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Luke Chapter 20: 1-8

Verse 9 takes us into a long story, so we’ll start with a short piece. Recall that Chapter 19 left us with a very brief version of the Cleansing of the Temple. We are still in the Temple, or perhaps in the Temple again. To me, this is the biggest problem I have with the story of the Cleansing. Why in the world would the Temple authorities not have arrested Jesus when it happened in the first place? And second, does it make any sense to believe that they would allow Jesus to return, whether the next day, as Mark says, or especially to remain after the ruckus, as Matthew says? It simply doesn’t. The excuse is that they were afraid of the crowd. Well, in two days’ time, they will arrest Jesus and have him executed, and the crowd is all in favor. So that doesn’t fly, either. Yes, the arrest was at night, but the crowd filling Pilate’s courtyard was pretty rabid about demanding crucifixion. This just doesn’t add up. And recall, Herod was supposedly afraid to arrest John because of the crowd, but that did not prevent Herod from having John beheaded. Mind that thought; it will appear below.


1 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν μιᾷ τῶν ἡμερῶν διδάσκοντος αὐτοῦ τὸν λαὸν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ καὶ εὐαγγελιζομένου ἐπέστησαν οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς σὺν τοῖς πρεσβυτέροις,

And it happened one of those days he was teaching the people in the Temple, and good-newsing (them), the high priests and the scribes together with the elders stood against him.

A couple of things, quickly; I dislike interrupting in the middle of a sentence. Note, Luke says “one of those days”; this refers, I believe, to the interlude between the Cleansing and the Arrest. The novelist is setting the stage. Note that Jesus is teaching in the Temple; the “good-newsing” is an obnoxiously over-literal translation of ‘evangelizing’. But, I do feel it’s important to remember the Greek roots of what is being said. To us, ‘evangelize’ means to preach a religious message, whereas the Greek is “spreading the good news”. One can debate the overlap in terms, but there is a difference in tone and implication. The Greek is much more neutral, having no real religious connotations as it does for us. It certainly does not imply to “preach the gospel”, which is how the ESV and the NASB and the KJV render this. The NIV translates more literally as “proclaiming the good news”. That’s really the best of the four translations of this phrase. For Greek geeks, the bulk of the sentence, starting after << ἡμερῶν >> and ending with << οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς >> is a genitive absolute. This is sort of a prepositional phrase, or probably more generally just a subordinate clause that has no real grammatical connexion to the main clause. We could remove the whole clause and just say “one of those days the high priests stood against Jesus” without damaging the grammar of the whole sentence. So when you’re reading along and you come to a string of words in the genitive case, chances are this is what you’re dealing with. Latin does the same thing, but uses the ablative. Finally, “stood against”. The NT Greek lexicon says the base meaning is “to come”, as in “came to him”, or “came up to him”. This blunts the implication of the original too much, IMO. The root word is “to stand”, here with the prefix “epi”/<<ἐπἱ >>, the iota changing to an epsilon << ἐπέ >> because of the way the aorist is formed. Really, in Greek, the base is “to set/place upon”. One stands the statue on the mantle, as it were. But there is also the meaning of “to stand against”, as in “to challenge”, or, as the NASB says, “to confront” him. That gives us the best sense of the Greek, bringing across the sense of hostility implied in the original.

1 Et factum est in una dierum, docente illo populum in tem plo et evangelizante, supervenerunt principes sacerdotum et scribae cum senioribus 

1 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν μιᾷ τῶν ἡμερῶν διδάσκοντος αὐτοῦ τὸν λαὸν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ καὶ εὐαγγελιζομένου ἐπέστησαν οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς σὺν τοῖς πρεσβυτέροις,

2 καὶ εἶπαν λέγοντες πρὸς αὐτόν, Εἰπὸν ἡμῖν ἐν ποίᾳ ἐξουσίᾳ ταῦτα ποιεῖς, ἢ τίς ἐστιν ὁ δούς σοι τὴν ἐξουσίαν ταύτην.

3 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, Ἐρωτήσω ὑμᾶς κἀγὼ λόγον, καὶ εἴπατέ μοι:

4 Τὸ βάπτισμα Ἰωάννου ἐξ οὐρανοῦ ἦν ἢ ἐξ ἀνθρώπων;

5 οἱ δὲ συνελογίσαντο πρὸς ἑαυτοὺς λέγοντες ὅτι Ἐὰν εἴπωμεν, Ἐξ οὐρανοῦ, ἐρεῖ, Διὰ τί οὐκ ἐπιστεύσατε αὐτῷ;

6 ἐὰν δὲ εἴπωμεν, Ἐξ ἀνθρώπων, ὁ λαὸς ἅπας καταλιθάσει ἡμᾶς, πεπεισμένος γάρ ἐστιν Ἰωάννην προφήτην εἶναι.

7 καὶ ἀπεκρίθησαν μὴ εἰδέναι πόθεν.

8 καὶ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Οὐδὲ ἐγὼ λέγω ὑμῖν ἐν ποίᾳ ἐξουσίᾳ ταῦτα ποιῶ. 

(Repeating Verse 1 for continuity) And it happened one of those days he was teaching the people in the Temple, and good-newsing (them), the high priests and the scribes together with the elders stood against him. (2) And speaking, they said to him, “Tell us in which authority you do these things, or who is it giving you this power.” (3) Answering, he said to them, “And I will ask you for an explanation, and tell me. (4) Was the dunking of John (the Baptist), was he from heaven or from men?” (5) They consulted together amongst themselves, saying that, “if we say ‘from heaven’, he will say, ‘On what account did you not believe him?’ (6) If we say, ‘From men’, the whole people will stone us, for they have been persuaded that John was a prophet”. (7) And they answered him, “We do not know from whence”. (8) And Jesus said to them, “Nor will I say to you in what sort of power I do these things.”

I have to admit being a bit confused by this. Of course Jesus has succeeded in hooking them on the horns of a dilemma; they’re damned if they say ‘heaven’ and damned if they say ‘of men’. But why are they damned for the latter? They say that the latter response will get them stoned because the people believe he was a prophet. By way of transitive* property, the conclusion is that prophets come from men. This strikes me as a bit odd. My understanding is that the force of a prophet derives from the fact that he was sent by God, and did not arise from men. Isaiah is very clear about this, that he was called directly by God. As was the case with Samuel, too.

Regardless, the most interesting point is not the origin of prophets, but the sleight of hand being pulled here. What the evangelists have done with this passage is use it to link Jesus with John the Baptist. As I have stated repeatedly, far from playing the connexion of Jesus to John, due to the implicit implication that John had the superior position which allowed him to ‘delegate’ Jesus, the early followers of Jesus went to lengths to emphasize that connexion. Why? Because it tied Jesus to the ancient and respected tradition of Judaism. Remember: in antiquity, novelty was a bad thing. The old stuff was the good stuff. Eusebios spends the first twenty or thirty pages of his long book “proving” that the Christ was an ancient concept, and that even the name Jesus was anticipated when Moses delegated Jesus as his successor. Jesus then fought the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down. In short Jesus is the Graeco-Latin form of the name that got anglicized as Joshua. We call him Jesus to separate him from all others with this name, and English-speakers don’t bestow the name Jesus qua Jesus. Joshua is certainly common, but I’ve never encountered a Jesus who was not Hispanic. And one of the criticisms that Hippolytus Romanus throws at the Gnostics is that they are “novel”. The term is used as an insult. It belittles the Gnostics. So here we have Jesus showing himself as part of the tradition that produced John, who was firmly Jewish.

I just had a bit of an epiphany (a showing upon). By constructing the logical chain about prophets being from men, and then stating that John was a prophet, the evangelists have very cleverly set up a distinction between John and Jesus. John was from men. He was a prophet. Jesus, OTOH, we are to conclude, was from God. It’s one of those little advertising tricks where fresher breath and a bigger car are the equivalent of being happier. And it’s no less powerful, IMO, for being stated so subtly. In fact, it may be more powerful because it is so subtle. It does not stand up against us and so confront us directly, so that we can assess the value or merit of the claim. Rather, it slips in from the side, unseen and so unchallenged. It’s like two knights in mail fighting with broadswords, which are big and heavy and obvious. But then one of them uses a slender stiletto to slip inside one of the rings of the chain mail. (This was what a stiletto, a slender, round blade, was designed to do.) Because we do not see the stiletto coming, we don’t defend against us, and before we realize it’s lodged in our heart, or some vital organ, and we’re done in by the puncture. When you read enough philosophy, or any sort of argument constructed by words, rhetorical tricks like this become a bit more noticeable. Which, in turn, is the point of a liberal arts education: to recognize when someone is trying to pull the wool over our collective eyes.

Clever, no?

1 Et factum est in una dierum, docente illo populum in templo et evangelizante, supervenerunt principes sacerdotum et scribae cum senioribus 

2 et aiunt dicentes ad illum: “Dic nobis: In qua potestate haec facis, aut quis est qui dedit tibi hanc potestatem? ”. 

3 Respondens autem dixit ad illos: “Interrogabo vos et ego verbum; et dicite mihi: 

4 Baptismum Ioannis de caelo erat an ex hominibus?”. 

5 At illi cogitabant inter se dicentes: “Si dixerimus: “De caelo”, dicet: “Quare non credidistis illi?; 

6 si autem dixerimus: “Ex hominibus”, plebs universa lapidabit nos; certi sunt enim Ioannem prophetam esse”. 

7 Et responderunt se nescire unde esset. 

8 Et Iesus ait illis: “Neque ego dico vobis in qua potestate haec facio”.

*Transitive property: if a=b, and b=c, then a=c. If we say ‘of men’ we will be stoned because people believe John was a prophet. People believe John was a prophet. Therefore, prophets are ‘of men’. There are a couple of other ways this could be diagrammed logically, but I think this one holds well enough.

Luke Chapter 8:40-48

Jesus and crew have left the land of the Gerasenes and returned to the shore of the lake, presumably around Caphernaum. This seems to be Jesus’ home-base, even in Luke, who does not tell us that Jesus moved there. Even so, Luke can’t really disguise the fact that the action takes place in and around the Sea of Galilee, and this means Capheraum, which is situated on the northern shore of the lake.This will take us into the stories of the Bleeding Woman, and the daughter of Jairus, the synagogue official. One point that I added to the bottom of my last post is that it appears that the land of the Gerasenes/Gadarenes is at the opposite end of the Sea of Galilee. The lake is long and narrow, running north and south. Caphernaum is on the north shore; Gadara, apparently, was situated on the southern side. Not only that, it’s some way off, perhaps even several miles, the shore of the lake. But, not sure how significant that really is, so I suppose we should get on with the


40 Ἐν δὲ τῷ ὑποστρέφειν τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἀπεδέξατο αὐτὸν ὁ ὄχλος, ἦσαν γὰρ πάντες προσδοκῶντες αὐτόν.

Upon his return (from the land of the Gerasenes), the crowd received Jesus, for all were expecting him.  

This is worthy of a comment, I believe. Why would they be expecting him, and so waiting for him? Here is where the length of the trip to Gadara becomes a bit more relevant. How long would it take to sail from one end to the other? A map I found says it’s 21 km long; that’s a bit over ten miles. According to one website, the speed of a modern sailing cruiser is about 7 knots (=nautical miles, = 1.15 statute/land miles). I once sailed from Olcott, NY to Youngstown, NY, at the mouth of the Niagara river, and I’m pretty sure we were hitting about 10 knots. I remember this because the skipper was extremely pleased at the speed his boat was making, but that was perhaps a faster-than-average boat. Anyway, even at five knots, a 10-12 mile trip could be done in two hours. This means Jesus could have embarked from Caphernaum in the morning, sailed to Gadara, expelled Legion, and easily have been back by the late afternoon, with time to spare. So if folks saw him set out in the morning, it would not have been unusual for them to expect him back by nightfall. Why does this matter? It really doesn’t in any truly significant way, but it’s interesting to note that it is within the realm of probability, unlike Mark Chapter 3 when Jesus’ family walks twenty miles from Nazareth to take him home from Caphernaum. This, I suspect, is part of the reason that people suppose Mark wasn’t familiar with the geography of Galilee, although this episode is entirely possible if Jesus & family actually lived in Caphernaum. It’s also interesting to note that only Luke has this little bit of the story. Does it imply that Luke was familiar with the geography of Galilee? That would be a reasonable conclusion, but it could also be something he picked up from his source. Or, he could have just included this without knowing whether or not it was possible. You see, it’s hard to draw firm conclusions from so much of this stuff.

FWIW: I found another map, and it appears that Gadara had a good harbor at the south end of the lake.

40 Cum autem rediret Iesus, excepit illum turba; erant enim omnes exspectantes eum.

41 καὶ ἰδοὺ ἦλθεν ἀνὴρ ᾧ ὄνομα Ἰάϊρος, καὶ οὗτος ἄρχων τῆς συναγωγῆς ὑπῆρχεν, καὶ πεσὼν παρὰ τοὺς πόδας [τοῦ] Ἰησοῦ παρεκάλει αὐτὸν εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ,

42 ὅτι θυγάτηρ μονογενὴς ἦν αὐτῷ ὡς ἐτῶν δώδεκα καὶ αὐτὴ ἀπέθνῃσκεν. Ἐν δὲ τῷ ὑπάγειν αὐτὸν οἱ ὄχλοι συνέπνιγον αὐτόν.

And look, there came a mane named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue was there, and falling beside his (Jesus’) feet he asked him to come to his home, (42) that his only-born daughter to him was as twelve years (old) and she was dying. In the leading him (in leading Jesus to Jairus’ home) the crow pressed him.  

This is interesting.  Luke invented the whole detail of the crowd waiting for Jesus; doing so filled two needs for the coming story. The first is to allow Jairus to be present; the second is to provide the crowd as the backdrop needed for the story of the Bleeding Woman. This is what I mean about Luke being a novelist; doing this he displays an economy of words that is a hallmark of a good storyteller, or of a good writer in general. 

Now, circling back to the bit about being able to sail from Gadara and back in a single day, we have the crowd. As mentioned, the trip to Gadara was most likely a two-to-three hour affair. As such, it’s possible to have done the trip and returned by the not-late afternoon; however, evening is more likely. And yet, this crowd does not seem to behave as if it were already evening. So the realism of the sailing time sort of goes out the window very quickly. This, I suppose, could be an example of the famous “editorial fatigue”, in which the person copying the story finds it too tiresome to continue with the editing/updating after a sentence or two. I mean, that quill, or stylus was soooooo heavy! The real implication, I think, is that the realism of the sailing time was more illusory than actual. Or perhaps “accidental” is the better term.

41 Et ecce venit vir, cui nomen Iairus, et ipse princeps synagogae erat, et cecidit ad pedes Iesu rogans eum, ut intraret in domum eius,

42 quia filia unica erat illi fere annorum duodecim, et haec moriebatur. Et dum iret, a turbis comprimebatur.

43 καὶ γυνὴ οὖσα ἐν ῥύσει αἵματος ἀπὸ ἐτῶν δώδεκα, ἥτις [ἰατροῖς προσαναλώσασα ὅλον τὸν βίον] οὐκ ἴσχυσεν ἀπ’ οὐδενὸς θεραπευθῆναι,

44 προσελθοῦσα ὄπισθεν ἥψατο τοῦ κρασπέδου τοῦ ἱματίου αὐτοῦ, καὶ παραχρῆμα ἔστη ἡ ῥύσις τοῦ αἵματος αὐτῆς.

And there was being a woman in a discharge of blood for twelve years, who, [having wasted her whole life on physicians] was not made strong (i.e., healthy) by anyone to be healed, (44) having come close she touched the hem of his robe, and immediately stopped (lit = ‘stood‘) the discharge of her blood. (or, ‘her discharge of blood‘; this would be more literal)

I’m largely stopping here to comment on the  bit in [brackets]. This part is in Mark, but not Matthew. And apparently it’s not in all mss traditions of Luke, which is what the brackets are meant to indicate. The KJV includes it as part of the text, as does the ESV, but the NASB and the NIV do not. That the KJV includes it probably indicates that the mss available at that time included the words. Indeed, the Vulgate below includes the bracketed phrase. That it was later suspected of being an interpolation is why mss traditions are so important, even if they are almost exclusively the province of specialists. That the Vulgate includes the phrase indicates that it crept in a long time ago. Some copyist was trying to align this version more closely with Mark’s version. The basic point, of course, is that human knowledge, or even the knowledge of pagan physicians who relied on pagan gods, could not compare to the power of the  the real God, as god had come to be defined in the Hebrew tradition. That being said, this is pretty much a straightforward story of a wonder-worker. Whether we like it or not, the early, non-Pauline, tradition of Jesus was that this is what he was. At least, that’s what Mark tells us. 

43 Et mulier quaedam erat in fluxu sanguinis ab annis duodecim, quae in medicos erogaverat omnem substantiam suam nec ab ullo potuit curari;

44 accessit retro et tetigit fimbriam vestimenti eius, et confestim stetit fluxus sanguinis eius.

45 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Τίς ὁ ἁψάμενός μου; ἀρνουμένων δὲ πάντων εἶπεν ὁ Πέτρος, Ἐπιστάτα, οἱ ὄχλοι συνέχουσίν σε καὶ ἀποθλίβουσιν.

And Jesus said, “Who is it who touched me?” (With) everyone denying, Peter said, “Overstander (master), the crowds hold you and press tightly on you”.

Need to stop for a couple of vocabulary notes. First, the word “Overstander”. That is a literal translation of the root word + prefix; although “stander-upon” might be even more literal. Luke uses this word a total of seven times, all of them in the gospel. No one else uses it. The other thing worth noting is that the Vulgate recognizes that this is not the usual “kyrios” or “despotes”, and provides rather an unusual word in “praeceptor”. This most commonly means “teacher”. So why the odd word? Of course, there’s no answer to that question.

The other word is the one rendered as “press”. I call this out because it’s part of the root of the word that is often translated as “persecution”. The “apo” prefix appears to add the sense of “tightly”. And I should point out that the Great Scott does give “persecute” as one of the meanings of the root “thlipsos”. However, the examples cited there do not quite get across the sense of a group being “persecuted” in the way that we conceive the word. Now, some of that may be historical; such persecutions for a set of beliefs was actually quite rare in the ancient world with its tendency towards syncretism. The prevailing attitude was that different peoples worshipped the same god, but used different names. Hence Tacitus says that the chief god of the Germania was Mercury, the closest Roman counterpart to Wotan/Woden/Odin. (There is a whole speculative literature on how Wotan supplanted Donner/ Thor as the chief god. Thor was, after all, the sky god, the wielder of thunder the was Zeus did.) This is part of the reason that I have trouble believing that the persecutions of Christians–as we understand the concept–was anything widespread or systemic, and it was largely done on political, rather than religious, grounds; however, trying to separate those terms in the first few centuries of the Common Era is horribly anachronistic. The aspect to bear in mind is that such persecution as Christians faced was due to their refusal to participate in the emperor cult. This, in turn, was held to be more akin to treason than to religious dissent, although Christians were accused of atheism from time to time. So much depends on reference and perspective.

45 Et ait Iesus: “Quis est, qui me tetigit? ”. Negantibus autem omnibus, dixit Petrus: “Praeceptor, turbae te comprimunt et affligunt”.

46 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν, Ηψατό μού τις, ἐγὼ γὰρ ἔγνων δύναμιν ἐξεληλυθυῖαν ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ.

But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I felt the power go out of me.” 

This has always fascinated me. The power acted independently of Jesus’ will to use it. The power acted of its own accord. What does that mean? How do we interpret this statement? In my hardly exhaustive search of the various commentaries at BibleHub I found a marvelous dancing around in the discussion–or lack thereof–of this part of the verse. Obviously, this story and that of Jairus are examples of the faith that can move mountains, but this little detail hints at something else. To me, it says that the power is somehow a separate entity from Jesus. This, in turn, makes Jesus an agent of God, rather than God himself. It has been argued, at least from the time of Calvin, that Jesus knew, and willed, the power to go out of him because he knew the woman was about to touch him; there is a certain logic behind this, but that’s not what the text says. Of course, what it says and what it means are not always the same thing, either. But to me, this wording  hints at the Adoptionism that is often lurking just beneath the surface of Mark’s narrative.

Now, that Luke left this part in the story is the sort of thing that a Q proponent should be raising to support the case that Luke was unaware of Matthew. After all, the latter removed this from his version, as well as making his version significantly shorter than Mark’s, and still shorter than Luke’s version. I suggested that Matthew took this out for more or less the reasons I’ve suggested: that it was a bad look, it carries implications that don’t sit well ir Jesus was God from before the time of his human conception. As such, Matthew took the proper course by removing this from his story. And you know, if the Q people posed this argument, I would have some trouble in refuting it because it does not seem consistent with Jesus’ thoroughgoing divinity. But the Q people don’t present this as an argument. Instead, they tout the “masterful arrangement” of Matthew and claim that only a fool or a madman would mangle this arrangement. That is not an argument. And it’s not even valid, since it poses a false dichotomy that there can’t be other reasons for rearranging the material.

46 At dixit Iesus: “ Tetigit me aliquis; nam et ego novi virtutem de me exisse”.

47 ἰδοῦσα δὲ ἡ γυνὴ ὅτι οὐκ ἔλαθεν τρέμουσα ἦλθεν καὶ προσπεσοῦσα αὐτῷ δι’ ἣν αἰτίαν ἥψατο αὐτοῦ ἀπήγγειλεν ἐνώπιον παντὸς τοῦ λαοῦ καὶ ὡς ἰάθη παραχρῆμα.

48 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῇ, Θυγάτηρ, ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε: πορεύου εἰς εἰρήνην.

The woman seeing that she did not escape notice, trembling, came and fell before him to tell through which cause she touched him before the whole people how she had been healed immediately. (48) And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you, go forth in peace”.

Notice the difference in vocabulary between what Jesus says and what the woman says. The latter says she was healed immediately; Jesus says her faith has saved her. This goes back to the meaning of “saved” in the NT. Of course, for later Christians, saved has a very specific meaning. And fact, the most common translation of this is not “saved”, but “healed” or “made you well”. Why is that? I’ve been reading a lot more pagan Greek lately, and the word here, “sōzō” << σωζω >> which means “to save”, almost always means “to save one’s life”. That is obviously the meaning here; the question is when is it appropriate to take it in the later Christian sense of being “saved”. What are the clues? What is the context? I do not think this has been fully worked out, just as the clues and context for translated “psyche” as “soul” rather than “physical life” have truly been defined. Rather, the instances have been determined, and agreed upon, but it’s very much on an “everyone knows/agrees” basis. To complicate this question further, the Vulgate below choses “salvam“, “saved”. So what does that tell us about the underlying Greek word? Probably it tells us that the Latin word is just about as ambiguous–from our 21st Century perspective–as it’s Greek counterpart.

As a final note, the last verse has garnered some attention as being slightly unusual. Supposedly this is the only instance in which someone is addressed as “daughter”. This would make me wonder if the term was coming into use in later Christian communities as they were growing hierarchical. It’s not a huge thing, but it anything unusual is worth noting. All the same, we need to bear in mind that Luke is one for unusual vocabulary. The bit about going in peace, however, has a slightly different twist. The word is used many times in the NT, starting with Paul. But, it is used exactly once by Mark, and it’s in the context of this story. So the question becomes, can we take that unusual word in Mark as perhaps indicating that this expression did, in fact, go back to Jesus? We can never be sure of this, but we can be sure–reasonably so, at least–that it was an old part of the story, imbedded as it was in the account that Mark heard and repeated, and that Luke retained where Matthew did not; Matthew retained the use of “daughter” as a form of address, but he left out the injunction that she go in peace. Why Luke and not Matthew? We will never know Luke’s reasons for doing so. Perhaps he felt it may have been spoken by Jesus. Recall that Luke was definitely aware of Paul and his career, which we cannot say about Matthew. Did Luke’s familiarity make this word resonate? 

47 Videns autem mulier quia non latuit, tremens venit et procidit ante eum et ob quam causam tetigerit eum indicavit coram omni populo et quemadmodum confestim sanata sit.

48 At ipse dixit illi: “Filia, fides tua te salvam fecit. Vade in pace”.

Luke Chapter 1:12-23

As the scene opens, we are with Zacahrias inside the temple sanctuary where he is holding conversation with a herald of God. It did not occur to me before, but presumably (obviously?) this is the Temple in Jerusalem. This would mean that Zacharias is at least a few rungs up on the socio-economic scale. The priests were well-t0-do, because all God’s friends were rich, an attitude that, unfortunately, too many still share today. And it wasn’t just among Jews, either. The pagans felt much the same way. That is a very important bit of knowledge to carry in your head as we progress through this gospel.

12 καὶ ἐταράχθη Ζαχαρίας ἰδών, καὶ φόβος ἐπέπεσεν ἐπ’ αὐτόν.

13 εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτὸν ὁ ἄγγελος, Μὴ φοβοῦ, Ζαχαρία, διότι εἰσηκούσθη ἡ δέησίς σου, καὶ ἡ γυνή σου Ἐλισάβετ γεννήσει υἱόν σοι, καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰωάννην.

And disturbed was Zacharias seeing, and fear fell upon him. (13) And said towards him the herald, “Do not fear, Zacharias, because your need was heard, and your woman Elisabeth will bring forth a son, and you will call the name to him John”.

First of all, let’s look at the last bit. “You will call the name to him…”  Sort of reminds me of  <<καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν>>. That is Matthew 1:21; here we have << καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰωάννην>>. The two are verbatim with the obvious exception of the name. This is not part of Q by anyone’s definition, or edition. Now, one can suggest that this is a standard expression, and that would be a valid statement. But…In both cases, we have an angel announcing a miraculous birth to a man, whether Joseph in Matthew, or here to Zacharias. Granted, perhaps this one is not quite as miraculous, because this baby has a human father. That detail aside, the two scenarios, and the words used, are remarkably similar, verbally and thematically. It’s this latter that is virtually ignored in the discussion about Q and whether Luke used Matthew. Here we have Luke doing everything he can to evoke those verses of Matthew when Joseph is told a son has been conceived within Mary. Oh, and the angel also tells Joseph “Don’t be afraid”. And yet, I’ve never seen this discussed in regard to Q. Why not? Part of it is that the Q people have set the terms of the debate for the past century, and those terms are the order and placement of material in Matthew vs. Luke. IOW, the debate is virtually without real substance.

While looking into this in the commentaries, I came across a really interesting interpretation. And it was not put out by just one commentator, but by several. They suggest that Zacharias and Elisabeth had reconciled themselves to being childless, especially given their advanced years. So, their entreaty–this is not the standard word for “prayer”–was not for a child. The couple had, we are told, given up on that years before; rather, the entreaty was for the kingdom of God. Have to say, that seems a bit of a stretch. It’s the sort of thing that comes up after a topic has been debated endlessly for decades; I’m betting that this interpretation is post-Reformation, so the debate was one of decades rather than centuries. 

12 et Zacharias turbatus est videns, et timor irruit super eum.

13 Ait autem ad illum angelus: “ Ne timeas, Zacharia, quoniam exaudita est deprecatio tua, et uxor tua Elisabeth pariet tibi filium, et vocabis nomen eius Ioannem.

14 καὶ ἔσται χαρά σοι καὶ ἀγαλλίασις, καὶ πολλοὶ ἐπὶ τῇ γενέσει αὐτοῦ χαρήσονται:

15 ἔσται γὰρ μέγας ἐνώπιον [τοῦ] κυρίου, καὶ οἶνον καὶ σίκερα οὐ μὴ πίῃ, καὶ πνεύματος ἁγίου πλησθήσεται ἔτι ἐκ κοιλίας μητρὸς αὐτοῦ,

16 καὶ πολλοὺς τῶν υἱῶν Ἰσραὴλ ἐπιστρέψει ἐπὶ κύριον τὸν θεὸν αὐτῶν.

“And there will be joy to you and rejoicing, and many upon the birth of him will rejoice. For he will be great before the lord, and wine and strong drink he will not drink, and  with the sacred breath he will be filled already from the womb of his mother, (16) and he will turn many of the sons of Israel towards the lord their God.”

Anyone who claims that the early church was embarrassed by Jesus’ connexion to John should be made to explain this passage, and this whole section. Far from being swept under the rug, which is what you do with embarrassing things, John is being elevated here, to a very dizzying height. We are told he will induce many in Israel–more properly, Judea–to repent of their sins and turn back to God. This is extremely high praise.

A word while we’re on the subject of Israel. Strictly speaking, the Kingdom of Israel ceased to exist after its conquest by Assyria. The successor kingdom, centered on Jerusalem was just that: a successor state. It was assuredly not a continuation of the earlier state of Israel. This latter had remained largely a pagan state, which is why the kings so often did evil in the sight of YHWH. Israel and her kings worshipped other gods because they had not really accepted YHWH as it’s chief–let alone sole–god. And yet, because Israel had been a large state that ruled some of the richer land in the area, the successors in Jerusalem wished to portray themselves as the legitimate heirs of the older kingdom. This is why they elevatated their bandit-in-chief David to the purely mythological throne of the United Kingdom. As such, the kings who sat in Jerusalem maintained their dynastic pretensions for centuries, until “Israel” became a spiritual kingdom inherited by the Christians, or until the State of Israel was resurrected in 1948. Even after all those centuries, the regime in Jerusalem still insisted that the whole of the land from Dan to Beersheba was their heritage. That’s not intended to be anti-Zionist; rather, it’s a commentary on the power of a foundation myth. 

One thing I have to comment on is Luke’s vocabulary. It’s pretty remarkable. The man was erudite. He sort of coins a lot of words, by giving older words new forms. I’m not sure what to make of this quite yet; or, rather, I’m not quite sure how to fit this into the overall interpretation of the gospel, but presumably this will work itself out.

14 Et erit gaudium tibi et exsultatio, et multi in nativitate eius gaudebunt:

15 erit enim magnus coram Domino et vinum et siceram non bibet et Spiritu Sancto replebitur adhuc ex utero matris suae

16 et multos filiorum Israel convertet ad Dominum Deum ipsorum.

17 καὶ αὐτὸς προελεύσεται ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ ἐν πνεύματι καὶ δυνάμει Ἠλίου, ἐπιστρέψαι καρδίας πατέρων ἐπὶ τέκνα καὶ ἀπειθεῖς ἐν φρονήσει δικαίων, ἑτοιμάσαι κυρίῳ λαὸν κατεσκευασμένον.

18 Καὶ εἶπεν Ζαχαρίας πρὸς τὸν ἄγγελον, Κατὰ τί γνώσομαι τοῦτο; ἐγὼ γάρ εἰμι πρεσβύτης καὶ ἡ γυνή μου προβεβηκυῖα ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις αὐτῆς.

19 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ ἄγγελος εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἐγώ εἰμι Γαβριὴλ ὁ παρεστηκὼς ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ, καὶ ἀπεστάλην λαλῆσαι πρὸς σὲ καὶ εὐαγγελίσασθαί σοι ταῦτα:

“And he will go forward before him in the spirit and the power of Elijah, converting hearts of the fathers upon the children and disbelief in the prudence of the just, to have made ready the people of the lord having been prepared. (18) And Zacharias said to the herald, “According to what will I know this? For I am old, and my wife is advanced in years”. (19) And answering the herald said to him, “I am Gabriel the one standing beside in front of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to announce these things to you.

Quick note: the Greek for “announce” in the last sentence is “euangelizai”. This includes the announcing and the glad tidings all in one word. That is impossible in English. Or, I couldn’t come up with a solution, anyway.

Did I mention that, far from being swept under the rug, John was being elevated here? For he will have the spirit and the power of Elijah, and in Jewish circles Elijah was pretty much the pinnacle of human accomplishment. Of course, by elevating John, Jesus will be elevated even further. And here, again, I think, we see an example of Luke following Matthew’s lead, and then expanding upon it. For this is what Matthew did with the announcement of the (unnamed) angel to Joseph: he elevated Jesus to the divine level. Here, (spoiler alert!) not only will we get an announcement to Mary about Jesus, but we get the announcement about Jesus’ forerunner, who could also be called an “angelos”, a “herald”. In this way, Luke raises the playing field even further. We are truly talking about cosmic-scale, divine-level actions here. In a way, it reminds me of the Prologue in Heaven that we find at the opening of Goethe’s Faust, or even the conversation between God and the slanderer (ho diabolos) at the beginning of Job.

As an aside, this is really interesting. In Job 1:6, we are told that

ἦλθον οἱ ἄγγελοι τοῦ θεοῦ παραστῆναι ἐνώπιον τοῦ κυρίου, / καὶ ὁ διάβολος ἦλθεν μετ᾽ αὐτῶν.

There came the angels of God standing beside before the lord, / and the slanderer came with them…

The (very clumsy) expression “standing beside before the lord” is pretty much exactly what we got from Gabriel. The participle is “standing”, but with the prefix for “beside”, so the entire verb is “standing beside”, which is then followed by a preposition for “before”, as in “before the lord”. So the image is a bit of a foreshadow of The Apocalypse of John, with all the elders seated around the throne of God, “before” him in the sense of being in his presence. So the point is that I suspect that Luke deliberately meant to evoke this quote, and I also suspect that it’s something of a standardized formula that appears in various places throughout the LXX, replacing an underlying formula in the Hebrew.

One final note about this quote from Job. Several translations, including the KJV, translate “angeloi” as “sons” of God. There is a good lesson here for not using the same stock word to translate a word in Greek, or Hebrew. In the context, I actually think “sons” might be closer to the sense of the Greek, even if it is a bit more poetic. In fact, the Vulgate renders it as “filii”, which is the standard Latin word for “sons”.

Also, the idea of “standing beside in front of God” is a bit of a foreshadow of some later ideas that will evolve into the Gnostic/Hermetic ideas of the Emanations. The idea that there is a Power at the centre, and then slightly lesser beings around that, spreading out in concentric circles. The Creator is a level–or several, depending on the source–removed from the centre. Yes, this is a bit of a stretch, perhaps, but only a bit. Ideas are fluid things that eddy and swirl about and within each other. And that poetic element should never, ever be forgotten. Because what English so clumsily conveys as “poetry”–a bunch of words strung together that may or may not rhyme–is itself a poor and dulled reflection of the Greek “poesis”. This contains both the idea of doing, as in doing a task, as well as creating a long poem meant to explain the Nature of Things (de Rerum Natura, Epictetus).

And I think Zacharias’ questions to the messenger sort of indicate that the “entreaty” back in Verse 13 was indeed, about a child. I suppose that these questions are natural enough given the news, but we also need to be careful, I think, about reading too much into this. Of course the parallel to Abraham is too obvious to need mention, but then I just did. The conception of Isaac was miraculous, and so is the conception of John. But, while miraculous, they are also human-scale miracles, where the child–the son, always a son–conceived has two human parents.

Finally, just want to stress the idea that this angel has a name. Here we have such a classic example of the growth of legend that it’s worth dwelling on for a moment or two. This is exactly how legends grow. Matthew added the angel, Luje gave the angel a name, and later thinkers would ascribe roles and adventures to the angels. The same happened with the Twelve; once created, they had to have names. Then, once named, they had to have stories and adventures, and so these sprang up, just the way Arthur became surrounded by a host of knights, all of them with their own tale. So this further development of the story is, I firmly believe, another example of how Luke expanded on Matthew’s edifice, which was itself an expansion of the foundation laid by Mark. And here is where the Q people, and the whole Q debate goes so horribly wrong: instead of nitpicking over the order of the placement of the (alleged) Q material, look at the storied told as separate entities that each complement, rather than repeat or supersede the previous one. There is nothing about an angel in the Q material, which starts with the preaching of John. So where did Luke get the idea? Is this parallel development? It could be. But that is where you have to start looking at the numbers of incidents, how many times does Luke pick up a theme from Matthew and run with it? To that end, I’m going to be taking notes. Because one of the big “arguments” (I’m being kind) for Q is that Luke is never aware of Matthew’s additions to Mark. Well, we have an example here of Luke being well aware of an addition of Matthew.

Second finally, the whole idea of finding precedents from the HS is another example. Matthew added references to texts from the HS; Luke appears to be doing the same thing here, borrowing a line from Job (which may also appear elsewhere).

17 Et ipse praecedet ante illum in spiritu et virtute Eliae, ut convertat corda patrum in filios et incredibiles ad prudentiam iustorum, parare Domino plebem perfectam ”.

18 Et dixit Zacharias ad angelum: “ Unde hoc sciam? Ego enim sum senex, et uxor mea processit in diebus suis ”.

19 Et respondens angelus dixit ei: “ Ego sum Gabriel, qui adsto ante Deum, et missus sum loqui ad te et haec tibi evangelizare.

20 καὶ ἰδοὺ ἔσῃ σιωπῶν καὶ μὴ δυνάμενος λαλῆσαι ἄχρι ἧς ἡμέρας γένηται ταῦτα, ἀνθ’ ὧν οὐκ ἐπίστευσας τοῖς λόγοις μου, οἵτινες πληρωθήσονται εἰς τὸν καιρὸν αὐτῶν .

21 Καὶ ἦν ὁ λαὸς προσδοκῶν τὸν Ζαχαρίαν, καὶ ἐθαύμαζον ἐν τῷ χρονίζειν ἐν τῷ ναῷ αὐτόν.

22 ἐξελθὼν δὲ οὐκ ἐδύνατο λαλῆσαι αὐτοῖς, καὶ ἐπέγνωσαν ὅτι ὀπτασίαν ἑώρακεν ἐν τῷ ναῷ: καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν διανεύων αὐτοῖς, καὶ διέμενεν κωφός.

23 καὶ ἐγένετο ὡς ἐπλήσθησαν αἱ ἡμέραι τῆς λειτουργίας αὐτοῦ ἀπῆλθεν εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ.

“And behold, may you being silent and not able to speak until the days that these things become, before which not believing the my words, which will be fulfilled in their season (i.e., proper time)”. (21) And there were people expecting Zacharias, and they marveled at the time he being in the Temple. (22) Coming out, he was not able to speak to them, and they knew that a vision he had seen in the temple. And he gestured to them, and he remained mute. (23) And it became as fulfilled the days of his liturgies, he went to his home.

The first thing that strikes me is that God will punish your disbelief. OK. That shouldn’t surprise me, and it doesn’t, but it still strikes me as interesting. That’s the problem with being a rationalist, I suppose. These sorts of actions seem rather arbitrary, or even whimsical; but mainly, they seem rather petty and beneath the dignity of a God that laid the foundations of the cosmos.

The second thing is that this is a very perceptive lot of fellow priests. They knew that he had seen a vision inside. But then, maybe this sort of thing happened frequently? Who’s to say? The word I translated as “liturgies” is actually more or less a transliteration. “Leitourgious” would be the exact translation, so the relation should be obvious. Were I truly a biblical scholar, I would be able to explain the rotation of the priests more effectively, but it’s simply not that important. What matters more is whether his home was in Jerusalem–at least, the Greater Jerusalem Metro Area? I would suspect so. We’ll see if, or how much, this matters in the next section.

20 Et ecce: eris tacens et non poteris loqui usque in diem, quo haec fiant, pro eo quod non credidisti verbis meis, quae implebuntur in tempore suo ”.

21 Et erat plebs exspectans Zachariam, et mirabantur quod tardaret ipse in templo.

22 Egressus autem non poterat loqui ad illos, et cognoverunt quod visionem vidisset in templo; et ipse erat innuens illis et permansit mutus.

23 Et factum est, ut impleti sunt dies officii eius, abiit in domum suam.

Matthew Chapter 26:55-58

This section is very short, because it comes directly before the questioning of Jesus by the Council. That section is long enough on its own; adding this to it would make it impossible. So we have one that’s a bit of a filler and little more.

55 Ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοῖς ὄχλοις, Ὡς ἐπὶ λῃστὴν ἐξήλθατε μετὰ μαχαιρῶν καὶ ξύλων συλλαβεῖν με; καθ’ ἡμέραν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ ἐκαθεζόμην διδάσκων καὶ οὐκ ἐκρατήσατέ με.

In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “How as a thief have you come with swords and clubs to capture me? Each day in the Temple I sat teaching and you did not arrest me”. 

I have to stop for a comment about a particular word, the one I translated as “thief”. Perhaps “robber” would have been better, but it doesn’t matter. Reza Aslan in Zealot has argued, very unpersuasively, that we are to see this word as the equivalent of something like revolutionary. Or insurrectionist. His point is that the Romans only crucified rebels, and since Jesus was crucified, he was a zealot–or Zealot–intent on raising a rebellion against Rome. This is all fine and good, and had the book been allowed to come and go as it should have–very quietly and without much notice, largely because it didn’t particularly deserve any–there would have been no problem. Unfortunately, the FOX News people got ahold of it, taking umbrage that a Muslim should have the temerity to write a book on Jesus. This caused an uproar, and the book lodged in the popular imagination. This is a pity.

Having studied First Century Rome in some detail, I was very surprised to see him suggest that crucifixion was reserved for rebels. It was used on rebels, Spartacus and a few thousand of his henchmen being a perfect example; however, I have never, ever encountered any suggestion in any Roman source that crucifixion was the sole prerogative of rebels. The Romans were much more equal opportunity than that; they crucified people without regard for race, colour, creed, national origin, or offense. This being the case, the attempt to classify this word as having connotations of revolutionary fall rather flat. In fact, this word is more usually used to refer to pirates than to rebels. Nor does the Latin support the case. It’s the word used for the bandits in The Golden Ass. Aslan does make an attempt to argue that bandits were somehow the equivalent of revolutionaries, in that both disturb the peace, but this connexion is weak in the extreme.

As such, among scholars, the book would have died a natural death, mostly ignored. This would be due in part to the fact that he made no attempt to prove this connexion with actual evidence from sources, showing that it was indeed used in this sense. Plus the book has no footnotes, so the combination of these two means that there is no basis for assessing his argument on why he believes this was true. This is the functional equivalent of not having an argument, which he doesn’t.  

Unfortunately, the damage has been done, and an association of crucifixion with rebels has lodged itself in the popular mind. I was on a FaceBook group arguing for the existence of Jesus as a man, and someone brought up the point that only rebels were crucified. More’s the pity. So the next time you hear anyone saying this about crucifixion, tell them that this is completely and categorically incorrect. If they don’t believe you, refer them to me.

55 In illa hora dixit Iesus turbis: “Tamquam ad latronem existis cum gladiis et fustibus comprehendere me? Cotidie sedebam docens in templo, et non me tenuistis”.

56 τοῦτο δὲ ὅλον γέγονεν ἵνα πληρωθῶσιν αἱ γραφαὶ τῶν προφητῶν. Τότε οἱ μαθηταὶ πάντες ἀφέντες αὐτὸν ἔφυγον.

57 Οἱ δὲ κρατήσαντες τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἀπήγαγον πρὸς Καϊάφαν τὸν ἀρχιερέα, ὅπου οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι συνήχθησαν.

58 ὁ δὲ Πέτρος ἠκολούθει αὐτῷ ἀπὸ μακρόθεν ἕως τῆς αὐλῆς τοῦ ἀρχιερέως, καὶ εἰσελθὼν ἔσω ἐκάθητο μετὰ τῶν ὑπηρετῶν ἰδεῖν τὸ τέλος.

“This has all come to be in order that the scriptures be fulfilled.” Then leaving him, all his disciples fled. (57) Those having overpowered Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the Scribes and the elders were gathered. (58) And Peter followed him from a distance until the courtyard of the high priest, and going in he say with those serving to see the end. 

I suppose the main point here is that Jesus once again says that this all must happen so that the scriptures can be fulfilled. Once again, no references or citations to specific writings are made. Why not? This led to centuries of Christian scholars scouring the HS looking for connexions, or any sort of vague allusions that could be interpreted so that the possibly referred to Jesus. As mentioned above, the best match was the Suffering Servant of Deutero-Isaiah.

Regardless, it is important to recognize that this insistence on a scriptural prophecy, or a scriptural basis for the execution serves two purposes. First and most obviously, it’s an assurance that the universe is unfolding as it should, so there is no need or reason to be concerned that the Messiah, the Christ was crucified like a common criminal. It is all part of The Plan. There is another aspect to this, however, one that gets lost to us moderns. In the days of Jesus, novelty was not a good thing, especially if the topic was wisdom. In Latin, the term for revolution is res novae, literally “new things”. If you wanted to be taken seriously, especially when it came to religion, you wanted to be old, or even ancient. The Egyptians garnered no end of respect because of the generally acknowledged age of their civilisation. It was the acknowledged (if slightly fudged, or overstated by five or six centuries) antiquity of Judaism that led so many pagans to become “God-fearers”, acolytes of a synagogue where they learned about the ancient wisdom of Moses and Solomon. 

This, IMO, is one of the best arguments that Jesus actually lived. If I were alive in the First Century and wanted to create a new religion, I would most assuredly not invent a founder who had died a decade or two before; rather, I would have claimed to have found wisdom scrolls that were a thousand years old. That would have given them much more credibility, more gravitas, as the Romans called it, more substance and the density that comes with venerable tradition. Of course, this argument is lost on most moderns; the times I’ve used it, my interlocutors have dismissed it out of hand as unimportant. Au contraire! It matters. A lot. So by claiming–without evidence–the scriptural basis of Jesus, from works (supposedly*) written many centuries earlier, Matthew is giving Jesus a respectable pedigree. He is saying that Jesus is the culmination of a thousand years of writings, of predictions and prophecy. He is giving Jesus substance, gravitas.

As mentioned, Luke carries on this tradition with the road to Emmaus. It would be interesting to look back at Mark to see how forcefully he stresses this ancient connexion to a group that had just rebelled against Rome. Mark had reason and incentive to play down the association; by Matthew’s time, this need to dissociate from Jews had passed; plenty of people still remembered it, but plenty more didn’t. Its relevance had faded.

Oh, and let’s not forget that we’ve left Peter in the courtyard of the high priest’s house.

56 Hoc autem totum factum est, ut implerentur scripturae Prophetarum. Tunc discipuli omnes, relicto eo, fugerunt.

57 Illi autem tenentes Iesum duxerunt ad Caipham principem sacerdotum, ubi scribae et seniores convenerant.

58 Petrus autem sequebatur eum a longe usque in aulam principis sacerdotum; et ingressus intro sede bat cum ministris, ut videret finem.

Matthew Chapter 5:31-42

And so we continue with the Sermon on the Mount. This will conclude Chapter 5.

31 Ἐρρέθη δέ, Ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ, δότω αὐτῇ ἀποστάσιον.

32 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ἀπολύων τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας ποιεῖ αὐτὴν μοιχευθῆναι, καὶ ὃς ἐὰν ἀπολελυμένην γαμήσῃ μοιχᾶται.

It has been said, ‘Who would dismiss his wife, let him give her a standing away from (i.e., an official notification of dissolution). (32) But I say to you that all who dismisses his wife (aside from the cause of fornication) makes her adulterize, and he who dissolves the marriage adulterizes.

First, the vocabulary. The word that I rendered as a “standing away from” is “apostaseon”. I’m guessing we can all see the word “apostasy” in there. And that pretty much means “standing away from”, especially as standing away from a former belief. Hence the emperor Julian the Apostate. (However, if he’d been successful in re-establishing paganism, he’d have gone down in history as “Julian the Restorer”.

What is most interesting about this section is that it agrees with both 1 Corinthians 7:10-14 (appx), and Mark 10:2-12 (appx). I am going to go out on a limb here (not really) and conclude that this is one of the best candidates for something that actually can be traced back to Jesus himself. There is one point I’d like to make about “multiple” attribution. Either Mack or Ehrman (the latter, I believe) said that something attested in the Triple Tradition can be said to have been corroborated by three different and independent sources. Um, no. Given that pretty much everyone agrees that Matthew and Luke used Mark, then Matthew and Luke absolutely cannot be said to be independent sources. They are dependent sources, secondary sources derived from Mark. Now Paul, OTOH, may in fact represent a distinct source tradition. It’s hard to say that for sure, but Mark, in particular, does seem to be more or less unaware of Paul and his message. I will leave it at that. For now. But the point remains, and remains strong: that both Paul and Mark report that Jesus was opposed to divorce presents a pretty strong case that this is an authentic saying of Jesus. Note that.

31 Dictum est autem: “Quicumque dimiserit uxorem suam, det illi libellum repudii”.

32 Ego autem dico vobis: Omnis, qui dimiserit uxorem suam, excepta fornicationis causa, facit eam moechari; et, qui dimissam duxerit, adulterat.

33 Πάλιν ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη τοῖς ἀρχαίοις, Οὐκ ἐπιορκήσεις, ἀποδώσεις δὲ τῷ κυρίῳ τοὺς ὅρκους σου.

34 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν μὴ ὀμόσαι ὅλως: μήτε ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ὅτι θρόνος ἐστὶν τοῦ θεοῦ:

35 μήτε ἐν τῇ γῇ, ὅτι ὑποπόδιόν ἐστιν τῶν ποδῶν αὐτοῦ: μήτε εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα, ὅτι πόλις ἐστὶν τοῦ μεγάλου βασιλέως:

36 μήτε ἐν τῇ κεφαλῇ σου ὀμόσῃς, ὅτι οὐ δύνασαι μίαν τρίχα λευκὴν ποιῆσαι ἢ μέλαιναν.

37 ἔστω δὲ ὁ λόγος ὑμῶν ναὶ ναί, οὒ οὔ: τὸ δὲ περισσὸν τούτων ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ ἐστιν.

Again, you have heard it said by the old ones that you will not take an oath, but you will give to God your oath. (34) OTOH I say to you, do not swear at all, neither by the heaven, for that is the throne of God. (35) Nor by the earth, for that is the footrest of his feet. Nor towards Jerusalem, for that is the city of the great king. (36) Nor swear by your (own) head, for you are not able to make a single hair white or black. (37) Let your word yes (be) yes, (your) no (be) no. That which is in excess of this is from wickedness.

 Lots of very interesting stuff in here. The first, of course, is that this is unique to Matthew. He felt that this was very worth saying; Luke and John…not so much. Why? Why was this so crucial to Matthew. And only to him? Can we go so far as to suggest that, perhaps, Matthew inserted this on his own authority? Or can we assume that he had some sort of line from a source on this. Personally, I do not believe that everything in the gospels (or epistles) can reasonably be said to be attributable to Jesus; I fully believe that the authors of the NT often made statements on their own authority, based on the firm belief that, if Jesus had not said this, he would have agreed with it, or he would have said it had the situation arisen. We can even call this divine inspiration; the authors no doubt fully and firmly believed that words were given to them by God, perhaps breathed into (in Latin, lit = in spiro) them by the sacred breath. I suspect this is such a moment for Matthew. 

There is an interesting epilogue to this passage, In the Middle Ages, after about the year 1000, there appeared numerous manifestations of individuals and groups who sought to return to the true apostolic tradition of the earliest Christians, thereby turning away from the overly ornate and ritualized Church. One of the hallmarks of several of these groups was the refusal to swear an oath of any kind, solely and completely because of this particular passage. Now, these groups threatened the status quo of the established Church by questioning whether the bishops should be worldly lords, and rich ones, so the groups espousing this return to apostolic tradition were, of course, branded as heretics. They were sought out and Mother Church sought to persuade her errant children to recant such nonsense. And one of the ways to do this was to ask them to swear an oath that they did not hold any heretical teachings. Of course, the refusal to swear was seen as proof that they were heretics. So Matthew’s words were not without repercussions. And I do believe these are Matthew’s words.

One really interesting question is who is the “great king”? Or is it “great King”? This is what the Latin says. Or perhaps “Great King”? Except that the Great King was the King of Persia–Cyrus, Darius, or Xerxes. Jerusalem would not have been his city. That would have  been Persepolis, or Susa. The king in Jerusalem would have been, theoretically, David and his descendants. Is that what this means? The commentaries aren’t much help. except to say that this is a cite of Ps 48:2. Aside from that, the commentaries I read didn’t seem to be terribly clear on this. So, like a lot of those passages from Galatians and Thessalonians, this passage is not exactly well-understood, despite a couple thousand years of reading and commentary. Most of the ones I glanced at suggested that this was a reference to the Messiah (capitalized), but I tend to doubt this. Rather, my suspicion is that it meant something to Matthew and his audience that is more or less lost to us.

The other element in here is the idea of the majesty of God. Heaven and earth as throne and footstool, while we’re helpless to change the color of a single hair. God had become more and more majestic and powerful over time, and had become unique. Sort of.  At least, God was the unique beneficent power in the universe, aside from those lesser powers–angels, mainly–that served God. Other supernatural beings were not denied; it’s just that they were considered demonic. As such, they weren’t exactly divine; at least, not by some definitions of the word. Overall, however, I still find this whole anti-oath attitude a little peculiar. Perhaps, like the “great king”, this had some implication for Matthew and his audience that is lost. Or, perhaps the meaning here is well-known–to everyone but me!

33 Iterum audistis quia dictum est antiquis: “Non periurabis; reddes autem Domino iuramenta tua”.

34 Ego autem dico vobis: Non iurare omnino, neque per caelum, quia thronus Dei est,

35 neque per terram, quia scabellum est pedum eius, neque per Hierosolymam, quia civitas est magni Regis;

36 neque per caput tuum iuraveris, quia non potes unum capillum album facere aut nigrum.

37 Sit autem sermo vester: “Est, est”, “Non, non”; quod autem his abundantius est, a Malo est.

38 Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη, Ὀφθαλμὸν ἀντὶ ὀφθαλμοῦ καὶ ὀδόντα ἀντὶ ὀδόντος.

39 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν μὴ ἀντιστῆναι τῷ πονηρῷ: ἀλλ’ ὅστις σε ῥαπίζει εἰς τὴν δεξιὰν σιαγόνα[σου], στρέψον αὐτῷ καὶ τὴν ἄλλην:

40 καὶ τῷ θέλοντί σοι κριθῆναι καὶ τὸν χιτῶνά σου λαβεῖν, ἄφεςαὐτῷ καὶ τὸ ἱμάτιον:

41 καὶ ὅστις σε ἀγγαρεύσει μίλιον ἕν, ὕπαγε μετ’ αὐτοῦ δύο.

42 τῷ αἰτοῦντί σε δός, καὶ τὸν θέλοντα ἀπὸ σοῦ δανίσασθαι μὴ ἀποστραφῇς.

You have heard it said that, eye against eye, and tooth against tooth.(39) But I say to you do not stand against evil. But the one who strikes you on your right jaw-line, turn to him also the other. (40) And to the one wishing from you (your) tunic by being judged, also give him your cloak. (41) And he who compels you to go a mile, go with him two. (41) To the one asking, give, and what is wanted to be loaned by you, do not turn away. 

Recall what “Jesus” said earlier about not an iota of the law being lost? Seems to me that Jesus–by way of the evangelist, is superseding a lot of what has come down to the audience. Note that these things were said “by the ancient/old ones”. One presumes that this is a reference to the Hebrew scriptures. Or was this what Jesus was doing? Is he referring to the OT here? Maybe, but maybe not necessarily. Jesus has contravened a custom allowing divorce, has told his audience to forswear oaths, and now he is undercutting the idea of an eye for an eye. The thing is, divorce was allowable under most pagan law codes; the Romans in particular saw marriage as a legal institution, a legal partnership. So Jesus/Matthew is not necessarily referring exclusively to Hebrew/Jewish custom. Nor is the idea of swearing oaths. This was a commonplace for ancient legal practice, and it’s still at the heart of trial testimony or affidavits, or any number of things. And finally, “eye for an eye” was by no means the sole property of the ancient Hebrews. It dates back to Hammurabi.

So the thing is, there is nothing specific to Judaism here. Any of these could be applicable to people of a wide variety of backgrounds Here is where my contention about the composition of the new converts really comes to be an important consideration. 

So exchanging “eye for an eye” for “turn the other cheek” would be something novel for almost anyone. Now, I would say that this represents a major turning point in the development of Western Thought. I would say that because it does represent a significant moment; but the thought here is not necessarily new. Recall that the Buddha lived 400 years before Jesus. Even the Cynic sages, while not exactly pacifists, were non-conformers, non-participants in the macho code of honour practiced by the Greeks and played professionally by the Romans. Many of the Hellenistic schools of thought were inward-looking, seeking to avoid conflict when and where possible. So Jesus/Matthew’s thought here is not exactly novel. But it’s put in a novel manner, one that resonates because it has a certain tone, or a perfect pitch. It’s counterintuitive; it seems wrong; it’s not what most of us would think of when struck.

The priest of one of the churches I attend gave a sermon on this passage a couple of years ago. He explained it in a way that struck (pun intended) me. As he explained it, the idea of turning the other cheek had a social significance. Masters would strike their slaves, or social superiors would strike an inferior with the back of the hand. So, if the slave/inferior “turned the other cheek”, the master/superior would be forced to strike with a fist. What this did was elevate the slave’s status, because using one’s fist was how one struck a social equal. Now think about this in connection with what I said before about Jesus/Matthew’s admonition to settle the lawsuit before getting to court. My conjecture was that this was because the audience was persons of lower status; this seems to be painting the same picture, or strengthening the sense that the audience are low-status individuals. Of course, this reinforcement depends on whether or not this explanation of the use of the back of the hand is accurate. I cannot verify, but there is a ring of possible truth to it.

As for the “extra mile”, my priest explained that this was a reference to the Roman occupation. According to his explanation, a Roman soldier could, legally, compel a subject of the Empire to carry the soldier’s pack for a mile. Think Simon of Cyrene being impressed into carrying Jesus’ cross. So, the admonition here is to do that, and throw in another mile for free, as it were. Again, there is a question of status here; the Roman soldier, even one that was a lower-class Roman still had a social edge on a subject.

So perhaps three references to class status in a fairly short period of time. There is a certain consistency here. But there is also a theme of not making a bad situation worse. Settle the suit, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile. This makes me question the idea of the backhand vs. the fist, because that is actually a provocation. But, regardless, the theme of class seems to be running through all of these stories. I just wish I had a better idea of whatever it is that I’m missing in the forswearing of oaths.

38 Audistis quia dictum est: “Oculum pro oculo et dentem pro dente”.

39 Ego autem dico vobis: Non resistere malo; sed si quis te percusserit in dextera maxilla tua, praebe illi et alteram;

40 et ei, qui vult tecum iudicio contendere et tunicam tuam tollere, remitte ei et pallium;

41 et quicumque te angariaverit mille passus, vade cum illo duo.

42 Qui petit a te, da ei; et volenti mutuari a te, ne avertaris.

43 Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη, Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου καὶ μισήσεις τὸν ἐχθρόν σου.

44 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀγαπᾶτε τοὺς ἐχθροὺς ὑμῶν καὶ προσεύχεσθε ὑπὲρ τῶν διωκόντων ὑμᾶς,

45 ὅπως γένησθε υἱοὶ τοῦ πατρὸς ὑμῶν τοῦ ἐν οὐρανοῖς, ὅτι τὸν ἥλιον αὐτοῦ ἀνατέλλει ἐπὶ πονηροὺς καὶ ἀγαθοὺς καὶ βρέχει ἐπὶ δικαίους καὶ ἀδίκους.

46 ἐὰν γὰρ ἀγαπήσητε τοὺς ἀγαπῶντας ὑμᾶς, τίνα μισθὸν ἔχετε; οὐχὶ καὶ οἱ τελῶναι τὸ αὐτὸ ποιοῦσιν;

47 καὶ ἐὰν ἀσπάσησθε τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς ὑμῶν μόνον, τί περισσὸν ποιεῖτε; οὐχὶ καὶ οἱ ἐθνικοὶ τὸ αὐτὸ ποιοῦσιν;

48 Ἔσεσθε οὖν ὑμεῖς τέλειοι ὡς ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος τέλειός ἐστιν.

You have heard it said, ‘love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. (44) But I say to you, love your enemy, and pray for those who persecute (lit = ‘pursue’) you. (45)  In this way you will become children (lit = ‘sons’) of your father in the heavens, that the sun rises upon the wicked and the good, and it rains on the just and the unjust. (46) For if you love those loving you, what reward do you have? Do not the tax-collectors do the same thing? (47) For if you greet your brother only, what benefit (lit = ‘excess’) is there? Do not also the nations (traditionally = ‘Gentiles’) do this same thing? (48) So be completed like your father the heavenly one is completed.

43 Audistis quia dictum est: “Diliges proximum tuum et odio habebis inimicum tuum”.

44 Ego autem dico vobis: Diligite inimicos vestros et orate pro persequentibus vos,

45 ut sitis filii Patris vestri, qui in caelis est, quia solem suum oriri facit super malos et bonos et pluit super iustos et iniustos.

46 Si enim dilexeritis eos, qui vos diligunt, quam mercedem habetis? Nonne et publicani hoc faciunt?

47 Et si salutaveritis fratres vestros tantum, quid amplius facitis? Nonne et ethnici hoc faciunt?

48 Estote ergo vos perfecti, sicut Pater vester caelestis perfectus est.

This bit about hating your enemies could be addressed to any number of different ethnic groups.  Even the Psalms brag about how God will smite our enemies and make them into footstools and such. From this, it’s really impossible to tell what group Matthew may be addressing here. Now, there is the bit about the “nations” greeting their brother, that sounds like we’re addressing a Jewish audience. But why? Because “ethnoi” has been rendered as “gentile” for a very long time. Now, I don’t know what the Aramaic word may be that lurks behind this–if there is one. The thing is that, as generally used, ‘gentile’ pretty much corresponds to ‘barbaros’ in Greek in the sense that it’s an ‘us vs. them’ distinction. But that connotation simply is not present in ‘ethnoi’, at least not to the extent of ‘gentile’. The latter means non-Jew, and it’s as much religious as it is ethnic. As I understand ‘gentile’, the corresponding Greek term would be ‘barbaros’, and not ‘ethnikos’. It’s a matter of degree. The KJV sidesteps this by rendering both words as ‘publican’; the NASB and the ESB prefer ‘gentile’; the NIV chooses ‘pagan’. While this has explicitly religious overtones, I’m not sure it’s not the best translation of the lot. 

Then there’s the “telios” which often gets translated as “perfect”. At root it means “end”, as in teleology the branch of philosophy dealing with the ultimate end of things. The idea is that if something is complete, it’s perfect, but I don’t feel entirely comfortable with “perfect”. The connotation feels very different. I’ve often wondered about the part about “you” (the audience) being perfect. How are we supposed to pull that one off? Let’s talk about setting people up to fail. That, part, is why I’ve often questioned the translation here, and prefer something other than “perfect”.   

Notice that Matthew uses the verb ‘agapao’. This is the same stem as ‘agape’, which we saw in 1 Corinthians is the justifiably famous passage about how love is patient and kind. Now back when we read that passage, I mentioned that this is not a word really found in the Classical writers. That is true for “agape”, but it’s not true for the verb form used here. The point though, is that Paul did change the course of the word to some extent, especially in the noun form. The verb, as here, is common enough among the Classical writers that it pretty much maintained its meaning of “greet with affection”. That’s basically how it’s used here. So if I mislead anyone on the word back in the commentary on 1 Cor 13, my apologies. Not having the biblical background, I’m going to make mistakes like that. This is truly a voyage of discovery for me, too.

A few verses ago, when discussing “turn the other cheek”, we were more or less talking about a (quasi-) pacifist attitude. This part about loving your enemies is related to this, but not at all identical. Again, this idea is not exactly new, but it’s not exactly been expressed either to this point in Western Civ, at least. I can’t really speak to what the Buddha may have said about this. And it’s running alongside the Stoic attitude of a universal siblinghood (believe I coined the word a while back). So, even though it’s novel in some sense, it’s not completely without precedent or precursor, either. It is through Christianity, of course, that this idea gained traction in the west, at least to the point that people realize they should pay lip-service to the idea, even they don’t believe in it enough actually to practice it. 

Baptism, Redemption, and the Historical Jesus

This started as part of the Summary to Chapter 1; however, the topic sort of took on a life of its own and grew into something that stretched beyond just a Summary. As such, I decided it needed to be a stand-alone post.

The touchpoint with Chapter 1 is the issue of the quarrels that Paul mentions; what were these dissensions that divided the Jesus Assembly of Corinth? This is a truly significant piece of historical information. It’s one of those instances in which the argument that “this is so embarrassing that it has to be legitimate” really holds, IMO. The fact of the cross is another, but it’s not germane to this particular discussion. A third instance of this is Paul’s attitude towards baptism.

That Paul took the time to write such a well-composed letter to the community of Corinth is, I think, evidence that the community was important to Paul; in fact, that’s almost a tautology. Why was it important? I think part of the reason is that it was fairly large; large enough to have differing factions who had different beliefs, and that these differences were sufficient that Paul felt it necessary to address their existence. One or two dissenters out of twenty are oddballs; twenty or thirty dissenters out of 200 are schismatics. A group of that size can, theoretically, split off and start their own group. When they do that, they may become heretics, and this happened with increasing frequency as time passed. I believe that the dissensions mentioned here and in Galatians indicate that this was a problem that cropped up within the first decade, or at least the first generation after Jesus’ death. This was not something that was the result of an essentially Jewish message being translated into Hellenistic philosophical thought.

So what were the causes of these differences?

I think it is safe to say that the role of baptism was very likely one of the differences in messages put out by some combination of Cephas/Peter, Apollos, and Paul. This explains, IMO, Paul’s dismissive attitude. He cannot remember who he baptized; a handful, a household, but maybe there were others. Or maybe not. This does not sound like an attitude I would expect if baptism were seen as the entrée point into the Jesus community, as it became later. Rather, it seems like something that Paul perhaps did, but against his better judgement, and that he wasn’t exactly thrilled to be doing it. If Paul was not keen on baptism, the implication is that either Cephas or Apollos, or both, were proponents of baptism. I have to leave Apollos out of the equation; he is a name and nothing more, and this is where so many historical theories jump the rails. One starts with a distinction, adds an inference, and then leaps to a set of connections for which there is no actual evidence. As such, I won’t speculate on what Apollos taught, as opposed to what Paul or Peter taught.

The thing is, baptism was part of the Jewish tradition. There’s a good chance it was adopted after the practice of John the Baptist made the ritual popular. Now, we don’t know exactly what John taught, but there is, IMO, absolutely no reason to believe that he deviated from what a mainstream Jew (if such a person existed) accepted as, well, acceptable. This is, I believe, a valid inference given what both the gospels and Josephus tell us about John’s popularity; the latter, frankly, gives the impression that John was the more popular of the two. At least during their respective lifetimes. Assuming that we can trust these sources, it seems unlikely that John taught anything too radical; people with radical agendas don’t become popular in their lifetime. Baptism, of course, shows up in Mark, even if it does not play a very prominent role outside the baptism of Jesus. When Jesus sends out the Twelve, he does not instruct them to baptize. We have no story of Jesus baptizing anyone. This was not, in all probability, a core practice of Jesus and the Twelve during Jesus’ lifetime.

This cluster of facts, I think, supports my idea that, over time, the evangelists played up the connection to John, rather than trying to sweep it under the rug.

Then why did proto-Christian communities begin performing this ritual? When did they begin performing this ritual? Someone was perpetuating this tradition, and it wasn’t Paul.
And which “tradition” is this? I posited the existence of a “Christ” tradition and a “Wonder-worker” tradition. Paul is obviously of the Christ-tradition. For Paul, and for the people who created the message contained in the second half of Mark’s gospel, Jesus was The Christ, The Messiah. The adherents of this tradition did not have many (any) doubts. The same cannot be said of Jesus in the first half of the work. There, Mark is, at best, ambivalent. Now, I have dubbed this the “Wonder-worker” half; that’s not inaccurate, I believe, because the miracles that Jesus performs in this half of the gospel have a very prominent place. In fact, I think it can be argued that they are the central theme of this part of Mark, which is why I gave it the name I did. However, the name is also slightly facetious, and perhaps slightly too narrow. For our purposes, the salient feature may not be the miracles, but Jesus as a man who was (probably) not the Messiah. This would keep Jesus inside the bounds of Hebraic monotheism. As such, it’s not hard to take the step to positing that this was the tradition of James, brother of Jesus.

Something occurred to me. Jesus was the leader of the Jesus sect for, perhaps, three years. That’s the traditional number. But let’s say it was five, or even ten, that Jesus had been preaching for ten years before his death. That’s a long time. But James was the leader of the group for about 30 years if we accept the traditional date of Jesus’ death as around 33, and James’ death as around 62. That’s 29 years, three times as long as Jesus. I think it would be naïve, or foolish to think that James did not impose a lot of his beliefs, or attitudes, or emphases onto the good news that was being preached. In fact, it would be impossible; no human can run a show that long without leaving big chunks of herself behind. So the tradition of Mark 1-7 was three times more likely to reflect James’ beliefs than Jesus’ teachings. OK, that’s a bit overstated, but I think we need to consider this in some fairly extreme terms in order to get past the mental rut we’re all in concerning Jesus.

So a Jesus who was still human and (probably) not the Messiah could be perfectly Jewish. James set a great store on Jewish customs and the Law; at least, that’s what Paul said. Baptism also fits perfectly into a Jewish context and milieu. Ergo, it’s probably not too much of a stretch to believe that it was James and his followers who were the proponents of baptism. And, given the history between Paul and James, this would be another reason why Paul was rather contemptuous of the practice. In the same vein, the idea of Jesus as Redeemer does not fit nicely into a Jewish context; rather, it’s something that pretty obviously (IMO) belongs to the Christ tradition.

From here, it’s a pretty short step to what feels like very solid ground to support my hypothesis that Mark had these two different traditions that had to be welded together. And “welded” is probably a better metaphor than “woven”, since the two traditions don’t have much overlap, except for the Chapters 8-10. These three feel like the weld, the transition section, the stuff Mark made up, or inferred, or thought necessary to make the two separate traditions fit together at all. We absolutely know that Jews foundered on the idea of Jesus being the Messiah, and certainly on the idea of him being divine. This ambivalence is present in Mark; Paul, who is the earlier source, OTOH, is dead certain that Jesus was the Christ.

That seems to be retrograde motion, downgrading Jesus from Messiah to person. This can be explained in one of two ways. The first is that Paul taught Jesus as the Messiah, and as time went on, followers became less certain of this, resulting in Mark’s notable ambivalence. The second possible explanation is that there were parallel tracks to the Jesus tradition, one of them teaching Jesus as the Messiah, the other telling stories of him being a wonder worker who talked about the kingdom of God, but who was very much still a Jew. Mark encountered both these traditions, which were parallel in the technical sense of the term: they did not intersect. Mark’s task was to make these two traditions intersect.

The second possibility seems much more likely on its own merits. It seems very unlikely that Jesus became less divine over time, especially given Matthew. Because, when another fifteen or twenty years have passed after Mark, Matthew wrote his gospel. In this portrayal, Jesus is not only the Messiah, but also divine, the literal ‘son of God’, defined or put in terms that any pagan would have understood completely.

IOW. the arc of the tradition is bending towards making Jesus a greater figure as time passed. Jesus becomes more like Paul’s Christ; in fact, he becomes Paul’s Christ and more. The tradition does not pull back from Jesus being the Christ, as would be required in the first explanation for Mark’s ambivalence. The ambivalence still existed when Mark wrote; it was gone by the time Matthew wrote, at least in the texts that came to be considered canonical and ended up in the NT.

This, in turn, has enormous implications for the Historical Jesus. It means that looking for the real, historical Jesus in Matthew, Luke, or John is probably a fool’s errand. The story of Jesus was growing. That means that new stuff was being made up to justify the more elevated status of Jesus. This means the stories were drifting further from their historical anchors. This means the stories become less historical as time passes. This means Matthew and Luke are seriously compromised as potential historical sources. This means that the closest we are going to get to Jesus is in Mark. Yes, Mark, not Paul.

Why not Paul? Because Paul has already decided that Jesus was The Christ, a figure of divine and metaphysical significance, one who changed everything. As such, Paul has no interest in Jesus the man. Mark, OTOH, encountered the tradition of Paul as well as another tradition, in which Jesus was not the Christ. This tradition, being more firmly anchored in, and attached to Judaism, declined to make Jesus the Christ, and certainly declined to see Jesus as divine. This was, most likely, the tradition expounded by James, the brother of the Lord. Of all Jesus’ followers, surely James is the one least likely to see Jesus as anything beyond a very special man. After all, he had known Jesus as a kid. In addition, James was still a stalwart Jew, who believed that Jesus was a Jew, and that all who followed Jesus should be Jews. This tradition would be the one that saw Jesus as a man, and would have been reluctant to elevate Jesus to the status of Messiah.

This is why Mark was ambivalent. This is why Paul disparaged baptism. This is why Paul and James had trouble seeing eye-to-eye. Yes, it was about Jewish practice, but that was because James insisted on a much stricter Jewish interpretation of who Jesus was. Jesus was not the Messiah, whereas Paul believed that he was. The disagreement went beyond circumcision and dietary practices: it went to the root of who—or what—Jesus was. No, we have no evidence for this. Why not? Because it would be clearly in Paul’s best interest to suppress this part of the disagreement. Just think of the PR angle: the brother of Jesus did not think Jesus was The Christ, but Paul did. No wonder Paul’s defensive about the pillars of the community in Jerusalem! The very people who had known Jesus did not agree with Paul. Damn straight Paul is going to suppress this. And no wonder he got so scared when James’ followers visited the Galatians.

OK, well. This obviously went well beyond a summary of the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, so I had to make this a stand-alone post. Because I believe this idea–and that’s all it is: an idea, an hypothesis, a piece of (possibly wild) speculation. But I do believe this is what the text—as we have it—is telling us. This is why I thought it would be very interesting, very beneficial, and very telling to jump back to Paul after reading Mark. They are, after all, our earliest sources. They are as close as we’re going to get to the historical Jesus. The Jesus portrayed in Matthew, Luke, and John is something very different from the Jesus that walked the earth.

Mark Chapter 16:1-11

Here is the final chapter of the gospel, which contains the resurrection story.

1 Καὶ διαγενομένου τοῦ σαββάτου Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ καὶ Μαρία ἡ [τοῦ]Ἰακώβου καὶ Σαλώμη ἠγόρασαν ἀρώματα ἵνα ἐλθοῦσαι ἀλείψωσιν αὐτόν.

And having gone through the Sabbath, Mary the Magdelenian and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices in order to go (to the tomb) to anoint him.

Several points. The fact that this is nailed down to the day after the Sabbath–Sunday, per the common calendar of the West–so early and so deeply in the tradition makes this quite credible, IMO. It’s exactly the sort of thing that gets embedded into a story and sticks there because it caused just enough inconvenience to make it memorable. It’s like the day you have to get to an important appointment, you can’t find your car keys. Yes, this could be one of those details that accrued, but why?

Second, I’m still half-convinced that the mother of James and Salome was also the mother of Jesus.

Third, I rendered it as “Magdelenian” to get across that this is a designation of her town of origin, and not a surname, whether in the modern or the Roman sense of the term.

Finally, this is petty, but did they buy the spices that morning? That’s one way of reading the text. It’s a minor point, but a point nevertheless. The significance, I think, is that it indicates that the story had not quite been nailed down; the details were starting to attach to the story, but they all hadn’t been smoothed into a consistent narrative.

1 Et cum transisset sabbatum, Maria Magdalene et Maria Iacobi et Salome emerunt aromata, ut venientes ungerent eum.

2 καὶ λίαν πρωῒ τῇ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων ἔρχονται ἐπὶ τὸ μνημεῖον ἀνατείλαντος τοῦ ἡλίου.

And as soon as it was morning the day after the Sabbath they went to the tomb the sun having come up.

2 Et valde mane, prima sabbatorum, veniunt ad monumentum, orto iam sole.

3 καὶ ἔλεγον πρὸς ἑαυτάς, Τίς ἀποκυλίσει ἡμῖν τὸν λίθον ἐκ τῆς θύρας τοῦ μνημείου;

And they said to each other, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?”

3 Et dicebant ad invicem: “ Quis revolvet nobis lapidem ab ostio monumenti? ”.

4 καὶ ἀναβλέψασαι θεωροῦσιν ὅτι ἀποκεκύλισται ὁ λίθος, ἦν γὰρ μέγας σφόδρα.

And looking up they saw that the stone had been rolled away, for it was very large.

It seems like there should be something to say about the actions to this point, but, aside from the obvious that this is stage-directed. Does this carry any sense of credibility? Was it truly intended to carry any? Or was the point simply to get the story across? And what chance is there that any of this even vaguely resembles the actual happenings?

4 Et respicientes vident revolutum lapidem; erat quippe magnus valde.

5 καὶ εἰσελθοῦσαι εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον εἶδον νεανίσκον καθήμενον ἐν τοῖς δεξιοῖς περιβεβλημένον στολὴν λευκήν, καὶ ἐξεθαμβήθησαν.

And they went into the tomb they saw a young man seated on the right, wrapped around in white linen, and they were startled into terror.

Now this is really interesting. I’ll explain after the next verse.

5 Et introeuntes in monumentum viderunt iuvenem sedentem in dextris, coopertum stola candida, et obstupuerunt.

6 ὁ δὲ λέγει αὐταῖς, Μὴ ἐκθαμβεῖσθε: Ἰησοῦν ζητεῖτε τὸν Ναζαρηνὸν τὸν ἐσταυρωμένον: ἠγέρθη, οὐκ ἔστιν ὧδε: ἴδε ὁ τόπος ὅπου ἔθηκαν αὐτόν.

And he said to them, “Do not be afraid. You seek Jesus the Nazarene, the one crucified. Get up. He is not here. Behold the place where they laid him.”

I’m reasonably sure that it was Bart Ehrman who came up with what I think is an ingenious explanation of this verse. The religious authorities were afraid that Jesus’ tomb might become some sort of rallying point for Jesus’ followers. To prevent this, it was the Jewish authorities who moved the body. The detail about the young man in white, he thinks, indicates one of the temple officials who wore garments that were whitened pabove and beyond what was normal. And this then explains the bit about Galilee that we get in the next verse….

ἀλλὰ ὑπάγετε εἴπατε τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ καὶ τῷ Πέτρῳ ὅτι Προάγει ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν  Γαλιλαίαν: ἐκεῖ αὐτὸν ὄψεσθε, καθὼς εἶπεν ὑμῖν.

“But get up, tell his disciples and also Peter that “He has gone ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him, accordingly as he told you.”

OK, did I miss it? When did Jesus say anything about going ahead to Galilee? Answer, I don’t believe he did. This is the second part of Ehrman’s theory: that the religious authorities had their representative planted in the tomb to tell Jesus’ followers to leave Jerusalem and to go to Galilee where they would be Herod’s problem and not theirs.

I think this theory is ingenious. Whether it’s right or not is another story. Again, it depends pretty much on whether we believe the overall story of Mark that the religious authorities were responsible for Jesus’ execution. If this is true, then it’t not unreasonable to believe that they wanted to get rid of Jesus’ followers because there were so many of them, and they were apt to cause problems. If, as I’ve said, I don’t believe this cover story, then it really doesn’t follow that the religious authorities would have taken the initiative to concoct this scheme. So what, then?

At some level the story of the empty tomb has to be addressed in the historical analysis. Whether it was actually empty or not, this is the story that was propagated, and, as we saw in Paul, believed. Indeed, the Resurrection is the sine qua non of Christianity. Without this, Jesus is just another…whatever, however you conceive him to be, a wonder-worker, a revolutionary zealot, a wise man. He was, in short, a man. So we have to address the belief, if we don’t have to address the likelihood of the event. We have to ask if the tomb was empty. Then we have to ask why it was empty. While a miraculous resurrection is outside the usual course of historical events, and while it’s not possible that it could have occurred in the order of a ‘natural’ course of action, a miracle is always possible–by definition. But, regardless of what did happen, people believed in the phenomenon of the empty tomb, and we have to ask why that belief came about.

Of course, the simplest explanation for the belief is that Jesus did rise from the dead. FIne. But, as historians, we cannot leave it at that. To do so is to leave the realm of historical research and enter the realm of theology, or religious belief, or whatever you want to call it. So are there other possible–plausible–reasons why the tomb might have been empty?

Ehrman’s thesis is actually very attractive, because it solves a lot of problems in a way that is well within the realm of possibility. However, I don’t believe it’s likely since I don’t believe that the religious authorities had any reason to go to the effort. IMO, Jesus wasn’t that popular, he didn’t have a large following that they needed to fear, there was no reason for them to move the body, and to then plant an operative to throw the followers off-track by sending them on a wild goose chase to Galilee.

Another distinct possibility is that they had the wrong tomb. The events of the day of the crucifixion were, no doubt, stressful and confusing. The women were not from Jerusalem; it’s not hard to believe that they got confused, turned around, or that they just got it wrong because they didn’t see exactly where Jesus was placed. They went to a tomb, it was empty, but it wasn’t where Jesus had been laid. That was why the stone was rolled away; it had never been rolled in front of the entrance. A very simple mistake.

So there are plausible explanations, but I think we’re missing something. Mark did not originally include a resurrection story. Why not? That is, or seems, puzzling. But then we notice that Paul doesn’t have a resurrection story, either. IMO, I think the implication here is that the  story of the resurrection did not become…necessary until sometime in the 70s, after Mark wrote. (is necessary the right word? It’s one possible word, or conception, but it’s not the only one.)  As for why this was true, I think the reasons for this lie someplace in Paul’s writings; I need to address this, but I don’t know that this is the place. I plan to summarize Mark in toto when I finish Chapter 16, and then I plan to do a Mark vs Paul, compare and contrast sort of thing after that. The thing is, Paul’s writings that predate Mark are really the only appropriate NT writings to consider. What happened after Mark cannot concern us here. It’s inadmissible evidence for what Mark wrote, and why.

 7 Sed ite, dicite discipulis eius et Petro: “Praecedit vos in Galilaeam. Ibi eum videbitis, sicut dixit vobis” ”.

8 καὶ ἐξελθοῦσαι ἔφυγον ἀπὸ τοῦ μνημείου, εἶχεν γὰρ αὐτὰς τρόμος καὶ ἔκστασις: καὶ οὐδενὶ οὐδὲν εἶπαν, ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ.

And going out, they fled from the tomb, for they had trauma and ecstasy; and they said nothing to no one, for they were afraid.

One of the priests I heard speak on this reading on Easter made a wonderful point. He was very taken with this because he found it so believable. They were terrified, so they didn’t say anything to anyone. How human, how normal a reaction! And I agree. And it’s just this sort of very-human reaction to an extraordinary event that gives the NT, the Bible so much of its power. The authors were people with very keen insight into the human condition; they were very adept at bringing the message home and giving it a very human face, one in which almost anyone could recognize someone they know, if not themselves.

So again, we have a plausible story; does that mean it’s true? Not necessarily. We have to keep in mind that the Resurrection story was not created until at least a full generation had passed since Jesus’ death. That puts us into the 60s, after Paul; it may not have been created until into the 70s. As such, it’s really hard to argue, IMO, that there was any amount of factual accuracy in the story. Given the evidence of Paul, it’s not out of the question that it was made up of whole cloth, from scratch. Now, it’s possible that there were traditions of a Resurrection story local to Jerusalem and Galilee that Paul did not know about; however, given the changes made between Mark and Matthew, I’m not sure it’s easy to argue such a position. Not impossible, but difficult.

8 Et exeuntes fugerunt de monumento; invaserat enim eas tremor et pavor, et nemini quidquam dixerunt, timebant enim.

9 Ἀναστὰς δὲ πρω ῒπρώτῃ σαββάτου ἐφάνη πρῶτον Μαρίᾳ τῇ Μαγδαληνῇ, παρ’ ἧς ἐκβεβλήκει ἑπτὰ δαιμόνια.

(Jesus) having risen early in the morning, the first (day) after the Sabbath, he appeared to Mary of Magdala, from whom he cast out seven demons.

This is really interesting.  IMO, this is probably a gloss that got incorporated into the text. Think about it: we get the tale to the point of the previous verse, when the women ran away and told no one, and suddenly we’re back at the beginning, first light on the day after the Sabbath. And we skip over the trip to the tomb, and go right to the apparition to Mary of Magdala. In any linear sense, this makes no sense. If you think about it, though, and think of a copyist writing this a century later, he notices that we aren’t told that Jesus has actually been seen. So he makes a note to ‘correct’ the text. A century after that (and we’re still not up to the time of Constantine) a later copyist isn’t sure about where the margin begins and he (no doubt a ‘he’) just keeps going, adding this into the body of the text.

Another possibility is that the second copyist was the one who added the bit about the seven demons. This is another new bit of information. What is interesting is that it appears in Luke, but not in Matthew. What this suggests to me is that it had become part of the tradition about Mary M, in much the same way that she later became a prostitute, and the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet.  But that it skipped Matthew may indicate that this was a much later addition to the tradition. And note that it’s not said of her the first time she’s mentioned, either at the end of the last chapter or here in Chapter 16. So maybe the second copyist decided to ‘clarify’ things by making sure we knew this about her, or because he wanted to affirm to himself that he knew this about her from reading Luke. 

The point is, we cannot be very certain about when anything in this chapter was composed, or added.

9 Surgens autem mane, prima sabbati, apparuit primo Mariae Magdalenae, de qua eiecerat septem daemonia.

10 ἐκείνη πορευθεῖσα ἀπήγγειλεν τοῖς μετ’ αὐτοῦ γενομένοις πενθοῦσικαὶ κλαίουσιν:

Then going out she announced this to those who were being with her, being sad and crying,

10 Illa vadens nuntiavit his, qui cum eo fuerant, lugentibus et flentibus;

11 κἀκεῖνοι ἀκούσαντες ὅτι ζῇ καὶ ἐθεάθη ὑπ’ αὐτῆς ἠπίστησαν.

And then hearing that he lived and that he had been seen by her they did not believe.

Another very credible touch, because it’s totally a human reaction not to believe outrageous news. 

11 et illi audientes quia viveret et visus esset ab ea, non crediderunt.

Another Commercial Announcement: Euangelion Kata Markon

I put a link to this site in my last post, but I’ve had a chance to read some more of the stuff. The result is that it’s even better than I first thought, so I highly recommend taking a look. Or more than one.

The title of the blog is the transliteration of “The Goodnews According to Mark”, which is the title in Greek.



Mark Chapter 12:28-34

Chapter 12 continues.

28 Καὶ προσελθὼν εἷς τῶν γραμματέων ἀκούσας αὐτῶν συζητούντων, ἰδὼν ὅτι καλῶς ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς, ἐπηρώτησεν αὐτόν, Ποία ἐστὶν ἐντολὴ πρώτη πάντων;

And coming, one of the scribes having heard them discussing, seeing that he (Jesus) answered them well (lit = beautifully),  asked him, “Which of the commandments is first (i.e. most important, principal) of all?”

28 Et accessit unus de scribis, qui audierat illos conquirentes, videns quoniam bene illis responderit, interrogavit eum: “ Quod est primum omnium mandatum? ”.

29 ἀπεκρίθη ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι Πρώτη ἐστίν, Ἄκουε, Ἰσραήλ, κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν κύριος εἷς ἐστιν,

Answering, Jesus said that “The principal is, ‘Hear, Israel, the lord your God is one God,

29 Iesus respondit: “ Primum est: “Audi, Israel: Dominus Deus noster Dominus unus est,

30 καὶ ἀγαπήσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου ἐξ ὅλης τῆς καρδίας σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς ψυχῆς σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς διανοίας σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς ἰσχύος σου.

“and love the lord your God out of your whole heart, and from your whole soul, and from your whole mind and from the whole of your strength’.

30 et diliges Dominum Deum tuum ex toto corde tuo et ex tota anima tua et ex tota mente tua et ex tota virtute tua”.

31 δευτέρα αὕτη, Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν. μείζων τούτων ἄλλη ἐντολὴ οὐκ ἔστιν.

“The second is this, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Greater than these there is not another commandment.”

Jesus is citing Deuteronomy 6:4 in his response. This is interesting because growing up in the Roman Rite, and attending a parochial school operated by a Dominican priest and nuns, this was a citation was never really mentioned, let alone stressed. In fact, this whole formulation was presented as the difference between Jesus and Judaism. The expression used was spirit of the law represented by Jesus, vs. the letter of the law, represented by the hidebound Scribes and Pharisees. And I don’t mean to pick on one particular religious order, or even a single version of Christianity; from what I’ve been reading about QHJ, this was the predominant attitude of Christian scholars towards Jesus. One of the biggest developments of Jesus scholarship, IMO, over the past two or three decades is the growing involvement of Jews in the conversation. This new stream of thought has deeply enriched the scholarship, providing a perspective and a level of context that was sadly and sorely lacking. 

Now, given that this is a citation, it is impossible to maintain that Jesus was in full revolt from ‘mainstream Judaism’, that his interpretation was a novel, more enlightened religious experience, as opposed to a religious practice. Religion in the ancient world was seen by scholars as a formalized ritual, external, lacking emotional impact. This then explained the appeal of “Eastern Mystery Religions”, such as the cults of Isis, or Magna Mater, or the Eleusynian  Mysteries of Athens, or, ultimately, Christianity. This then explained the ‘clearing of the Temple’ in the last chapter. However, we now know that this is a grossly oversimplified view, that certainly Judaism, and even the supposedly “empty” pagan rituals had a lot of emotional appeal for a lot of people–which is why a lot of pagans were not all that eager to convert. 

31 Secundum est illud: “Diliges proximum tuum tamquam teipsum”. Maius horum aliud mandatum non est ”.

32 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὁ γραμματεύς, Καλῶς, διδάσκαλε, ἐπ’ ἀληθείας εἶπες ὅτι εἷς ἐστιν καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν ἄλλος πλὴν αὐτοῦ:

And the scribe said, “That is well, Teacher, that you speak upon the truth that is one and that there is not another greater.”

32 Et ait illi scriba: “ Bene, Magister, in veritate dixisti: “Unus est, et non est alius praeter eum;

33 καὶ τὸ ἀγαπᾶν αὐτὸν ἐξ ὅλης τῆς καρδίας καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς συνέσεως καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς ἰσχύος καὶ τὸ ἀγαπᾶν τὸν πλησίον ὡς ἑαυτὸν περισσότερόν ἐστιν πάντων τῶν ὁλοκαυτωμάτων καὶ θυσιῶν.

“And the love out of the whole heart, and out of the whole of the mind, and out of the whole of the strength, and the love of the neighbor as oneself is the greater than of all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

And right on cue: the scribe himself belittles the idea of burnt offerings and sacrifices. This is just what Jesus railed against when he ‘cleared the Temple’, and the implication of loving God and one’s neighbor as the most important commandments. Surely, this provides support for the idea that Jesus preached a religion of the heart, rather than a religion of external ritual?

Unfortunately, this little speech, I think, is a very late addition. With Mark, only Matthew tells this story; Luke and John omit it. More, only Mark has this little disclaimer about burnt offerings. As such, this could have been inserted a century or more after the first edition left the pen of Mark. This strikes me as belonging almost to the Third Century, when Christianity’s main opponents were pagans, rather than Jews.

And yes, I realize it’s terribly convenient to dismiss verses as ‘late additions’ when they don’t suit my purpose; my hope is that the reason for the rejection makes sense and carries weight. Part of the problem is that we are way too accustomed to the idea of a fixed book containing a fixed set of doctrines. This was not always the case. There is, for example, no real ‘official’ version of most Greek myths. The story may be told one way by Homer, somewhat differently by Theogenes, and differently again by one of the tragedians. So the idea that the words came off Mark’s pen, to be fixed indelibly thereafter is a fantasy; the textual notes on a decent Greek edition of the NT will disabuse anyone of that very quickly. These works were fluid for centuries; stuff got added in, or left out. For a scribe of the early First Century to downplay traditional Jewish sacrifice is possible, to be sure, but, on the whole, it feels anachronistic, which implies a later addition.

33 et diligere eum ex toto corde et ex toto intellectu et ex tota fortitudine” et: “Diligere proximum tamquam seipsum” maius est omnibus holocautomatibus et sacrificiis ”.

34 καὶ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἰδὼν[αὐτὸν] ὅτι νουν εχῶς ἀπεκρίθη εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Οὐ μακρὰν εἶ ἀπὸ τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ. καὶ οὐδεὶς οὐκ έτι ἐτόλμα αὐτὸν ἐπερωτῆσαι.

And Jesus seeing (him) that he had sense (was sensible) said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And now no one dared to ask him anything.

34 Et Iesus videns quod sapienter respondisset, dixit illi: “ Non es longe a regno Dei ”. Et nemo iam audebat eum interrogare.

Interesting: the scribe is ‘not far from the kingdom of God’. Here again we get something of a tantalizing glimpse of what that might mean without being sure exactly. What is it that qualifies the man? That he agrees with Jesus? That he believes in loving God and neighbor? That he understands that these are the most important aspects of living a good and virtuous life? That he sees the value of the internal outlook over the external form? Probably some part of all of these.

But one thing: he is not far from the kingdom; but where does he stand with regard to ‘The Life’, or ‘The Life Eternal’? Are the two terms, kingdom of God and the Life synonymous? Interchangeable? Do they at least overlap? I don’t think we know. And I think this is a crucial question to be asking, and I’m sorry I haven’t been asking it right along. It’s much easier to find something when you know what it is you’re looking for. At some point it will be interesting to look at the compare & contrast between the concepts of the Kingdom and the Life.

Mark Chapter 8:27-38

We conclude Chapter 8. This is a very long segment, but it’s mainly due to the length of the comments. There is a lot of very important information in this section.

27 Καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὰς κώμας Καισαρείας τῆς Φιλίππου: καὶ ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ ἐπηρώτα τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ λέγων αὐτοῖς, Τίνα με λέγουσιν οἱ ἄνθρωποι εἶναι;

And Jesus and his disciples went out (of Bethsaida) to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And upon the road he asked his disciples, saying to them, “Who do people say me to be?”

<< ἄνθρωποι>> = “anthropoi” (e.g., “anthropology) should literally be “men”; but really, the closer sense, both in Greek, and with the Latin “homo/homines” would be more closely rendered as “human” in English. The situation is analogous to proper grammar, which says “does everyone have his pencil?”. The masculine is the default setting in Greek, Latin, and traditionally in French and Spanish. I find that using “men” here, which would be more consistent with my principle of showing the Greek, is simply too anachronistic at this point.  My apologies for the inconsistency.

Note the placement of this: after the ambiguous story of Jesus needing two iterations to heal the blind man.

27 Et egressus est Iesus et discipuli eius in castella Caesareae Philippi; et in via interrogabat discipulos suos dicens eis: “ Quem me dicunt esse homines? ”.

28 οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ λέγοντες [ὅτι] Ἰωάννην τὸν βαπτιστήν, καὶ ἄλλοι, Ἠλίαν, ἄλλοι δὲ ὅτι εἷς τῶν προφητῶν.

They answered him saying that, “John the Baptist, and others Elijah, but other that (you are) one of the prophets.”

I pointed out once before that, for Jews, Elijah takes precedence over Isaiah. Christians tend to think the other way around because Isaiah was mined so heavily for quotes that could be taken to indicate the coming of the Messiah, and perhaps Jesus. Again, though, we get the connection with John the Baptist (the Dunker).

I find this a little interesting. Did people not know that John had been executed? That is entirely possible. It’s not like there were news agencies reporting on things. If Herod didn’t want word to get out, it would only come out gradually, in widening circles, starting as a rumor. And it’s not like everyone would have known what John looked like, exactly. So a man doing and saying similar things could have been seen as the same man. Or, was Mark simply putting words into people’s mouths to underline again that Jesus was connected to John.

Which leads us back to the relationship between Jesus and John. How close was it? What did it constitute? A similar message? We were told that John preached repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins; so far, we haven’t had a lot of that from Jesus. So who would be more likely to make the connection between Jesus and John: the ubiquitous “they” who “say”, as in “they say…”; or Mark, wishing again to show that Jesus had roots, which would impress an audience of pagans?

28 Qui responderunt illi dicentcs: “ Ioannem Baptistam, alii Eliam, alii vero unum de prophetis ”.

29 καὶ αὐτὸς ἐπηρώτα αὐτούς, Ὑμεῖς δὲ τίνα με λέγετε εἶναι; ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Πέτρος λέγει αὐτῷ, Σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστός.

And he asked them, “But who do you say me to be?” Answering, Peter said to him, “You are the Christ.”

And there it is. We finally get the declaration, more than half-way through the gospel. Why did this take so long? Since I don’t have an answer to this question, I suppose it becomes rhetorical.

Then compare this definitive statement with the ambiguity we discussed in the last post.

One thing occurs to me. In discussing the occurrence of certain words, I’ve noticed that some very charged words have not shown up in this gospel up until close to half-way through; even then most of the incidents occur in the final 2-3 chapters. Offhand, I can’t recall what the other words were for which I noted this phenomenon; however, I will try to look back and see what I can find. I’ve had a flash of insight on this. It’s long been known that Mark, as first written, did not have a Resurrection story. Mark originally ended at the end of Chapter 15. At some point, however, Chapter 16 was added to the text, which told of the Resurrection. What if some of the later chapters were either added, or heavily amended, in order to make sure that all the “proper” words and themes were included? Or sections that, as in the case of this verse, that clear up ambiguity by inserting a definitive statement?

As of this moment, I have not thought this through. More will follow.

29 Et ipse interrogabat eos: “ Vos vero quem me dicitis esse? ”. Respondens Petrus ait ei: “ Tu es Christus ”.

30 καὶ ἐπετίμησεν αὐτοῖς ἵνα μηδενὶ λέγωσιν περὶ αὐτοῦ.

And he rebuked them, so that they would tell no one about him.

Now that we have the declaration, we’re back to a policy of secrecy. Why? How does this make sense?

Well, it does make sense if Jesus were concerned to fly under the radar of the secular authorities. That is, if he wanted to spread the Good News without undue interference from said authorities. Or, if he wanted the Good News to be heard on its own merits, and not followed because he was the Messiah. Not that declaring himself the Messiah would have been immediately believed, or that the authorities would have arrested him for making the claim, but it may have garnered unwanted interference. He might have been scrutinised a bit more closely.

There had been uprisings after the death of Herod the Great in 4 BCE. These uprisings required Roman intervention, and resulted in the establishment of a Roman official–who would be Pilate, at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. And certainly the period between Jesus and the writing of Mark saw the great rebellion of 66-67, which resulted in the total destruction of Jerusalem and the changing the name of the province from Judea to Palestine. So political considerations are not out of the question.

30 Et comminatus est eis, ne cui dicerent de illo.

31 Καὶ ἤρξατο διδάσκειν αὐτοὺς ὅτι δεῖ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου πολλὰ παθεῖν καὶ ἀποδοκιμασθῆναι ὑπὸ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων καὶ τῶν ἀρχιερέων καὶ τῶν γραμματέων καὶ ἀποκτανθῆναι καὶ μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας ἀναστῆναι:

And he began to teach them that the son of man must suffer much and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and after three days to rise.

δεῖ…παθεῖν καὶ ἀποδοκιμασθῆναι… καὶ ἀποκτανθῆναι καὶ…ἀναστῆναι: The initial word, <<δεῖ >> means ‘must’. In English, the best rendering would probably be ‘have to’ because that allows the remaining verbs, to suffer, to be rejected , to be killed, to rise to fall into the infinitive form, which all of these are in Greek.

Here are some more: elders and chief priests are words we have not encountered before in Mark. At least, we have not seen ‘elders’ in this sense, as in elders of the religion. We did see it back in 7:5, but there it was more in the sense of ‘ancestors’. It has a very different, much more specific sense here.

And honestly, this is ex-post prophecy. Mark’s grammar is generally pretty basic, so it would be difficult (for me, anyway) to say that this is stylistically different from what we have seen to this point. So it could easily be true that Mark wrote this. But I very much do think it’s significant that we are suddenly running into a bunch of new vocabulary, especially when it’s related to ex-post prophecy.

I do want to underscore that ‘to rise’ is in the active voice here. That Jesus would be rising, not that he would be raised (by God), as we saw in Galatians.

31 Et coepit docere illos: “ Oportet Filium hominis multa pati et reprobari a senioribus et a summis sacerdotibus et scribis et occidi et post tres dies resurgere ”;

32 καὶ παρρησίᾳ τὸν λόγον ἐλάλει. καὶ προσλαβόμενος ὁ Πέτρος αὐτὸν ἤρξατο ἐπιτιμᾶν αὐτῷ.

And in frankness he spoke this speech. And Peter taking hold of him began to rebuke him.

<< τὸν λόγον >> here translated as ‘this speech’.  “Logos” is one of those words that can mean so many different things. “In the beginning was the Logos…” as John says. Here, the meaning is much more prosaic. “This speech” is a bit awkward, but that’s because << τὸν λόγον >> is singular. I would prefer ‘these words’, but that throw this into the plural.

And there is a lot of rebuking going on. It’s all the same word, << ἐπιτιμάω >>. With the dative, as all these are, it means ‘rebuke’. 

32 et palam verbum loquebatur. Et apprehendens eum Petrus coepit increpare eum.

33 ὁ δὲ ἐπιστραφεὶς καὶ ἰδὼν τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ ἐπετίμησεν Πέτρῳ καὶ λέγει, Υπαγε ὀπίσω μου, Σατανᾶ, ὅτι οὐ φρονεῖς τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ ἀλλὰ τὰ τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

He (Jesus) turning and seeing his disciples rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan because you are not considering the things of God, but the things of humans (lit = ‘men’).

Oddly, this little exchange has a very authentic feel to it. Peter rebuking Jesus, then Jesus rebuking Peter…That doesn’t mean it is authentic; it could just mean that Mark has a keen writer’s insight.

33 Qui conversus et videns discipulos suos comminatus est Petro et dicit: “ Vade retro me, Satana, quoniam non sapis, quae Dei sunt, sed quae sunt hominum ”.

34 Καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος τὸν ὄχλον σὺν τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσωμου ἀκολουθεῖν, ἀπαρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι.

And calling the crowd with his disciples, he said to them, “If someone wishes to follow after me, he must deny himself and let him take up his cross and follow me.”

A couple of things here. First, where did the crowd come from? He was on the way to Caesaria Philippi with his disciples, and they were having what sounded like a private dialogue. Now, suddenly, we are told there is a crowd. It’s certainly not impossible that one accumulated, but it is rather jarring.

Second, where does this come from? I suppose it follows from Peter’s rebuking Jesus. Peter did not understand the divine plan, so he tried to tell Jesus that the latter should not accept death, and so, as a result, Jesus announces this bit about following him and taking up one’s cross. But does that mean that the crowd overheard Jesus and Peter? Or is Jesus just announcing this to the crowd, without introduction? The point is that Peter does not want Jesus to face death. That is certainly understandable. But Jesus uses this announcement to the crowd to tell Peter what must be done.

34 Et convocata turba cum discipulis suis, dixit eis: “ Si quis vult post me sequi, deneget semetipsum et tollat crucem suam et sequatur me.

35 ὃς γὰρ ἐὰν θέλῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ σῶσαι ἀπολέσει αὐτήν: ὃς δ’ ἂν ἀπολέσει τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ καὶ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου σώσει αὐτήν.

“For he who may wish to save his life will lose it. But he who loses his life because of me and the Good News will save it.”

So yes, this all follows from Peter’s rebuking of Jesus. Matthew who tells us explicitly that Peter was perhaps more remonstrating than rebuking, denying that Jesus should, or had to, accept death. Mark does not give us that detail. Why not? Did he simply feel it was not necessary? That the context made clear that Peter was talking about Jesus accepting death? If it’s so clear, then why did Matthew have to put words in Peter’s mouth? Luke omits the scene.

But this is beside the point. What is the message: it sure seems to be an intimation of martyrdom. By the time Mark wrote, Peter and Paul and others had been executed because of Jesus and the good news. (Note: I’ve been capitalizing Good News, but that really isn’t appropriate. Or, rather, it’s only appropriate in hindsight. In short, it’s anachronistic  and exactly the sort of thing we’re trying to get past.) So again, this is ex-post prophecy. 

35 Qui enim voluerit animam suam salvam facere, perdet eam; qui autem perdiderit animam suam propter me et evangelium, salvam eam faciet.

36 τί γὰρ ὠφελεῖ  ἄνθρωπον κερδῆσαι τὸν κόσμον ὅλον καὶ ζημιωθῆναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ;

“For what will it profit a man to gain the entire world (lit = ‘cosmos’, but the idiomatic meaning in Greek is ‘the world’), but lose his own life?”

This is a big one. The standard–all four of my crib translations–translate this as “lose his own soul”. But note that the word  <<ψυχὴν >>, ‘psyche’, is used for ‘life’ in V-35.  Now, obviously, there is a very real sense in which ‘life’ and ‘soul’ are absolutely interchangeable. But there is also, in modern idiom, a very real sense in which they are, obviously, different. And using ‘life’ here in V-36 drastically changes the meaning of the sentence. For Christians, ‘losing the soul’ implies losing eternal life, the forfeiture of salvation. Losing one’s life, OTOH, simply means ‘to die’, without any implications for eternity. Even on a secular level, losing one’s soul has non-physical implications; it means selling out, often for material gain, and betraying one’s inner self and values. Plus, there’s the wonderful distinction between gaining the material (= bad) at the cost of one’s spiritual (= good) soul.

OTOH, this is the fourth time the word is used in Mark. In the previous three (3:4, and twice in 8:35 that we have just read). In these three (one? two at the most.) previous uses, the meaning is taken to be ‘life’. So why does it suddenly switch meanings here? Does it change meaning in this verse? From our point of view, the answer to the second question is ‘yes, of course’. But what about the ‘why does it change?’ Also: the next usage, in 10:45 is also most naturally translated as ‘life’.

It can be well argued that my translation here doesn’t really make sense. How can one gain the world, if one dies by doing it?  One has to be alive–but/if corrupted–for the gain to become malevolent, or at least tragic. 

Does it?

I grant that it has much more poetic resonance when translated as ‘soul’. But I’m not sure it’s what Mark was thinking. Because read my translation and interpretation of the translation again: what’s the profit if you gain the world but die trying? Obviously, and very explicitly, and very…well, obviously, there is no gain. One does not have to consider the secular implications of living in vast wealth but feeling all empty inside, nor the implications of eternity, gaining vast wealth but suffering damnation. Rather, gaining the world but to die trying is as obvious as a slap in the face. There is no gain.

Now here is where a discussion of what this word meant to contemporary audiences would be completely appropriate. It would also be very lengthy. Aristotle is the first to consider the concept of life from anything like scientific principles. The point is that ‘psyche’ was identified mainly with the breath of life, but was not necessarily considered the immortal part of a human. In the OT, ‘psyche’ is used to translate ‘nephesh’, which also means ‘breath of life’. In NT Greek, the word that most closely resembles our modern ‘soul’ is actually << πνεῦμα >>, ‘spirit’, which is why we have a ‘holy spirit’ and not a ‘holy psyche’. For classical-era Greeks, the immortal part of a human was often <<νοος>>, ‘mind’ or ‘intellect’. I’m not really competent to comment on the state of Jewish beliefs at the time, except to say that they seem to have been evolving, moving towards the Greek idea of a mind/soul/body/spirit split. Such a development is not surprising, given both the generally Hellenized milieu of the Near East at the time, and the ancient Iranian/dualist distinction between spirit and flesh.

So, what does Mark mean here? I believe that the proper translation here would be ‘life’. I base this on previous and subsequent usage, and the fact that dying in the attainment of a goal–especially something like wealth, which is what ‘gaining the world’ generally implies–is pretty much the definition of futility.

And trying to resolve so complex a question in so short a space is also an exercise in futility. I will revisit this in a longer post dedicated specifically to this topic.

36 Quid enim prodest homini, si lucretur mundum totum et detrimentum faciat animae suae?

37 τί γὰρ δοῖ ἄνθρωπος ἀντάλλαγμα τῆς ψυχῆς αὐτοῦ;

For what might a man give in exchange for his life?

Again, this is generally translated as ‘soul’. The question is: has the meaning shaded to the point that soul becomes the appropriate translation? If so, do we not have to ask whether this is truly a later insertion? ‘Psyche’ = ‘soul’ does not, generally, fit the way it is used in most of Mark. Indeed, it’s barely used in Mark, until this point. It’s used thrice more; as mentioned, = ‘life’ in 10:45, and two occurrences in consecutive verses where the formula, ‘with all your soul’ is repeated.

This would seem to imply one of two things: a) that the translation should be ‘life’, largely based on probability, given that Mark generally uses the word that way; 0r b) that this means ‘soul’ and was inserted later.

I believe I’ve mentioned Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Christian Tradition series, especially Volume 1, which deals with the years 100-600. The book is invaluable if only because it’s a really good description of the process by which most of the fundamental tenets of Christian belief developed, and how long some of these “fundamental” beliefs (like the Holy Spirit, and so the Trinity) took several centuries to evolve into their present state.

37 Quid enim dabit homo commutationem pro anima sua?

38 ὃς γὰρ ἐὰν ἐπαισχυνθῇ με καὶ τοὺς ἐμοὺς λόγους ἐν τῇ γενεᾷ ταύτῃ τῇ μοιχαλίδι καὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ, καὶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐπαισχυνθήσεται αὐτὸν ὅταν ἔλθῃ ἐν τῇ δόξῃ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ μετὰ τῶν ἀγγέλων τῶν ἁγίων.

For he who ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, so (lit = and) the son of man will be ashamed of him when he (son of man) may come into the glory of his father with the angels and the holy ones (= saints).

38 Qui enim me confusus fuerit et mea verba in generatione ista adultera et peccatrice, et Filius hominis confundetur eum, cum venerit in gloria Patris sui cum angelis sanctis ”.

We’re back to the present generation, and it’s a sinful and adulterous one! IMO, this is something stuck here that completely lacks any organic context. Now, whether it was Mark who stuck this here, or some later editor, is very difficult to say. My sense is that this represents an addition to the original text of Mark. Why? Because Mark is generally much better at weaving his disparate threads, where this looks and feels like something altogether different.

The sentiment expressed in this verse is very close to one of the verses of Q as reconstructed by Burton Mack in his Gospel of Q. Now, this is not to say that it was actually something Jesus said, but Mack (who is a participant in the QHJ) seems to believe it dates back to Jesus. If this is true, or if this were believed at the time, it would be a good explanation for why this has been added–assuming that this verse was not in the original gospel as written by Mark.

Just so there is no misunderstanding, this sort of speculation is exactly that. I do not have credentials in this, but I truly believe these are questions that need to be asked if the QHJ is to get anywhere. From what I’ve read about QHJ, and about a lot of the history of the events in the Bible, I’m not entirely impressed. The people writing much of the work in these disciplines are well versed in Scripture, or perhaps archaeology, but there aren’t many historians among them. Akenson is an historian, and his views, IMO, showed a keen historical insight, even if NT times are not his specialty.

My apologies if this offends anyone.