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Luke Chapter 16:14-18

The original intent was that this section would conclude the chapter. The reason is that Luke seems to have more blocks than his predecessors. This gospel seems to have longer stories that make it difficult to split these chapters up into more than a few section; too, the chapters in Luke may be be a bit shorter on average than those in Matthew. But let’s talk about the longer stories. I have often said that Mark was a journalist, Matthew was a rabbi (of pagan birth, perhaps), and Luke is a novelist. That becomes most apparent in Acts– assuming, of course, that Luke is actually the author of Acts. I am agnostic on that for the time being; I don’t know the arguments for or against. Regardless, that Luke worked the material into more continuous stories indicates the increasing sophistication of the NT. Stylistically, this sophistication may hit apex in Luke; theologically, the apex is John. Now, of course I’m going to tie this literary quality back to Q. If you think about literary development, does it make more sense to progress from the succinct Mark and a collection of random sayings to the cultivated literary quality of Luke? Or does it make more sense if Luke is sitting on top of Matthew as well as the other two? After all, Matthew elaborated Mark to a great degree– largely by making up a bunch of new pericopae, for which the Q people give him no credit. Luke took Matthew’s elaboration to a higher plane by creating more blocks of stories rather than a bunch of unconnected sayings. Again, hardly smoking-gun proof for the non-existence of Q, but such proof of a negative is impossible. Rather, it’s another small stone on the scale, and any fair assessment should indicate that the non-Q side is becoming very heavy. Think about it: how many of these “little stones” have I added to the commentary? Be honest, and you will (I think) have to admit there have been quite a few. Probably to the point of “this is getting tedious”. At least, I hope that is the reaction. If so, it means I’m piling up a lot of “little stones” that might have reached the point of becoming evidence. After all, the plural of “anecdote” is “evidence”. And this is what changed my mind. I got into yet another diatribe about Q. So, we save the story of Dives and Lazarus for the next section.

Here we have a direct continuation of the story before; or, this is perhaps an integral part of the story begun in the previous section of the chapter. We are hearing about the unjust steward who bought his way out of a predicament using his lord’s resources, and the lord seemed to think it was a good move by the steward. However, Jesus then editorialized at the end, indicating that perhaps there is a bit more to this than would first meet the eye. To find out, let’s get to the

Text

14 Ἤκουον δὲ ταῦτα πάντα οἱ Φαρισαῖοι φιλάργυροι ὑπάρχοντες, καὶ ἐξεμυκτήριζον αὐτόν.

Having heard this, all the Pharisees being taken as money-lovers, and mocked him.

Hadn’t planned on such a quick pause, but have to mention a couple of things. Just to be clear, the Pharisees are reacting to the dictum of God and Mammon; they don’t like the implication so they mock/deride Jesus. The word used is unique to Luke; L&S cites usage in Psalm 2.4 in the LXX and here. Not a lot to go on. The Latin is pretty clear: deridebant. This is pretty obviously the origin of ‘deride’, but it’s also formed from the root of ridere, to laugh. My first-year Latin prof was fond of the word ‘risible’, as in, what you just said was absolutely risible. Of course, he did it in such an affable way that he came across as funny, so in response, risimus. We laughed. But the main point is the way he sticks in the poke at the Pharisees as being money-loving. Here’s my point about this: it almost feels like he adds this, rather clumsily I might add, because the audience may not simply understand that this was a trait of the Pharisees. This could be due to a pagan audience, a separation of distance from Judea; or is it a distance of time? Had the Pharisees stopped being quite so well-recognized as they once had been? Probably the former.

This just occurred to me. The money-grubber jab feels an awful lot like an interpolation, something stuck in by a scribe for his edification, or that of his readers. I’ll go no further than that, but there is something very inelegant about it.

14 Audiebant autem omnia haec pharisaei, qui erant avari, et deridebant illum.

15 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ὑμεῖς ἐστε οἱ δικαιοῦντες ἑαυτοὺς ἐνώπιον τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ὁ δὲ θεὸς γινώσκει τὰς καρδίας ὑμῶν: ὅτι τὸ ἐν ἀνθρώποις ὑψηλὸν βδέλυγμα ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ.

16 Ὁ νόμος καὶ οἱ προφῆται μέχρι Ἰωάννου: ἀπὸ τότε ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ εὐαγγελίζεται καὶ πᾶς εἰς αὐτὴν βιάζεται.

And he said to them, “You are the ones justifying yourselves in front of humans, but God knows your hearts. That in human affairs you are elevated (but) an abomination before God. The law and the prophets (were?) until John: from then the Kingdom of God was preached (lit = “good newsed“) and all force into it.  

Apologies, but we have to make an unscheduled stop. The first verse is clear enough; just want to mention that the word for “abomination” is a Judeo-Christian word, showing up in the LXX and NT and pretty much nowhere in pagan literature. That’s fine. It may be based on something Hebrew? But the second verse is a problem. First, the grammar is exceedingly odd. There is no verb in the first clause, but understanding a form of “to be” is hardly all that unusual for Greek of any sort. And Latin, too; there is no verb in the first clause in the Vulgate below. The second clause…on second thought does make sense. There are actually a couple of ideas contained therein. First, is that The Law and The Prophets were not sufficient, or not conclusive, or…something. Whatever the trait is that I can’t name, it has allowed people– like the Pharisees; or perhaps especially people like Pharisees– to force their way into the Kingdom. Was it that the rules were not stringent, or specific enough that humans could force their way into the kingdom? But how can that be, if The Kingdom of God is Heaven? Is something that we merit only in the afterlife, and only if we’ve led a good life? Are we to infer that The Kingdom and The Life are not, perhaps, synonymous? This passage doesn’t necessarily say that, but it is, IMO, a valid inference.

Perhaps this makes more sense if we think of this more in terms of a Jewish conception of The Kingdom. The problem is that I can barely discuss Christian concepts in any intelligent manner, let alone try to tackle how Jewish thought in the centuries either side of the change of era may have looked at this sort of thing. The idea of some sort of afterlife was a part of Greek thought going back centuries. It is explicit in Homer; Odysseus travels to the land of the dead and speaks to the shade of Achilles, of his mother, and of the seer Tiresias. These individuals are dead, and yet they retain their individual personalities; they are in death who they were in life. There was rather a similar belief in the Near East, or at least in parts. In The Epic of Gilgamesh the eponymous hero travels to the land of the dead to converse with his erstwhile companion, Enkidu. There are numerous uses of the word sheol (Strong’s #7585)in the HS; perhaps half of them simply mean “grave”.  Of the other half, many are often translated as “hell”, but a quick scan of them shows that many of these could also be rendered simply as “grave” as well. The point being that an afterlife was not an integral part of earlier Hebrew belief; much that is seen, IMO, by Christians who are reading things backward. The Christian philosophy of history is that Jesus was the inevitable fulfillment of the Divine Plan, and that human history sort of fills in around that destiny. Ergo, this was all planned out from time immemorial and so, of course, the HS is just a precursor to the NT. So of course the ideas presented in HS are foreshadowings of what was to come, so of course sheol should be translated as “hell” whenever it was possible to do so. Because if the two words did not, ultimately, have essentially the same meaning, then we’re dealing with a discontinuity.

So the point of all this we may very well be dealing with two different ideas. The Life and The Kingdom of God may not, in fact, have been synonymous. And if you go back to the conception of the anointed in the HS, he is not a divine entity. He (and it was to be a ‘he’) was fully human, and he was expected to lead Israel (which, by the time of Jesus, had not existed for 600 years, give or take) to restore its past political glory. IOW, to restore the Kingdom of God. The Baptist/Dunker would have fit very easily into that framework, since it was the framework of mainstream Jewish thought. John could have been teaching about the Kingdom to come in a purely political sense. Later, the followers of Jesus would begin to co-opt John’s earthly kingdom, converting it to the Kingdom, not of God, but of the Heavens. But it was Matthew who came up with this latter term, just as it was Matthew who introduced stuff like the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord’s Prayer, and a whole lot more Christian ideas. If we read Mark with the understanding that Jesus was carrying on John’s preaching of the Kingdom of God as a political kingdom, then the mustard seed takes on an entirely different set of implications than it carries in the Christian understanding of the idea. In fact, this would very much explain why Mark wrote, and why he wrote as he did. Mark lived through the revolt, even if he did not participate the way Josephus did. Mark was aware of the idea that a political kingdom was being bandied about only to be crushed by the Roman with their usual brutal efficiency. But then Mark saw the outcome, and realized he had to change the narrative, picking up on the Christ tradition, or rather the interpretation of the Christ that Paul had introduced. In this reading, Paul first understood the Christ in a different manner than other Jews to explain the fact of Jesus’ death. Then a Passion Narrative had to be invented, all of it running right up to political ideas, Jesus the King of the Jews, but a king of a different sort of kingdom. Matthew took this new interpretation and expanded it further, adding the divinity of Jesus. Luke sought to tie all of this together, with Jesus and John as relatives, in a relationship in which John recognised his subordinate position in utero, when Mary comes to visit Elisabeth.

But the incompatibility of the two ideas leads to certain awkward moments, like Verse 16, where the attempted weld of the different ideas, and that The Kingdom is not synonymous with The Life, shows. There is a seam in the fabric.

This seems a tad anticlimactic at this point, but there is a second aspect to this verse. Simply put, the Law and the Prophets have been superseded. Wealth and status are no longer enough to allow one to force his way into the (political being understood) kingdom. The rules have changed.

15 Et ait illis: “Vos estis, qui iustificatis vos coram hominibus; Deus autem novit corda vestra, quia, quod hominibus altum est, abominatio est ante Deum.

16 Lex et Prophetae usque ad Ioannem; ex tunc regnum Dei evangelizatur, et omnis in illud vim facit.

17 Εὐκοπώτερον δέ ἐστιν τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν παρελθεῖν ἢ τοῦ νόμου μίαν κεραίαν πεσεῖν.

18 Πᾶς ὁ ἀπολύων τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ καὶ γαμῶν ἑτέραν μοιχεύει, καὶ ὁ ἀπολελυμένην ἀπὸ ἀνδρὸς γαμῶν μοιχεύει.

It is easier for the sky and the earth to pass than for a single stroke of a letter to fall from the law. (18) All who send away his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he marrying the one having been separated from the man commits adultery.

 First of all, it is just me, or does it seem like these last two verses really don’t follow from the two previous? (And, spoiler alert, they don’t logically flow into the next section, either.) If the Q people wanted to mount an actual argument, the existence of such short sayings unattached to context present a much stronger case than a bland– or even vehement– statement that Luke is mad to change the masterful arrangement of the Sermon on the Mount. The former actually requires an explanation; the latter can be waved off as a subjective assessment of literary style, because that is exactly what it is. There is also another consideration: the word (it is a single word in Greek) translated here as “stroke of a letter” occurs twice in the NT: here, and in Matthew’s version of this aphorism. More, the word actually means ‘horn’, or something like the antennae of a cray/crawfish, or the spur of a mountain. In Ev Mt and Ev Lk, it means the upward stroke of a letter. More: Matthew’s version is “…a single iota or upward stroke of a letter…” Iota (ι)is the Greek letter ‘I”; it is a single quick stroke of a writing implement, the smallest letter, orthographically speaking, in the Greek alphabet. It is often rendered as “jot”, because later Latin orthography began replacing the initial Latin “I” with a “J” when the second letter of the word was also a vowel. Hence, “Iuppiter” becomes “Jupiter”. I have the impression that Hebrew uses such little strokes to indicate vowels. If this is correct, then Matthew is covering both languages, the iota from Greek and the upward stroke of Hebrew. Luke drops the former for whatever reason. 

But wait, there’s more. Matthew and Luke use different versions of the word. If you check Liddell & Scott, (which I almost always do), you will find that Matthew’s word is the standard word for “horn”; as the horn of a bull, or even a wing of an army, the left horn being the left flank. Luke, OTOH, uses a form derived from the standard, but a word more often used figuratively, as in the antennae of a crayfish, the yardarm on a mast, or the horns of the moon. So which is the original? Let’s check the Greek text of Q to find out…oh, wait. There is no Greek text of Q. There is no text of Q in any language. There are only the various reconstructions based on…what, exactly? The literary tastes of the editors, and an adamant refusal to consider an actual debate on merits. I’ve been using Kloppenborg et alia book entitled The Q/Thomas Reader as my text for Q. Kloppenborg, of my alma mater, University of Toronto (the shame!) is probably the foremost proponent of Q, so it seems like a good choice. He chooses Luke’s “not a serif” which strikes me as an excellent translation) over Matthew’s “iota nor serif”. This is hardly surprising, since Luke is considered the more “primitive” version, in large part because he says “blessed are the poor” rather than hedging like Matthew to “blessed are the poor in spirit“. Now, of course I am being unfair. This is a blog, not a dissertation, although I am seriously smelling a book in here. The consensus opinion is of “alternating primitivity”. But the choice of Luke as the more primitive here seems unfortunate; and it also demonstrates how the focus of the Q argument is on externals, rather than the content, the actual meaning of the words. If anything, Matthew is the more primitive in his choice of horn, κερeα rather than κεραίαν, as Luke used. The former is the standard, by far the more common word. The latter is more literary in the sense of more figurative, and the more descriptive. 

So why did each choose the one they did? Aye, there’s the rub. Each one chose the word he did because he felt it was the best word. Luke’s Greek is more sophisticated than Matthew’s; he uses more unique and unusual words. Sometimes he uses fewer words, omitting “in spirit” and “iota” as he did here. Does his word choice here function within the framework of the “redactionally consistent” explanation Q proponents demand for every deviation from Matthew? Probably irrelevant, since Luke is the base version, the one following Q. Ah, now there’s another question. Who wrote Q?  Well, no one, IMO. The more appropriate, because more serious, question is “what sort of person wrote Q?”. We have seen Mark’s Greek. It’s functional, but basic. Paul’s Greek verges on incomprehensible several times in 1 Thessalonians and Galatians, until he found a better secretary. (I can never remember how to spell amanuensis. Spellcheck to the rescue.) Then 1 Corinthians is a bit higher on the scale. Paul has a lot of unique words, but it’s a tendency to stick extra prefixes on existing words. The point is, if Q was written down in the 30s, what sort of people were in the Jesus movement? Most likely, it was mostly Jews. Paul was still a decade or so away from converting pagans in the 30s. Were these Jews likely to be well-educated in Greek? Not impossible, certainly, but not likely, either. So if someone wrote  Q in the 30s, it would indeed have been more primitive than either Matthew or Luke. Which implies that the text in Q should probably be more like Luke’s than Matthew’s version. Of course, Kloppenborg et al can cheat; they don’t have to provide the Greek word behind their translation. They can just provide a word of their choosing. Granted, serif is a good choice, but that would imply Luke’s more sophisticated and unusual word κεραίαν over Matthew’s more standard κερeα. That Kloppenborg chose “serif” seems to imply that he understands that Luke’s word is the term used in Q. That is not, in my opinion, a “redactionally consistent” position on his part. He is choosing his ideology over his sound judgement.   

17 Facilius est autem caelum et terram praeterire, quam de Lege unum apicem cadere.

18 Omnis, qui dimittit uxorem suam et ducit alteram, moechatur; et, qui dimissam a viro ducit, moechatur.

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Luke Chapter 14:7-15

The break between the last piece and this is not entirely sharp. In Verses 1-6, Jesus was at dinner with some Pharisees. There was some contention about whether it was lawful to heal on the sabbath. Presumably the “those” in Verse 7 still refers to the group that is gathered at the table—or the group reclining on couches, as was the standard means of eating in much of the ancient Mediterranean. This was true to the point that “reclining” was more or less a synonym for “eating a dinner”. Hence we come to the term translated “first couches”. The word is compound, the second part being a place to lie down; hence, a place to recline, or a couch.

Text

7 Ἔλεγεν δὲ πρὸς τοὺς κεκλημένους παραβολήν, ἐπέχων πῶς τὰς πρωτοκλισίας ἐξελέγοντο, λέγων πρὸς αὐτούς,

8 Οταν κληθῇς ὑπό τινος εἰς γάμους, μὴ κατακλιθῇς εἰς τὴν πρωτοκλισίαν, μή ποτε ἐν τιμότερός σου ᾖ κεκλημένος ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ,

9 καὶ ἐλθὼν ὁ σὲ καὶ αὐτὸν καλέσας ἐρεῖ σοι, Δὸς τούτῳ τόπον, καὶ τότε ἄρξῃ μετὰ αἰσχύνης τὸν ἔσχατον τόπον κατέχειν.

10 ἀλλ’ ὅταν κληθῇς πορευθεὶς ἀνάπεσε εἰς τὸν ἔσχατον τόπον, ἵνα ὅταν ἔλθῃ ὁ κεκληκώς σε ἐρεῖ σοι, Φίλε, προσανάβηθι ἀνώτερον: τότε ἔσται σοι δόξα ἐνώπιον πάντων τῶν συνανακειμένων σοι.

He said to those who had been called (= invited) a parable, having beheld how they chose the first couches, speaking to them, (8) “When having been called ( = invited) by someone to a wedding, do not recline yourself on the first couches, lest, someone in higher honor ( = social rank) having been invited, (9) and coming the one who invited you and the other says to you, ‘Give (up) this place’, and then you may begin with shame the last place to have. (10) But when invited, go to and fall into the lowest place, so that when the inviter may come (and) will say to you, ‘Friend, march up towards a higher (place)’. Then there will be glory to you in front of all of those having been invited together with you.

Let’s pause for some Greek. First, this is a fairly complex bit of writing, that takes some real gymnastics to put into decent English. This borders on Classical Greek, and is another demonstration that Luke (as in, the author of –) was rather well educated. The other thing is the word for going up to the higher table is ‘prosanabethi’, containing the word ‘anabasis’. This is the title of a famous work of Xenophon, who was a Greek mercenary, fighting for one of the claimants to the Persian throne. The claimant was killed, so there were 10,000 (or so) Greek soldiers at loose ends in the middle of Asia Minor. This was a difficult situation, so they had to “march up country” to the south shore of the Black Sea. The title thus is “Anabasis”, which I’ve seen rendered as “The March Upcountry” and the “March of the Ten Thousand”. I point this out to demonstrate how multi-purposed a lot of Greek words are. This can make translation difficult, since the same word can be rendered to mean a number of different things. My particular bête noir in this is “logos”. The opening of John is “in the beginning was the Logos’; which got translated into Latin as “Verbum” which is more or less “Word”. This translation, while correct, is unfortunate, because the Greek word ‘logos’ has so many other meanings not included in the English ‘word’. It is, after all, the -ology ending of the-ology, or psych-ology, or soci-ology. “Word” doesn’t come close to covering that. Finally, the word rendered as “glory” is a bit overstated here. It is the word that is used for “glory”, as in “glory to God…”  I gave it the elevated translation to make the same point. Feel free to substitute your own modified synonym. The KJV gives this as ‘worship’; the NASB, NIV, and ESV all use ‘honor’. The problem with that Greek has a separate word for ‘honor’. It was used in Verse 8.

7 Dicebat autem ad invitatos parabolam, intendens quomodo primos accubitus eligerent, dicens ad illos:

8 “Cum invitatus fueris ab aliquo ad nuptias, non discumbas in primo loco, ne forte honoratior te sit invitatus ab eo,

9 et veniens is qui te et illum vocavit, dicat tibi: “Da huic locum”; et tunc incipias cum rubore novissimum locum tenere.

10 Sed cum vocatus fueris, vade, recumbe in novissimo loco, ut, cum venerit qui te invitavit, dicat tibi: “Amice, ascende superius”; tunc erit tibi gloria coram omnibus simul discumbentibus.

11 ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ὑψῶν ἑαυτὸν τα πεινωθήσεται καὶ ὁ ταπεινῶν ἑαυτὸν ὑψωθήσεται.

12 Ἔλεγεν δὲ καὶ τῷ κεκληκότι αὐτόν, Οταν ποιῇς ἄριστον ἢ δεῖπνον, μὴ φώνει τοὺς φίλους σου μηδὲ τοὺς ἀδελφούς σου μηδὲ τοὺς συγγενεῖς σου μηδὲ γείτονας πλουσίους, μήποτε καὶ αὐτοὶ ἀντικαλέσωσίν σε καὶ γένηται ἀνταπόδομά σοι.

13 ἀλλ’ ὅταν δοχὴν ποιῇς, κάλει πτωχούς, ἀναπείρους, χωλούς, τυφλούς:

14 καὶ μακάριος ἔσῃ, ὅτι οὐκ ἔχουσιν ἀνταποδοῦναί σοι, ἀνταποδοθήσεται γάρ σοι ἐν τῇ ἀναστάσει τῶν δικαίων.

15 Ἀκούσας δέ τις τῶν συνανακειμένων ταῦτα εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Μακάριος ὅστις φάγεται ἄρτον ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ.

“That all of those raising themselves will be humbled, and the one humbling him/herself will be raised”. (12) And he said to the one inviting him, “When you make the best meal, do not call your friends, nor your brothers, nor your relatives, nor your rich neighbors, and never those having invited you and having become inviters of you. (13) Rather, when you make a reception, call the poor, the the crippled, the lame, the blind. (14) And you will be blessed, that they do not have (i.e. have the means) to return to you, for you will be repaid in the resurrection of the just”. (15) Hearing, someone of those reclining with (him = Jesus) said these things to him (Jesus), “Blessed is the one who eats bread in the kingdom of God.”

Here we get a tying-together of several strands of what we think of as basic Christian belief. We get the humble/exalted contrast which was made in Mark and Matthew, and this is yoked together with the resurrection of the just and the kingdom of God. No doubt we’ve covered this before, but the idea of humility is very non-pagan. I cannot speak with authority on whether this was considered a positive attribute, or the degree to which it was considered positive, in Judaism to this point; however, given the consistent message of social justice that pervades Judaism, I would suspect this is not entirely novel with Jesus. There may–emphasis on may— be a difference in degree, but this may be very standard in Jewish thought and teaching. I suspect I may be guilty of Christian-centric thinking to suggest there is much of a change. If there is one thing I’ve learned through this exercise, it’s that there wasn’t a drastic change in the message of social justice between Judaism and Jesus. Thus the admonition to invite the poor, the blind, and the physically challenged is not something new or unique to Jesus’ message. Given that, it’s possible to see this as something that may very well trace back to Jesus’ teaching*.

Not only that, I’ve been doing more reading on early Greek thought. One discovery is that the idea of reward–or at least punishment–in the afterlife was not a Christian invention, either. The Greek philosopher Herakleitos believed that shady magicians would be/should be punished in the afterlife. What is intriguing here is the idea of the Resurrection of the Just, and particularly the way it seems to be synonymous with the Kingdom of God. It should be noted that there appears to be a distinction between the former idea and what became Christian orthodoxy. The raising of the “Just” carries the distinct implication that only the good people will rise on the last day. There have been allusions to this idea before, but I did not make a sufficiently careful record of when they occurred, and by whom they were voiced. My apologies. But here, using this term, this possible differentiation is more clear than it has been previously, clear enough even to get through to me. However, while this differentiation is possible, or possibly inclined, it is still not stated explicitly. If the Just are to be raised up, what happens to the bad people? Do they remain mouldering in the grave? How does that square with the parable of the (presumably poor) wedding guest who got thrown into the outer darkness, where there was wailing and gnashing of teeth because he was improperly dressed? This latter, I think, can safely be taken as a metaphor for ‘having lived a blameful life’. There another reference to a fiery Gehenna. What does that mean, and how does it square with the “Resurrection of the Just”?

That was the chore facing the early church. In order to create a set of beliefs that would be considered “orthodox”, it was necessary to reconcile such seemingly contradictory statements. If they could not be reconciled, they had to be papered over, or reinterpreted. I think that the Resurrection of the Just is the belief of the Pharisees, who said that there would be a resurrection of the body. This, as opposed to the Sadducees, who said there would be no resurrection. And that is where the kingdom of God comes in: what Luke is implying here is that the Kingdom will come when the just are raised bodily, and the reign of God will be eternal (although that is not stated here), and that what we think of as Heaven is actually a physical existence. In Christian orthodoxy, Heaven has become a place of disembodied spirits, which idea is very, very Greek. So where does a resurrected body come in? Or, is “resurrection” metaphorical, to mean that the Just will be raised, but only in spirit? Here is where it’s important to grasp the idea that the evangelists were story-tellers, myth-makers; they were decidedly not theologians. That term is wholly anachronistic for writers of the NT, and perhaps in general. The term is not a Greek concept; for them, the term philosophy covered it all, from natural science to the One of Plato which served as the basis for the Christian God of the Middle Ages. Theology was coined by the Christians, in order to distinguish it from secular philosophy. So the early thinkers who created The Church had to invent the term and then identify and define all its concepts, then decide which were, and which were not to be considered “orthodox”, literally “straight belief”. We need constantly to bear in mind that the doctrine (from the ‘dox’ root, which also spawned ‘dogma’) of the Trinity did not exist until well into the Second, or even the Third Century. That is, two- or three hundred years after Luke and even John. This is why I’m insistent about using “sacred breath” for “spiritus sanctus”; the term ‘holy spirit’ has too much accrued baggage, and Holy Spirit is just grossly anachronistic for the NT. I won’t go into the reasons why it was necessary to reify the sacred breath as the Holy Spirit because I really don’t remember them. Jaroslav Pelikan has a great discussion on this in Volume 1 of his The Christian Tradition series.

Back to the point, it is worth noting that what Luke is describing is not necessarily consistent what we have come to believe as the standard idea of the Christian afterlife. This sort of free-for-all in ideas is exactly why a group of Christian elders came together and decided it was time to define orthodox belief. But it is important to know that much of Christian belief came about, not through considered contemplation and study, but in the heat of controversy. Perhaps the first real spur to this came from Valentinus in the 30s of the Second Century. He was a Gnostic (to use terms very loosely), and he gathered a following large enough to make the non-gnostics feel threatened. So the latter banded together, and came up with reasons why gnosticism was not consistent with ‘true belief’ (since even the term ‘orthodox’ is still not quite appropriate).

In short, what Christians believe was not settled in NT times. As such, there are moments in the NT–like this one–where what we read is not consistent with what we are taught to believe now. Of course, this was the theological basis of the Reformation; but the Reformation was not “wholly, nor even primarily, a religious event”.

* But watch this space. I’m toying with a new theory about who Jesus was, and how he was seen by contemporaries. It’s too soon to broach the topic, but one of the implications would be that this message of social inclusion may actually, in fact, trace to James the Just, brother of Jesus, rather than to Jesus himself. Deciding that will depend on a much deeper understanding of the message of Paul. 

11 Quia omnis, qui se exaltat, humiliabitur; et, qui se humiliat, exaltabitur”.

12 Dicebat autem et ei, qui se invitaverat: “Cum facis prandium aut cenam, noli vocare amicos tuos neque fratres tuos neque cognatos neque vicinos divites, ne forte et ipsi te reinvitent, et fiat tibi retributio.

13 Sed cum facis convivium, voca pauperes, debiles, claudos, caecos;

14 et beatus eris, quia non habent retribuere tibi. Retribuetur enim tibi in resurrectione iustorum”.

15 Haec cum audisset quidam de simul discumbentibus, dixit illi: “Beatus, qui manducabit panem in regno Dei”.

Luke Chapter 12:24-34

This is rather a jump back into the middle of the story from the last section. Jesus had just said that life is more than what we shall eat, and that the body is more than clothing. This followed after the story of the rich man who made plans for his surplus output without realising he was going to die that night. The theme is not to be concerned with things of the world, but to turn our eyes to heavenly things. So the extended metaphor continues.

Text

24 κατανοήσατε τοὺς κόρακας ὅτι οὐ σπείρουσιν οὐδὲ θερίζουσιν, οἷς οὐκ ἔστιν ταμεῖον οὐδὲ ἀποθήκη, καὶ ὁ θεὸς τρέφει αὐτούς: πόσῳ μᾶλλον ὑμεῖς διαφέρετε τῶν πετεινῶν.

25 τίς δὲ ἐξ ὑμῶν μεριμνῶν δύναται ἐπὶ τὴν ἡλικίαν αὐτοῦ προσθεῖναι πῆχυν;

Consider the ravens, that do not sow nor harvest, to whom (dative of possession) there is neither store-house nor barn, and God feeds them. To how much more do you matter than the birds? (25) Who of you is able to increase upon your age or add a cubit? (Presumably meaning to add to one’s height. A cubit is 18 inches; growing by a foot and a half would be a prodigious accomplishment.)

I would have been willing to wager actual hard currency that the sentiments expressed here and in the following set of verses appear elsewhere in the gospels. Well, I would have lost that bet because this material, pretty much the entire chapter, is unique to Luke. At some point a comment was made that Luke seemed to be compressing much of the material of the Triple Tradition, in a manner to suggest that Luke was hurrying to get through as much of the material as quickly as possible to leave room for his own unique material. IIRC from flipping through the rest of the gospel, we should get a fairly high percentage of this unique material in the remainder of the gospel. I’m going to defer comment in detail until after the next section.

That is, I will defer except to point this out. The word for “adding to” one’s life, is prostheinai.  This is the root of the word “prosthesis”, which is an artificial recreation of part of the human (or other) body.

24 Considerate corvos, quia non seminant neque metunt, quibus non est cellarium neque horreum, et Deus pascit illos; quanto magis vos pluris estis volucribus.

25 Quis autem vestrum cogitando potest adicere ad aetatem suam cubitum?

26 εἰ οὖν οὐδὲ ἐλάχιστον δύνασθε, τί περὶ τῶν λοιπῶν μεριμνᾶτε;

“Therefore if you are not able to do the least thing, Why would you be concerned about the rest?

Adding a cubit to one’s height isn’t a particularly small thing, IMO. I’d be 7’8″ tall, or thereabouts, and may have made it in the NBA. That’s quite a difference in outcome based on being able to change this aspect of my physique.

26 Si ergo neque, quod minimum est, potestis, quid de ceteris solliciti estis?

27 κατανοήσατε τὰ κρίνα πῶς αὐξάνει: οὐ κοπιᾷ οὐδὲ νήθει: λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν, οὐδὲ Σολομὼν ἐν πάσῃ τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ περιεβάλετο ὡς ἓν τούτων.

28 εἰ δὲ ἐν ἀγρῷ τὸν χόρτον ὄντα σήμερον καὶ αὔριον εἰς κλίβανον βαλλόμενον ὁ θεὸς οὕτως ἀμφιέζει, πόσῳ μᾶλλον ὑμᾶς, ὀλιγόπιστοι.

“Consider how the lilies grow, they neither toil nor spin. I say to you, that Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as these are. (28) But if the grass in the field being today, and tomorrow God throwing it into the furnace dressed such, how much better you, being of little faith.

The last word is highlighted. It is a compound word, oligo-pistoi, literally translated “little-faith”. It’s an interesting word. It does not occur in secular or pagan Greek. Thus it is a very unusual word, of very low frequency. How low, exactly? It occurs four times in Matthew, and here. That is a total of five instances. Now, the five instances we have does not mean it did not occur in other places; after all, so much Greek writing was lost, the stuff of literary quality, but also the lesser stuff. Think of something you wrote a decade ago, then threw away when the purpose had been served. Or perhaps something you wrote as a student, say in university. When those days ended (if they have) did you throw all that stuff away? I did. And some of it I had on floppy disks–the original 5″ versions that were floppy–even if I have the disks (which I doubt), the info on them may as well have been burned a decade ago. The point is that this word may have been more common than the five extant examples we have may indicate. 

Think about that, however. How often does this word get used in a secular context? No, it’s not impossible to do that, but the times I’ve used it there has been a level of facetiousness in the use, meant to reflect back onto its scriptural provenance. IOW, I’ve used it assuming that my audience would get the allusion to the NT. The point of all this is that it is not a word that Luke would likely have encountered very often. It’s not a common word. It occurs in Matthew–four separate times, in Chapters 6, 8. 14, & 18–and here. How plausible is it that this word just sort of occurred to Luke? Or, rather, is it more likely that Luke got this on his own, from some unknown source (which means we have another unknown source; they seem to be piling up thick and fast), or more likely that he got it by reading Matthew? This is a very serious question, and it’s not the first time we’ve asked it. Unfortunately, I haven’t been taking notes of these instances. Making these sorts of cross-comparisons seems to offer a much more fruitful avenue of pursuit than counting the occurrences of kai vs de. Those are such common words, and can come out more or less unconsciously; choosing a word like oligopistos, OTOH, is very deliberate and very conscious. This is especially true if there are several examples of this sort of borrowing of words from Matthew by Luke. And there have been several examples. I need to go back and collect them.

As for the actual content of these five verses taken collectively, they fit very nicely with another theme that we’ve mentioned in Luke. We’ve found it in the gospel as a whole, but it has been especially prominent in this particular chapter. It’s yet more on the theme of poverty. In this set of verses, the idea of not caring about riches is put in terms of letting God provide. This is, essentially, an admonition to asceticism. This was hardly a new concept, especially among Jews who were familiar with the Essenes. But by the time of Luke the Christian community was doubtless overwhelmingly pagan in origin. Among the pagans, asceticism was not quite as prominent as it was among Jews, and even there the Essenes were something of a fringe movement. Again, there is a pervasive sense among Christians–or amongst some Christian groups, anyway–that asceticism is sort of an expected ideal. This played a huge role in heretical movements of the High & Late Middle Ages, when the Waldensians, the Cathars, the Poor Friars wing of the Franciscans, and dozens of smaller groups advocated for what became termed “apostolic poverty”. But as we’ve been reading along, this sort of asceticism, or even the idea of asceticism was was practically nonexistent in Paul and Mark, and given short shrift in Matthew. It only begins to flourish now that we’ve come to Luke. He is the first strong proponent of asceticism as something to be embraced. Oh, we had the “eye of the needle” metaphor, but precious little else on this line. It is only now that it’s becoming incorporated into the mainline of Christian thought and practice. And of course, let us not forget the evolution from “blessed are the poor in spirit” to “blessed are the poor”. Far from being the more primitive version, Luke’s reading is the more developed of the two. The failure to recognise this goes hand in hand with kai/de counting; by getting too hung up in the details of the text, the overall message, and how it developed, get lost.

27 Considerate lilia quomodo crescunt: non laborant neque nent; dico autem vobis: Nec Salomon in omni gloria sua vestiebatur sicut unum ex istis.

28 Si autem fenum, quod hodie in agro est et cras in clibanum mittitur, Deus sic vestit, quanto magis vos, pusillae fidei.

29 καὶ ὑμεῖς μὴ ζητεῖτε τί φάγητε καὶ τί πίητε, καὶ μὴ μετεωρίζεσθε:

“And you do not seek what to eat and what to drink, and do not raise up.

Another highlighted word. I probably should have thought of this technique earlier. I have translated it according to its strictly technical, base meaning, which is to raise up. The word can also mean to elevate, especially with false hopes, and it can mean to be suffering from flatulence (I am not making that up). It can also mean to be anxious. By cross-referencing with the Latin, it’s a good bet that this latter is the intent in this particular passage. But the notation in Liddell & Scott is  “also, to be anxious, POxy. 1679.16 (iii A.D.), perh. in this sense Ev Luc 12:29″.

The thing to notice in this is the perhaps. Even Rev Scott did not completely feel completely confident in his rendering. Now, that translation makes sense, and it does square with the Vulgate, but boy howdy, it sure should serve as a cautionary tale on just how tentative and shaky a lot of these translations are.

29 Et vos nolite quaerere quid manducetis aut quid bibatis et nolite solliciti esse.

30 ταῦτα γὰρ πάντα τὰ ἔθνη τοῦ κόσμου ἐπιζητοῦσιν: ὑμῶν δὲ ὁ πατὴρ οἶδεν ὅτι χρῄζετε τούτων.

31 πλὴν ζητεῖτε τὴν βασιλείαν αὐτοῦ, καὶ ταῦτα προστεθήσεται ὑμῖν.

32 Μὴ φοβοῦ, τὸ μικρὸν ποίμνιον, ὅτι εὐδόκησεν ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν δοῦναι ὑμῖν τὴν βασιλείαν.

“For these things all the people of the kosmos seek; the father of you knows that you have need of them. (31) Unless you seek the kingdom of him, and these things increase you. (32) Do not fear, o little flock, since (lit = that) the father of you is pleased to give you the kingdom.

A couple of quick notes. Jesus is addressing the disciples as, “o little flock”. This means, technically, that the noun is in the vocative case. This case is used to address someone, or something–as in this case. For a neuter second declension noun, the nominative and the vocative cases have the same ending, so it’s impossible to discern the difference w/o the context. The site that has my crib translations parses this as a nominative. A very minor detail. I bring it up, really, to clarify the translation.

And it strikes me that Luke is just referring to it as “the kingdom”. Not “of God” or “of heaven”, but just the kingdom. It strikes me, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily meaningful. It could just be one of those things. Or it could mean that Luke feels the reader is well aware that it is the kingdom of God, or of Heaven, and so it doesn’t need to be mentioned. Again, this would only be true, IMO, if Luke knew that there were two other gospels who had already and effectively made the point.

30 Haec enim omnia gentes mundi quaerunt; Pater autem vester scit quoniam his indigetis.

31 Verumtamen quaerite regnum eius; et haec adicientur vobis.

33 Πωλήσατε τὰ ὑπάρχοντα ὑμῶν καὶ δότε ἐλεημοσύνην: ποιήσατε ἑαυτοῖς βαλλάντια μὴ παλαιούμενα, θησαυρὸν ἀνέκλειπτον ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, ὅπου κλέπτης οὐκ ἐγγίζει οὐδὲ σὴς διαφθείρει:

34 ὅπου γάρ ἐστιν ὁ θησαυρὸς ὑμῶν, ἐκεῖ καὶ ἡ καρδία ὑμῶν ἔσται.

(33) “Sell the things (that are) of you and give the charity/alms. Make for yourselves purses which do not age, (and) treasure unfailing in the heavens, where thieves do not approach nor moths destroy. (34) For where your treasure is, there also is the heart of you”.

This last part, to some degree, is present in the other gospels. In Mark and Matthew, this injunction is spoken to a rich young man, prefatory to the “eye of the needle” maxim, which is missing here. So we have another instance where Luke has read something in Mark and then condensed much of it out. In fact, it could be argued that by removing the “eye of the needle” punchline Luke has cut out the most salient point of the lesson. Why would he do that? Because, once again, he is leaving out material that was covered completely by Mark and Matthew, and that retelling it a third time would gain nothing. Once again, he seems to be very much aware of what Mark AND Matthew have to say in this context, so he does not have Jesus direct this quip at some anonymous fellow who surfaces and disappears completely within a few verses. In those two tellings, Jesus tells the rich young man to follow the commandments, etc, and then, to be perfect, to sell what he has and give it all away. Here, he tells this to his disciples. I hope the distinction is clear: in M&M, it’s a one-off, instructions given to a stranger. Here, OTOH, the instruction is given to his disciples, to those most close to him. The implication is, as a result, very different. Jesus tells the young man to do this knowing (of course) that he will not. Here, I think, he tells his disciples to do this, knowing that they have already left everything behind and come to follow Jesus. Because in M&M, after the “eye of the needle”, the disciples ask how they can be saved if the rich cannot, and Jesus tells them that anyone who has left all he has to follow him has won a place in the kingdom. So in this section, Luke is compressing, and by a lot.

Let’s go back to poverty. You may, or may not, recall some of Paul’s whining about how he tried not to be a burden on the communities where he was staying and preaching. And, in Galatians, he contrasts his salutary behaviour with that of some of the other apostles, who remain nameless. These other apostles, Paul implies, apparently traveled with something like a retinue, that may have included their wives. Think–or, as Luke says, consider–about that in relation to the idea, or ideal of “apostolic poverty”. The two don’t quite fit together very effectively, do they? And, if we reflect further, we can infer–or deduce–that the idea of poverty as something that may have become aspirational, or considered a good end-in-itself may not trace back to Jesus at all. It may have been something that Paul introduced, albeit in limited fashion. Aside from the story of the rich young man that culminates in the “eye of the needle” and Jesus promising a reward to those who left everything behind to become followers, poverty is barely mentioned at all in Mark. Instead, Mark is much more concerned with how Jesus realises his magical feats. Mark tells us more about spit and making mud than he does about poverty. Matthew takes it only slightly further, by telling us that the “poor in spirit” are blessed. There may be a few additional references, but none that immediately come to mind–not that I have the Matthean corpus ad digitos, at my fingertips. Interestingly, Luke is the first evangelist (sort of; assuming Luke/Acts is the product of a single author) that we can be certain was aware of Paul; AND, Luke is the first who presents poverty itself, as a blessed state. “Blessed are the poor“.

It must also be noted that the emphasis on, or the concern with poverty perhaps should be attributed to James, brother of Jesus. One of his conditions in the deal he cut with Paul was that the latter should “remember the poor”. Later tradition associated James with a non-orthodox group called The Ebionites, which is generally considered to mean “the poor”. (To be fair, I have a very low opinion of later tradition; they made stuff up. So it’s a bit disingenuous of me to trot out “later tradition” as an argument in my favour. And disingenuous might be too kind; hypocritical might be more accurate.) So, with Luke, do we have a confluence of the Pauline with the Jacobian traditions? Or did the former subsume the poverty doctrine of the latter? There are all sorts of sub-currents here, or cross-currents, or flat-out contradictions. The period between Jesus’ death and Luke’s gospel was one of constant flux as different ideas, different emphases were ebbing and flowing; it is with Luke, more or less, that something like an actual church, with a hierarchy and oversight of doctrine starts to take real form. Before this, not so much. Tradition states the succession of bishops of Rome to be Peter, Linus, (Ana)Cletus, Clement…In the days of my youth the recitation of these names was part of the Consecration of the Eucharist, and said at most masses in the Roman Rite. Clement is the first we can nail down because we have a letter he wrote to the church of Corinth; his dates are, traditionally, 88-99 (always, always, give or take). That would put him at the point when Luke was writing; and Luke’s writing (again, assuming Luke/Acts) ends with Paul traveling to Rome–not exactly of his own volition, of course. Hmmm. Interesting coincidences. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but nowhere in Acts does “Luke” say that Peter was the first bishop, or even a bishop, of Rome. 

No doubt I would have gotten marks off for that last paragraph. It started with poverty and ended with the bishops of Rome. The point is, or was, or should have been, that the fifty or so years between Jesus’ death and the time Luke wrote it is probably wholly inappropriate to think of a single, orthodox Christianity. After Luke, we have conscious attempts to create one, and these attempts were met with some success. The proto-orthodox doctrines included the idea/ideal of poverty whereas most earlier traditions probably did not. As such, this emphasis, or the peculiar blessed state of poverty, almost certainly does not trace back to Jesus.

32 Noli timere, pusillus grex, quia complacuit Patri vestro dare vobis regnum.

33 Vendite, quae possidetis, et date eleemosynam. Facite vobis sacculos, qui non veterescunt, thesaurum non deficientem in caelis, quo fur non appropiat, neque tinea corrumpit;

34 ubi enim thesaurus vester est, ibi et cor vestrum erit.

Luke Chapter 6:39

When setting this section up, I had no intention of making this single verse a stand-alone post. However, the commentary on this ran rather long, so I made the radical decision to put this one out there all by its lonesome. Hope it works for you all.

The last The Sermon on the Plain continues. We left off with an admonition not to judge.  We start with a parable. With that by way of introduction, let’s get on to the

Text

39 Εἶπεν δὲ καὶ παραβολὴν αὐτοῖς: Μήτι δύναται τυφλὸς τυφλὸν ὁδηγεῖν; οὐχὶ ἀμφότεροι εἰς βόθυνον ἐμπεσοῦνται; 

 

And he also told a  parable ( lit =throwing-beside) to them. Are the blind at all able to lead the blind? Would not both fall into a pit? 

These two short sentences present three vocabulary issues. The first is “parable”. This is another of those words that has an absolutely specific meaning in English, whereas in Greek it was nothing special. If you break down the components (para-bole), you get a “throw beside”. More figuratively, it basically means “analogy” or even “metaphor”.  We have come to regard parables as class of literary output, along with fables. Both are stories that have a homely exterior yet which contain a lesson. In fact, in this instance, the “blind leading the blind” would be better served by translating the word as “metaphor”. There really is no story, even though there is a lesson. I’ve been leaving this as parable for the duration so far, without really giving it much thought. A great example of the buried assumption. Time to dig it up and look at it.

But the real value of this verse are two other words. They are the ones translated as “lead” and “pit”.  The first is a very unusual word; the Great Scott (Liddell & Scott, unabridged; as opposed to the Middle Liddell, the abridged version) provides barely a half-dozen cites of the word. The standard word for “to lead” is “agō”. But that’s not even the truly remarkable word. That is “pit”. What makes this stand out is that the word here, “bothunos” is not even a standard Greek word. The L&S does not even provide a definition. Rather, the reader of L&S is presented with a cross-reference to “bothros”. And even this “standard” is barely used, with about as many cites as the word for “to lead”. And to underscore, both Matthew and Luke use both these words in exactly the same context, with the metaphor of the blind leading the blind, and both falling into the pit.

What does this mean? I think that, without reservation, we can conclude that Luke read both of these words. And more, we can conclude one of two possibilities. Either 1) They both found the words in Q; or 2) Luke got them both from Matthew. This takes us back to the discussion we had in the previous section about the word for “lending at interest”. What is Q supposed to be? A writing-down of the sayings of Jesus. More, it’s supposed to be a very early recording, dating back no later than the early 40s, shortly after Jesus’ death. And one more: Q was also written by an early follower of Jesus, one who was an eyewitness, one who heard these utterances from Jesus with his own ears. Absent any of these three conditions, and the degree of the probability of authenticity plummets. Remember, Q is all about having an unbroken source that traces directly back to Jesus. If it’s not that, if the provenance cannot be determined, then much of the value of Q evaporates. Oh, sure, it’s still interesting, but if the stuff got into Matthew and Luke, then how interesting is it, unless it can be posited that the words recorded trace directly back to Jesus himself? 

Now, who were the early followers of Jesus? Those who would have heard him speak? To have been a witness to the entire story, it would have to have been Peter, James, John, or Andrew. These men, by the words of the texts themselves, were fishermen. Perhaps they could read and/or write a little Greek, but to come up with really and truly obscure words like the three we’ve come across in the last few verses staggers the imagination. None of them are even remotely likely to have been erudite enough to come up with the vocabulary here. And there is more; I’ve only just begun to collect these, but there were others before. So, maybe Matthew Levi? As a tax collector, he was more likely to have been better versed in Greek than his more humble fellows. I admit the possibility. But Matthew Levi was not there for the whole story. He missed part. Sure, he could have been filled in by the others, or maybe Jesus had a fairly standard stump speech and repeated things. But note that this adds an additional layer of complexity to the story; each layer decreases the likelihood of the suggested chain of events. Each layer presents another place where the chain has a weak link. The other possibility is that one of the early disciples dictated the sayings to someone well versed in Greek. After all, this is what Paul did. In antiquity, persons of importance had a secretary or amanuensis, to do this. Julius Caesar is said to have been flanked by two such secretaries as he went about his business. He dictated to both of them alternatively, saying something to one, then while that secretary wrote down the words, he’d give the other a sentence for a different letter. But think about this. If this dictation were done early, who were Jesus’ followers? Remember, we’re talking about the very early days, possibly even before Paul began his career. So these followers would have been Jews, from the general area of Galilee, Judea, and possibly Tyre or Sidon or the Dekapolis. Would the secretary, presumably very well versed in Greek, have seen fit to write down what Jesus said in words that the audience would not have known? Would I be generally understood if I used the word “obfuscate” to an audience with a minimal level of education?

And it’s not like we don’t have evidence of this. Paul provides it. In Galatians, he very clearly describes the clash of cultures when he, obviously for the first time, begins to bring significant numbers of pagans into the fold, creating the questions that divided him and James and left Peter/Cephas sort of stuck in the middle, depending on whether he was dining with pagans or under the watchful eye of James. So we are safe again to conclude that Q was not written in Greek for the first several decades of its alleged existence.

But moving the translation back several decades does not solve the problem, not really. You are still left with the question of why the translator chose such non-normal words, even at a later date. Does it not make more sense to suppose that the unusual words were chosen by someone who had been raised in a Greek-predominant milieu, who read the LXX in Greek rather than Hebrew, who was familiar with the pagan world, and was quite likely a pagan himself chose the words? And then another Greek-speaker saw them, repeated them, and then sort of riffed on the “lending at interest” by repeating it two additional times?

Once again, it’s very important to appreciate that I am not presenting a smoking gun. Nor is a smoking gun ever likely to be found. It’s a question of probability. And it’s also a question of why haven’t these points been raised before? Why is the whole argument over Q predicated on explaining why Luke would deface the “masterful” arrangement of the Q material as presented by Matthew? That’s not an argument. It’s quibbling over stylistic preferences. It’s time we made the Q proponents actually defend their thesis. They’ve had a free ride long enough. 

39 Dixit autem illis et similitudinem: “ Numquid potest caecus caecum ducere? Nonne ambo in foveam cadent?

 

 

 

 

 

Matthew Chapter 2:13-23

We are in the final part of the birth narrative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17 τότε ἐπληρώθη τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ Ἰερεμίουτοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος,

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

Comment deferred

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment deferred

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment deferred

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Housekeeping note

Oops.

Somehow my posts on Galatians Chapter 2 got out of order.

I apologize.  I’m learning by doing, so there may be technical difficulties from time to time.

In any case, the chapter is complete. All entries and summaries have been posted.  On to Chapter 3.

Sorry!