This chapter begins with the story of the centurion’s child/servant. This is another of the alleged stories from Q. This means that we have already discussed much of the content, so the implications and the differences will feature in the discussion. For example, the word chosen here is different than in Matthew. With that teaser, let’s move on to the
1Ἐπειδὴ ἐπλήρωσεν πάντα τὰ ῥήματα αὐτοῦ εἰς τὰς ἀκοὰς τοῦ λαοῦ, εἰσῆλθεν εἰς Καφαρναούμ.
2 Ἑκατοντάρχου δέ τινος δοῦλος κακῶς ἔχων ἤμελλεν τελευτᾶν, ὃς ἦν αὐτῷ ἔντιμος.
When all these things of him having been said to those listening to the speech, he came into Caphernaum. (2) The slave of a certain hundred leader had a disease and he was about to die, who by him was esteemed.
There are two points here. First, what is so clumsily rendered as a “hundred leader” is the literal translation into Greek of the military rank and title “centurion”. This is what a centurion was: the leader of a group of 100 soldiers, a group referred to as a “century”. Now, while it had originally meant 100 soldiers, the size of the century had shrunk to 80 soldiers, the latter number proving more tactically versatile. A centurion was the highest-ranking non-commissioned officer in the army. These men were career soldiers, and they were the backbone of the army. Commanders and officers came and went, but these guys stayed and provided the discipline and direction needed to carry out orders, in war or in peace. They could be brutal men, enforcing discipline very harshly. The Romans were not known for their tolerance of dissent or lack of discipline. Despite the shrunken size of the unit, the title “centurion” remained.
Now, Mark does not include this story; however, he does refer to a centurion three times in the Passion narrative. This is the centurion who was in charge of the unit that carried out the crucifixion. Unlike Luke here, Mark did not translate the term into Greek; rather, he simply transliterated it as kenturiōn. This has led many biblicists for many centuries to use this as “proof” that Mark wrote in Rome; to be fair, there are others in which Mark preserves the Latin word. I’m not prepared to take up that discussion now; I don’t really believe there is anywhere close to enough evidence to support Mark writing in Rome, but that’s an issue for another day. The point is that, here and elsewhere, in contrast to Mark, Matthew and Luke use the Greek translation found here: hekatonarchēs. That, in and of itself, is simply a data point in the Q discussion. It can only be pushed so far. Hold that thought about vocabulary.
Perhaps more significant is the word Luke uses for “slave”. If you recall, Matthew used the word pais, which literally means child, or more usually, “boy”. When treating Matthew’s version, we discussed the ambiguity of the term, the dual meaning, whether it was meant as “boy-child”, or “boy”, as in “houseboy”. This latter was a term in use through the Nixon years; the Richard and Pat Nixon had a long-serving Filipino “houseboy” named Manolo. The term has gone out of use for it’s racist connotations. It was largely reserved for men of color, when a Caucasian serving the same function would be termed a “butler”. In any case, the ambiguity was patent, although the general consensus was to treat the term as used by Matthew to mean “slave”. The Vulgate alternates terms as well; it renders the use in Matthew as puer, which means “boy”, as in “child”. For example, the opening line of a Gregorian Christmas chant is Puer natus est, referring to Jesus as the “boy/child”. Here, the Vulgate uses servus, the standard word for “slave”. The Vulgate does that because here, Luke has removed that ambiguity and simply used doulos, which is the conventional word for “slave”. So there is no doubt about the intent and the relationship.
Now let us consider this for a moment. The story is supposed to be in Q. What word is used there? Luke’s or Matthew’s? I’m not sure what the orthodoxy is for Q proponents, since I’ve not seen a discussion of the word in those terms; or, rather, I’ve not seen a discussion of Q that got into sufficient detail to touch on this. I would imagine the Q people would say that the base word is doulos, as it is here, and that Matthew changed it to indicate the extra level of affection the centurion had for this particular slave. (And doulos most emphatically does not mean “servant”. Hired servants scarcely existed in the ancient world.) Luke, OTOH, provides the more original reading, as he is said to do in so many cases. Except where he doesn’t.
Now, this is a reasonable suggestion, that Matthew used the other word to indicate the centurion’s esteem. And it certainly was not uncommon for a slave to be seen as pretty much one of the family, especially in households that had three or fewer such slaves. It’s not an unusual relationship even now, where servants of longstanding become integrated into the household. So, it makes sense for Matthew to emphasize this. That is one explanation, but it’s purely a theory. Another theory is that Luke found the word pais as used by Matthew to be ambiguous, so he clarified by changing it to doulos. This means, of course, that Luke read Matthew, didn’t like what he found, and changed it.
Which explanation is more convincing? Each reader must decide that for her/himself. I find the second more convincing because it is bolstered by another aspect of this story. The moral of this anecdote is that pagans had faith that the children of Israel did not. Such a moral brings the question of content into the discussion; or, at least, it should raise the question of content, but the topic never arises. Is this appropriate to the 30s? Or is it more appropriate to a time well after that, a time in the 70s or 80s? Is it more appropriate to the time of Jesus who preached to Jews well within the confines of Galilee and Judea? Or to a time when the new movement was comprised of more pagans than Jews? Why would Jesus tell a story that praised the faith of the pagans, and disparaged the faith of the children of Israel? This is rarely discussed. Even the non-Q people don’t bring it up. Why not?
Not to worry: I’m not going to address that last question. All I’m going to do is say that the content of the story, along with Luke’s clarification that the sick person was a slave and not a child, provides some pretty good evidence that this story was not found in some mythical document that came from the time of Jesus. Rather, it dated from the decades after Jesus, and probably a decade or two after Paul, when the weight of the movement was pagan and not Jewish. To infer this puts a big crimp in the Q position, which is why it’s never discussed.
1 Cum autem implesset omnia verba sua in aures plebis, intra vit Capharnaum.
2 Centurionis autem cuiusdam servus male habens erat moriturus, qui illi erat pretiosus.
3 ἀκούσας δὲ περὶ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἀπέστειλεν πρὸς αὐτὸν πρεσβυτέρους τῶν Ἰουδαίων, ἐρωτῶν αὐτὸν ὅπως ἐλθὼν διασώσῃ τὸν δοῦλον αὐτοῦ.
4 οἱ δὲ παραγενόμενοι πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν παρεκάλουναὐτὸν σπουδαίως, λέγοντες ὅτι Ἄξιός ἐστιν ᾧ παρέξῃ τοῦτο,
5 ἀγαπᾷ γὰρ τὸ ἔθνος ἡμῶν καὶ τὴν συναγωγὴν αὐτὸς ᾠκοδόμησεν ἡμῖν.
And hearing about Jesus, he (the centurion) sent to him (Jesus) elders of the Jews, asking him in order that coming he might save his slave. (4) They coming to Jesus they asked him earnestly, saying that he is a worthy man, to whom you will give this, (5) for he loves our people and he built our synagogue.
I really hate to be so pedantic, but the story completely goes off the rails here. It also diverges from Matthew. In that version, the centurion comes in person; there is no intermediary of elders of the Jews. So here is one of those situations where Luke preserves the more primitive version, except when he doesn’t. And this has to be one of those exceptions. Doesn’t it? So how to explain that? And if Luke is adding stuff to Q, where else is he adding stuff? But aside from that, why does Luke feel compelled to add this bit? Once he has done so, of course, the rest makes sense. Luke wants to make the case that the centurion had done good deeds for the Jews.
So is that the reason for adding this whole section? To show how the pagans were pretty good people even before they began to follow Jesus? I think so. After all, that is largely what these verses do: show that the man was already well on his way, that he had the proper attitude, that even pagans had the sense to turn to the True God of Israel even before the coming of Jesus, so this man–and others like him–had truly warranted entrance into the kingdom. This is, in other words, an intensifier, making the claim of pagans to be legitimate members of the followers of Jesus. In some ways, the centurion is a leader, for he is the one who built the synagogue. And note that he has the capacity to have the elders go and speak on his behalf. This is important for what comes next.
3 Et cum audisset de Iesu, misit ad eum seniores Iudaeorum rogans eum, ut veniret et salvaret servum eius.
4 At illi cum venissent ad Iesum, rogabant eum sollicite dicentes: “Dignus est, ut hoc illi praestes:
5 diligit enim gentem nostram et synagogam ipse aedificavit nobis”.
6 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἐπορεύετο σὺν αὐτοῖς. ἤδη δὲ αὐτοῦ οὐ μακρὰν ἀπέχοντος ἀπὸ τῆς οἰκίας ἔπεμψεν φίλους ὁ ἑκατοντάρχης λέγων αὐτῷ, Κύριε, μὴ σκύλλου, οὐ γὰρ ἱκανός εἰμι ἵνα ὑπὸ τὴν στέγην μου εἰσέλθῃς:
7 διὸ οὐδὲ ἐμαυτὸν ἠξίωσα πρὸς σὲ ἐλθεῖν: ἀλλὰ εἰπὲ λόγῳ, καὶ ἰαθήτω ὁ παῖς μου.
And Jesus went with them. Indeed he was not far from the house of him the centurion sent friends saying to him (Jesus), “Lord, do not trouble, for I am not worthy in order under my roof that you should come. (7) On which account (I am) not worthy to come to you. But say the word, and healed shall be my boy.
What do we make of this? Suddenly the sick one is “my child/boy” (pais) rather than “slave”. What this implies, I believe, is that pais is the original term used, which Luke changed to slave in the first couple of verses before reverting to the original word here. The question then is what the significance of this change is. Is this a case of the famous “editorial fatigue”, wherein the second writer gets so worn out by trying to change the original that the editor just sort of collapses and reverts to the original. I do not, or perhaps should not, really belittle this phenomenon, because on the whole it seems to support the non-Q position. This is true because it’s usually Luke who does the reverting, just as he’s done here. Honestly, though, all it proves is that pais was the original term, but there is no real evidence that it appeared originally in Matthew or in Q. The only thing is, if Matthew is the original term, then that doesn’t help the contention that Luke preserves the more primitive version of Q. How are we to take the apparent reversal of roles here? That Luke is the more primitive, except when he’s not? The lack of consistency is rather detrimental to the Q position.
6 Iesus autem ibat cum illis. At cum iam non longe esset a domo, misit centurio amicos dicens ei: “Domine, noli vexari; non enim dignus sum, ut sub tectum meum intres,
7 propter quod et meipsum non sum dignum arbitratus, ut venirem ad te; sed dic verbo, et sanetur puer meus.
8 καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ ἄνθρωπός εἰμι ὑπὸ ἐξουσίαν τασσόμενος, ἔχων ὑπ’ ἐμαυτὸν στρατιώτας, καὶλέγω τούτῳ, Πορεύθητι, καὶ πορεύεται, καὶ ἄλλῳ, Ἔρχου, καὶ ἔρχεται, καὶ τῷ δούλῳ μου, Ποίησον τοῦτο, καὶ ποιεῖ.
9 ἀκούσας δὲταῦτα ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐθαύμασεν αὐτόν, καὶ στραφεὶς τῷ ἀκολουθοῦντι αὐτῷ ὄχλῳ εἶπεν, Λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐδὲ ἐν τῷ Ἰσραὴλ τοσαύτηνπίστιν εὗρον.
10 καὶ ὑποστρέψαντες εἰς τὸν οἶκον οἱ πεμφθέντες εὗρον τὸν δοῦλον ὑγιαίνοντα.
“For also I am a man arranged under power (as in a hierarchy), and having under me soldiers, and I say to that one, ‘Go’, and he goes, and to another, ‘Come’, and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this’, and he does it.” (9) Having heard these things Jesus marveled (at) him, and he turned to the listening crowd he said, “I say to you, never in Israel this sort of faith have I found.” (10) And turning around to the house, those having been sent found the slave having been healed.
There is no real novelty in these last verses as Jesus delivers the punchline. Regardless, the message is clearly that the pagans are to be compared favourably to the scions of Israel. Why is this? I mean that as, why is this story here? There are, perhaps, a handful of stories in these first gospels where Jesus interacts with non-Jews. The one that comes to mind in Mark is the Syro-Phoenician (Canaanite, per Matthew) woman at the well. In Mark, Jesus tells her that it is not proper to take bread meant for the children and give it to the dogs. And in Matthew, Jesus tells her that he has not come for the pagans, but for the lost sheep of Israel. IOW, go pound sand. Luke, interestingly, omits that story completely. And after checking, it appears that Mark has only that one story of Jesus interacting with pagans. Indeed, Paul pretty much confirms that Jesus did not, since he had to break new ground in his efforts to convert pagans. So that story of Mark is likely a later addition; it may have been in the original version of Mark, but it likely was scripted after much of the other material having been thought up as pagans began to be much more important to the various communities. In addition to that story, Matthew adds this one. Here, not only is the man a pagan, he’s a Roman soldier, and an important one. He wasn’t necessarily an ethnic Roman, for by this point many subject peoples had joined the army, often as a method of obtaining Roman citizenship upon discharge, or death; in either case the soldiers’ children would be Roman citizens, and this conferred important benefits. Recall that, having been arrested, Paul was treated differently after he said, cives Romanus sum, “I am a Roman citizen”.
The point is, this story marked an increased marketing effort to a wider, pagan audience. This opening up had not occurred until the later 70s, too late for Mark to include it. As such, the timing is way off for this to have been part of Q. Or, to say that it was part of Q is to dilute the content of Q down to virtual insignificance. If it included stuff from the mid-70s–or later–then the whole point of Q is lost. This story did not trace back to Mark, let alone Jesus. It’s clear from Galatians that Paul was breaking new ground. Yes, of course it’s possible that this occurred during Jesus’ life, but a lot of things are possible. Just because it’s possible doesn’t make it true. Off the top of my head, I would think that this barely has a 10% chance of dating back to Jesus, and I think 10% is being extremely generous. More realistic would be 5%, or really even less. Against that, I would say that there is at least a 60% chance that Luke got this from Matthew. The giveaway, I think, is the “correction” of pais. Or, more generously, we could say that Luke clarified the word, and then slipped back to the original once the point was made. Call it editorial fatigue if you like; to my mind, it seems more a case that Luke wasn’t concerned after he had made his point that the person healed was a slave.
8 Nam et ego homo sum sub potestate constitutus, habens sub me milites, et dico huic: “Vade”, et vadit; et alii: “Veni”, et venit; et servo meo: “Fac hoc”, et facit ”.
9 Quo audito, Iesus miratus est eum et conversus sequentibus se turbis dixit: “ Dico vobis, nec in Israel tantam fidem inveni! ”.
10 Et reversi, qui missi fuerant, domum, invenerunt servum sanum.
The last two sections of the chapter will be fairly short, especially since I got all the commentary on Verse 39 out of the way. I think the quick hitters are probably easier to read, especially if something takes me off on a tangent like in the last section. However, the tangents are rather the point; they indicate something of significance. The Sermon on the Plain continues. We left off with a parable. With that by way of introduction, let’s get on to the
40 οὐκ ἔστιν μαθητὴς ὑπὲρ τὸν διδάσκαλον, κατηρτισμένος δὲ πᾶς ἔσται ὡς ὁ διδάσκαλος αὐτοῦ.
The student is not over the teacher. All having been prepared will be as his teacher.
I have to confess that I’ve never quite understood this aphorism. Taken either literally, or perhaps to its logical extreme, it means that this is as good as it gets? We can never advance because the teachers we have today will never be surpassed? How does that work? It has me wondering if this isn’t a sideways shot at James the Just, who maybe tried to put on airs as if he were superior to Jesus? I don’t know. I doubt that’s the intent, but it makes very little sense to me. FYI, I resisted the impulse to render this as “All having been mended”; the Greek word is the same one that was used to describe the sons of Zebedee mending their nets when called by Jesus in Matthew. The Latin is “perfectus”, but that means something more on the order of completed, or prepared, than something made perfect as we use the word. Or then, I could just be suffering from hyper-literalness due to reading too much philosophy, where “perfect” has a pretty specific meaning.
40 Non est discipulus super magistrum; perfectus autem omnis erit sicut magister eius.
41 Τί δὲ βλέπεις τὸ κάρφος τὸ ἐν τῷ ὀφθαλμῷ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ σου, τὴν δὲ δοκὸν τὴν ἐν τῷ ἰδίῳ ὀφθαλμῷ οὐ κατανοεῖς;
42 πῶς δύνασαι λέγειν τῷ ἀδελφῷ σου, Ἀδελφέ, ἄφες ἐκβάλω τὸ κάρφος τὸ ἐν τῷ ὀφθαλμῷ σου, αὐτὸς τὴν ἐν τῷ ὀφθαλμῷ σοῦ δοκὸν οὐ βλέπων; ὑποκριτά, ἔκβαλε πρῶτον τὴν δοκὸν ἐκ τοῦ ὀφθαλμοῦ σοῦ, καὶ τότε διαβλέψεις τὸ κάρφος τὸ ἐν τῷ ὀφθαλμῷ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ σου ἐκβαλεῖν.
“Who sees the small, dry particle in the eye of his brother, but the bearing-beam in his own eye he does not perceive? (42) How can he say to his brother, ‘Brother, begone, cast away the bearing-beam, the one in your eye’, while he that bearing-beam in his own eye not seeing? Hypocrite, cast away first the bearing-beam from your own eye, and then stare with wide eyes to cast out the bearing-beam in the eye of your brother.
Here again, we have another instance of an unusual word. “Diablepō” means something like “stare with wide open eyes” in Classical Greek, and I’ve rendered it so here. It’s most often given as “see clearly” in this context. Matthew and Luke both use the exact same word in this exact context, and nowhere else. Mark uses it once in a different context, and L&S provide a handful of Classical cites. By this point I don’t need to point out the significance; however, I will say that each one of these diminishes the likelihood of Q. What is the probability that two different authors will choose to use the exact same word on so many occasions? That probability seems to be decreasing. Of course, why would Luke copy Matthew verbatim? That question is unanswerable, and no amount of redactionist explanation (or whatever the “proper” term is) can provide an answer to satisfy everyone. The question comes down to whether two different authors are more likely to choose to follow a common text in a half-dozen (more or less, but we’re also still counting) times, or whether it’s more likely that one author followed another. Each time two choices are involved, the probability is cut at least in half. Luke using Matthew’s words, OTOH, only requires a single choice in each instance. We haven’t gotten into editorial fatigue yet, but to continue to come up with a word different from Matthew each time seems like it could easily induce editorial fatigue. But that’s another question.
41 Quid autem vides festucam in oculo fratris tui, trabem autem, quae in oculo tuo est, non consideras?
42 Quomodo potes dicere fratri tuo: “Frater, sine eiciam festucam, quae est in oculo tuo”, ipse in oculo tuo trabem non videns? Hypocrita, eice primum trabem de oculo tuo et tunc perspicies, ut educas festucam, quae est in oculo fratris tui.
43 Οὐ γάρ ἐστιν δένδρον καλὸν ποιοῦν καρπὸν σαπρόν, οὐδὲ πάλιν δένδρον σαπρὸν ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλόν.
44 ἕκαστον γὰρ δένδρον ἐκ τοῦ ἰδίου καρποῦ γινώσκεται: οὐ γὰρ ἐξ ἀκανθῶν συλλέγουσιν σῦκα, οὐδὲ ἐκ βάτου σταφυλὴν τρυγῶσιν.
45 ὁ ἀγαθὸς ἄνθρωπος ἐκ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ θησαυροῦ τῆς καρδίας προφέρει τὸ ἀγαθόν, καὶ ὁ πονηρὸς ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ προφέρει τὸ πονηρόν: ἐκ γὰρ περισσεύματος καρδίας λαλεῖ τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ.
For a good tree does not make rotten fruit, nor again does a rotten tree make good fruit. (44) For each tree is known from the individual fruit; for from an acanthus spinus they do not collect figs, nor from a bramble do they gather grapes. (45) The good person from the treasure of goodness of the heart brings forth good, and the wicked from their wickedness brings forth wickedness. For from the abundance of their heart speaks his/her tongue.
The question is whether this represents an improvement, a diminution, or something neutral in relation to Matthew’s version of the tale. There is enough verbatim overlap that it’s pretty apparent that both are getting the wording from the same source. Of course, that means we have to decide if they are both getting it from a third source, or if Luke is paraphrasing Matthew. But since Matthew’s handling of the Q material is masterful then the question is settled. Correct? So the Q people will tell you. The interesting thing about Matthew’s version is that there are, essentially, two versions of this extended metaphor set out in “by their fruits ye shall know them”. The first comes in Matthew’s Chapter 7, which is smack in the middle of the (masterful) Sermon on the Mount. The second occurs later, in Chapter 12:33 & c. Now, here’s another question. Matthew repeats himself. Does that mean that he got the stuff from another source, forgot that he’d already used it, and so used it again, then never went back and read the whole of his work to see the flow, or failed to realize he’d used it twice. And it’s not just the “by their fruits”; he also repeats the “brood of vipers” injunction, also in this same section of Chapter 12. So did Matthew forget? Or did he just like it so much that he used it twice, even at the cost of being redundant? And if he realized he was being redundant, was he more apt to do this because he thought that the stuff in Q was absolute dynamite, or was he so impressed with his own creativity that he wanted to work it in the second time? Personally, I have often found that writers tend to be on the vain side, especially when it comes to stuff they’ve created. So we know where I fall on this last question.
But there is another aspect of this to consider. Luke’s version here actually has elements of both these sections of Matthew. The basic bit about “by their fruits” comes, as I said, from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, and appears here in Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. (That’s a coincidence? Really?) Both refer to the acanthus spina, which is a species of acanthus with spines; i.e., thorns, which is how KJV renders it. Matthew says that one does not find grapes among acanthus, while here Luke says it’s figs. Much of the verbiage is very, very close, with the “kalon” and “agathon”, and both use “sullegein” as the word for “to gather”. This is not terribly unusual, but it’s not the first word I think of when thinking of a verb for “to gather”. So that’s all very interesting. What makes it remarkable is that Matthew throws the part about the “treasure of good” into Chapter 12. IOW, Luke combined what are two passages in Matthew. Now, it appears that most of the reconstructions of Q see these two as sections of a single whole; that is, the scholars doing the reconstructing agree with Luke’s version. Of course, part of the reason they do that is because Luke supposedly preserves the more “primitive” version of Q. So let’s ask the question: does Luke’s version here seem more primitive? I suppose that depends on your definition of the word. If by “primitive” one means “less redundant”, then I would agree with the assessment. Is Matthew’s version more “masterful”? That is a more difficult question. What it comes down to is that, given Q, Matthew had to make a conscious decision to split the two sections into two parts. Is that a good thing? Or a bad thing? Personally, I prefer Luke’s method, but that is, one imagines, a personal choice. The point being that either Matthew chose to split the two or to repeat himself, and both of these choices seem, to my mind, less than ideal.
So masterful? Not really. And this does matter as a question beyond mere personal taste or literary preference. So very much of the (ahem) “argument” for Q rests on Matthew’s “masterful” handling of the Q material. If than handling was, perhaps, not so masterful, then much of the “argument” (sic) collapses.
43 Non est enim arbor bona faciens fructum malum, neque iterum arbor mala faciens fructum bonum.
44 Unaquaeque enim arbor de fructu suo cognoscitur; neque enim de spinis colligunt ficus, neque de rubo vindemiant uvam.
45 Bonus homo de bono thesauro cordis profert bonum, et malus homo de malo profert malum: ex abundantia enim cordis os eius loquitur.
About two-thirds of this chapter is devoted to John the Dunker; another quarter is devoted to the genealogy (getting really tired of that word). That leaves something under ten percent to the immersion of Jesus.
The real significance of this chapter, IMO, is its relevance to the issue of Q. We have the first extensive overlap of Matthew and Luke; they both add a section on the railings of John towards those who came out to see him. This is the famous “brood of vipers” passage, with its warning that the axe is at the root. Both evangelists give their accounts in much the same language, with several key phrases repeated. This repetition is so striking—to the point that one Verse (15) pretty much exactly verbatim—that these sections are obviously from a common source. Conventional wisdom is that both evangelists derived this section from Q. This should immediately cause you to sit back and question this. After all, Q is supposed to be the sayings of Jesus. Last time I checked, John and Jesus were different people. Did I miss the memo updating that? That comment is not simply facetious; it points to the way the Q argument engages in a certain amount of sleight of hand. One moment, Q is “x”; the next it’s also “y”. This lack of consistency should be our first red flag about the existence of this mythical document. Perhaps it was written by unicorns dipping their horn in ink. Seriously, if Q is the stuff Jesus said, why is John quoted the way he is? And it’s not a short quote.
The simple answer is that this has to be part of Q; otherwise, the entire “argument” for its existence more or less collapses. If this is not in Q, that means that Luke and Matthew both got it from another separate source. This would bring the tally of source documents that have disappeared without a trace up to two. Ockham is turning in his grave as we keep inventing these extraneous sources. Even the Q people realize what a problem this would be which inhibits them from every having suggested it. So if it’s not from Q, or some unidentified other source, then the only other possible solution is that Luke copied it from Matthew. But that simply won’t do. And I admit the elegance of their solution: simply include this piece of John in Q. Never mind the logistics of how this happened. It’s bad enough that pretty much everything Jesus said pretty much missed Mark, who was supposedly a disciple of Peter, who supposedly heard almost everything Jesus said, but now we have to come up with some explanation for how this saying of John also bypassed Mark but boomeranged back to a point where the author of Q picked it up.
Let me just remind us of something: without Q, then we are faced with the very real, very likely possibility that Jesus didn’t say most of what he said. Which puts him in the same category as Yogi Berra. If these sayings of Jesus were not recorded in the period between his death and the time that Mark wrote, that means they were either transmitted orally for forty years, or they were composed at some point well after Jesus died. The most likely time would be when Matthew wrote. Since we know what forty years of oral transmission can mean (blessed are the cheesemakers), in either of these solutions we are probably dealing with sayings that, at best, may only kinda sorta maybe resemble things Jesus said; at worst, they were made up out of whole cloth because someone else decided that these were things that Jesus would have said, or perhaps should have said. That is to say, the link to Jesus becomes very, very tentative and diffuse, to the point of non-existent. This is why the existence of Q cannot be questioned. Without Q, the basis for calling ourselves “Christians” becomes extremely shaky. We can argue, of course, that these are wonderful things that Jesus said, so the actual author doesn’t matter. While true, this sort of misses the whole “divine” aspect of Jesus. If he wasn’t God incarnate, he’s just another prophet, like Elijah. Or Mohammed.
In short, there is a lot at stake if Q does not exist. So much so, in fact, that it appears that scholars are willing to overlook a fairly large body of contraindications to hold onto the ragged hopes of a dream.
It potentially gets worse. In this chapter we were compelled to face the problem presented by the genealogy. Why do both Matthew and Luke have one, but no one else? Why is Luke’s different? What does this say about Q? Well, we can rest assured that no version of Q ever reconstructed ever contained a genealogy, so we can’t ascribe Luke having one to a common source in Q. If not from Q, there are two choices: either Luke came up with the idea independently, or he got the idea from Matthew. Obviously, the fact that Luke’s is different from Matthew’s would seem to throw the weight of the argument towards independent development. That is a legitimate position. If we are being intellectually honest, however, we then need to come up with a probability that Luke came up with the idea on his own. How likely, really, is it that these two men, engaged in essentially the same endeavour, separated by a dozen (?) years and however many miles, came up with the same idea? Stranger things have certainly happened; parallel development is hardly all-that unusual an occurrence.
If it were just this one thing, that argument might seem to be the best option to explain the existence of genealogy in both gospels. It would explain the differences. But this is not an isolated incident. So far, we have seen a similar pattern with the birth narrative. Luke followed Matthew on Joseph, the Annunciation (but to Mary, rather than Joseph), and especially the virgin birth, but he changed most of the other details. But still, the themes mentioned are only found in Matthew; no one else mentions these things, just as no one else comes up with a genealogy. Are we to infer that Luke arrived at all of these ideas independently? Bear in mind that the addition of each theme decreases the probability of independent arrival by significant amounts. So I suggest the idea of the genealogy fits in rather nicely with Joseph, virgin birth, angels, and I neglected Bethlehem the first time around.
Then comes the question of why are they different? There is no fer-sure answer to that, of course. The simplest answer is that Luke was not aware of Matthew and so came up with his genealogy independently, and concocted his lineage according to his own principles, or “research”, or creativity; as mentioned, however, this comes with it’s own set of problems. The other possibility is that Luke correcting Matthew’s genealogy. Many of the commentaries suggest that this is Mary’s heritage, that Joseph was the son-in-law, rather than the son, of Heli. After all, Luke does not properly say “son of”; rather, it’s just Joseph of Heli (tou Eli), the “tou” indicating the genitive case which shows possession. So, it’s Joseph of Heli, with “son” understood. This is a standard practice in Greek writing that dates back centuries before the NT. So the suggestion that it’s “son-in-law” is speculative, of course, with no real evidence to support it. There is inferential evidence, however. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary, not to Joseph as in Matthew. Mary is a major figure in Chapter 2. And Jesus is only “thought to be” the son of Joseph. Which is accurate if Jesus was conceived by the sacred breath and not by a human male. So why didn’t Luke just say “son of Mary, daughter of Heli”? After all, Mark refers to Jesus as “son of Mary” in Chapter 6. One can only speculate, but the whole idea of Jesus-as-illegitimate has to be borne in mind; after all, this is the most likely reason that Matthew came up with Joseph and the genealogy to begin with. If forced to guess, I would say that Luke probably did intend us to take this as Mary’s lineage, and the emphasis he put on her was to be our clue of this intent. This way, he’s more or less covered either regardless.
The final aspect of the Q discussion concerns the reported speech of the Baptist (or Dunker. Another possible translation is John the Plunger). Why are John’s words recorded in Q, which is supposed to be the sayings of Jesus? Answer: they have to be; otherwise, the only way to account for the remarkable similarity between the gospels is to conclude that Luke copied Matthew. Seriously. That is the only way to explain why these words of John are supposedly in Q. And this is what I meant when I said that <<One moment, Q is “x”; the next it’s also “y”>>. In other words, Q is the sayings of Jesus, except when we need it to record the words of John. That really feels intellectually dishonest. And the two accounts are remarkably similar, except that in Matthew John is excoriating the Pharisees, while in Luke the condemnation is leveled at everyone who comes out to be baptised. And that leads to the “winnowing fork” passage. The two accounts of Matthew and Luke are virtually identical, differing on exactly four points: Luke changes the verb tense of two verbs from future indicative to infinitive, and one has an extra “and” while the other has an extra “his”. Both of these latter could easily be later interpolations, but they don’t have to be for the point to hold. The likelihood that two people copied these words almost verbatim from Q is much smaller than if Luke simply copied them from Matthew.
The result is that, in the first couple of chapters, we have a significant number of instances where Luke did follow Matthew against Mark. We have Joseph, the annunciation by an angel, Bethlehem, the virgin birth, and the need for a genealogy. Remember: the Q people will state, flatly and with great conviction, that Luke never ever follows Matthew against Mark. But in the first three chapters we have five separate examples. And none of these appear in any reconstruction of Q. Then we come to the winnowing fork/threshing floor analogy, and we have a passage that is copied virtually verbatim in both accounts. Historical proof on controversial topics is never conclusive; that’s why they’re controversial. No one debates the Battle of Hastings and 1066; aspects of the battle can be debated and argued about hotly for generations, but the fundamental fact remains. So an argument on a controversial topic has to be pieced together, one small bit at a time. In three chapters, we have six separate indications that Luke used Matthew. What do the Q people have? That Luke never agrees with Matthew against Mark (against which we have the first five examples), and that Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount is so masterfully wrought that only a fool or a madman would mess with the construction. That’s pretty much it. Notice, however that the first is wrong and the second is not an argument, but a value judgement about literary style. Personally, I did not find the three chapters of the Sermon on the Mount to be all that masterfully arranged. I found the whole thing rather jumbled together, a bunch of unconnected sayings that were thrown into the same hopper. One, of course, can disagree, and come up with textual and literary arguments for the masterful handling; but those are textual and literary arguments, and the latter is highly subjective and subject to taste and fashion. I prefer historical arguments; I believe I’ve found the very strong foundation of a case against Q. I don’t expect to topple the prevailing academic consensus, but you heard it here first.
But perhaps the most remarkable part of the Q debate is that its proponents do not feel the least bit compelled to prove Q existed. In fact, they have–somehow–managed to manoeuvre the discussion so that, in effect, the non-Q people have to prove it didn’t exist. They claim that the non-Q people have to explain every single instance that Luke disagrees with Matthew, and that the combined cases have to be an editorially consistent rationale. This is errant nonsense. The fundamental principle of any kind of rational endeavour is that, if you say something exists, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate this. The two premises I laid out above do not create any such proof. They never attempt to explain how and why Mark missed Q completely, nor why Luke does agree with Matthew against Mark on the topics found in Chapter 3.
OK, this is turning into a rant.
This will conclude Chapter 3; however, it’s going to be a very short section. The last fifteen verses or so are the genealogy of Jesus. I am not going to translate a list of names; it seems rather pointless. Of course the real question about this genealogy is why it differs from that recorded by Matthew. In particular, if Luke had read Matthew, why not just record the genealogy provided by the earlier writer? This would seem to be a telling argument against my position that Luke knew Matthew. I did bring this difficulty up in the corresponding section of Matthew, and I admitted that I do not have a truly strong argument to explain this. (As an aside, it’s less embarrassing for me than it is for proponents of a an inerrant scripture, but the point remains.) One thing I would like to use in my favour is that there is still the fact that only Matthew and Luke provide such a genealogy. Are we to assume, or simply accept, that they both had the idea independently of one another? Sure, it’s possible, but does that seem more likely than the possibility that Luke was well aware of Matthew’s list, thought it was wrong, and decided to correct it? Somehow, that seems more plausible to me. This also conforms to the fact that Luke followed Matthew in naming Joseph as the (apparent) father of Jesus.
Perhaps we will have more on this later.
15 Προσδοκῶντος δὲ τοῦ λαοῦ καὶ διαλογιζομένων πάντων ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις αὐτῶν περὶ τοῦ Ἰωάννου, μήποτε αὐτὸς εἴη ὁ Χριστός,
16 ἀπεκρίνατο λέγων πᾶσιν ὁ Ἰωάννης, Ἐγὼ μὲν ὕδατι βαπτίζω ὑμᾶς: ἔρχεται δὲ ὁ ἰσχυρότερός μου, οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς λῦσαι τὸν ἱμάντα τῶν ὑπο δημάτων αὐτοῦ: αὐτὸς ὑμᾶς βαπτίσει ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί:
17 οὗ τὸ πτύον ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ διακαθᾶραι τὴν ἅλωνα αὐτοῦ καὶ συναγαγεῖν τὸν σῖτον εἰς τὴν ἀποθήκην αὐτοῦ, τὸ δὲ ἄχυρον κατακαύσει πυρὶ ἀσβέστῳ.
18 Πολλὰ μὲν οὖν καὶ ἕτερα παρακαλῶν εὐηγγελίζετο τὸν λαόν:
The people expecting and all debating in their hearts about John, whether he might be the anointed, (16) John responded saying to all, “While I dunk you with water, but he who comes is mightier than I, nor am I worthy to loosen the strap of his shoe. He will dunk you in the sacred breath and fire. (17) Is not the winnowing fan in his hand to clear the (“threshing” is implied) floor and gather the grain into his barn, but the chaff he will burn in the unquenchable fire”. (18) For many things thus and other things calling forth he preached to the people.
To a large extent this last verse is word-for-word from Matthew; the words rendered as “winnowing fork” and “(threshing) floor” occur here and in Matthew and nowhere else in the NT. Oh, but of course, they both copied them from Q. That is a distinct possibility. But which is more probable: that two sources copied the same source? Or that a second person writing will copy from the first? I can tell you straight out that the latter scenario is the more likely, since it only involves a single act of volition, rather than two. And it’s hard to over-stress the identity of the two passages; Matthew has an extra “and”, Luke has an extra “his”, and twice Matthew uses a future tense where Luke goes with an aorist infinitive. The verb tenses imply that one or the other deliberately chose to deviate from Q while the other chose to retain Q; IOW, two choices were made. Or, Luke chose to change Matthew; IOW, one choice. That Luke copies Matthew has a much higher level of probability than both of them mostly copying but changing the verb tenses.
I suppose we could/should get into a discussion of what the subtle differences are between the future indicative active vs the aorist infinitive. The aorist, after all, is a past-tense, while the future tense is the, well, future. And yes, there are subtle differences between the two, and why one is used rather than the other; however, I don’t think this is one of those distinctions that make a whole lot of difference. Yes, you could easily read a commentary or some other learned tome that goes into great detail about the difference, but I honestly doubt that. The obvious implication of Matthew’s future tense is that something will happen. The happening is both real, in the future, and to be expected, pretty much without fail. The aorist infinitive, OTOH, shifts the idea to the past tense, although the distinctions between the aorist and the present in literary usage is not as clear-cut as it would be in English. There is really no way to translate an infinitive into past tense in English; I’ve tried a dozen different methods, but none of them really capture the real nuance of the aorist infinitive. For example, the KJV, NIV, ESV, and NASB all render Luke’s infinitives as “he will”; that is, they all revert to Matthew’s future tense because that’s the only way to make sense of this in English. And note that I did exactly the same thing. Because it’s the only way to make this make sense in English.
That is probably the most salient point about this passage. Mark has the disavowal of John that he is not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandal, and Luke includes Matthew’s bit about dunking in the sacred breath and fire, so there’s not much there. All three also have the idea that many, supposedly, wondered if John were the Christ. But notice how “baptizing in the Holy Spirit and fire” invokes a very different set of images than “dunking in the sacred breath and fire”. The thing is, translating as “to baptise” really is no more than a transliteration. It’s as if I translated <<καὶ>> as “kai” and left it. It means “and”; believe me when I say that the two are interchangeable inside my head; I will sometimes write the Greek word when translating, and use the English when copying the Greek. [Note, however, that there are times when “kai” can mean “also”, “or”, and even “but”. As such one does need to be vigilant; however, the context pretty much gives it away in most cases.] The point being that we are so comfortable with “baptizo” that we don’t even consider the word as meaning anything other than “baptise”. That is really a bad way to approach the word. Same with “Holy Spirit” (especially when capitalised”) and “sacred breath”. Both are completely legitimate. It’s just that we are the heirs of Latin Christianity, in which “spirit” has come to mean something other than “breath”. The words are more or less divorced from each other, which is simply not the case in Greek.
15 Existimante autem populo et cogitantibus omnibus in cordibus suis de Ioanne, ne forte ipse esset Christus,
16 respondit Ioannes dicens omnibus: “ Ego quidem aqua baptizo vos. Venit autem fortior me, cuius non sum dignus solvere corrigiam calceamentorum eius: ipse vos baptizabit in Spiritu Sancto et igni;
17 cuius ventilabrum in manu eius ad purgandam aream suam et ad congregandum triticum in horreum suum, paleas autem comburet igni inexstinguibili ”.
18 Multa quidem et alia exhortans evangelizabat populum.
19 ὁ δὲ Ἡρῴδης ὁ τετραάρχης, ἐλεγχόμενος ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ περὶ Ἡρῳδιάδος τῆς γυναικὸς τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ καὶ περὶ πάντων ὧν ἐποίησεν πονηρῶν ὁ Ἡρῴδης,
20 προσέθηκεν καὶ τοῦτο ἐπὶ πᾶσιν [καὶ] κατέκλεισεν τὸν Ἰωάννην ἐν φυλακῇ.
21 Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ βαπτισθῆναι ἅπαντα τὸν λαὸν καὶ Ἰησοῦ βαπτισθέντος καὶ προσευχομένου ἀνεῳχθῆναι τὸν οὐρανὸν
22 καὶ καταβῆναι τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον σωματικῷ εἴδει ὡς περιστερὰν ἐπ’ αὐτόν, καὶ φωνὴν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ γενέσθαι, Σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν σοὶ εὐδόκησα.
Herod the Tetrarch, having been exposed by him (John) regarding Herodias, the wife of his brother, and regarding all of the wicked things which Herod did, (20) he imposed upon him upon all and locked John under guard. (21) It happened in the to dunk all the people also that Jesus having been dunked and prayed to have opened the sky (22) and descended the sacred breath embodied in form like a dove upon him, and a voice from the sky became, “You are my son, the beloved, in you I am pleased.”
The Greek for this is interesting. It tells us how the sacred breath was embodied, actually taking on a physical body as opposed to being a non-corporeal emanation taking a coherent shape. Now, what Luke says does not necessarily gainsay what 2M described; rather, it takes the description a bit further, confirming that an actual corporeal presence was…present.
However, I’ve jumped the gun a bit here. The passage tells us that John was imprisoned by Herod, for reasons apparently too well-known to need explaining. And the passage then says Jesus was baptized, but it does not specify that he was immersed by John. It’s interesting to speculate on why Luke wrote himself into a corner like this, so he had to be so vague about who did the baptizing. Just a bit too much compression? But what, we only got a first draft here? He couldn’t revise this? It’s really rather odd, don’t you think? He got the baptism and John’s arrest taken care of and out of the way pretty darn quickly.
Now, once again, think about Luke’s story in relation to that told by 2M. Does Luke compress so many things out existence because he believed that they had been adequately covered by 2M? As such, there was no need to tell the story of Salome again? Or even the whole story of the baptism? Although we do hit the highlights. This may be something to watch for as we progress: does Luke tend to syncopate material when both Mark & Matthew have provided full accounts? Wouldn’t that be an interesting observation.
However, far and away THE most interesting aspect of this passage comes via a different mss tradition. Variant manuscripts say that the voice from the sky said “You are my son, this day I have begotten you”. Whoa. That is a really serious variation. First, it totally disagrees with what 2M report, but, beyond that, it throws an entirely different light on the whole episode here. “Today I have begotten you?” This is blatant Adoptionism. As such, it hearkens back to Mark and then amplifies what Mark maybe kinda sorta implied about the heritage of Jesus and his relation to God. However, for once, I think I have to downplay the potential controversy and hold for the dominant reading and tradition. This alternative reading simply flies too flagrantly, and violently, in the face of everything Luke has told us to this point. It completely undercuts the whole virgin birth, the Annunciation, the stories of Simeon and Anna when Jesus was presented for circumcision. It just does not fit with any of that. As such, I have to believe that the alternative ending was a later interpolation, probably something that the Adoptionists, or maybe even more likely the Arians added to the text. Of course, one has to wonder why, if the Arians went to such lengths, why only this one bit of an attempted re-direction of the text remains. Or are there more? I don’t know. I did not know of this alternative text until last Sunday, when I was reading through Luke in church, before mass began. It was a footnote in the NSRV that the church as so thoughtfully placed in a number of the pews, which is wonderful for someone like me. So, perhaps there are more. I’ll have to check.
19 Herodes autem tetrarcha, cum corriperetur ab illo de Herodiade uxore fratris sui et de omnibus malis, quae fecit Herodes,
20 adiecit et hoc supra omnia et inclusit Ioannem in carcere.
21 Factum est autem, cum baptizaretur omnis populus, et Iesu baptizato et orante, apertum est caelum,
22 et descendit Spiritus Sanctus corporali specie sicut columba super ipsum; et vox de caelo facta est: “Tu es Filius meus dilectus; in te complacui mihi”.
23 Καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν Ἰησοῦς ἀρχόμενος ὡσεὶ ἐτῶν τριάκοντα, ὢν υἱός, ὡς ἐνομίζετο, Ἰωσὴφ τοῦ Ἠλὶ,
24τοῦ Μαθθὰτ τοῦ Λευὶ τοῦ Μελχὶ τοῦ Ἰανναὶ τοῦ Ἰωσὴφ…
And Jesus was leading so many as thirty years, being the son, as it was supposed, of Joseph son of Heli, (24) son of Matthew son of Levi son of Melchi son of Jannai son of Joseph…(etc…)
One point: I read in a commentary that 30 years was more or less the time priests came into their full duties. So it was a situation not unlike that of Hobbits; only after they had passed through their riotous tweens (teens & twenties) were they deemed to be entering into full maturity. This is when you became an elder, someone who deserved the respect of experience. Now, I won’t go into the actual math; I’ve mentioned it. If Jesus were 30 in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, then he must have been born in the year One. The problem is that Herod was four years dead at that point, and Quirinius was still lacking about six years before becoming the governor of Syria. So the math does not work. Although, Jesus could have been older than 30, if he had been born under Herod, but that messes with the census of Quirinius. There is simply no way to make all of this work.
But let’s talk about this genealogy. We’ve mentioned some of the problems it presents, all of them predicated on the fact that it does not match the one found in Matthew. I’ve been doing a bit of checking on this, and a lot of people want to claim that this is actually the genealogy of Mary rather than Joseph. Obviously, if Joseph were not Jesus’ actual father–which both Matthew and Luke tell us he wasn’t–Jesus was not of the lineage of David. Or, the only way he could have been of David’s lineage would be if Mary were part of that family tree. So, presto-changeo, that’s what a lot of people have concluded. The only problem is that there is not really any evidence for this. The text simply does not say that Heli was the father of Mary. It’s supposed that this means Joseph was the son-in-law of Heli, but that’s not what the text says. I was sort of saving this genealogy of Mary business to complete the discussion of many of the stories that we have read.
Throughout Chapters 1 & 2, we have had a lot of focus on Mary. First it was her cousin Elisabeth who gave birth to John the Dunker; then we have the Annunciation story, where the messenger tells Mary, rather than Joseph. And the stories of Jesus’ childhood pretty much focus on Mary, who treasures or ponders these things in her heart. Given this Mary-focus, one could make a definite case for putting her genealogy in here. And it’s a very attractive idea, regardless. I just wish there were something more definite about it, something a bit more concrete. But we also have the example of the baptism: did John do it or not? So here we have, is this Mary’s genealogy or not? I don’t have an answer to this, but neither does anyone else. That this is the genealogy of Mary seems to be the prevailing or consensus opinion, but that’s really all it is: an opinion based on not a whole lot. Or, perhaps it doesn’t even constitute an opinion; perhaps it should be called something closer to “wishful thinking”.
But now for the real killer. Back when we read (or skipped) Matthew’s genealogy, I said that the fact that Luke had a different one was a real problem for my idea that Luke had read Matthew. Now, however, I’m not so sure about that. In fact, I think that the different lineage actually supports my contention that Luke knew about, and and read Matthew. Think about it. We have exactly two of these. Did both the evangelists suddenly and independently get the idea for a genealogy? Perhaps. It could happen. But let’s think about why Matthew added his: because there were accusations that Jesus was a bastard. To counter these, Matthew both had to come up with a father for Jesus, and provide a lineage that traced back to David. Matthew fails on both counts. For he gives us the name of Joseph, who was Mary’s husband, but he was not Jesus’ father. And so to say that Jesus traced his ancestry back to David through Joseph pretty much just wrong. So what does Luke do? Recall, Luke is trying to be as specific as possible, by pinning John’s conception to the reign of Herod, and Jesus’ birth to the Roman governor, and John’s ministry as beginning in the fifteenth year of Tiberius. To be consistent with this, here we have Luke correcting the record by providing the accurate genealogy of Jesus. In fact, if we only had some really concrete evidence that this was supposed to be the lineage of Mary, we would have definitive proof that Q did not (have to) exist, because we would know that Luke read Matthew because Luke was very consciously trying to correct Matthew’s faulty genealogy.
It must be acknowledged, however, that this absence of definitive evidence does not torpedo my contention about Q, or the lack thereof. Not necessarily, or not completely at least. No one suggests that Q had a genealogy. The Q people absolutely cannot suggest this, because the disagreement would seriously cripple their rationale for Q. So if the idea for a genealogy didn’t come from Q, where did it come from? Did Luke arrive at the idea independently. Sure, it’s possible, but how likely is that? And if there were an independent third source, then why the discrepancy? No, the most likely explanation is that Luke was fully aware of Matthew and Matthew’s genealogy, and was fully aware that it was faulty. So Luke decided to correct the record. To do so, he decided to trace descent–not through Joseph, who had no part in Jesus’ existence–but through Mary. To bolster the reasoning for doing this, Luke came up with some stories about Mary that took place before and shortly after the birth of her son. We get her cousin as the mother of the Baptist, and the angel coming to talk to her, rather than the cipher to whom she would be married. IOW, the importance of Mary in the story has been increased. Dramatically. Because she is the vessel that carried the line all the way back, not just to David, but to Adam himself, emphasizing, as one commentary put it, that Jesus was the Second Adam. This would all be so apparent if the text only said, Joseph, son-in-law of Heli. But even this is not insuperable. After all, we saw how some mss traditions changed the words from the sky to “today I have begotten you”; how much easier is it to change the text from son-in-law to son? Even granting that the two words in Greek do not have the affinity that they do in English, this would hardly strain credulity to posit this as an emendation.
So, far from being fatal to my case, I believe that the different genealogies actually support, reinforce, and further my argument. As always, feel free to disagree.
23 Et ipse Iesus erat incipiens quasi annorum triginta, ut putabatur, filius Ioseph, qui fuit Heli,
24 qui fuit Matthat, qui fuit Levi, qui fuit Melchi, qui fuit Iannae, qui fuit Ioseph,..[ etc….]
Here we begin Chapter 2. There is a lot of text here; it’s the entire Nativity story. I tried finding a place to break it, but that destroyed the continuity too much, so I left it intact. But, because it’s so familiar, there may not be much to say about it. Or, the comment will come on chunks at a time, as it did with much of Chapter 1.
1Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις ἐξῆλθεν δόγμα παρὰ Καίσαρος Αὐγούστου ἀπογράφεσθαι πᾶσαν τὴν οἰκουμένην.
2 αὕτη ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη ἐγένετο ἡγεμονεύοντος τῆς Συρίας Κυρηνίου.
3 καὶ ἐπορεύοντο πάντες ἀπογράφεσθαι, ἕκαστος εἰς τὴν ἑαυτοῦ πόλιν.
4 Ἀνέβη δὲ καὶ Ἰωσὴφ ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας ἐκ πόλεως Ναζαρὲθ εἰς τὴν Ἰουδαίαν εἰς πόλιν Δαυὶδ ἥτις καλεῖται Βηθλέεμ, διὰ τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν ἐξ οἴκου καὶ πατριᾶς Δαυίδ,
5 ἀπογράψασθαι σὺν Μαριὰμ τῇ ἐμνηστευμένῃ αὐτῷ, οὔσῃ ἐγκύῳ.
It occurred in those days there came a thing having been written from Caesar Augustus that all the inhabited world to be recorded. (2) This first thing having been written came in the governorship of Syria of Quirinius. (3) And everyone went out to be recorded, each to his own city. (4) And Joseph went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David which was called Bethlehem, because he was from the house and lineage of David, (5) to be recorded with Mariam, to whom he was married, she being pregnant.
This section is sort of a ‘fun facts to know and tell’ sort of thing. First, there was a Quirinius, and he was governor of Syria. The problem, as most everyone knows, is that his governorship did not overlap with the reign of Herod the Great. The latter died in 4 BCE, and Quirinius didn’t become governor until several years after that. So, right off the bat we have Matthew and Luke giving conflicting evidence. How can this be? Doesn’t this indicate that Luke didn’t use Matthew, since the former got this wrong? This one is actually pretty easy to explain. Assuming that Matthew wrote in the East, he would be more likely to be aware of Herod’s reign; Luke, OTOH, was probably writing in Rome, where Herod was a nonentity, so using a Roman official would be more meaningful to a western audience. Bottom line is that there was no general consensus on when Jesus was born; from the distance of seventy years, the discrepancy in dates between the two gospels would scarcely have been noticed.
The second point is that the idea of having people return to their home cities for a census count is preposterous. It’s even more preposterous to have them return to the home of an ancestor dead for nearly a millennium. The disruption to commerce and life would have been much too great, and would have served so little purpose as to make the idea of commanding such a thing seem nonsensical. The Romans took a census for the tax records; there is no reason to have people wandering hither and thither when they could be taxed just as–or more–efficiently and effectively where they were living when the census was announced. So, just as Matthew comes up with a gross fabrication with the story of the Slaughter of the Innocents, so Luke comes up with his own whopper of having everyone returning to their home town to get registered. And note that the text seems to indicate that Joseph was born in Bethlehem, not that he was going there because his long-ago ancestor had hailed from Bethlehem, which is how I had always heard it presented. The point of all of this is to drive home that Joseph, and so Jesus, was of the house of David. More on that later.
The most important things in these five verses, however, are: Joseph, Bethlehem, and Mary being pregnant. Those are all from Matthew. Jesus’ father is not named in Mark. Nor does Mark say anything about Bethlehem. And notice how Mary is pregnant here, at the outset of the story, just as she was in Matthew. And both Joseph and Bethlehem, like the conception by a virgin, only occur in Matthew and Luke, and only in conjunction with the Nativity story, and only in the first few chapters of these two gospels, and none of this is said to be in Q. So where did Luke get all of this? None of it is in the larger tradition, it occurs nowhere else, and yet we are to believe that Luke got this from…where, exactly? The ambient air? That is pretty much what the Q people would argue, that it was from the amorphous, undefined, and undefinable “oral tradition”. Now, it is completely possible that it was part of the oral tradition. But which one? Which one carried it from Antioch, where Matthew supposedly wrote, to Rome, where Luke supposedly wrote. Yes, it could happen, but it requires a chain of events that is complex, even if it’s not impossible. The much, very much simpler explanation is that Luke got these things from Matthew. One of the big (ahem) “arguments” against Luke using Matthew is that Luke is totally unaware of Matthew’s additions to Mark. Well, that’s convenient. The stuff that Matthew adds to Mark that Luke also adds is ascribed to Q. And things like the themes we have here are simply ignored in the debate about Q; instead, we get blather about the placement of Mark’s pericopae, which is doubly ridiculous. First and foremost, it ignore chunks of text, and secondly it completely ignores the actual historical development of the legend. This latter aspect is what we see here in the birth narrative: Luke embellishing Matthew’s bare-bones account of the birth of Jesus.
1 Factum est autem, in diebus il lis exiit edictum a Caesare Au gusto, ut describeretur universus orbis.
2 Haec descriptio prima facta est praeside Syriae Quirino.
3 Et ibant omnes, ut profiterentur, singuli in suam civitatem.
4 Ascendit autem et Ioseph a Galilaea de civitate Nazareth in Iudaeam in civitatem David, quae vocatur Bethlehem, eo quod esset de domo et familia David,
5 ut profiteretur cum Maria desponsata sibi, uxore praegnante.
6 ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ εἶναι αὐτοὺς ἐκεῖ ἐπλήσθησαν αἱ ἡμέραι τοῦ τεκεῖν αὐτήν,
7 καὶ ἔτεκεν τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς τὸν πρωτότοκον: καὶ ἐσπαργάνωσεν αὐτὸν καὶ ἀνέκλινεν αὐτὸν ἐν φάτνῃ, διότι οὐκ ἦν αὐτοῖς τόπος ἐν τῷ καταλύματι.
It became in their being there the days were fulfilled of her giving birth, (7) and she gave birth to her firstborn son, and she swaddled him and laid him in a manger because there was not for them a place in the lodging.
It has always struck me as odd that Luke sort of tosses this off, that Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger (French, manger, to eat; took me the longest time to figure that out. And then there’s the Italian mangia, mangia!) because there was no room in the inn. Maybe it’s too many years of Christmas pageants, watching the hard-hearted innkeepers sternly telling the couple NO! and turning them away. Really, this detail is so off-hand that it’s tempting to see it as an interpolation. But, it is repeated in the narrative shortly ahead, and is obviously integral to the story. So it seems it’s not the manger that the problem, but the explanation for it that is glossed over. For the life of me, I can’t figure out exactly why this would be.
And note that “swaddled” is a verb here. She swaddled him, she did not wrap him in swaddling clothes.
6 Factum est autem, cum essent ibi, impleti sunt dies, ut pareret,
7 et peperit filium suum primogenitum; et pannis eum involvit et reclinavit eum in praesepio, quia non erat eis locus in deversorio.
8 Καὶ ποιμένες ἦσαν ἐν τῇ χώρᾳ τῇ αὐτῇ ἀγραυλοῦντες καὶ φυλάσσοντες φυλακὰς τῆς νυκτὸς ἐπὶ τὴν ποίμνην αὐτῶν.
9 καὶ ἄγγελος κυρίου ἐπέστη αὐτοῖς καὶ δόξα κυρίου περιέλαμψεν αὐτούς, καὶ ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν.
10 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ ἄγγελος, Μὴ φοβεῖσθε, ἰδοὺ γὰρ εὐαγγελίζομαι ὑμῖν χαρὰν μεγάλην ἥτις ἔσται παντὶ τῷ λαῷ,
11 ὅτι ἐτέχθη ὑμῖν σήμερον σωτὴρ ὅς ἐστιν Χριστὸς κύριος ἐν πόλει Δαυίδ:
12 καὶ τοῦτο ὑμῖν τὸ σημεῖον, εὑρήσετε βρέφος ἐσπαργανωμένον καὶ κείμενον ἐν φάτνῃ.
13 καὶ ἐξαίφνης ἐγένετο σὺν τῷ ἀγγέλῳ πλῆθος στρατιᾶς οὐρανίου αἰνούντων τὸν θεὸν καὶ λεγόντων,
14 Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας.
And shepherds were in that area abiding in the fields and guarding the night guard on their flock. (9) And the messenger of the lord stood upon them and the glory of the lord shone around them and they feared a great fear. (10) And said to them the messenger, “Do not fear, for behold, I announce good news to you a great joy which is to all the people. (11) And this day to you the saviour, who is the anointed one, the lord in the city of David. (12) And this is to you a sign, you will find a newborn having been swaddled and laid in a manger.” (13) And suddenly there was with the messenger a full army of the sky praising God, saying (14) “Glory in the highest (reaches, places) to God and upon earth peace to good-willed people”.
First, it is my great sorrow that I was not able to post this on Christmas Eve. in 2014 I posted Linus reciting the scene from the KJV, complete with “sore afraid”; it would have been nice to have done the same with this section.
Unfortunately, from Linus we have to get a little dirt under our fingernails with the Greek. As above, the babe has been swaddled; not wrapped in swaddling clothes. And “I announce good news” is a single word, a verb. “Stood upon”, of course, is overly literal. But the aspect of standing, I think, matters to our image of this scene. The Greek says that the messenger, essentially, was standing on the ground, rather than floating in the air as is usually depicted. And the heavenly host, the “army of the sky” because we forget that “host” means army, is not necessarily in the sky, either. They could have been standing with the first, which is, more or less, what the Greek says. But there’s literal and then there’s poetic, so do with this what you will. After all, what Linus did for this scene far transcends any literal reading of this text. And it’s not “glory to God in the highest”, which means that “highest” modifies God; it does not. “Highest” is plural, so it can’t modify God. Hence I added the reaches/places, which is totally an interpretation on my part, but we have to assume a plural noun in there, because there simply is not one in the text. Nor is there one in Latin. So we’ve been making assumptions about this for going on six hundred years. Finally, good-willed “people” vs. “men”. The Greek is ‘anthropos’, which in a technical sense means “man”. But it doesn’t mean a man; for example, when the husband is referred to as the wife’s man, the word used is ‘aner/andros’, and at least almost never ‘anthropos’. This is the “man” when we talk about “man is a rational animal”. So there is a sense of “human, not necessarily gender-specific” in there. And “good-willed” is an adjective. And second finally, the word I rendered as “new born” is the same word, “brephos”, used to describe the foetus in Elisabeth’s womb. It generally means “baby in utero”, but it can mean “new born” (or “newborn”) as well.
Oops, almost forgot; there is a third “finally”. The “great joy to the people” uses a certain word for “people”. At root, it’s “men”, usually specifically soldiers. But it also means “a people”, as in an ethnic or linguistic division. For example, the Dorian People, meaning the Greeks who spoke the Dorian–as opposed to the Aeolian or Ionian–dialect of Greek. The Spartans were Dorians. So this is not a generic word for “everybody”; it really says “all of the people”. This would/could be thought of as the people of Israel, for example
To get off the grammar for a moment, I’ve heard it said that shepherd would not be out with their flock in December. I don’t know that, but there is no hint of the time of year aside from that. If it’s true, then here’s another bit of proof that December 25 was, indeed, chosen deliberately to supplant the Saturnalia and/or the Feast of Sol Invictus, the Unconquerable Sun. Which makes sense. Much of our “Christmas” decor is derived from pagan solstice festivals, much of it Nordic: the evergreen tree, the Yule (log), mistletoe and holly, the lights. Not all of it, of course, but a lot of it.
8 Et pastores erant in regione eadem vigilantes et custodientes vigilias noctis supra gregem suum.
9 Et angelus Domini stetit iuxta illos, et claritas Domini circumfulsit illos, et timuerunt timore magno.
10 Et dixit illis angelus: “ Nolite timere; ecce enim evangelizo vobis gaudium magnum, quod erit omni populo,
11 quia natus est vobis hodie Salvator, qui est Christus Dominus, in civitate David.
12 Et hoc vobis signum: invenietis infantem pannis involutum et positum in praesepio ”.
13 Et subito facta est cum angelo multitudo militiae caelestis laudantium Deum et dicentium:
14 “ Gloria in altissimis Deo, /et super terram pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis ”.
15 Καὶ ἐγένετο ὡς ἀπῆλθον ἀπ’ αὐτῶν εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν οἱ ἄγγελοι, οἱ ποιμένες ἐλάλουν πρὸς ἀλλήλους, Διέλθωμεν δὴ ἕως Βηθλέεμ καὶ ἴδωμεν τὸ ῥῆμα τοῦτο τὸ γεγονὸς ὃ ὁ κύριος ἐγνώρισεν ἡμῖν.
16 καὶ ἦλθαν σπεύσαντες καὶ ἀνεῦραν τήν τε Μαριὰμ καὶ τὸνἸωσὴφ καὶ τὸ βρέφος κείμενον ἐν τῇ φάτνῃ:
17 ἰδόντες δὲ ἐγνώρισαν περὶ τοῦ ῥήματος τοῦ λαληθέντος αὐτοῖς περὶ τοῦ παιδίου τούτου.
18 καὶ πάντες οἱ ἀκούσαντες ἐθαύμασαν περὶ τῶν λαληθέντων ὑπὸ τῶν ποιμένων πρὸς αὐτούς:
19 ἡ δὲ Μαριὰμ πάντα συνετήρει τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα συμβάλλουσα ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτῆς.
20 καὶ ὑπέστρεψαν οἱ ποιμένες δοξάζοντες καὶ αἰνοῦντες τὸν θεὸν ἐπὶ πᾶσιν οἷς ἤκουσαν καὶ εἶδονκαθὼς ἐλαλήθη πρὸς αὐτούς.
And it happened as they went from them to the sky the messengers, the shepherds spoke to each other, “Let us go indeed to Bethlehem and we will see this having become having been said which the lord has made known to us”. (16) And they went hurrying and they found Mary and Joseph and the newborn lying in the manger. (17) Seeing they were made aware about the things having been spoken of the speaking to them about this child. (18) And all those hearing marveled about the things having been said by the shepherds towards them (i.e., those hearing) (19) Mary observed all these things having been said (and) she stored them up in her heart. (20)
We were talking about whether the angels were on the ground or in the air. Whichever it was, they returned to the sky, which I think is the proper translation for “ouranos” in this instance. Of course, it’s always translated as “heaven”, although with a lower-case ‘h’. Normally in English, the lower-case ‘h’ is plural, ‘the heavens’, which is the neutral synonym for ‘sky’, but it’s difficult to be sure what was on the minds of the translators when they rendered this the way they did. I just think that anything like “Heaven” with pearly gates is rather anachronistic at this point, but I can’t say that with a great deal of certainty. At this point I don’t know whether Luke is a singular heaven guy like Mark, or a plural-heavens guy like Matthew. We shall see. But the question of heaven/sky/Heaven makes the Pater Noster a bit problematic, doesn’t it?
And here is where the manger comes back, for the second time since we first saw it. This repetition makes it really difficult to suggest that the first one was an interpolation. It’s obviously not, but an integral part of the text. So that makes the whole of Verse 7 seem a bit awkward. But there it is.
The most important part of this section, I think, is the bit about Mary. Mark named her; Matthew told us she conceived through the sacred breath, but neither of them really say anything about her. Luke, OTOH, seems to take a real interest in Mary. We’ve already had the Annunciation, her visit to Elisabeth, the Magnificat, and now in this section the actual giving birth, swaddling Jesus, culminating with this bit about storing things in her heart. Joseph, meanwhile, has already faded into the background. It’s interesting to note how his character pretty much failed to develop at all; but then, he only appears–via a cameo mention of his name–in two of the four gospels. John will include at least one more story about Mary, at the wedding feast in Cana; there may be others that escape me at the moment. These sorts of anecdotes are what nudges me to call Luke a novelist; he’s concerned to humanize Mary, or to make her a real person, a mother, a new mother with her firstborn who was a son. It’s been a journey for her and here she is at the culmination with Jesus’ birth. Of course, it’s not the culmination, but she doesn’t know that. But it is the finale of the part of her life when the messenger of the lord suddenly appeared from nowhere to tell her she’s going to conceive through the sacred breath. That’s got to be a bit of a head scratcher; and now it’s happened, and she is taking a moment to reflect. Is that a human thing to do, or what?
So why, the Q people ask, are none of the details of the Nativity story found in Matthew not in Luke? Where are the Magoi? Luke, you see, was very Gentile-friendly, so the recognition of the child by other pagans woulda/shoulda been something that Luke picked up on and ran with. Really? Luke should have? According to whom? See, there’s the problem with the Q “argument”: it depends on the ability to interpret the mind of Luke so we can tell why he did what he did, such as demolishing the “masterful organization” of the Q material found in Matthew. Yes, the stories are different, and there is very little apparent overlap. What most Q people don’t consider often enough, or fully enough, is that Luke was not in the least interested in copying out Matthew. Rather, Luke set out to write a brand-new gospel, one with it’s own points and point-of-view. I’m sure I’ve said that, and no doubt I will say it again because it really bears repeating. You write a new gospel because you’ve got something new to say. There is nothing contradictory in the two accounts, aside from the fact that Herod the Great and the governorship of Quirinius did not overlap in time; however, that’s a factual mistake, and those happen. So if we think of the accounts as complementary, where is the problem? Now, in truth, that’s not a terribly compelling explanation of why the two accounts have almost no details in common; but what is compelling, I think, is that Luke repeats Joseph–who appears nowhere else–the visitations by angels, and that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
My apologies, that last bit was something of a tangent and a rant. The point is that Luke has an interest in Mary that is not shared elsewhere. It will continune in the next stroy, but it’s something to watch beyond that.
Several times I went back and forth on whether to include the last 13 Verses here, or to make that a separate post. I chose the latter, since two shorter posts are probably better than a single post that is too long.
To set the scene, Mary has just left the home of Elisabeth and Zacharias. Mary went there after being told she would conceive by the sacred breath; apparently that happened prior to the trip, because the baby in Elisabeth’s womb–the future Baptist–leapt inside Elisabeth at Mary’s greeting.
57 Τῇ δὲ Ἐλισάβετ ἐπλήσθη ὁ χρόνος τοῦ τεκεῖν αὐτήν, καὶ ἐγέννησεν υἱόν.
58 καὶ ἤκουσαν οἱ περίοικοι καὶ οἱ συγγενεῖς αὐτῆς ὅτι ἐμεγάλυνεν κύριος τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ μετ’ αὐτῆς, καὶ συνέχαιρον αὐτῇ.
59 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ ὀγδόῃ ἦλθον περιτεμεῖν τὸ παιδίον, καὶ ἐκάλουν αὐτὸ ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ Ζαχαρίαν.
60 καὶ ἀποκριθεῖσα ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ εἶπεν, Οὐχί, ἀλλὰ κληθήσεται Ἰωάννης.
61 καὶ εἶπαν πρὸς αὐτὴν ὅτι Οὐδείς ἐστιν ἐκ τῆς συγγενείας σου ὃς καλεῖται τῷ ὀνόματι τούτῳ.
62 ἐνένευον δὲ τῷ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ τὸ τί ἂν θέλοι καλεῖσθαι αὐτό.
To Elisabeth came the time of her giving birth, and she gave birth to a son. (58) And those living about her and her relatives heard that the lord increas(ed)ing his mercy and co-rejoiced with her. (59) And it became on the eighth day to they went to circumcise the boy, and they had called him after the name of his father, Zacharias. (60) And having answered, his mother said, “No, rather call him John.” (61) And the said towards her that “No one from your relatives is so called by that name.” (62) And they made signs to father made signs what he might wish him to be called.
Let’s stop there. We have a nearly unique event in front of us. “What he might wish” is one of two or three occurrences of this particular verb tense in the entire NT. (I don’t remember exactly how many instances of this tense there are exactly, but it’s not more than three. I believe the actual number is two, but don’t quote me on that.) This tense is the optative. This is not a form found in any of the other Ind0-European languages I’ve studied, but there are numerous ones I haven’t. Essentially, this is an historical subjunctive, so it has the subjunctive element of uncertainty or doubt or unreality, but occurring in the past. This is, to our minds perhaps, a bit odd that there might be uncertainty in the past, and I suspect that this is part of the reason the tense disappeared. I’ve been reading Xenophon’s Anabasis in a fairly desultory fashion, and I can tell you that the optative is a very common occurrence, and Xenophon is not considered one of the more literary of authors. It would seem that perhaps the tense was on its way out by the time the NT was written, 300-400 years after the Anabasis, and perhaps it was especially on the way out among less-than-erudite authors. Although Luke’s Greek seems rather more upscale than even Matthew’s Greek.
Latin does not have an optative tense, nor anything really quite like it. One thing about languages is that, the earlier in its development that it becomes written, and especially a literary language, the more old-fashioned aspects it preserves. The peculiarities of English spelling vs pronunciation have a lot to do with the fact that English has been written continuously for about 600 years–I’m going back approximately to Chaucer. As such, a lot of archaic spellings are trapped in amber, as it were, because the writing has preserved the spelling of the way the word was pronounced back then. “Knight” is a great example. If you hear a version of the Canterbury Tales, you will note that the initial “k” and the interior “gh” are actually pronounced. So too, I think, with the optative. Greek became a written language about 700 years before Jesus, and it became a literary language almost immediately. Now, there are a lot of forms in Homer that were dropped in mainstream Greek long before Herodotus began making inquiries; the Great Scott is full of notes about Homeric forms of the word being defined. Really, though, this is no different from the forms we find in Chaucer, except that Homeric Greek is more comprehensible to a reader of Classical Greek than Chaucer is to a contemporary reader.
As for the content, how many of you remember (or ever knew) that New Year’s Day was once upon a time a Holy Day of Obligation in the Roman Church? For that matter, it may still be. This means (or meant) that a Catholic is obligated to go to mass or face the pains of Hell for committing a mortal sin. NY Day is eight days after Christmas, or rather, the eighth day, and this is when Jesus was taken to be presented in the Temple and to be circumcised and named. As such, it was known, at one time, as the Feast of the Circumcision. Having worked in life insurance, one cannot insure a child that is less than two weeks old. This is because the mortality rate in these first two weeks is significantly higher than after. So the eight-day interlude was sort of a wait-and-see period, to see if the child would survive. If he did, the boy was taken to the Temple to be circumcised, named, and accepted into the religion and the community. The parallel with infant baptism among most Christian groups are real and deliberate. The Catholics are among the earliest to baptise their children; this is likely a holdover from the days of high infant/child mortality. The idea was to have the child baptised ASAP so that the child would go to heaven should he or she die. Tough world back then.
The other thing to note is that the Temple authorities were going to name the boy after his father. This is different from contemporary practice, among some Jews anyway, where a child is not named after anyone who is alive. I have no idea of the genesis or the timing of this change, but I experienced it as a living practice within a contemporary Jewish community. Even more interesting is that when Elisabeth says that his name is to be John, the authorities push back and are not willing to take her word on the matter, so they immediately turn to Zacharias, since he is the patriarch of the family.
57 Elisabeth autem impletum est tempus pariendi, et peperit filium.
58 Et audierunt vicini et cognati eius quia magnificavit Dominus misericordiam suam cum illa, et congratulabantur ei.
59 Et factum est, in die octavo venerunt circumcidere puerum et vocabant eum nomine patris eius, Zachariam.
60 Et respondens mater eius dixit: “ Nequaquam, sed vocabitur Ioannes ”.
61 Et dixerunt ad illam: “ Nemo est in cognatione tua, qui vocetur hoc nomine ”.
62 Innuebant autem patri eius quem vellet vocari eum.
63 καὶ αἰτήσας πινακίδιον ἔγραψεν λέγων, Ἰωάννης ἐστὶν ὄνομα αὐτοῦ. καὶ ἐθαύμασαν πάντες.
64 ἀνεῴχθη δὲ τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ παραχρῆμα καὶ ἡ γλῶσσα αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐλάλει εὐλογῶν τὸν θεόν.
65 καὶ ἐγένετο ἐπὶ πάντας φόβος τοὺς περιοικοῦντας αὐτούς, καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ὀρεινῇ τῆς Ἰουδαίας διελαλεῖτο πάντα τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα,
66 καὶ ἔθεντο πάντες οἱ ἀκούσαντες ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτῶν, λέγοντες, Τί ἄρα τὸ παιδίον τοῦτο ἔσται; καὶ γὰρ χεὶρ κυρίου ἦν μετ’ αὐτοῦ.
And asking for a writing tablet he wrote, saying, “John is his name.” And they all marveled. (64) And opened was his mouth and immediately and also his tongue, and he spoke, praising God. (65) And there was a fear among all his neighbors, and in the whole hill-country of Judea, they all spoke his words, and all hearing put in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be? And for the hand of God is with him.”
There will be much more to say about this. First, the idea that the boy was names something no one expected, and that this caused some consternation in and of itself is a good indication of how conservative and tradition-bound this community was. Or, at least, Luke wants to portray them this way, and wants us to believe it was so. Here is a very clear indication, I think, that Luke was unquestionably writing for a pagan audience. As argued, I believe Matthew was as well, and I believe Mark was, too, to a much greater extent than is generally recognised, or certainly more than is generally acknowledged. Second, we have the miracle of the restoration of Zacharias’ speech. This set tongues wagging (pun intended. But, does anyone use that expression any more? Or does it only exist in Penguin translations from a generation or two ago?). But people saw this as more than a ma temporarily made mute regaining his speech. This was divine intervention: it was God who made him mute and it was God who loosened his tongue again. Keep this in mind, that this was viewed as a miracle. It demonstrates very clearly that Luke was aware of Matthew’s version of the nativity, and that Luke was going to take that an expand upon it. Because not only do we have two miraculous births, but we have two miraculous births announced by angels who command, in exactly the same words, one of the parents on what to name the boy that has been (Matthew) or will be (Luke) conceived. Matthew used this to set up the divine nature of Jesus, the nature that was there from even before Jesus was born; Luke takes that back a step further and tells us that, not only Jesus, but his herald John was the result of a divine intervention. And, I would argue, Luke wrote all of this about John on the assumption that the person hearing this version of the nativity would be aware of what Matthew had already written. There is a tacit acknowledgement of Matthew’s story here.
We can, and will, discuss this more in the next section, and in the summary to the chapter.
63 Et postulans pugillarem scripsit dicens: “ Ioannes est nomen eius ”. Et mirati sunt universi.
64 Apertum est autem ilico os eius et lingua eius, et loquebatur benedicens Deum.
65 Et factus est timor super omnes vicinos eorum, et super omnia montana Iudaeae divulgabantur omnia verba haec.
66 Et posuerunt omnes, qui audierant, in corde suo dicentes: “ Quid putas puer iste erit? ”. Etenim manus Domini erat cum illo.
It appears that I am hardly the first person to suggest that Matthew began life as a pagan. Apparently there was a school of thought that believed and argued this point back in the 1940s. This is not surprising. I have read some sniffy pieces from biblicists complaining about how Classicists have a tendency to see everything revolving around Greece. And this, in some degree, is what I am doing. In fact, the whole Jesus-as-Jew movement of the last several decades was, doubtless, somewhat in reaction to the Graeco-Roman bias that had existed. Let’s not forget that, for several centuries, an education meant a Classical education. I read once that English schoolboys, on the whole, were more familiar with the characters in Livy (Horatio at the bridge, e.g.) than with their Anglo-Saxon heritage. So the attempts to put Jesus into his Jewish context more or less coincided with the decline in Classical learning that took hold in the 1960s, when “relevant” was the buzzword for eduction.
So, I’m not breaking new ground in suggesting Matthew’s pagan background. Rather, it’s a matter of what goes around, comes around. The great cycle. Honestly, though, I think the over-emphasis on Jesus’ Jewish heritage leaves too many things unexplained. The Baptist was thoroughly Jewish; he was more popular than Jesus; but Western Civilisation became followers of Jesus, not John. Why? I suspect it’s because Jesus’ teaching was more amenable to being absorbed by Greek philosophy, perhaps because it was more steeped in Greek thought than the Baptist’s more simple message of repentance.
No, this isn’t close to the final word on Matthew.
The next destination on our voyage of discovery is the Gospel of Luke. This direction was not inevitable, but for many reasons it seems the best choice. The reason I chose Luke is because of sources. In Luke 1:1-3, he talks about the account handed down to him by the eyewitnesses and the servants. Note that the account is singular, but the eyewitnesses and servants are plural. This means that a single story line was created by multiple witnesses and transmitted by multiple recorders. There is no possibility to know the identity of the former; those who told the story from the time of Jesus are impossible to reconstruct. Two good guesses would be Peter and James, the brother of Jesus. These are the only two names that Paul mentions, and the only two that also occur in the NT. All the others, such as the sons of Zebedee and Andrew and all the rest disappear for several decades, if not forever. The rest are filler, side characters used to bring Jesus out in relief. Let’s face it: what did any of them actually do? Aside from Judas betraying Jesus, none of them are credited with any sort of independent activity, with one exception: the sons of Zebedee arguing about who would be the greatest in heaven. Other than than, basically nothing. Peter plays his role, and Paul attests to James, and a brother of Jesus named James is identified in Mark 6. So Peter and James are the only two eyewitnesses that we can hope to determine.
Do we have any better hope of identifying the “servants” who transmitted the account of the eyewitnesses? We can be reasonably certain of Mark. Luke’s or Matthew’s use of Mark is by no means proven, but there is no theory that explains the Synoptic situation better than that the latter two both knew and used Mark as a source. In a wrinkle, Luke is the first evangelist of whom we can be absolutely certain that he was aware of Paul; at least, we can be certain if the author of Luke is also the author of Acts, which I am going to take on faith. I will be better able to judge that when I actually translate Acts. Now, knowing about Paul’s career is not the same thing as knowing about and having read what Paul wrote. Luke could have known the former without ever having read a word of what Paul wrote. At this point, I’m completely undecided about whether Luke had ever read anything authored by Paul. Regardless, he had a source, or sources, to tell him about Paul’s missionary activities; I am too ignorant at this point to know whether Acts mentions any of the Communities to whom Paul wrote letters. Paul did spend time in Greece in Acts, and that is verified in Galatians and Corinthians. Acts also describes Paul’s time in Ephesus in some detail, but Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians is not considered authentically Paul. The overlap of Paul’s adventures in Acts, and the names of the places that received Paul’s letters will possibly provide clues about whether Luke had read any of these letters.
Note: if this were a proper research paper, which it assuredly and vehemently is not, I would have answered some or all of these questions already. But the entire exercise of this blog represents the preliminary research. Reading the works in Greek and translating them provides a much more intimate knowledge of the texts than I would garner from reading them in English, no matter how closely I annotated the texts. So I hope that this explanation of the thought process I use is useful as a how-to for further historical inquiry.
The sources for Paul that Luke encountered may have been written, or they may have been oral. Either way, the question is to what level of detail did they record and relate Paul’s adventures? And “adventures” is a proper description for what Paul experiences in Acts: shipwrecks, angry mobs, last-minute escapes, arrests, these are the stuff of an Indiana Jones movie. In fact, I have come across more than one modern scholar who referred to the similarity between Acts and Hellenistic novels. If you take these adventures and add some of the material that only Luke contains, in particular the material leading up to the public ministry– like the birth narrative–I think that an overall picture of how Luke approaches his gospel and its sequel emerges. When I think about the four evangelists and their different approaches to the narrative of Jesus’ life, I categorize them as such: Mark is a journalist, Matthew is a rabbi (albeit one who converted), John is a theologian, and Luke is a novelist.
Because one serious fault (there are more) I find in biblical scholarship is the failure to ask why each of these evangelists decided to write a gospel. What would possess someone to sit down and write out an account of Jesus’ life? But that’s just a variation on the question of why does anyone write anything? Why am I writing this blog? We write because we believe we have something to say. In the treatment of Mark we discussed some of his motivations: that the Temple had been destroyed, the generation that knew him had died, that there were a number of different interpretations of Jesus’ life and it was necessary to record a story of Jesus in order to preserve the stories and create a single narrative that wove the various traditions–in particular the Wonder-Worker and the Christ traditions–into a unified whole. Matthew’s intent, it seems to me, was to take Mark a step further, to submerge the Wonder-Worker tradition more firmly into the Christ tradition, especially to emphasize Jesus’ divinity and his status as the son of (a) g/God. Why did Luke write? It may seem that, to some degree at least, the answer to this might depend on whether or not Luke knew about Matthew; that knowledge of Matthew might have changed Luke’s motivation, but I don’t think this is true. Because I think Luke approached the topic as one needing to be filled out; and, in a sense, I think this is more true if we assume Luke knew about Matthew. In fact, it may make more sense if Luke knew about Matthew.
Here is where we have to talk about Q. It must always be remembered that there is no argument for Q. No one has ever made a case for its existence. The entirety of the case for Q is that Luke butchered the “masterful” arrangement of the Q material that Matthew created. Thus, the “argument” goes, shows that Luke did not know about Matthew, or the former would never have violated the latter’s organization of the Q material. Please note that this is not an argument. It’s an expression of aesthetic preferences. It’s akin to saying, “I can’t believe Dali butchered Da Vinci’s treatment of the Last Supper so badly”. Or, “I can’t believe Picasso butchered the arrangement of nature by putting both of that woman’s eyes on the same side of her nose”. So Dali obviously never saw Da Vinci’s Last Supper, and Picasso obviously never saw a normal person with only one eye on each side of her nose. That’s ridiculous, but that is the entire gist of the Q argument, and it has been for over a century. The biggest point the Q people make is that Luke always–always!–changes the placement of the material from Mark relative to Matthew. This alteration, I would suggest, is because Luke deliberately set out to tell the story differently from Matthew. Otherwise, why not just copy Matthew, stick in the Good Samaritan and Prodigal Son and call it a day? That seems to be what the Q people think should have done. Now, there is no real “argument” for this supposition of mine, but there is no argument for Q, either. At least I’m honest enough to admit what I lack.
This is all very important because it ties in with the “servants” to which Luke alludes in 1:1-3. A combination of Mark and Paul–or sources about Paul, whether written or oral–puts us into plural territory; with just these two we can talk about “servants” who handed over the tradition of the eyewitnesses. So right off the bat, we know that Luke had some kind of source material that was not available to either Mark or Matthew. What about Q? One of my problems with the idea of Q is that it seems very odd that so much of what Jesus taught should have completely bypassed Mark. The early Church put Matthew first and contemporary scholars still value Matthew over the other Synoptics because Matthew seems to have the complete story. It has the Sermon on the Mount, for heavens’ sake! Try to imagine a Christianity based solely on Mark, and what you get is something very different from what we have received. As such, is it possible to imagine a Jesus who did not say, “blessed are the poor in spirit…”? Most of us could not; ergo, Q. But can we imagine a Jesus who did not tell the story of the Prodigal Son? Or the Good Samaritan? Aren’t those such quintessentially Christian stories that the religion would be very different if they were not part of the corpus? If the Sermon on the Mount came from Q, where did the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son originate? Were these part of source material that bypassed both Mark and Matthew? I find it difficult to believe that a written source like Q completely bypassed Mark; I find it impossible to believe something bypassed both Mark and Matthew.
So did Luke invent these magnificent stories? The Q researchers talk about M and L material–stuff that’s unique to Matthew and Luke respectively–and insinuate, if they don’t blatantly claim that this new material is drawn from an earlier source. Never (as far as I know, anyway) is it suggested that maybe Matthew and or Luke wrote the new material themselves. They can’t do this, because that would be to admit that maybe there was no Q, because the Q material was pretty much all composed by Matthew. And that would, in turn, pretty much scuttle the idea of Q, because Matthew was Q. And that would mean that Matthew and Luke are not independent of each other. As I see it, and from the point of view of historical development, it is pretty much impossible to conceive that any of the new material in Luke and John traces back any further than, perhaps the time of Matthew. It is possible that each Luke and John came across a story here or there, or a detail that belonged to a source from an undisturbed community that had maintained something handed down for several generations. It’s possible. But these would be no more than snippets; certainly there would have been nothing like the Prodigal Son nor the Wedding Feast at Cana. Those are later inventions, much later.
To be clear, I do believe that Luke had more than two, or even three sources available to him. Aside from the Paul source and Mark, there was Matthew/Q–which I believe are the same thing. That brings us to three. I believe it highly likely that he had more. We know that new voices of witness continued to be created for several hundred years after the death of Jesus, so there is little reason to think that the time between Matthew and Luke was any exception. Likely the impetus to new creation picked up steam as time passed: witness the number of letters attributed to the “apostles” that came about in the decade either side of the turn of the century, as well as works like the Didache. Most of these sources would have proved ephemeral; or perhaps “preliminary” is a better word. These are the traditions that coalesced into the Didache or the Epistle to the Colossians and later, much later, into the Gospel of Thomas. If I’m willing to concede the existence of other sources available to Luke, why am I so adamantly opposed to Q? That is a legitimate question. The problem with Q is that it is much too important a source to have come into being as a written document, influenced half of the canonical gospels, and then disappear without a trace, a ripple, or the vaguest, most off-hand allusion to its existence. If it was important enough for Matthew and Luke to use it the way they did, it was important enough for someone else to preserve, or at least remember a decade or two later, when the later epistles or the pieces that ended up being non-canonical were being written. But there is absolutely nothing. I’m not sure of the context I read this, but someone raised the question of “Why did Mark survive?” If all, or the vast majority of his material was absorbed by Matthew, as the Q material supposedly was, why did Mark not vanish along with Q? This question is conveniently not asked, so I have no idea what the “correct” responses would be. Based on what happened with Q, Mark should have disappeared without a trace as well.
We are not finished with Q. It will be a source of discussion throughout Luke. It’s a huge topic, but it’s also something of the elephant in the room: no one really wants to discuss it; everyone does want to repeat reassuring phrases that, Yes, Virginia, there is a Q.
There is one final issue to be discussed. Let’s go back to the whole idea of Luke being a novelist. That is a very bold claim on my part, made in the security of knowing that I will never be seriously challenged on it. My point is this: we noted that Paul’s description of his conversion is very different from the more famous version that we all know from Acts; the one that is so famous that the term “Road to Damascus moment” is a cliché in the English language. What I would ask, however, is if they are really so different? Paul tells us he received the gospel through a revelation (Greek: apocalypsos) directly from God. And what happened on the Road to Damascus? Paul was struck from his horse and converted, as through a revelation from God. In short, the version in Acts is a more dramatic, more highly dramatized moment, but the underlying principle is the same: God/Jesus intervened directly in Paul’s life, changing its course forever, turning him into a follower and a missionary and an apostle, as he calls himself. If Luke can transform Paul’s description like that, what other term than “novelist” would fit? Poet? Sure, the story is told in prose. So this is a description that, I think, is not wholly ridiculous.
We shall see.
On to Luke.
Several weeks have passed since I posted the last section on the context of Matthew. Since that time, I’ve gotten back into the Q issue. The good news is that I’ve finally figured out what the actual case for Q is. Or what it isn’t. Or something
The upshot is that I’m going back over my notes, and (re-)reading more stuff by John Kloppenborg, who seems to be one of the most significant proponents of Q. I also feel somewhat responsible for him since he teaches at the University of Toronto, my alma mater. And I think what this is going to do is launch me into Luke. I’d been waffling about what to do next; 2 Corinthians, Romans, Luke, perhaps the Didache. It may end up being Luke.
The benefit of Luke is that he has a lot of stories that make up substantial blocks of text: think Zaccheaus, or The Good Shepherd, or The Prodigal Son, or the Good Samaritan. Such blocks should not require the sort of line-by-line comment that much of Mark and Matthew have. But then, I always think that.
So be prepared for another diatribe on Q.
The beauty of a blog like this is that I can be as self-indulgent about topics like this as I wish. But one hopes that one doesn’t test the patience too much of our gentle readers.
55 ησαν δὲ ἐκεῖ γυναῖκες πολλαὶ ἀπὸ μακρόθεν θεωροῦσαι, αἵτινες ἠκολούθησαν τῷ Ἰησοῦ ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας διακονοῦσαι αὐτῷ:
56 ἐν αἷς ἦν Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ καὶ Μαρία ἡ τοῦἸακώβου καὶ Ἰωσὴφ μήτηρ καὶ ἡ μήτηρ τῶν υἱῶν Ζεβεδαίου.
There were many women from afar beholding, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, attending to him. (56) Among them was Mary the Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
Conspicuous in her absence is Mary, mother of Jesus. Nor was she there in Mark, nor will she be there in Luke, although she is certainly present in John, inspiring any number of beautiful pieces of music entitled “Stabat Mater”–the mother standing at the foot of the cross. Mark says that the second Mary is the mother of James the Younger and Joses, although it’s possible that the latter is a variation of Joseph. Luke does not name the women until they are at the empty tomb when he names Mary of Magdala and Mary the mother of James. John specifies that “his (Jesus’) mother” stood at the cross with her sister, named Mary who was married to Clopas, and Mary the Magdalene. Through it all, Mary Magdalene is the only one who remains constant. That is a very interesting bit of information. Why? Why her? Why her, over and above the mother of Jesus? First of all, let’s dispense with the whole prostitute thing. There is no biblical evidence for that. This designation sounds like a slur invented by later tradition to discredit the Magdalene’s role, whatever that was.
I have read suggestions that perhaps Mary M was sort of Jesus’ patron, or patroness. That is, she helped support Jesus financially so that he could spend his time preaching and teaching, and not have to waste time making money. There is one thing in conjunction with this: men married when they were a bit older, but women were usually married right after puberty to assure their virginity. They didn’t have time to be sexually active before they got married off, so the groom could be reasonably certain he was getting a virgin. (This is a large part of the reason that noblewomen in the Middle Ages were often sequestered in a convent right until the day of the wedding.) So an older man and a young girl is a recipe for young widows. Paul was very solicitous about such women, exhorting them not to remarry. Why? Because if they did remarry, their property would transfer to the new husband. If they didn’t marry, they could use the money to support the fledgling church. Was the Magdalene such a widow? A woman of some means? It’s not out of the question. I don’t put much stock in the idea that she and Jesus were married. Had that been the case, I believe the later tradition would have gone much, much further, and been way more vicious than just claiming she was a prostitute. I don’t see any real problems with her being a sponsor of Jesus. It’s embarrassing enough for Jesus to be supported by a woman for later tradition to invent the prostitute thing, but not so blatant that she had to be thoroughly discredited and perhaps obliterated from the record. This would certainly help explain how and why she had followed Jesus from Galilee.
After the Magdalene, we are left with what author John Green would call “An Abundance of Marys” (My apologies to Mr Green). The place to start is the discrepancies among the evangelists. Why do we have so many variations on the identity of these women? That is a fairly simple question. The discrepancy arose because there was no strong, single tradition about who these women were. With no actual evidence, we get speculation, just as we get speculation on the names of the “Twelve Apostles”. No one actually knew their names. Indeed, no one actually knew if there were women watching. So the tradition got creative. And then it got splintered. The simplest solution to the disagreement is that each evangelist stood at the end of a separate tradition. This sort of thing gets biblical scholars all excited, because it allows them to say that the later evangelists had independent information, giving them real historical credibility. They can–and do–say this, but it doesn’t mean they are correct.
The more difficult question is this: Why, if both Matthew and Luke read Mark, why the different names and/or identities for the Marys? Does this not, indeed, point to the likelihood of independent traditions? Doesn’t this put a rather large hole in the idea of direct affiliation? Not necessarily. One fairly simple solution is that the different Marys were interchanged as sort of a shout-out to members of the community to which each evangelist lived. We saw this with Mark naming Simon of Cyrene as the father of Rufus and Alexander. We don’t have to take this at face value; later tradition said that Jesus was related to Joseph of Arimathea. The thing is, the later evangelists were aware of Mark, but they obviously did not follow him on every detail. Had they done so, we’d have had three versions of Mark and nothing else. That is not what we have; from the differences we can safely–I believe–infer that they did not intend simply to follow Mark. I would argue that, in particular Matthew and John, intended to supersede Mark. (Luke, I think, is sui generis for several reasons, but more on that when we get to him.)
While I was aware that there have been all sorts of gyrations to synchronize the identities of the various women named Mary, but I had not been aware of what is called the “Three Marys” conundrum. This theory suggests (“argue” is too strong a word; there is no evidence that can be used to construct an actual argument) that Magdalene, the wife of Clopas, and the sister of Lazarus are all the same person. I won’t go into this; it’s all pure speculation. I had entertained the idea that the sons of Zebedee were actually Jesus’ half-brothers, so that the James always hanging around with Jesus, Peter, and John would have none other than James the Just, the brother of the Lord. However, in different accounts we have Magdalene in the same place at the same time as the mother of the sons of Zebedee (see above) and with Mary, wife of Clopas (Luke), so neither of these ideas really hold water.
This is where the whole outlook of biblical scholarship causes problems. Again, the unchallenged assumption is that the evangelists were all concerned to tell the same story that was ultimately based on a single set of factually accurate data. This is why they twist themselves into pretzels to reconcile “facts” that are not facts at all, but pieces of the legend. As such, they are very plastic. We see this process continuing on into the non-canonical works like Gospel of Peter, which has the trial take place before Herod Antipas, and not Pilate, and has the whole body of Jewish elders, and Pilate, at the tomb to witness the Resurrection. The evangelists were not concerned with who the women at the cross were; although I would suggest that the Magdalene has a fair claim to historical authenticity, at least as a person, if not someone at the foot of the cross.
55 Erant autem ibi mulieres multae a longe aspicientes, quae secutae erant Iesum a Galilaea ministrantes ei;
56 inter quas erat Maria Magdalene et Maria Iacobi et Ioseph mater et mater filiorum Zebedaei.
57 Ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης ἦλθεν ἄνθρωπος πλούσιος ἀπὸ Ἁριμαθαίας, το ὔνομα Ἰωσήφ, ὃς καὶ αὐτὸς ἐμαθητεύθη τῷ Ἰησοῦ:
58 οὗτος προσελθὼν τῷ Πιλάτῳ ᾐτήσατο τὸ σῶμα τοῦ Ἰησοῦ. τότε ὁ Πιλᾶτος ἐκέλευσεν ἀποδοθῆναι.
59 καὶ λαβὼν τὸ σῶμα ὁἸωσὴφ ἐνετύλιξεν αὐτὸ [ἐν] σινδόνι καθαρᾷ,
60 καὶ ἔθηκεν αὐτὸ ἐν τῷ καινῷ αὐτοῦ μνημείῳ ὃ ἐλατόμησεν ἐν τῇ πέτρᾳ, καὶ προσκυλίσας λίθον μέγαν τῇ θύρᾳ τοῦ μνημείου ἀπῆλθεν.
61 ἦν δὲ ἐκεῖ Μαριὰμ ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ καὶ ἡ ἄλλη Μαρία καθήμεναι ἀπέναντι τοῦ τάφου.
It having become evening, a wealthy man from Arimathea, his name Joseph, who himself had learned from Jesus, (58) he approaching Pilate asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered that it be given (to him). (59) And taking the body Joseph wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, (60) and placed it in a new tomb of his which was cut into the rock, and rolled a great rock in the door of the tomb he went away. (61) There was Miriam the Magdalene and the other Mary sitting, they went away from the tomb.
Not a whole lot of startling revelations there. The most salient point is that Magdalene is considered to be the prime mover in the action of observing Jesus’ tomb. This would be consistent with her role as a prominent financial backer of the movement. Then, as now, money talked, and it the person paying the piper got to call the tune. And notice how she’s relegated her companion to the role of “the other Mary”, no longer important enough to be named.
Despite my often harsh criticism, there are points where I strongly agree with JD Crossan. He does have a better historical sense than many biblical scholars, which isn’t necessarily saying much. His point is that, as a common criminal, the body of Jesus would very likely have been tossed into a common grave pit with a hundred other victims of crucifixion. The result would have been that there simply was no tomb that could then have been found empty. This seems very likely; however, it does not address–at least effectively, IMO–where the whole story of a resurrection came from if there were no empty tomb. The undeniable fact is that the story did start somewhere. So what to make of this?
One very large hint can be derived from the first witness we have to testify to the Resurrection. No, not Mark; the first witness is Paul. He’s the one who told the story of the Resurrected Jesus a full generation before Mark. And there are a couple of things to remember about Paul’s story. Perhaps the most significant is that he says that Jesus appeared to him, just as he had appeared to the Twelve, and to James, and all the rest. This is a huge deal, because Paul didn’t come along until a decade after Jesus had been executed. This is much too late for him to have been with Peter and the rest. So the implication is that Jesus’ may not have risen in the way that we tend to picture it. Bodily? Yes; Paul was a Pharisee and Josephus tells us they believed in the resurrection of the body. But Paul also describes a resurrection body that is not at all the same as a physical body, which implies that our conception, and that of the evangelists, of the rising may not be quite accurate. We may be looking at this a bit too literally. Now, much as I’d love to, this is not the time for a real consideration of this topic. For the moment, suffice it to say that, for Paul, the empty tomb was simply not necessary.
Which brings us to the real point. Since Paul was not concerned with the physical events of the crucifixion, and was not concerned that the earthly body actually came from a tomb where he had been laid after his physical death, the implication is that the story we have of the Passion and Resurrection may very well have been invented some time after Paul. That’s not a slam-dunk certainty, but I believe it’s the best fit for the facts. To make that determination, we have to ask if the idea of the resurrection pre-dated Paul. That, of course, seems an outrageous suggestion, since the foundation-stone of Christianity is the Resurrection. Without that, Jesus is just another wise man. But remember, Mark originally had no true resurrection story; the oldest mss end with the empty tomb, and a man dressed in white telling the Magdalene and the other women that Jesus has been raised and gone ahead of them to Galilee. I think this, together with Paul, is a good indication that there was no Resurrection story until…perhaps until Matthew wrote the one we will read.
57 Cum sero autem factum esset, venit homo dives ab Arimathaea nomine Ioseph, qui et ipse discipulus erat Iesu.
58 Hic accessit ad Pilatum et petiit corpus Iesu. Tunc Pilatus iussit reddi.
59 Et accepto corpore, Ioseph involvit illud in sindone munda
60 et posuit illud in monumento suo novo, quod exciderat in petra, et advolvit saxum magnum ad ostium monumenti et abiit.
61 Erat autem ibi Maria Magdalene et altera Maria sedentes contra sepulcrum.
62 Τῇ δὲ ἐπαύριον, ἥτις ἐστὶν μετὰ τὴν παρασκευήν, συνήχθησαν οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι πρὸς Πιλᾶτον
63 λέγοντες, Κύριε, ἐμνήσθημεν ὅτι ἐκεῖνος ὁ πλάνος εἶπεν ἔτι ζῶν, Μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας ἐγείρομαι.
64 κέλευσον οὖν ἀσφαλισθῆναι τὸν τάφον ἕως τῆς τρίτης ἡμέρας, μήποτε ἐλθόντες οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ κλέψωσιν αὐτὸν καὶ εἴπωσιν τῷ λαῷ, Ἠγέρθη ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν, καὶ ἔσται ἡ ἐσχάτη πλάνη χείρων τῆς πρώτης.
65 ἔφη αὐτοῖς ὁ Πιλᾶτος, Ἔχετε κουστωδίαν: ὑπάγετε ἀσφαλίσασθε ὡς οἴδατε.
66 οἱ δὲ πορευθέντες ἠσφαλίσαντο τὸν τάφον σφραγίσαντες τὸν λίθον μετὰ τῆς κουστωδίας.
On the morrow, after the preparation, the high priests and the Pharisees convened before Pilate (63) saying, “Lord, remember that this impostor said yet living, ‘after three days I am being raised’. Order therefore to be secured the tomb until the third day, lest coming his disciples steal him and say to the people, ‘He was raised from the dead, and will be the last deceit worse than the first”. (65) Said to them Pilate, “You may have a custodian. Go out you secure as you see (i.e., see fit). (66) They going out secured the tomb, sealing the stone with the custodian.
First of all, this is the only recorded usage of “custodian” in all of Greek literature. However, it is very common in Latin, from which language it was transliterated into Greek, as Caesar became “Kaisar”. In effect, we are dealing with a something like a technical term that Matthew swallowed whole. The implication is that Matthew managed to be aware of a Latin term. This isn’t like “kaisar”, which was moved wholesale into Greek; this is an absolute one-off. No doubt he got it orally, he heard the word spoken, then transliterated it by sound. But where was he that he was in a position to hear the word? Tradition places Matthew in Antioch, and this city would have been the permanent residence of the Roman legion stationed in the region. So that does work.
Then there is the issue with the ‘three days’. Strictly speaking, Jesus was in the tomb for way less than 48 hours (3:00 pm Friday to early Sunday morning), so Jesus was not raised “after three days”. He was raised on the third day. This is a very technical thing, but I think it demonstrates what happens when one tries to line up an ex-post-facto story with a prophecy: there is a certain amount of slippage. Perhaps I’m picking nits here, but this has always bothered me more than no doubt it should. And too, the reaction of the high priests is that they expect the event to come on the third day, since they ask for the custodian, not when Jesus was buried, but the next day, almost as if they knew (wink-wink) that the raising would take place the following day.
This is potentially interesting. The “preparation” was for the Sabbath; that means that the high priests came to Pilate on the Sabbath. My understanding of First Century Judaism is pretty limited, but my understanding is that Jews in general, and priests in particular, were not supposed to bestir themselves on the Sabbath. That was why they had to prepare: they had to pre-do everything that they would need on the Sabbath. And it is also my understanding that they would have been especially reluctant to go visit a Gentile and risk ritual impurity. But, I could be wrong about that.
That’s really about it. There are some threads to be collected in the summary.
62 Altera autem die, quae est post Parascevem, convenerunt principes sacerdotum et pharisaei ad Pilatum
63 dicentes: “ Domine, recordati sumus quia seductor ille dixit adhuc vivens: “Post tres dies resurgam”.
64 Iube ergo custodiri sepulcrum usque in diem tertium, ne forte veniant discipuli eius et furentur eum et dicant plebi: “Surrexit a mortuis”, et erit novissimus error peior priore ”.
65 Ait illis Pilatus: “ Habetis custodiam; ite, custodite, sicut scitis ”.
66 Illi autem abeuntes munierunt sepulcrum, signantes lapidem, cum custodia.