the word “oblique” as a description for Jesus’ speech a couple of times. The first was descriptive; any that followed were rhetorical, a repetition when other words could be used. Why was Jesus so oblique? The answer to this has some connexion with the idea of the mysterion of ancient Greco-Roman culture. This, of course, is the root of “mystery”, especially as it relates to “mystery religions”, such as the rites of Eleusis or Isis. Such religions maintained secrets that were only divulged to those who became initiated into the cult. Jesus, and especially his later followers, adopted this approach, at least to some limited extent, and at least at first. This idea of secrets continued to develop into what became known as Gnosticism, based on a hidden gnosis, or knowledge. Mark in particular has undertones of a gnostic attitude; the parables are the clearest example of this. After all, Jesus spoke in parables to the public, but revealed the meanings in private to his disciples.
There are debates about whether Gnosticism pre-dated Christianity; many would argue that it did. I am not one of these. Marcion became a Christian heretic by advocating Gnostic ideas, and the Gospel of Thomas has a fairly explicit Gnostic aspect. Prior to Jesus, however, Gnosticism is not really on the radar. It’s not necessary to say that Gnosticism derived from Christianity; indeed, I believe that would be greatly overstating the case. Rather, it seems that Christianity and Gnosticism both derived from a pre- or proto-Gnostic milieu, which itself was a development on the idea of the mystery religions. Part of my argument for a later date for Gospel of Thomas derives from these explicitly Gnostic elements; they are too fully developed as such to date from the 50s, as the Q people want us to believe. There are simply no real precursors (to the best of my knowledge; I need to look into that) to ideas like those expressed in Gospel of Thomas at that early date. As such, a date from the mid-Second Century or later seems more appropriate. But that is an entirely different discussion.
Due to editorial oversight, this follows hot on the heels of the Summary to Chapter 11. But then, maybe it will be useful to read the two in close proximity.
There are two main themes in the chapter by my reading. Or perhaps one, with a couple of subdivisions. The first provides something of a ring composition. We start with it in the warning against the leaven of the Pharisees, and ends with it with the admonition about being hauled off to gaol*. Both these relate to the primary theme, which is the coming of the kingdom. It’s happening, so we best be ready for it. Preparatory to that, there will be strife and dissension here on earth. Luke does warn about being hauled before the authorities, and assures us that we will be given what to say by the sacred breath. This is in Matthew, and even in Mark. But here it gets a slightly different treatment, that leads in something of a different direction.
The idea of the sacred breath providing one’s defense is, after all, one way in which God will take care of us. And Luke assures us of this with metaphors from Nature: the ravens, the lilies, and sparrows. God provides for them, so God will take care of us humans, too. And here is where and how the second theme comes in: we need not be, we should not be, concerned about the things of this world, because God will provide. So we should not be afraid of those who can only kill the body, but of those who can throw us into Gehenna, and I think “Hell” is not entirely inappropriate. The concept has not reached full maturity in this writing, not by a long shot, but it’s progressing towards that final goal (and not gaol). And who can throw us into that awful place? Why, God of course. And because of this, we need to be watchful about the coming kingdom by avoiding the “leaven of the Pharisees” and not being contentious in litigations with our fellow humans, lest you end up being hauled off to the gaol, which at the end of the chapter is a metaphor for Gehenna. Luke applied his writer’s craft very effectively: By starting off the section with Gehenna, that image is there to be alluded to by the threat of jail.
This is a very sophisticated literary construction. Part of the reason I felt the seams, I think, is that I break these chapters into small sections and then take these sections piecemeal. Only now that I’ve taken that moment to step back and look at the chapter as a whole do I see how well this is all arranged. IMO, it’s much more masterful than Chapters 5-7 of Matthew, which feel like beads of different material strung together on a single string, but otherwise not relating to each other all that much.
The result is a message that it very “Christian” in the sense of the word that most of us understand it. Luke is giving us a very clear warning: behave, because the kingdom is coming at some time unknown. If we are not watchful, and if we do not behave properly, we will end up in gaol, by which he means Gehenna, or Hell. And one way to be watchful, and to behave properly, is not to be concerned with worldly things, like the rich man who wants to build new barns to hold his wealth. Rather, be simple, let the sacred breath tell you what to say, and give no more thought to what you eat or what you wear than the ravens or the lilies, and be mindful that the master may come at any moment. Now, much of this is implicit in Mark and Matthew, but this feels like a much more thorough and sophisticated expression of this message that had always been rather disparate, or separate, or disjointed until now. We got flashes of this in Matthew, but here we get the synthesized and homogenized and all-encompassing version. The idea, the concept has developed, and been developed. Going back to the analogy I used about Mark, Luke has woven many of the separate threads of M&M together into a piece of whole cloth, into a single garment. Maybe it was there in Matthew as well, but I don’t think so. No doubt my perceptions and understandings have evolved as we’ve moved along, but I was very conscious of what I was not reading in M&M.
Having been raised in the Roman Rite, as a Catholic, my understanding of Christianity was very simple: Do good, or go to Hell. Simple, straightforward, and binary. Yes, the Purgatory thing sort of muddled the issue somewhat, but not all that much. And yes, I get the whole hellfire and brimstone sort of preaching, which is not considered something the Catholics are not known for, something they don’t do all that often or all that well. Instead there is that binary choice that is absolutely foundational, and expressed in such crystal-clear language and repeated so often that the whole hellfire and brimstone thing seemed…unnecessary. I never got Billy Graham. My religious message did not come from inspired rhetoric, but from pure fear. And here in this chapter we get the bottom-line formulation of this message that had not been present to this point. I do need to add the caveat, or the qualifier, that I did attend a Catholic school, run by Dominicans, for grades 2-8. As such, I was available to receive the message for six hours per day, 180 days per year. But that’s just it: the message was not elaborate. It was blunt, as blunt as the paddle that Sister Janice, the principal of the elementary school, used to carry.
One question that occurred to me about this: has the sense of urgency about the return of “the master” has been ratcheted upward again. Remember, this is the first gospel written that was aware of Paul’s career, and that Galatians, one of Paul’s earliest letters, was written in almost breathless anticipation that the return should be expected momentarily. By the time of 1 Corinthians, however, this feeling of immediacy had abated significantly. In the first two gospels the expectation of return also felt muted. In this chapter, however, I felt that Luke was a bit more concerned about this. The problem with this judgement is, of course, that it’s a judgement. As such, it’s necessarily subjective, like saying Matthew’s handling of the alleged Q material is masterful. As mentioned, this occurred to me; whether the judgement is justified or not is a matter for speculation, and for different readers to consider individually.
The second theme of the chapter, or theme 1)B is the sense of other-worldliness. Here again it feels like Luke has become much more closely aligned with later Christian doctrine than his predecessors. Luke weaves this theme skillfully into his narrative, using the story of the foolish rich man as his jumping-off point. We are told the uselessness of placing value on wealth because the rich man was unaware of his impending death. The vanity of riches is a theme with a long future ahead of it. The empty (the Latin root of vanity actually means empty) promise of wealth is sort of the obverse side of being unconcerned about the empty value of the things that money can buy. These latter include clothes, food, etc. Of course, food is necessary, but God provide for the ravens, so God will provide for us. That is a bit step to the sort of asceticism that will take deep root in the Middle Ages; at least, for a few centuries. It is what will give rise to the monastic ideal, even if that ideal eventually will fall short in practice. This feels like a major development in Christian practice.
So, either I haven’t been paying attention, or Chapter 12 of Luke’s gospel is a pivotal point in the history of Christianity. We will start getting into more of those stories unique to Luke; as we progress, we need to keep this chapter in our minds to see if it truly is such a point.
*Gaol: the danger, and possible price of pretentiousness. I just looked this up. Apparently, the current British pronunciation of this word is “jail”. Originally, the word had a hard ‘g’ sound (as goat) that eventually softened into the ‘j’ sound. The two spellings actually come from the same root, but via two different routes. The hard G is Middle English, while the J is Parisian French, both deriving from the same Latin root. I have been (mentally) pronouncing the hard G as “ga-ole”. Good thing I’ve never used it conversationally, or I would have been shown up for the pretentious bastard that I am. Of course, it would hardly be the first time. “Ennui”: Pronounced “En-you-ee”, right? Oh? It’s “en-nwi“? Oops. Now how about “homage”? What is given to a king, as in “give HOM-age” vs paying respect to a literary precursor, paying ‘oh-MAJE”? Whatever. I am much more likely to encounter new words in written form rather than hearing them, so I assign them a pronunciation that is, all too often, incorrect. The same thing happens with sports stars. I read sports, I don’t watch the programming so much.
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.
The most important section of this chapter, of course, was the story of the Good Samaritan. It is a landmark of Christian literature that has become so famous that it’s crossed into secular vernacular. While perhaps not quite as universally understood in English writing as it once was, it seems likely that a large majority of the English speakers in North America understand the reference to some degree. In some ways, it is perhaps the Christian morality tale par excellence. It very neatly sums up the Christian ethos of what it means to “love your neighbour as yourself”. Funny thing about that.
No doubt my impression of this story was seriously–mayhap fatally–distorted by my upbringing. The town I grew up in was small and white and Catholic; that is, there were no Jews. And then I went to a Catholic school and was largely taught religion by Dominican nuns. The result was that I had no exposure to Jewish thought, or the Jewish heritage that lay behind Christianity. Oh, the Jewish roots were acknowledged, and a sanitized version of Judaism was taught, including the stories of Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel, the Flood, the Exodus and…a few odds and ends. Looking back, I realize we were taught about Genesis ad Exodus and some stuff about the Prophets and basically nothing else. As such, I had no real sense of Judaism as a religion, only that it had become ossified and sclerotic by the time of Jesus, who swept it away for an internal religion of faith and love, rather than an external, formulaic, and overly ritualized shell.
Well, guess what. The story of the Good Samaritan is very Jewish. What’s more, given the other stories in the chapter, the setting is very Jewish. These aspects were mentioned in the commentary of the translation. The fact that the man who acted as a foil to allow Jesus to introduce the central story, was learned in the Law and repeated the two Great Commandments, the story of Satan, and the very concept of a Samaritan all require an understanding of Judaism if we are to grasp fully their import and the true meaning of the story. Luke is not introducing, or even just illuminating some novel aspect of Jesus’ teaching; he is providing context in which the second commandment–love your neighbour as yourself–is truly put into practice. Who is the man’s neighbour? The priest or the Levite? Or the despised other who stops and helps the man? The full impact of the story is missed unless we understand the level of animosity between the Jewish traveler and the Samaritan who helps the man. Luke even prepped us to a degree when he told us that Jesus and his disciples were not welcomed into the Samaritan town because the residents understood that Jesus was going to Jerusalem.
So the upshot is that this is a story of how Judaism should be practised. And throughout the HS, there are numerous instances where the author regales the audience with injunctions about social justice. There was the story in Mark, repeated in Matthew, about Jesus chastising the Pharisees for the way they declared their property korban, holy, as in dedicated to the Temple, when the Pharisees should have been honouring their mothers and fathers by assisting them financially with this property. Ezra and Nehemiah, which tell of the time when the Jews were allowed to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple are full of injunctions about social justice, admonishing the rich for trodding roughly on the poor. This would be another example of not “loving your neighbor as yourself”. So Luke is not introducing novel examples of how to behave with one another. He’s not even expanding on the teachings that undergirded the desired behaviour. He is providing an excellent and concrete example of what the desired behaviour looks like. This, he is saying, is how one love’s one neighbor as oneself.
This is not to say, however, that Luke might have something of a novel slant on the matter. Why does the lawyer want to know how to behave? What is his motivation? He wants to know what he must do to gain eternal life. By this point it should be clear that the idea of the immortal soul, more or less as Christians conceive of it, was not derived from Judaism, but from the Greeks. Now, by the time of Jesus, Judea had been ruled by Greek-speakers (this includes Romans; educated Romans, who were the governing class, were largely bilingual in Latin and Greek) since the time of Alexander the Great, more than 300 years. Greek thought and philosophy had been incrementally seeping into the educated class of Jews, who were learning Greek and abandoning the Aramaic native to Judea at the time. All major metropolitan centres had significant Jewish enclaves, the educated members of these expatriate populations learned Greek. The epitome of this is Philo of Alexandria, who was both a Jewish scholar and more or less a thoroughgoing Platonist. The result was that the idea of an immortal soul had penetrated into Jewish thinking. I suspect (but do not know for certain) that this is the root of the idea of the resurrection of the dead that the Pharisees held as a central tenet.
The point is, even the desire for eternal life had Jewish antecedents, even if those antecedents had Greek antecedents, which they certainly did. As a result, the idea the lawyer was asking how to gain eternal life is not a distinctly Christian thought process. The lawyer (or generic young man, as Mark called him) asking about gaining eternal life could represent someone fully within mainstream Jewish thought of the time.
All of this matters for various reasons. I was Googling for the answer to..something else, which led me to the question of whether this parable is considered authentic; that is, do scholars believe that this came directly from Jesus. According to the overwhelming number of scholars in the Jesus Seminar, the answer is a resounding YES!!! Apparently some 60% code it as red (definitely authentic) and another 29% code it pink (probably authentic). A quick calculation shows that puts us at 89% positive, against only 4% negative. I often criticise the Q proponents for not considering content when they consider authenticity. Apparently the Jesus Seminar only considers content. This group, however, is very vague about transmission. How did this parable kick around for 50+ years, totally evade Mark and Matthew, and then appear in Luke? IOW, there is no provenance for the parable. It simply appears. Yes, it resembles other Jewish/midrasnhic material, but that’s so general as to be pretty much meaningless. Parables do resemble each other; that’s how they get classified as parables. But there is another element. One blog I found said that, of course this is authentic, because it sounds so much like other stuff Jesus said. To which I respond: give me an example of this similarity from Mark or Matthew, or preferably both. To point: there are none. Mark’s parables include the Mustard Seed and the Sower; neither of these are similar to the Good Samaritan in either form or content. The parable of the Wicked Tenants does more closely resemble the form of the Good Samaritan, but the content is not at all similar. It’s not a description of proper behaviour; rather, it’s a tale of what has happened, and what will happen to those wicked tenants. There is no real morality tale. And I would seriously argue that the Wicked Tenants is much later than Jesus. After all, it presumes the understanding that the landlord’s son is Jesus, and that we all know Jesus died, was killed by other wicked tenants. More, this parable comes from the Christ section of Mark, which likely originated only after Jesus’ death, a belief propagated, if not created, by Paul. Other possibilities would be the Parable of the Vineyard workers, but that does not appear in Mark. So, the parable presents severe difficulties both on the question of provenance and content. I do not see how this can be considered authentic.
This requires a lot more discussion than is appropriate for a summary like this.
This discussion about the lawyer/young man has interesting implications for the Q debate. All three of the Synoptics contain a story where someone from the crowd asks Jesus what must be done to inherit eternal life. This person was described by Mark as a young man and by Matthew a lawyer. In those two versions Jesus responds by reciting the decalogue. When the man says he has done these things, Jesus then tells him to sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus. Luke changes this; he alters the external circumstances and ends up making a slightly different point. These alterations suggest that this is another of those stories where Luke saw that M&M had covered the topic very well already, so he engaged his poetic license to provide a slightly different message. We have noticed that Luke does this when M&M tell essentially the same story in much the same way. That, to me, is a significant clue, a telling indication that Luke was, indeed, aware of Matthew, since he seems to know when to do this. In contrast, Luke has Jesus asking the man about the commandments; he’s turned the situation around. When the man answers with the Great Commandment, or the two Great Commandments, Luke uses the man’s answer as an entrée point to the Good Samaritan. Deucedly clever! However, the key aspect about this story is that only Matthew and Luke say that the man was a lawyer. So here we have a very clear case where Luke agrees with Matthew against Mark. The Q mantra is that this never happens. So how to explain this situation where it does? The answer is: they don’t. They ignore these situations and pretend that they didn’t happen.
We should at least mention the 70/72. Here again is something that obviously dates from a time much later than Jesus. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have stories about the sending of the Twelve; Luke alone has the Seventy. Why? As discussed, this serves two purposes. Perhaps the most important is that it allows Jesus’ direct disciples to cover a lot more ground than the Twelve could have done. As such, it allows all the different Christian communities scattered throughout much of the Mediterranean basin to imagine, to believe, that their community was, indeed, founded by a direct disciple of Jesus. The historical context here is doubtless key. As Acts proves beyond doubt, the story of Paul had become part of the background knowledge of an evangelist–assuming the identity of authorship of Luke and Acts. As such, there was likely to be greater scrutiny of who was saying what; recall Paul’s “different gospel”. As such, being able to trace one’s lineage back to the Mayflower, or to the Conqueror. This is important because it allows the disparate communities to have a sense of cohesion, that they are all the same group, that they share a common belief system. As the network of communities grew, and as they became aware of one another, this sense of unity would be desirable from both human and doctrinal standpoints. In addition, we have yet another occurrence of the need to dispense with Jewish dietary laws. Upon being sent out, they are told to “eat whatever is put in front of you”; IOW, if they serve you pork, eat it. We’ve come across three or four of these so far, and there will be at least one more in Acts. Giving permission to ignore this aspect of Judaism was very important for the early proto-Christian and Christian communities. Too strict an insistence on maintaining them would have greatly restricted the spread of the new religion. Indeed Paul had figured this out by the time he wrote Galatians. And yet, other subsequent writers felt the need to include their own version of Jesus giving the OK for this. Very important, indeed.
Finally there is the story of Martha and Mariam. As with the injunction about eating, we have a post-Jesus approval of women taking an active interest in matters of doctrine. Jesus himself reproves Martha’s remonstrance against her sister’s un-womanly behavior. This I think is an indication of the importance of the role women had assumed by the time Luke wrote. Otherwise, there would be no need for such an ex post facto from Jesus. The time when Luke is writing is perhaps an especially fluid time, the point where the forward momentum of the movement was creating a sense of how widespread the acceptance of Jesus had become–hence the 70–but it was before a true hierarchy had settled in and taken control. That would come in the next few decades.
For the most part, this chapter consists of material we have found in both of the other two gospels. Ergo, and a priori, it is part of the so-called “Triple Tradition”. This gives us a chance to look at the way each of them handled each story, and see what was said and not said by whom.
There is one part of this that is unique to Luke. It’s very brief, covered in the commentary to Verses 1-3. It concerns the women who followed Jesus. Mary the Magdalene, or Mary called the Magdalene as Luke puts it, is common to all three. Or actually to all four gospels, since John mentions her as well. Luke has two unique aspects specifically about Mary M. First, we are told that Jesus expelled seven demons from her. No one else mentions this. As such, this seems to be another great example of how the story grew. I would even be willing to infer that there is a complete story behind this little tidbit, the tale of how Jesus encountered Mary and describing the specifics of her possession and the circumstances under which Jesus cured her. Luke encountered–or possibly created–this story but chose not to include the whole thing; rather, he was satisfied with adding the most important part. The existence of this additional detail, and the possible existence of the story behind it, ties in with the other thing that Luke adds to the account of Mary M. Against the other two, Luke introduces Mary M much earlier in the narrative than any of the other evangelists. In Mark and Matthew, we do not meet her until the crucifixion scene. This, in turn, ties in with something Luke omits: that Mary M and the women were followers of Jesus in Galilee, and that they had (presumably) come to Jerusalem with Jesus.
This is a fascinating glimpse into the way the character (as in, dramatis persona) of the Magdalene is developing. In 2M, she pops up only at the end, as part of the Passion narrative. I suspect she is the reason that the young man in white in the empty tomb tells Mary and the disciples to return to Galilee: she will take care of them there. I would not be surprised to learn that, in some way, responsible for the creation of the Passion narrative. By introducing her early, and hinting that there were other stories to be told about her, Luke is sort of cutting her loose from being limited to a minor role (but not really that minor, either; Jesus appeared to her first) at the end. Her role is expanding, people are making up stories about her, and she is, overall, just becoming more prominent. This is how and why she ended up a prostitute: because people made up stories. She has become more a part of the story, albeit still in a fairly peripheral fashion. She will go on to become a major figure in Roman Catholic tradition; she is so much a part of the cultural landscape that “Magdalene” is recognized by spellcheck. However, the negative aspect of this particular part of her story was designed, in large part, to take her down a notch or two. Or three. Rather than being a financial supporter, and so someone of rank, she was downgraded to being a prostitute.
One of the other stories in the chapter is that of Jesus calming the storm. There is one aspect of this that needs to be emphasized. Much of the “argument” for Q is that Luke never agrees with Matthew against Mark. Well, in the three versions of the storm, we have a very clear example of exactly that: Luke telling the same story as Matthew. Granted, it’s a negative agreement, based on an omission, but I’d like to hear an argument for why this doesn’t count. In Mark, the terrified disciples ask Jesus, “do you not care if we are perishing?”. Matthew left this out, and so did Luke. That is an agreement between the latter two against Mark. I somehow suspect that the Q people would vehemently object to this, but then they somehow miss the fact that Matthew and Luke–against Mark–agree on Joseph and Bethlehem and the angel announcing Jesus’ coming birth and, well all of the so-called Q material. But this latter doesn’t count, for whatever reason.
Luke also radically changed the context and timing of the “who are my mother and brothers?” pericope. This–and many other such placements–amply demonstrates that Luke was not particularly particular about how he re-arranged the text of his predecessors.
There are three other stories in this chapter, and all three of them are part of the Triple Tradition. The stories are that of the Gerasene demonaics, the Jairus/Bleeding Woman diptych, and the Parable of the Sower. Two are miracle stories and the other is a parable; however, I believe they should be considered together along with the Calming of the Storm. We touched on this latter briefly above, but it is worth a bit more examination in the way that it fits in the chapter. The Q people would have you believe that stuff like the Sermon on the Mount is the actual real, official, traces back to Jesus material of the gospels. Given that there is no evidence of Q, I find this hard to accept. Rather, I would suggest that these four stories represent the oldest stratum of material in the gospels. It only makes sense, given that they are found in Mark whereas the Sermon on the Mount is not. Plain logic suggests that the oldest gospel written is most likely to have the oldest material, but the Q people seem to disagree with this premise.
Note that three of these are miracle stories. They also share the common feature that the disciples are either more or less non-existent or only serve as stage props. They have virtually no role in the Gerasene adventure; in the story of the Bleeding Woman/Jairus they exist only so one of the disciples can say that it would be impossible to tell who it was that touched Jesus in the crowd; in the Calming of the Storm they are the witless fools scared for their lives and lacking faith. In the Parable of the Sower, their participation is to act as the straight men who ask Jesus to explain what the parable means. This sort of behaviour and portrayal fits with the overall pattern of the way Mark treats the disciples throughout his gospel; it has been retained by Matthew and Luke. Throughout this commentary, I have been highly skeptical of the Twelve, and these episodes reinforce that skepticism. Mark can barely find employment even for Peter, James, and John, while Matthew and Andrew show up for their calling. The rest are only names, with the exception of Judas who appears in the Passion Story, which was a later addition to the gospel; as such, it would seem logical that he was a later addition to the story.
All of this, in turn, indicates that these stories form the core of the earliest narrative about Jesus, or that they were among the earliest stories repeated about Jesus. It it significant that they also portray Jesus as a wonder worker in three of the four. Here we come to an interesting dichotomy. Our earliest source, Paul, says nothing of miracle performed by Jesus; indeed, he suggests that performing miracles was not an uncommon gift, along with prophesy and speaking in tongues. Nor does Paul do more than mention Jesus’ teachings. Yet, the earliest popular stories about Jesus portray him differently, as a wonder-worker who talked about the Kingdom of God, or of Heaven, or of the heavens. I would suggest that the Christ tradition of Paul is largely theological, while the wonder-worker tradition of the miracles is more popular, intended to reach more of a mass audience. These two different views of Jesus are not mutually exclusive, but neither is the overlap is not immediately obvious. For Paul, it was the Resurrection that made Jesus into the Christ, which is what made him significant. For the Mark, it was largely Jesus’ miracles that made him significant, and the miracles are strung together until sometime in Chapter 7/8/9 when Mark transitions to speaking of Jesus as the Christ. This dissection of Mark is not completely clean and not nearly as clear-cut as I may seem to be suggesting, but it is the overall pattern. If you count word occurrences, the pattern becomes pretty clear; different sets of words that represent themes, are used in the first part of the gospel than are used in the latter part.
Perhaps the aspect of this that should be most noted is that neither Matthew nor Luke radically alter this perception of Jesus in these four stories that we are discussing. Jesus and the disciples are portrayed by the latter two much as they are by Mark. This is evidence for a very strong tradition about Jesus as a wonder worker. Rather than downplay it, the gospels emphasize Jesus’ ability to perform miracles. This has led to a whole lot of discussion that the miracles are the demonstration, the proof that Jesus is divine. He can contravene the laws of nature. In this, he is really no different from earlier prophets like Elijah who also raised the dead; rather than qualitative, the difference between Jesus and these earlier prophets is quantitative. Jesus performed a lot of miracles. Even John retained (or invented) nine miracle stories. In my analysis of Mark, I said that he wove the different stories into a (mostly) coherent skein. It could also be said that he began the welding of the two traditions, wonder worker and Christ, into a single whole. Matthew and Luke continue the process, but they create a framework that puts the miracles more directly in the context of Jesus’ divinity: both Matthew and Luke start with a story of a divinely-ordained and divine birth that tells us from the start who Jesus is. Once this is established, they retain the wonder-worker tradition, but put more emphasis on the Christ. This trend is culminated by John, who starts by telling us that Jesus was the Logos, and it was with God from the beginning.
One implication of this two-fold tradition becomes manifest when it’s set out like this. While Paul may be our earliest written source, we have to ask if he represents the earlier tradition. I’m not sure that we can make that assumption, or draw that inference. That is something to be considered as we proceed.
This next passage is the Parable of the Sower. The original intent was to take the whole thing, parable and explanation in a single chunk straight through. This seemed reasonable since we’ve been through it twice already, so it seemed that, barring any unexpected deviations from the other two, the content of the story should not require much comment. Indeed, since we’ve been through it a couple of times, I thought I’d be hard-pressed to think of anything new and exciting to say about this. Cooler heads have prevailed and it’s been split into Parable and then Explanation.
I determined on this course before reading the passage below; for better or for worse, that is my chosen approach. The idea is to look at these stories and passages with eyes as fresh as possible. That way, I can–with luck–not simply see what has been seen for the past several centuries. So much of NT “scholarship” is sclerotic; conventions have been settled, translations have been chosen, and words are taken for granted. This is not how scholarship should work. The text has to be mined, repeatedly. With Greek history, much of the academic debate focuses on what the text actually says; Thucydides is the best/worst example of this, and scholars continue to go over each word looking for fresh insights. And this continued contention is good. We all know about angels and baptism and salvation, so we decided, a long, very long, time ago that the evangelists used the words as we do today. This is simply and horribly wrong, a very bad method for reading any text.
So the original approach seemed all well and good; however, like so much theory, it didn’t survive contact with reality. Some new aspects have presented themselves. Overall, what I am finding is that having Luke as the third point really allows me to define the plane in a way not possible with just a comparison between Mark and Matthew. With three texts, triangulation becomes possible. Differences between the three stand out in much sharper relief.
So, let’s not make a short passage longer and go straight to the
4 Συνιόντος δὲ ὄχλου πολλοῦ καὶ τῶν κατὰ πόλιν ἐπιπορευομένων πρὸς αὐτὸν εἶπεν διὰ παραβολῆς,
5 Ἐξῆλθεν ὁ σπείρων τοῦ σπεῖραι τὸν σπόρον αὐτοῦ. καὶ ἐν τῷ σπείρειν αὐτὸν ὃ μὲν ἔπεσεν παρὰ τὴν ὁδόν, καὶ κατεπατήθη καὶ τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ κατέφαγεν αὐτό.
6 καὶ ἕτερον κατέπεσεν ἐπὶ τὴν πέτραν, καὶ φυὲν ἐξηράνθη διὰ τὸ μὴ ἔχειν ἰκμάδα.
7 καὶ ἕτερον ἔπεσεν ἐν μέσῳ τῶν ἀκανθῶν, καὶ συμφυεῖσαι αἱ ἄκανθαι ἀπέπνιξαν αὐτό.
8 καὶ ἕτερον ἔπεσεν εἰς τὴν γῆν τὴν ἀγαθήν, καὶ φυὲν ἐποίησεν καρπὸν ἑκατονταπλασίονα. ταῦτα λέγων ἐφώνει, Ὁ ἔχων ὦτα ἀκούειν ἀκουέτω.
A large crowd and those having traveled into the city towards him he spoke through a parable, (5) Went out a sower of seed with his seeds. And some fell upon the road, and it was trod under and the birds of the heaven ate it. (6) And other fell upon the rocks, and grew it was withered because it did not have moisture. (7) And other fell in the middle of the acanthus, and it grew and the thorns strangled it. (8) And other fell on the good soil, and grew it made fruit one hundredfold. Having said these things, he spoke “The one having ears to hear, let him hear.”
That is the basic story. The interesting thing about it is the comparison. This is the shortest version; Mark’s is the longest. IOW, this runs contrary to what I’ve been saying about how legends grow over time. This one appears to be shrinking. What’s up with that? Am I wrong? Well, more wrong than usual?
It comes down to “always” and “never”. Never say always; alway avoid never. Almost nothing about human experience is binary, yes-or-no, black-or-white. If you’ll recall, Matthew’s version of the Gerasene demoniac was also shorter than Mark’s version. What we are witnessing is, I believe, the expectation that the reader would be familiar with, or have reference to the long version available in Mark. Neither Matthew nor Luke saw the need to repeat verbatim a story that had been told elsewhere. And this gets back to the issue of “why does one write a gospel?” Or even more, “why does one write a second/third gospel?” My theory about Mark is that he wrote in reaction to the fall of Jerusalem. An important–the important–centre of the proto-Christian world had been obliterated and the traditions started to fragment, or the fragmentation was growing worse. Mark sought to step into that breach and pull some of the most important aspects of the tradition into a united source. Mostly he succeeded, and marvelously, even if the seams do show. That can’t always be helped. Mark, as I see him, was more journalist than literary figure.
What has been eliminated, both by Matthew and Luke are some of the incidental details, like the plants withering because they lacked moisture because of the sun. Blaming the sun is a tad redundant; it can be assumed. Matthew drops some of these, Luke some more. For example, both Mark and Matthew say that the good soil yielded 100, 60, or 30. Luke leaves it at one hundred. The other two numbers don’t add that much of significance. One last point: Matthew says that Jesus left his house to begin this parable; this would mean that he had moved to Caphernaum, which Matthew states explicitly. Luke rejects this move, telling us just as explicitly that Jesus lived in Nazareth, sounding for all the world like he is correcting Matthew. So Jesus cannot leave his house and to to the seaside because Nazareth is not on the Sea of Galilee, while Caphernaum is.
Then there’s Matthew. We see that his versions of this story and the Gerasene demoniac (and probably others) are shorter than Mark’s. But we also see that his version of the Temptations of Jesus is longer than Mark’s. Why the apparent contradiction? Because it’s more apparent than contradiction. Matthew added material to Mark when he had material to add (the source of the material to be discussed separately; Q is a valid discussion). When he didn’t, he either maintained or shortened what he found in Mark. The salient point about this subtraction is why? My impulse is, as suggested above, that Matthew expected that his audience knew of Mark, and so repeating certain things was, as he knew, redundant. If this is correct, it gives us insight into Luke as well. Luke omitted parts of Matthew, as well as parts of Mark because he knew they had been covered elsewhere. So Luke provides an alternative because he knew what was in both Mark and Matthew.
Of course, this cannot be “proven”. Almost nothing about the NT can be “proven” in any way that the hard sciences or a court of law would recognise as “proof”. This statement is true about historical research in general, especially when discussing history before the 19th Century, becoming increasingly true the farther one goes back. We can say that the NT was written of course, but we cannot with any solid confidence say when or by whom it was written. Sometime between 70 and 120 seems reasonable, but that’s a mighty big span of time, like saying something was written between 1910 and 1960. A lot of stuff happened in the interim; however, the pace of change was much slower in the ancient world. In any case, history becomes a question of which set of probabilities seems the most likely. To me, it makes more sense that Luke shortened this story as much as he did because he knew about the other two versions. Now, Luke will add material to the triple tradition (the Synoptic material, in M/M/L); see the calling of the first disciples, with the addition of the Miraculous Catch of Fish.
The other thing I’m starting to suspect about triple tradition material is that it has the most potential to be something that can trace back to Jesus. This story is a perfect example. I think there is a greater likelihood that Jesus told this parable than that he gave the Sermon on the Mount. A much greater likelihood, in fact. One of the things we have to face is the possibility that Jesus was not the teacher that we believe he was, that he didn’t give speeches like the Sermon on the Mount. We have to face the possibility that Mark’s Jesus is much closer to the real thing than Matthew’s is, and that by the time of Luke all the new stuff is pretty much fiction that we can’t use to triangulate the “truth” about the historical Jesus. Always, always, always recall that Paul said almost nothing about Jesus as a teacher, focusing almost entirely on Jesus as the Christ who had been raised from the dead. If you start from that place, the additions of Matthew and then Luke seem pretty clearly to be later additions; then, since the additions of Matthew and Luke are just that, the point of Q is largely lost.
The last injunction about letting those with eyes/ears see/understand I think gets dismissed too readily as pro-forma. I say that because I have pretty much dismissed it a pro-forma until about a minute ago. If we take this in the context of Christian thinking, perhaps it is pro-forma; however, if we look at it from a proto-Gnostic perspective, it may take on a different set of implications. It may help that I’ve been translating something called Poimandres, the Shepherd of Men/Humans. It is now classified as a Gnostic text, and it probably dates to the mid Second Century, perhaps eight or nine decades after Mark. I mention this because there are several strains of thought that have become explicit in that text that were only implicit in Mark. It’s also interesting to note that this was taken as a legitimate bit of Christian writing for a while; obviously, it never made the cut to canonical status, but a number of Second and possibly even Third Century Christian thinkers accepted it as orthodox. The injunctions that Jesus speaks are eminently Gnostic in approach; or perhaps better to say they were taken up wholly by later Gnostics. What are they, after all, but admonitions to learn, actually to see what is before us, and to understand what we hear. The technical term for this is “paying attention”, or perhaps “learning”. And what do we learn? Knowledge. And what does Gnosis mean? Knowledge.
Now in a strictly Christian setting, these injunctions can be explained in completely orthodox fashion. After all, “Narrow is the gate” that leads to the kingdom. Not all will make it. Some would, and have, said that most, in fact, will not make it through the gate. Why? Because they did not learn the lessons Jesus taught them. They did not actually see, nor did they understand what they heard. So Jesus’ words here watered what became two very different traditions; or are they so different? That is the point I’m trying to make here. A shade here, a shade there, and two can start from the same point–let him with ears understand–and end up in rather different places, whether the kingdom of God or Enlightenment, for want of a better term. And then we have additional implications. The message of the Gospel of Thomas is very clearly Gnostic, rather than Christian. Regarding this, it must be kept in mind that this separation really did not exist in the First Century; it only came into being in the Second. And here is where historical training pays off, because it looks at concepts diachronically, through time and as they develop. Textual analysis tends not to pay attention to this development through time of the content of the text. This is why I do not, and cannot, accept a date in the First Century for the Gospel of Thomas; this is has implications for Q; The discovery of Thomas was seen as a huge victory for the Q position, since it demonstrated the existence of a sayings gospel of the sort that Q was purported to be. By pushing the date of Thomas back to the 50s of the First Century, it could be claimed that Thomas proved that a gospel like Q could have existed in the 50s; it showed that the first gospels were, in fact, sayings gospels rather than narrative gospels like Mark. Unfortunately for the Q position, a date anywhere in the First Century for Thomas is unsustainable on the grounds of content. Just as the Q proponents ignore the content of stories–does the healing of the centurion’s slave really fit in the 30s?–so they ignore the content of Thomas when assigning dates–is such a fully developed Gnostic attitude possible in the First Century? In my opinion, the answer to both is “No”. A resounding “No”.
4 Cum autem turba plurima conveniret, et de singulis civitatibus properarent ad eum, dixit per similitudinem:
5 “Exiit, qui seminat, seminare semen suum. Et dum seminat ipse, aliud cecidit secus viam et conculcatum est, et volucres caeli comederunt illud.
6 Et aliud cecidit super petram et natum aruit, quia non habebat umorem.
7 Et aliud cecidit inter spinas, et simul exortae spinae suffocaverunt illud.
8 Et aliud cecidit in terram bonam et ortum fecit fructum centuplum”. Haec dicens clamabat: “Qui habet aures audiendi, audiat”.