Well, that didn’t work. This was supposed to follow hard on the heels of the previous post. That one got published in the expectation that this would follow within a day or two. Oh well. It’s the difference between being off and working.
To recap, we just had the parable of the Sower. Now we get to Jesus’ explanation of the parable. Again, this is also part of the triple tradition, found in all three Synoptic Gospels.
9 Ἐπηρώτων δὲ αὐτὸν οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ τίς αὕτη εἴη ἡ παραβολή.
10 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Ὑμῖν δέδοται γνῶναι τὰ μυστήρια τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ, τοῖς δὲ λοιποῖς ἐν παραβολαῖς, ἵνα βλέποντες μὴ βλέπωσιν καὶ ἀκούοντες μὴ συνιῶσιν.
His learners asked him what this parable might be. (10) He said, “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God; to the rest (it is given) in parables, so that seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not understand”.
Up until this point, the idea that Jesus chose to “teach” people in a way that will, deliberately, hinder their understanding always struck me as…odd, to say the least. Bizarre comes closer to my feeling. After all, what is the point of this? Why does one teach if one is going to hide the message To weed out those who fell among the rocks? (Pun not intended, but accepted.) To see who will come back for more instruction? And this is a legitimate question on my part. How, on what level, does this make sense?
This takes us right back to the commentary where we left off in the last section. These words serve to amplify the injunction that concluded the parable itself. The answer is, it doesn’t make sense. At least, it doesn’t make sense if the purpose is to teach everyone the method to attain that Perfect State, whether that term is defined in Christian fashion as going to heaven post mortem, or in a Gnostic sense of attaining Knowledge. That is, emphatically, not the point of the teaching. It is designed to weed out the unworthy. Why it’s designed to do that is another question, one much harder to answer without moving completely into the realm of theology. So, while it may be bizarre, that is the intent. No other answer truly makes sense.
These words go all the way back to Mark, and are retained by the other two. Matthew & Luke retain this even though it does not exactly fit with their message. It fits quite comfortably with Mark; after all, Mark is the purveyor of the theme of the “Messianic Secret”. This fits with that. It fits rather nicely with Mark as the proto-Gnostic, for whom there were secrets and mysteries that were not for hoi polloi. But even then, the fit is rather nice, but not complete. For Mark, the disciples as a group were rather a collection of ¡dullards! who did not “get it” on a number of topics, and on a number of occasions. I suppose this is meant to underscore just how thick they really were; in Mark’s narrative, this comes at the beginning of Chapter 4, when Jesus is starting his ministry in earnest. That he tells the disciples the meaning of what he says, and they still don’t get it is a pretty savage indictment of the disciples. And this is one of the reasons I do not believe that Mark was the John Mark of Acts who was Peter’s assistant. If anything, Mark was an adherent of one of Peter’s rivals for primacy in the new organization.
The other thing, if this goes all the way back to Mark, it has a much better chance of being traceable back to Jesus. At least, the parable may trace back to Jesus, even if the explanation that we have here does not. Personally, I believe it quite likely (70-75%) that the Parable of the Sower may be “Genuine Jesus (GJ™)”;I have about the same level of certainty that the Sermon on the Mount was not. At least, not in anything like the way it’s presented. I suspect that some of the aphorisms in there–particularly the ones found in Mark, like the salt–may be GJ™. While reading Mark, we discussed the possible reasons why Mark kept repeating the theme; the answer that made the most sense to me was was that he was trying to explain why most Jews remained Jews. Then, on top of that, there was the insider’s nudge-nudge-wink-wink that, we got it, but they didn’t. From there, it’s not so long of a step to reading the idea of secret doctrines into the texts, or at least the implication that there was a secret doctrine to be learned, perhaps above and beyond what the text provided. IOW, it’s a short step from here to the idea of Gnosticism, or at least to the point that Gnosticism seems to be a logical inference. Was that the point of this? Perhaps. Mark was, I believe, hinting at there being more, something that even the disciples didn’t quite get. That’s a pretty strong invitation to induce someone to want to learn what that extra something might be.
So why do Matthew and Luke retain this bit? As we’ve seen, Luke in particular is not at all shy about ditching parts of Mark. I believe that he only retains 45% (IIRC; in that neighborhood) of Mark while Matthew retained close to 80 0r 90%. The question, of course, cannot be answered, even if you are able to come up with a redactionally consistent explanation for Luke’s gospel. The most likely reason that both kept this part is probably no different for why Mark added it in the first place: to explain why most Jews, ultimately, did not become followers of Jesus. They hear, but they did not understand. That may seem like a cop-out answer, but I don’t think that question would have gone away in a few generations. In fact, it only worsened, so that by the time John wrote, the Jews were portrayed as downright hostile.
9 Interrogabant autem eum discipuli eius, quae esset haec parabola.
10 Quibus ipse dixit: “ Vobis datum est nosse mysteria regni Dei, ceteris autem in parabolis, ut videntes non videant et audientes non intellegant.
11 Ἔστιν δὲ αὕτη ἡ παραβολή: Ὁ σπόρος ἐστὶν ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ.
12 οἱ δὲ παρὰ τὴν ὁδόν εἰσιν οἱ ἀκούσαντες, εἶτα ἔρχεται ὁ διάβολος καὶ αἴρει τὸν λόγον ἀπὸ τῆς καρδίας αὐτῶν, ἵνα μὴ πιστεύσαντες σωθῶσιν.
13 οἱ δὲ ἐπὶ τῆς πέτρας οἳ ὅταν ἀκούσωσιν μετὰ χαρᾶς δέχονται τὸν λόγον, καὶ οὗτοι ῥίζαν οὐκ ἔχουσιν, οἳ πρὸς καιρὸν πιστεύουσιν καὶ ἐν καιρῷ πειρασμοῦ ἀφίστανται.
14 τὸ δὲ εἰς τὰς ἀκάνθας πεσόν, οὗτοί εἰσιν οἱ ἀκούσαντες, καὶ ὑπὸ μεριμνῶν καὶ πλούτου καὶ ἡδονῶν τοῦ βίου πορευόμενοι συμπνίγονται καὶ οὐ τελεσφοροῦσιν.
15 τὸ δὲ ἐν τῇ καλῇ γῇ, οὗτοί εἰσιν οἵτινες ἐν καρδίᾳ καλῇ καὶ ἀγαθῇ ἀκούσαντες τὸν λόγον κατέχουσιν καὶ καρποφοροῦσιν ἐν ὑπομονῇ.
“Here is the parable. The seem is the word of God. (12) Those beside the road are those hearing, the the devil come and takes the word word from their hearts, so that lest believing, they be saved. (13) Those upon the rock are those (that) when they year with gladness they receive the word, but they do not have roots, they for a time believe and in time having been tested the stand away (from the word). (13) And that having fallen in the thorns, they are those hearing, but under thoughts of wealth and the pleasures of life going they are choked and they do not carry through to the end. (15) That which on the good soil, they are those who, hearing in a beautiful and good heart they receive and they bear fruit in abundance.”
Perhaps the most notable part of this explanation is what is not there. Mark says that one of the reasons that some of the seed falls away is persecution and tribulation. Matthew follows. Many suspect, or interpret Mark as referring to the time of the conquest of Jerusalem. Writing after this fall, the idea of persecution or tribulation would have been fresh in the minds of most of the audience. Even for Matthew, writing fifteen years later, this whole time of troubles would have been a familiar concept. For Luke, however, we have to ask whether this would still be true. Oh sure, old timers would have remembered, and they would have told some of their kids and grandkids, but if Luke were writing somewhere other than Palestine (as it was then called) or Syria, how many would know of the Jewish War and its consequences? The number is impossible to estimate, but it’s pretty easy to put the estimate as much lower than the number during the life of Matthew, and especially the time of Mark. So why bring up a topic that would make people scratch their heads at the reference? And remember, Luke is the first of the evangelists about whom we can definitively say that he was aware of Paul, and probably at least some of Paul’s writings. Paul talked about persecution, or at least about “pressure” which is the word he most frequently used. So that Luke chose to drop this part about persecution is, I would suggest, very significant.
And not just because some fading of the urgency was due to the temporal receding of the tribulations. It also demonstrates very clearly that Luke will syncopate stories that are in the triple tradition. Luke’s is the shortest version of this story, and by a fairly sizable margin. This is the second time we’ve encountered this. At least, I thought it was. Now that I’m looking or it, I can’t find the first example. The story of the Gerasene/Gadarene demonaic is coming up, and Luke’s is not the shortest version of that pericope. This point again matters for the discussion of Luke as redactor, and what his “editorial policy” might be. It indicates that he was willing to change pretty much anything, even pieces that quite possibly originated with Jesus. As such, changing the order in Matthew’s material would not have seemed terribly radical to Luke. We saw, after all, how Luke had no qualms about moving the “prophet without honor in his home country” speech from it’s Markan context to the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Here, Luke edits out some reasonably important words. This combination indicates, I believe, that Luke saw the tradition as very plastic, something to be worked rather than something to be maintained at all costs. Indeed, had he felt the latter, chances are he would not have written a gospel in the first place.
Which leads to a very interesting question. This is not one that will be found in the circles of standard NT scholarship. I’ve never seen it in Ehrman or Crossan, but my ignorance is in no way proof. I may be wrong. The question is, how did the evangelists perceive the inherited tradition? Specifically, how did they perceive the words that were supposedly uttered by Jesus? The answer to the first part, I believe, is that Matthew felt the tradition should be maintained, which is why Matthew retained so much of Mark. Luke on the other hand, had a much more fluid perception of the tradition; what’s more, I believe this attitude towards the tradition was, or was becoming prevalent. My proof for this? The Gospel of John, which pretty much jettisons most of the framework that even Luke maintained. Even more, I think that this attitude of plasticity even extended to the words of Jesus. “I am the vine, you are the branches”; “I am the way, the truth, and the life”; these are such foundation stones of Christian belief that I suspect it’s hard for most to accept that John made them up. Think about it: can we seriously expect that such beautifully-worded expressions were only retained by a single tradition, lying “dormant” as it were, until John picked them up and wrote them down? My apologies, but that is almost certainly impossible. Even by the time of Luke, the cross-fertilization of Christian (as it’s appropriate to call them) communities had reached the point that Paul was being incorporated into the body of belief, if perhaps not the written corpus quite yet–although that is certainly possible. To expect that there was still another isolated tradition that had cultivated these wonderful words that we find in John beggars the imagination. As Eliza Doolittle put it, “not bloody likely”.
After that conclusion, the question becomes one of “how far backwards did this plastic attitude extend”? Luke will make up the stories of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son; John made up the quotes mentioned above; did Mathew make up the Sermon on the Mount? I would suggest so, at least in part. But I’ve been pretty clear about that, so this opinion should come as no surprise.
11 Est autem haec parabola: Semen est verbum Dei.
12 Qui autem secus viam, sunt qui audiunt; deinde venit Diabolus et tollit verbum de corde eorum, ne credentes salvi fiant.
13 Qui autem supra petram: qui cum audierint, cum gaudio suscipiunt verbum; et hi radices non habent, qui ad tempus credunt, et in tempore tentationis recedunt.
14 Quod autem in spinis cecidit: hi sunt, qui audierunt et a sollicitudinibus et divitiis et voluptatibus vitae euntes suffocantur et non referunt fructum.
15 Quod autem in bonam terram: hi sunt, qui in corde bono et optimo audientes verbum retinent et fructum afferunt in patientia.
16 Οὐδεὶς δὲ λύχνον ἅψας καλύπτει αὐτὸν σκεύει ἢ ὑποκάτω κλίνης τίθησιν, ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ λυχνίας τίθησιν, ἵνα οἱ εἰσπορευόμενοι βλέπωσιν τὸ φῶς.
17 οὐ γάρ ἐστιν κρυπτὸν ὃ οὐ φανερὸν γενήσεται, οὐδὲ ἀπόκρυφον ὃ οὐ μὴ γνωσθῇ καὶ εἰς φανερὸν ἔλθῃ.
18 βλέπετε οὖν πῶς ἀκούετε: ὃς ἂν γὰρ ἔχῃ, δοθήσεται αὐτῷ, καὶ ὃς ἂν μὴ ἔχῃ, καὶ ὃ δοκεῖ ἔχειν ἀρθήσεται ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ.
“No one lighting a lamp hides the vessel, but puts it under the bed, but in a lamp stand puts it, so that those coming towards will see the light. (17) For naught that is hidden which will not become revealed, nor secreted away which will not be known and come into the light. (18) Therefore look how you listen. For he that has, it will be given to him, and he who does have, and what he seems to have will be taken from him.”
From a literary standpoint, these three verses really have nothing to do with each other. The idea of not hiding a light really is not related to hidden things becoming manifest. Yes, it’s possible to stretch the two metaphors so they overlap, suggesting that the lighted lamp is what brings the hidden things to light, but that’s exactly what it is: a stretch. And neither has anything to do with having and not having. Here is where the Q people really miss their opportunity. Rather than blathering about Matthew’s magnificent arrangement of the material, talk about the material itself. And this sort of aggregation of non-connected aphorisms is the best material we have for a collection of Jesus’ sayings. These are all in Mark, so they cannot be considered Q material–rather, they represent the Mark-Q overlap–but I believe there is a high likelihood that they did originate with Jesus. I would be tempted to state that probability as exceeding 50%; better-than-even, IOW. How did these sayings get passed down? They could have been part of an oral tradition, which became fixed when Mark wrote them down. Or, they could have been collected. Rather than swinging for the fences by trying to claim all Matthew/Luke material is Q, set more modest goals, ones for which an actual argument or case can be constructed.
We need to face facts. Paul almost completely ignored anything Jesus said when the latter was alive. There are a few odds and end, the implementation of the Eucharist and Jesus’ teaching on divorce, which Paul contradicts. As has been frequently pointed out, the amount of teaching in Mark is pretty minimal. The Sermon on the Mount by itself probably has close to as many words spoken by Jesus as in all of Mark. Why the sudden explosion in verbosity on the part of Jesus between the two gospels? Because Matthew discovered Q? Or because Matthew encountered a passel of sayings attributed to Jesus, so he decided a new gospel was in order? At this point, I simply don’t know. A thread of logic has not presented itself. Despite all my pontificating and blowhardiness (to coin a word) I am not completely averse to the idea per se of a collection of Jesus’ sayings existing; I am vehemently opposed to Q as it currently “exists” in the minds of its adherents. Although as I go along at the moment, willing to make concessions, I find the concessions that I’m willing to make are shrinking. The ultimate sticking point is the utter, complete, and absolute lack of any evidence for such a collection. But more on this later. What I need to do is sketch out what a logical chain of events between the death of Jesus and the writings of Mark and then Matthew would look like, the focus being on what gotten written when, and possibly why. That is no small undertaking, and will be pure speculation. Sounds like fun.
16 Nemo autem lucernam accendens operit eam vaso aut subtus lectum ponit, sed supra candelabrum ponit, ut intrantes videant lumen.
17 Non enim est occultum, quod non manifestetur, nec absconditum, quod non cognoscatur et in palam veniat.
18 Videte ergo quomodo audiatis: qui enim habet, dabitur illi; et, quicumque non habet, etiam quod putat se habere, auferetur ab illo ”.
This next passage is the Parable of the Sower. The original intent was to take the whole thing, parable and explanation in a single chunk straight through. This seemed reasonable since we’ve been through it twice already, so it seemed that, barring any unexpected deviations from the other two, the content of the story should not require much comment. Indeed, since we’ve been through it a couple of times, I thought I’d be hard-pressed to think of anything new and exciting to say about this. Cooler heads have prevailed and it’s been split into Parable and then Explanation.
I determined on this course before reading the passage below; for better or for worse, that is my chosen approach. The idea is to look at these stories and passages with eyes as fresh as possible. That way, I can–with luck–not simply see what has been seen for the past several centuries. So much of NT “scholarship” is sclerotic; conventions have been settled, translations have been chosen, and words are taken for granted. This is not how scholarship should work. The text has to be mined, repeatedly. With Greek history, much of the academic debate focuses on what the text actually says; Thucydides is the best/worst example of this, and scholars continue to go over each word looking for fresh insights. And this continued contention is good. We all know about angels and baptism and salvation, so we decided, a long, very long, time ago that the evangelists used the words as we do today. This is simply and horribly wrong, a very bad method for reading any text.
So the original approach seemed all well and good; however, like so much theory, it didn’t survive contact with reality. Some new aspects have presented themselves. Overall, what I am finding is that having Luke as the third point really allows me to define the plane in a way not possible with just a comparison between Mark and Matthew. With three texts, triangulation becomes possible. Differences between the three stand out in much sharper relief.
So, let’s not make a short passage longer and go straight to the
4 Συνιόντος δὲ ὄχλου πολλοῦ καὶ τῶν κατὰ πόλιν ἐπιπορευομένων πρὸς αὐτὸν εἶπεν διὰ παραβολῆς,
5 Ἐξῆλθεν ὁ σπείρων τοῦ σπεῖραι τὸν σπόρον αὐτοῦ. καὶ ἐν τῷ σπείρειν αὐτὸν ὃ μὲν ἔπεσεν παρὰ τὴν ὁδόν, καὶ κατεπατήθη καὶ τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ κατέφαγεν αὐτό.
6 καὶ ἕτερον κατέπεσεν ἐπὶ τὴν πέτραν, καὶ φυὲν ἐξηράνθη διὰ τὸ μὴ ἔχειν ἰκμάδα.
7 καὶ ἕτερον ἔπεσεν ἐν μέσῳ τῶν ἀκανθῶν, καὶ συμφυεῖσαι αἱ ἄκανθαι ἀπέπνιξαν αὐτό.
8 καὶ ἕτερον ἔπεσεν εἰς τὴν γῆν τὴν ἀγαθήν, καὶ φυὲν ἐποίησεν καρπὸν ἑκατονταπλασίονα. ταῦτα λέγων ἐφώνει, Ὁ ἔχων ὦτα ἀκούειν ἀκουέτω.
A large crowd and those having traveled into the city towards him he spoke through a parable, (5) Went out a sower of seed with his seeds. And some fell upon the road, and it was trod under and the birds of the heaven ate it. (6) And other fell upon the rocks, and grew it was withered because it did not have moisture. (7) And other fell in the middle of the acanthus, and it grew and the thorns strangled it. (8) And other fell on the good soil, and grew it made fruit one hundredfold. Having said these things, he spoke “The one having ears to hear, let him hear.”
That is the basic story. The interesting thing about it is the comparison. This is the shortest version; Mark’s is the longest. IOW, this runs contrary to what I’ve been saying about how legends grow over time. This one appears to be shrinking. What’s up with that? Am I wrong? Well, more wrong than usual?
It comes down to “always” and “never”. Never say always; alway avoid never. Almost nothing about human experience is binary, yes-or-no, black-or-white. If you’ll recall, Matthew’s version of the Gerasene demoniac was also shorter than Mark’s version. What we are witnessing is, I believe, the expectation that the reader would be familiar with, or have reference to the long version available in Mark. Neither Matthew nor Luke saw the need to repeat verbatim a story that had been told elsewhere. And this gets back to the issue of “why does one write a gospel?” Or even more, “why does one write a second/third gospel?” My theory about Mark is that he wrote in reaction to the fall of Jerusalem. An important–the important–centre of the proto-Christian world had been obliterated and the traditions started to fragment, or the fragmentation was growing worse. Mark sought to step into that breach and pull some of the most important aspects of the tradition into a united source. Mostly he succeeded, and marvelously, even if the seams do show. That can’t always be helped. Mark, as I see him, was more journalist than literary figure.
What has been eliminated, both by Matthew and Luke are some of the incidental details, like the plants withering because they lacked moisture because of the sun. Blaming the sun is a tad redundant; it can be assumed. Matthew drops some of these, Luke some more. For example, both Mark and Matthew say that the good soil yielded 100, 60, or 30. Luke leaves it at one hundred. The other two numbers don’t add that much of significance. One last point: Matthew says that Jesus left his house to begin this parable; this would mean that he had moved to Caphernaum, which Matthew states explicitly. Luke rejects this move, telling us just as explicitly that Jesus lived in Nazareth, sounding for all the world like he is correcting Matthew. So Jesus cannot leave his house and to to the seaside because Nazareth is not on the Sea of Galilee, while Caphernaum is.
Then there’s Matthew. We see that his versions of this story and the Gerasene demoniac (and probably others) are shorter than Mark’s. But we also see that his version of the Temptations of Jesus is longer than Mark’s. Why the apparent contradiction? Because it’s more apparent than contradiction. Matthew added material to Mark when he had material to add (the source of the material to be discussed separately; Q is a valid discussion). When he didn’t, he either maintained or shortened what he found in Mark. The salient point about this subtraction is why? My impulse is, as suggested above, that Matthew expected that his audience knew of Mark, and so repeating certain things was, as he knew, redundant. If this is correct, it gives us insight into Luke as well. Luke omitted parts of Matthew, as well as parts of Mark because he knew they had been covered elsewhere. So Luke provides an alternative because he knew what was in both Mark and Matthew.
Of course, this cannot be “proven”. Almost nothing about the NT can be “proven” in any way that the hard sciences or a court of law would recognise as “proof”. This statement is true about historical research in general, especially when discussing history before the 19th Century, becoming increasingly true the farther one goes back. We can say that the NT was written of course, but we cannot with any solid confidence say when or by whom it was written. Sometime between 70 and 120 seems reasonable, but that’s a mighty big span of time, like saying something was written between 1910 and 1960. A lot of stuff happened in the interim; however, the pace of change was much slower in the ancient world. In any case, history becomes a question of which set of probabilities seems the most likely. To me, it makes more sense that Luke shortened this story as much as he did because he knew about the other two versions. Now, Luke will add material to the triple tradition (the Synoptic material, in M/M/L); see the calling of the first disciples, with the addition of the Miraculous Catch of Fish.
The other thing I’m starting to suspect about triple tradition material is that it has the most potential to be something that can trace back to Jesus. This story is a perfect example. I think there is a greater likelihood that Jesus told this parable than that he gave the Sermon on the Mount. A much greater likelihood, in fact. One of the things we have to face is the possibility that Jesus was not the teacher that we believe he was, that he didn’t give speeches like the Sermon on the Mount. We have to face the possibility that Mark’s Jesus is much closer to the real thing than Matthew’s is, and that by the time of Luke all the new stuff is pretty much fiction that we can’t use to triangulate the “truth” about the historical Jesus. Always, always, always recall that Paul said almost nothing about Jesus as a teacher, focusing almost entirely on Jesus as the Christ who had been raised from the dead. If you start from that place, the additions of Matthew and then Luke seem pretty clearly to be later additions; then, since the additions of Matthew and Luke are just that, the point of Q is largely lost.
The last injunction about letting those with eyes/ears see/understand I think gets dismissed too readily as pro-forma. I say that because I have pretty much dismissed it a pro-forma until about a minute ago. If we take this in the context of Christian thinking, perhaps it is pro-forma; however, if we look at it from a proto-Gnostic perspective, it may take on a different set of implications. It may help that I’ve been translating something called Poimandres, the Shepherd of Men/Humans. It is now classified as a Gnostic text, and it probably dates to the mid Second Century, perhaps eight or nine decades after Mark. I mention this because there are several strains of thought that have become explicit in that text that were only implicit in Mark. It’s also interesting to note that this was taken as a legitimate bit of Christian writing for a while; obviously, it never made the cut to canonical status, but a number of Second and possibly even Third Century Christian thinkers accepted it as orthodox. The injunctions that Jesus speaks are eminently Gnostic in approach; or perhaps better to say they were taken up wholly by later Gnostics. What are they, after all, but admonitions to learn, actually to see what is before us, and to understand what we hear. The technical term for this is “paying attention”, or perhaps “learning”. And what do we learn? Knowledge. And what does Gnosis mean? Knowledge.
Now in a strictly Christian setting, these injunctions can be explained in completely orthodox fashion. After all, “Narrow is the gate” that leads to the kingdom. Not all will make it. Some would, and have, said that most, in fact, will not make it through the gate. Why? Because they did not learn the lessons Jesus taught them. They did not actually see, nor did they understand what they heard. So Jesus’ words here watered what became two very different traditions; or are they so different? That is the point I’m trying to make here. A shade here, a shade there, and two can start from the same point–let him with ears understand–and end up in rather different places, whether the kingdom of God or Enlightenment, for want of a better term. And then we have additional implications. The message of the Gospel of Thomas is very clearly Gnostic, rather than Christian. Regarding this, it must be kept in mind that this separation really did not exist in the First Century; it only came into being in the Second. And here is where historical training pays off, because it looks at concepts diachronically, through time and as they develop. Textual analysis tends not to pay attention to this development through time of the content of the text. This is why I do not, and cannot, accept a date in the First Century for the Gospel of Thomas; this is has implications for Q; The discovery of Thomas was seen as a huge victory for the Q position, since it demonstrated the existence of a sayings gospel of the sort that Q was purported to be. By pushing the date of Thomas back to the 50s of the First Century, it could be claimed that Thomas proved that a gospel like Q could have existed in the 50s; it showed that the first gospels were, in fact, sayings gospels rather than narrative gospels like Mark. Unfortunately for the Q position, a date anywhere in the First Century for Thomas is unsustainable on the grounds of content. Just as the Q proponents ignore the content of stories–does the healing of the centurion’s slave really fit in the 30s?–so they ignore the content of Thomas when assigning dates–is such a fully developed Gnostic attitude possible in the First Century? In my opinion, the answer to both is “No”. A resounding “No”.
4 Cum autem turba plurima conveniret, et de singulis civitatibus properarent ad eum, dixit per similitudinem:
5 “Exiit, qui seminat, seminare semen suum. Et dum seminat ipse, aliud cecidit secus viam et conculcatum est, et volucres caeli comederunt illud.
6 Et aliud cecidit super petram et natum aruit, quia non habebat umorem.
7 Et aliud cecidit inter spinas, et simul exortae spinae suffocaverunt illud.
8 Et aliud cecidit in terram bonam et ortum fecit fructum centuplum”. Haec dicens clamabat: “Qui habet aures audiendi, audiat”.
We’re beginning the chapter with a very short segment. The narrative is such that the next section is the Parable of the Sower; there is no really clean break in there between the parable and the explanation to the disciples. So rather than try to cram too much together, I’ll take the breaks as logically as possible, but forcing them when necessary. These first three verses are unique to Luke. In some ways, they have little or nothing with the overall course of the narrative as it unwinds. Rather than making them irrelevant, I think this makes them fascinating. Without further ado, let’s get to the
1 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ καθεξῆς καὶ αὐτὸς διώδευεν κατὰ πόλιν καὶ κώμην κηρύσσων καὶ εὐαγγελιζόμενος τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ, καὶ οἱ δώδεκα σὺν αὐτῷ, 2 καὶ γυναῖκές τινες αἳ ἦσαν τεθεραπευμέναι ἀπὸ πνευμάτων πονηρῶν καὶ ἀσθενειῶν, Μαρία ἡκαλουμένη Μαγδαληνή, ἀφ’ ἧς δαιμόνια ἑπτὰ ἐξεληλύθει, 3 καὶ Ἰωάννα γυνὴ Χουζᾶ ἐπιτρόπου Ἡρῴδου καὶ Σουσάννα καὶ ἕτεραι πολλαί, αἵτινες διηκόνουν αὐτοῖς ἐκ τῶν ὑπαρχόντων αὐταῖς.
And it happened in the next part he also went into the city and village proclaiming and evangelizing the kingdom of God, and the Twelve with him, (2) and some women who were healed from wicked spirits and illnesses, Mary called the Magdalene, from whom seven demons she was released, (3) and Johanna the wife of Chouza the steward of Herod, and Susanna and many others, they who administered to them (masculine = Jesus & disciples) from the possessions to them (feminine = the women. The women administered to Jesus & Co from their own funds/resources).
Let’s start at the end, because that is where the fascinating part resides. “They administered (diacon = deacon) to them (masculine; = Jesus & the Twelve) from the possessions to them (feminine, = the women). I don’t recall whether I first speculated on this with Matthew or all the way back in Mark, but I did so without (conscious, at least) knowledge of this passage. In Mark and Matthew the Magdalene does not appear until the crucifixion (Mark) or burial (Matthew), and then afterwards she plays a very prominent role in the Resurrection stories. This struck me as odd that this woman appears very late in the story and then takes on a starring role. Mark says that she followed Jesus in Galilee; this, coupled with the suggestion of the men in white that the disciples should return to Galilee, seemed suggestive. What it suggested to me is “confirmed” here: that she was a financial s0% upporter of Jesus. IOW, Jesus was a “kept” man who was liberated from the necessity of anything so pedestrian as earning a living because Mary of Magdala was supporting him monetarily. This financial support, I suspected, gave her a role in crafting the Resurrection story, and perhaps that of the Passion as well.
I put “confirmed” in quotes because we really have to question whether Luke really had a line on this. OTOH, this is really an odd thing to say out of the blue. Let’s go back to Paul, and some of the women that he mentions who seem like they held important roles in the organization of the various communities. Here’s the thing: older men married young girls in the ancient world. The result was a lot of youngish (mid-30s, give or take; not an exact number) widows with not-negligible financial resources. It has been suggested that Paul was so intent that widows not remarry so that they could better support the communities; a bit cynical, but not out of the question; churches have been doing much the same for centuries. Should we believe this? Can we believe this? Tough questions. The circumstances by themselves are more than plausible, so there is no inherent logical flaw. There are lots of analogous situations, but does that mean these circumstances prevailed in this situation? I would put the likelihood of this being true at better than 50/50, but that’s not really a ringing endorsement. Saying it’s more likely than a coin flip isn’t saying much. I would stretch to maybe a 1/3 chance, but not much higher. Normally, I would suggest that Luke reinforces the statement by providing reasons why the women followed him: because they had been cured of demons. The problem with this is that Luke is such a late source, that any historical information he gives shouldn’t be taken too seriously. I’d like it to be true since it would help my case, but wishing doesn’t make it so.
Here’s the thing. I do believe that the early rulers of the church believed that these women were financial supporters. Or, perhaps more accurately, I believe that these early churchmen were afraid this was true. The problem this raises is that it gives women too important, and too prominent a role in the founding of Jesus’ ministry. Without some kind of monetary support, the whole thing would probably have not gotten off the ground. And the church men would have found this reliance on women to be both mortifying and unacceptable. As such, they would have found it necessary to undercut this prominence. How? Well, by spreading the rumor that the woman who anointed Jesus was none other than Mary Magdalene, whom we just discovered in the previous passage, was a prostitute. So there you go: instant and extensive devaluation of her credibility. Never mind that none of the evangelists make the connexion between the two women, but let’s run the smear campaign. If enough people think it’s accurate, then it becomes accurate, no? Jeez, where have I heard that sort of thinking before?
And the juxtaposition of the two stories also argues against Mary M being the woman who anointed Jesus. If they were the same woman, why not just say so? Luke will be introducing Mary M in the very next chapter anyway, so why not move it back a few verses and make the identification clear?
It’s worth pointing out that this is only the third time that Luke references the Kingdom of God. The first two came during the Sermon on the Plain. The references will start to come much faster. It’s interesting; I just took a look back at Luke so far. Until this point, something less than half the narrative has dealt with the period of Jesus’ public ministry. The Temptations by Satan occurred in Chapter 4, as did the miraculous catch of fish. Only now are we sort of getting to the heart of the message. There were quite a few miracles in these last few chapters; will that number decrease? Has Luke sort of gotten them out of the way, so that he can focus on the teaching now? Time will tell.
Just wanted to mention that Joanna/Johanna was the wife of the steward of Herod. This is novel and unique. It need not be taken seriously. It does, however, provide a great insight into how the legend grew. We’ve already incorporated Nain; now the Herodians are joining, too.
The other thing is the Twelve. This is only the second time Luke has mentioned them, the first being when they were chosen back in Chapter 6. They will be mentioned again in the next chapter, and then will go back into hibernation until Chapter 19. Overall, the Twelve really don’t do much. In fact, only five of Jesus’ followers have names: Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Levi. Or rather, only these five are more than just a name, and Levi/Matthew barely being more than that. It is interesting to note that in all three Synoptics the Twelve are mentioned most often in the Passion and Resurrection stories. This suggests to me that these latter two stories were not added until later, and that the Twelve had been instituted by that point. I believe that the Twelve were named by James, brother of Jesus, the ‘caliph’ (as he has been called) after Jesus had died. That is when the sending out of preachers would have become a more important function of the community, perhaps that of Jerusalem in particular. It’s interesting to see the list of “Twelve” as used in Matthew. The number comes up thirteen times, but five of them are not references to The Twelve. Rather, the Bleeding Woman had been discharging blood for twelve years, there were twelve baskets of crumbs left after one of the feedings, the Twelve will sit on twelve thrones for the twelve tribes (capitalised?) and Jesus could call down twelve legions of angels to save him from arrest. The symbolism, and the importance of the symbolism, is clear enough. Twelve months, twelve signs of the Zodiac, twelve tribes…
Hey, I just made it through an entire comment without a reference to Q!
1 Et factum est deinceps, et ipse iter faciebat per civitatem et ca stellum praedicans et evangelizans regnum Dei; et Duodecim cum illo
2 et mulieres aliquae, quae erant curatae ab spiritibus malignis et infirmitatibus: Maria, quae vocatur Magdalene, de qua daemonia septem exierant,
3 et Ioanna uxor Chuza, procuratoris Herodis, et Susanna et aliae multae, quae ministrabant eis de facultatibus suis.
This actually is part of the previous story, a continuation of the woman who anointed Jesus. He is dining at the house of a Pharisee. After the woman anointed Jesus, the Pharisee became put out because of the sort of woman she was, and if Jesus was a prophet, he would have known this and avoided her. However, the Pharisee didn’t actually say this, but merely thought it. So to avoid any spoilers, let’s move on to the
40 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτόν, Σίμων, ἔχω σοί τι εἰπεῖν. ὁ δέ, Διδάσκαλε, εἰπέ, φησίν.
Answering, Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you”. But he (Simon) said, “Teacher, speak it.”
First, commend my restraint for not making a Simon Says joke. Second, this is the first time we get the Pharisee’s name. What is interesting is that in the 2M versions of this story, this event takes place at the home of Simon the Leper. Luke, in contrast, placed it in the home of an unknown Pharisee. Now, he’s suddenly–and suspiciously–given the name of Simon. Coincidence? You decide. All of the proper biblical scholars will jump on this as a great example of “editorial fatigue”, that phenomenon when a later editor starts out to change the circumstances (some of them, anyway) of a story and starts out doing so. But then, some part of the way through, the task of changing details becomes ever so tiresome and the editor slips back into the circumstances found in the original version. My thought on this concept has tended towards…really? It’s that hard? But the we run into this and it gives pause. The question of course, is whether Luke just decided to call him Simon because…Why not? The thing is, Jesus did not have a discussion with Simon in either of the other versions. The dinner took place in his home, but Jesus had the discussion about the propriety of the action with the disciples. I would guess that this is not so much fatigue as Luke deciding to use the name Simon to connect back to those earlier versions. We have seen Luke do things like this: find the unusual word and repeat it three times in two verses, or choose to echo Matthew, to dance all around Matthew’s narrative without ever quite mentioning it. This just feels like something Luke would do here, to throw it back to M&M while never citing them directly.
The third thing is that Jesus is in another of those situations in which he can read minds. The interesting thing is that he does this most often with the mind of a Pharisee. It’s not always a Pharisee; just most cases. This goes all the way back to Mark when they are muttering to themselves about Jesus’ actions in the synagogues. Just something I noticed. As for the mind reading, it’s clearly Jesus being a divine being. By this point, this trait has become rather commonplace for Jesus in these narratives.
40 Et respondens Iesus dixit ad illum: “ Simon, habeo tibi aliquid dicere ”. At ille ait: “Magister, dic”.
41 δύο χρεοφειλέται ἦσαν δανιστῇ τινι: ὁ εἷς ὤφειλεν δηνάρια πεντακόσια, ὁ δὲ ἕτερος πεντήκοντα.
42 μὴ ἐχόντων αὐτῶν ἀποδοῦναι ἀμφοτέροις ἐχαρίσατο. τίς οὖν αὐτῶν πλεῖον ἀγαπήσει αὐτόν;
43 ἀποκριθεὶς Σίμων εἶπεν,Ὑπολαμβάνω ὅτι ᾧ τὸ πλεῖον ἐχαρίσατο. ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ὀρθῶς ἔκρινας.
44 καὶ στραφεὶς πρὸς τὴν γυναῖκα τῷ Σίμωνι ἔφη, Βλέπεις ταύτην τὴν γυναῖκα; εἰσῆλθόν σου εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν, ὕδωρ μοι ἐπὶ πόδας οὐκ ἔδωκας: αὕτη δὲ τοῖς δάκρυσιν ἔβρεξέν μου τοὺς πόδας καὶ ταῖς θριξὶν αὐτῆς ἐξέμαξεν.
45 φίλημά μοι οὐκ ἔδωκας: αὕτη δὲ ἀφ’ ἧς εἰσῆλθον οὐ διέλιπεν καταφιλοῦσά μου τοὺς πόδας.
46 ἐλαίῳ τὴν κεφαλήν μου οὐκ ἤλειψας: αὕτη δὲ μύρῳ ἤλειψεν τοὺς πόδας μου.
47 οὗ χάριν λέγω σοι, ἀφέωνται αἱ ἁμαρτίαι αὐτῆς αἱ πολλαί, ὅτι ἠγάπησεν πολύ: ᾧ δὲ ὀλίγον ἀφίεται, ὀλίγον ἀγαπᾷ.
48 εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῇ, Ἀφέωνταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι.
49 καὶ ἤρξαντο οἱ συνανακείμενοι λέγειν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς, Τίς οὗτός ἐστιν ὃς καὶ ἁμαρτίας ἀφίησιν;
50 εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς τὴν γυναῖκα, Ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε: πορεύου εἰς εἰρήνην.
Two debtors owed to a certain money lender; the first owed five hundred denarii, the other fifty. (42) They not having to give back, he graced both. So which of them loved him (the creditor) more? (43) Answering, Simon said, “I would undertake that the one owing more. He (Jesus) said to him, “You have answered straight”. (44) And turning to the woman he (Jesus) said to Simon, “Look at this woman. I have come to your home, water to me upon the feet you did not give. She with tears washed my feet, and with her hair dried them. (45) You did not give me a kiss; she has from which (i.e., the time/hour which) I came has not stopped kissing my feet. (47) You did not anoint my head with oil. She has anointed my feet with ointment. (47) Of which grace I tell you her many sins have been taken away, that she will love much. To whom little has been taken, loves a little. (48) I say to her, ‘your sins are forgiven’.” (49) And those seated around began to say among themselves, “Who is he who also to take away sins?” (50) He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace”.
With this ending, the story now offers a radically different message than it did in 2M, or than it will in John. It is not at all about the poor, nor is it about Jesus’ impending death. Neither of these are mentioned, and neither plays any role in the moral, or the lesson, or the purpose of the tale. Rather, Luke has transformed it into a tale about the way Jesus was–or, more properly, was not–accepted by “polite” Jewish society. It also explains why we are in the home of a Pharisee, and not of a former leper; the former is an intrinsic member of that “polite society” whereas a leper would not have been. I have no idea what the status of a healed/cleansed leper would have been, because I have the understanding that such cleansing/healing did not happen very often; as such, rules would not have formed on how to deal with the situation. But there were rules about how a member of polite society should accept a guest, just as there are today. Novels of upper crust society written in the 19th Century are replete with such rules; read enough of this fiction and one could become sufficiently competent to fulfill them. On the other hand, I don’t know enough about these rules to judge whether what Jesus describes the actions that Simon did not do were actually standard practice.
The good news is that we don’t have to know to effect a judgement on the intent of the story. Jesus provides rules and, presumably, those hearing the story may not have necessarily been sufficiently versed to know that Simon had violated social protocol, but, to the average listener, these rules seem sufficiently reasonable, or logical, to be accepted under the conditions of a “willing suspension of disbelief”. Jesus gives the rules, points out that Simon did not follow them, but the woman did. That’s enough; this is not history, or even historical fiction. It’s myth and/or hagiography. These stories operate under their own rules. That’s all we need. This reminds me of one of the books written by JD Crossan, The Historical Jesus (IIRC), in which he seeks to recreate the society of Jesus by analogy to other traditional societies in the Mediterranean, not all of them necessarily contemporaneous with Jesus. I did not find this book terribly convincing, but the point here is that it does not matter. This “pericope” is not “based on a true story”, and it doesn’t depend on whether Simon violated polite practice. None of that matters.
What does matter is that, in this version, Jesus was not treated as someone who was treated as a full member of “society” (as Tolstoy used the term in Anna Karenina), whatever the actual rules were. In contrast, a woman, a “sinner”, an outcast from society regardless of whether she was a prostitute did fulfill the rules of welcome and acceptance. To her, Jesus was an esteemed guest to be received with full–more than full–honors. Of course, the episode is a metaphor, or symbolic of the rejection of Jesus by most Jews. Perhaps by the time Mark wrote, and certainly by the time Matthew wrote, the followers of Jesus were mostly pagans, and both of the previous evangelists were at some pains to explain why. Luke, I think, is doing that here. This is likely why he changed the dinner host from an erstwhile leper to a Pharisee, to show how polite Jewish society had not embraced Jesus and his teachings. This is not entirely the first time Luke has done this; the first time occurred very early in Jesus’ career, when he went back to Nazareth in Chapter 3. At the time we (or I) wondered why Luke changed the timing of the story as he had. Now I think we (or I) know: that was more than just to show that Jesus had not been accepted in his home town. The story was meant to have wider implications. Not only was Jesus not accepted in Nazareth, but in Galilee and Judea as a whole.
44 καὶ στραφεὶς πρὸς τὴν γυναῖκα τῷ Σίμωνι ἔφη, Βλέπεις ταύτην τὴν γυναῖκα; εἰσῆλθόν σου εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν, ὕδωρ μοι ἐπὶ πόδας οὐκ ἔδωκας: αὕτη δὲ τοῖς δάκρυσιν ἔβρεξέν μου τοὺς πόδας καὶ ταῖς θριξὶν αὐτῆςἐξέμαξεν.
45 φίλημά μοι οὐκ ἔδωκας: αὕτη δὲ ἀφ’ ἧς εἰσῆλθον οὐ διέλιπεν καταφιλοῦσά μου τοὺς πόδας. 46ἐλαίῳ τὴν κεφαλήν μου οὐκ ἤλειψας:αὕτη δὲ μύρῳ ἤλειψεν τοὺς πόδας μου. 47οὗ χάριν λέγω σοι, ἀφέωνται αἱ ἁμαρτίαι αὐτῆς αἱ πολλαί, ὅτι ἠγάπησεν πολύ: ᾧ δὲ ὀλίγον ἀφίεται, ὀλίγονἀγαπᾷ. 48εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῇ, Ἀφέωνταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι. 49καὶ ἤρξαντο οἱ συνανακείμενοι λέγειν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς, Τίς οὗτός ἐστιν ὃς καὶ ἁμαρτίας ἀφίησιν;50εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς τὴν γυναῖκα, Ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε: πορεύου εἰς εἰρήνην.
Here, too, we see the literary quality of Luke. He arranges his pieces deliberately. He set this scene up in Chapter 3 and then drove home the point here. Mark’s gospel is purely episodic; many, many verses start with “and…” Matthew is mostly so, but with long–or longer–interludes of teaching, such as the three-point-five chapters containing the Sermon on the Mount. Luke is much less so, and John will culminate this trend with his unitary, thematic gospel. Of course this ties back in with Q; Luke takes entirely a different approach to his gospel than even Matthew. The second gospel written mainly preserved Mark’s framework while adding long–or longer–sections of teaching. Luke, in contrast, re-thinks the entire process to create a more literary gospel, one more closely resembling a novel rather than something vaguely like a biographical essay.
41 “Duo debitores erant cuidam feneratori: unus debebat denarios quingentos, alius quinquaginta.
42 Non habentibus illis, unde redderent, donavit utrisque. Quis ergo eorum plus diliget eum? ”.
43 Respondens Simon dixit: “ Aestimo quia is, cui plus donavit ”. At ille dixit ei: “ Recte iudicasti ”.
44 Et conversus ad mulierem, dixit Simoni: “ Vides hanc mulierem? Intravi in domum tuam: aquam pedibus meis non dedisti; haec autem lacrimis rigavit pedes meos et capillis suis tersit.
45 Osculum mihi non dedisti; haec autem, ex quo intravi, non cessavit osculari pedes meos.
46 Oleo caput meum non unxisti; haec autem unguento unxit pedes meos.
47 Propter quod dico tibi: Remissa sunt peccata eius multa, quoniam dilexit multum; cui autem minus dimittitur, minus diligit ”.
48 Dixit autem ad illam: “Remissa sunt peccata tua”.
49 Et coeperunt, qui simul accumbebant, dicere intra se: “Quis est hic, qui etiam peccata dimittit?”.
50 Dixit autem ad mulierem: “ Fides tua te salvam fecit; vade in pace! ”.
At the end of the last section, we left Jesus talking about the children of wisdom, or perhaps of Sophia. One thing I neglected to mention is that Sophia wasn’t exclusively, or wasn’t originally, a Gnostic concept. It had roots in Judaism as well as Greek thought. So many of the ideas and concepts of a religious nature kept floating around in the eastern Mediterranean in particular, combining and recombining and mutating that it gets to be very difficult to untangle the skein and figure out who thought of it first, who influenced whom, etc.
In any case, we’re coming into the story of the woman with the perfume who anointed Jesus. This is part of the Triple Tradition, so it shows up in all three Synoptic gospels. I made this point in the discussion of the story when we came across it in Matthew, but it bears repeating: in none of the three versions is the woman ever identified by name. In particular, she is never identified as Mary Magdalene. And yet, tradition has come to identify the anointing woman with the Magdalene. This is a very, very strong cautionary tale about the value of tradition. Pappias said this, Eusebios said that, Mark the Evangelist was John Mark of Acts who was the associate of Peter…all these things get asserted without any real–or even tenuous–evidence. We have the bald word of the later writer, and sometimes the assertions are only preserved because it was quoted by an even later author. I read a bunch of Eusebios, and I was not at all impressed. He was a contemporary of Constantine, who set about creating more or less the Official History of the Church. This was the Authorized Version, published after Christianity had come out from the shadows and become the religion of the Emperor. I don’t find such a chain of evidence terribly convincing.
So there is absolutely no reason to assume this woman is Mary Magdalene. But wait, there’s more. At the end of the passage, we are told that the woman was a “sinner”…On second thought, let’s leave that for the commentary at the end. For now, let’s get into the
36 Ἠρώτα δέ τις αὐτὸν τῶν Φαρισαίων ἵνα φάγῃ μετ’ αὐτοῦ: καὶ εἰσελθὼν εἰς τὸν οἶκον τοῦ Φαρισαίου κατεκλίθη.
Some one of the Pharisees asked in order that he (Jesus) might eat with him (the Pharisee). And coming into the house of the Pharisee, he reclined.
Quick note: “reclined” became synonymous with “eating”, since one reclined on couches to eat.
36 Rogabat autem illum quidam de pharisaeis, ut manducaret cum illo; et ingressus domum pharisaei discubuit.
37 καὶ ἰδοὺ γυνὴ ἥτις ἦν ἐν τῇ πόλει ἁμαρτωλός, καὶ ἐπιγνοῦσα ὅτι κατάκειται ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ τοῦ Φαρισαίου, κομίσασα ἀλάβαστρον μύρου
38 καὶ στᾶσα ὀπίσω παρὰ τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ κλαίουσα, τοῖς δάκρυσιν ἤρξατο βρέχειν τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ καὶ ταῖς θριξὶν τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτῆς ἐξέμασσεν, καὶ κατεφίλει τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ καὶ ἤλειφεν τῷ μύρῳ.
39 ἰδὼν δὲ ὁ Φαρισαῖος ὁ καλέσας αὐτὸν εἶπεν ἐν ἑαυτῷ λέγων, Οὗτος εἰ ἦν προφήτης, ἐγίνωσκεν ἂν τίς καὶ ποταπὴ ἡ γυνὴ ἥτις ἅπτεται αὐτοῦ, ὅτι ἁμαρτωλός ἐστιν.
And look, some woman, a sinner in the city, and knowing that he reclined in the house of the Pharisee, having carried an alabaster jar of ointment (38) and standing behind by his feet weeping, her tears began to wash his feet and with the hair of her head wiped, and kissed his feet and anointed with the ointment. (39) Seeing the Pharisee calling him said to himself, “This is (as) if he were a prophet, he knew (would have known) of what sort this woman (is who) touches him, that she is a sinner.”
We are told twice that she is a “sinner”. We are, I suppose, to infer from this that she was a special kind of sinner, which implies, I suppose, a prostitute. At least, I suppose that is what we are supposed to suppose. The later tradition has not only identified the Magdalene with this woman, and that Mary M has become a prostitute in the same tradition. This passage is the only possible biblical basis for this later tradition. And it conflates prostitution, the Magdalene, and the anointing of Jesus, when in fact there is no reason to believe this woman was Mary Magdalene. And Luke is the only version that emphasizes that she was a “sinner”, just as Luke is the only one to tell us that Jesus cured Mary M of seven demons.
This very nicely a couple of the points I’ve been making throughout this effort. The first is that stories grow. I’ve made repeated references, allusions, and comparisons to the legend of King Arthur. There is a general consensus that Arthur, in some form, did exist as a living man. There is universal consensus that virtually all the rest is later invention. Hence Guinevere, Lancelot, Galahad, the Round Table, the Holy Grail, Percival, Gawaine, and all the rest are the creations of later poets. The story grew with time. And so here we have Mary Magdalene. In one of the previous commentaries I speculated that she was a financial supporter of Jesus from Galilee. She arrives in Mark only in the Passion Narrative, and then she is prominent in the Resurrection story. In Matthew, this includes the disciples returning to Galilee, which I would posit indicates the influence of Mary. (As an aside, Wikipedia says that there are two places in Galilee that were named, or could have been named, Magdala; both cites come from the HS, and Matthew mentions a place that has been transliterated as Magdala and as Magadan. The point is, they are all in Galilee.) We are all much too familiar with the way women were excised from the canonical NT; Paul in particular mentions several women who seemed to take leading roles in various communities. As a result, leaving the Magdalene in a role of prominence did not suit the ideas of the patristic fathers, so Mary had to be downgraded. But this tradition of Mary grew in a different way, too, the culmination of which was Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code; however, it should be noted that this rumour of Mary’s relationship to Jesus predates Mr Brown by numerous centuries.
The second point this demonstrates is just how unreliable the later tradition can be. And if it can be this unreliable, it probably is unreliable. Bear in mind that Pappias had no evidence that Mark the Evangelist was John Mark of Acts. The way this latter inference was drawn is pretty much identical to the way the inference about this woman and the Magdalene was drawn. This woman is in all three gospels, but is named in none of them. Yet, Jesus says (in Mark and Matthew, anyway), that her deed will be remembered as long as Jesus is remembered. And yet, the performer of the deed has disappeared. But we have Mary Magdalene floating about at loose ends, so let’s connect the dots, whether making this connexion is warranted or not. Just so, we have a gospel attributed to Mark. Who the hell was Mark? Oh wait, there’s a guy who is named–sort of–Mark in Acts; ergo, they must be the same person. This conclusion was made despite the fact that, while Mark supposedly recorded for Peter, the “upon this rock” quote is missing, as is most of what Jesus supposedly taught, plus that Mark’s Peter is a dullard at best. With a friend like Mark, Peter certainly didn’t need any enemies. So we see the danger, the great danger, of relying on anything the later tradition said. Just based on probability, some of the points of the tradition may have gotten some things correct, but which things? Since we have no real way to know which traditions are reliable, we have to look–very carefully–at the internal evidence of the texts to see which traditions can be seen to be internally consistent. Mark = John Mark fails this test of internal consistency, in my opinion, anyway. You have one tenuous connexion of names vs. several points which seem to invalidate that connexion; this implies failure. And we have three versions of this story, and the woman is not named in any of them, and she is only–possibly–identified as a prostitute in one of them. So based on this lack of supporting evidence, plus the fact that Mary does not appear until the Passion, indicates, in my opinion, that this woman was not Mary the Magdalene,
This version of the story is also very interesting from another perspective. Matthew followed Mark’s version very closely, whereas Luke cut out about half of the story, but adds the detail about the woman being a prostitute. What are the implications? I would suggest that Luke did not feel the need to repeat the story in full because there were already two versions of the story that said pretty much the same thing. Why go over such well-trodden ground again? Here we see that Luke was not afraid to change or edit Mark; why do we suppose he would have been reluctant to change or edit Matthew? Yes, this goes back to Q, and all the ridiculous questions of “Why, on earth, would Luke change Matthew?” Why indeed? The answer to this question, which is always posed as some unsolvable conundrum, continues to be very simple: because if Luke simply followed Matthew, he’d simply be re-writing Matthew. And it is said, over and over again, how Luke situates his stories (his pericopae) differently than Matthew. Well, here he’s located it in a very different place from Mark as well. In the other two versions, this event occurs just before the Last Supper, in the final week of Jesus’ life. Here it’s well before that. So if he’s not afraid to mess with Mark’s placement, why the faux puzzlement about messing with Matthew’s placement? This staring askance at Luke’s outrageous behavior is simply a rhetorical dodge, something that the Q proponents resort to because they don’t have a legitimate case to make. And let’s recall that Luke also moved Jesus’ return to his hometown from the middle of Mark (Chapter 6) to the very early days of Jesus’ ministry (Chapter 4). Again, Luke’s not afraid to mess things up a little bit, or even a lot. And again, part of the reason Luke did this–maybe the main reason Luke did this, and many other changes–is to make sure he didn’t just re-create Matthew. the very fact that it is so messed up so consistently makes me see the hand of intent behind this. And that doesn’t mean Luke was a crank or a madman. That whole “only a crank would do this deliberately” really grates on my nerves because, first and foremost, it’s not an argument, but a value judgement.
So yes, Luke deliberately messed with Matthew’s organization. But no, he was not a crank or a madman.
There are other omissions from the story as seen in Mark and Matthew. One is that Jesus said the woman was preparing his body for burial. That omission makes sense since this event occurs close to the time of Jesus’ death in M&M, but not here. Perhaps incidentally, but certainly more puzzling is the question of why Luke changed the physical location of this. In both Mark and Matthew it’s set, we are told, in the house of Simon the (most likely former) leper. Here it’s in the house of a Pharisee. Apologies, but I cannot come up with an explanation that will account for this change that is redactionaly* consistent with all the other changes Luke makes. Of course, suggesting that I need to do this in order to account for no-Q is absurd; I don’t have to prove Q didn’t exist. The people who propose the theory have to prove (or at least present a decent case) that Q did exist. The takeaway from this is that I’m not sure I can imagine a rationale that would make sense, but then, I could just be lacking in imagination.
The most glaring omission, however, is the lack of disciples and the bit about how “the poor will always be with you”. Now, Luke is supposedly more concerned with the poor than either of the other two, a position with which I tend to agree; hence, “blessed are the poor…the hungry…” That being the case, why are the disciples not here to object? Even more than M&M, John puts the story back in, with the added detail that Judas objected because he wanted to embezzle some of the money for himself. Essentially, Luke jettisons all of that in favor of the Pharisee calling her (apparently) a prostitute, and being unsettled and a bit disgusted that Jesus can’t see the woman for what she is. And since Luke made the switch, Luke obviously (well, at least apparently) saw this as the more important message to get across. Why? Part of the reason, of course, is to show how closed-minded and short-sighted the Pharisee is, but that’s a given, and it’s also implicit in the disciples lack of understanding. Or is that it? Luke didn’t want it to be the disciples who missed the point? I’m not positive, but that seems like a possible explanation. After all, John subsequently comes up with a more elegant way to dodge that issue. That sort of just occurred to me, but the idea is growing on me.
Maybe it will stick. Maybe not. I’m open to suggestions.
While we’re at it, let’s tack this on. Matthew began the rehabilitation of the disciples. Here, by substituting the Pharisee as the villain, Luke is continuing on in that tradition. Yes, it could be that Luke was doing this independently of Matthew, but…really? Apologies, but I think this is another marker to put on the side of non-Q.
[* Apparently not a real word, but I swear I came across it in one of the Q proponents. It was likely a different form of the word. Or, perhaps that writer was willing to attempt to coin the neologism. ]
37 Et ecce mulier, quae erat in civitate peccatrix, ut cognovit quod accubuit in domo pharisaei, attulit alabastrum unguenti;
38 et stans retro secus pedes eius flens lacrimis coepit rigare pedes eius et capillis capitis sui tergebat, et osculabatur pedes eius et unguento ungebat.
39 Videns autem pharisaeus, qui vocaverat eum, ait intra se dicens: “ Hic si esset propheta, sciret utique quae et qualis mulier, quae tangit eum, quia peccatrix est ”.
Supposedly, this chapter is about Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, which takes up nearly the entire chapter. In actual fact, however, the theme of this chapter is Q. So much of the Q debate is taken up by the sheer brilliance of the Sermon on the Mount, that we are forced to compare Luke’s Sermon on the Plain to that other masterpiece. It has been decreed that this version of the Q material preserves a more primitive version of Q, and that this version is decidedly inferior. Those statements are not to be gainsaid if one wishes to be included in polite company of NT scholars. Well, the problem is that I’m not an NT scholar (or, I suppose, a scholar of any sort, except maybe a wannabe…), so I’ll likely never be invited into polite company, anyway, so I can throw a few bricks, or, with luck, start a food fight. It’s time we talked about the content of the two gospels.
Let’s start at the very beginning. Matthew says they went up the mountain. Luke says they went up the mountain, but came back down, and then he stresses that he began speaking on a plain. Luke does not sort of drift off, leaving it vague; he very specifically says “a level place”. So which is the original? Remember, Luke supposedly preserves the more primitive version of Q, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Oh, right, alternating primitivity. Either way, if this came from Q, Luke had to decide to bring Jesus down from the mountain and stand in a level place. Why does he do this? Why not leave him on the mountain? Or did Luke make the change exactly because Matthew had Jesus on the mountain? Is this the emergence of the puckish humor of Luke? That he’s sort of tweaking Matthew a bit? We mentioned that in the penultimate section, in which Luke launched into a stream of unusual words that are not found in Matthew, and very few other places as far as that goes.
But there’s even a more basic question. The Gospel of Thomas is a sayings gospel. Its discovery was hailed as a vindication of the Q thesis, demonstrating that sayings gospels were, indeed, written. Since it was a sayings gospel, it was immediately declared to be very early, tracing back to Jesus himself (perhaps), and proving that Q could exist, which basically meant Thomas was taken to prove that Q did exist. But Thomas has one striking dissimilarity to Q, as reconstructed. Thomas has no physical descriptions of place or action. Pretty much everything starts with “Jesus said…” And yet, the reconstructed Q is full of all sorts of physical descriptions and settings in place such as the “up/down the mountain”. Thomas does not have stuff from the Baptist. It doesn’t talk about centurions. It is, truly, what we would expect of a “sayings” gospel. Reconstructed Q, on the other hand, simply is not. There is stuff from the Baptist, and physical description. And there is so much of this that those doing the reconstructing were more or less forced to say that it all came from Q. Otherwise, how to explain the overlaps? It’s impossible to do so without either putting this extraneous stuff in Q, or admitting that Luke read Matthew. Since the latter has to be rejected on ideological grounds, the former is the only choice.
The upshot, right from the start, we have a pretty good indication that Luke was, indeed, aware of Matthew. He was aware that Matthew’s sermon was on a mountain, so Luke put his on a level place. Why? The Q people say I have to explain every deviation from Matthew in a manner that is supported by a consistent editorial attitude. So I posit mine to be puckish humor. That suggestion comes with a guarantee of originality, that you will not find that in the, ahem, serious literature. And I don’t mean to be flippant or facetious. My suggestion is entirely serious, if only to show the range of interpretation that is possible in these situations. “Deadly serious” is not the only setting for discussion, just because it’s the default setting. I’m going to continue to look for this humourous edge throughout the gospel. Let’s see how that stands up to scrutiny.
So Matthew has the primitive “up the mountain”, but Luke has the primitive version of the first Beatitude. Matthew’s poor are poor in spirit; Luke’s are just poor. This is not a matter of primitive vs developed. It’s a situation in which each evangelist is saying a very different thing. Puckish humor again? Perhaps a bit more wry this time, with a bit of an edge. “Poor in spirit” is all very fine and good, but what about those who are just poor? And not only do they hunger and thirst for justice, they’re just damn hungry. Yes, this is more primitive, if by that you mean the more pointedly addressing fundamental needs. Why do they hunger for justice? Because they’re poor, really poor, and not just “poor in spirit”. Being poor in spirit almost implies that they are not poor in actuality, that we are not discussing physical privation, but sort of a moral discomfort. So yes, it is quite easy to say that Luke is more primitive, but he’s also more righteous.
There is one more aspect of “primitivity” that sorely needs to be addressed. The idea that one version or the other is more primitive completely begs the question. It assumes that there is a total of three versions; one is original, and the other two are derivative. Ergo, one of the derivatives is more primitive than the other. But if there is no third version, to say that Matthew or Luke is more primitive becomes meaningless. In all cases, Matthew is the more “primitive” because it was written most of a generation earlier. So discussing primitivity is meaningless absent Q; discussing primitivity assumes the existence of Q, which is what we’re trying to determine, whether Q existed or not. By shifting the battleground to discussions of primitivity, the Q people have already won the debate since we’re now taking Q as given. This is admittedly deft rhetoric, but it’s also bad logic.
There’s another aspect of Q that never gets discussed. This has to do with the actual content of the sayings. Do they truly seem appropriate to the time in which they were, supposedly, uttered? Or do they make more sense to a later time and place? If the latter, what does that do to the idea of Q? Especially if these anachronisms are repeated in both Matthew and Luke? That really puts a crimp into the supporting pillars of the Q position. I keep coming back to what Q is supposed to be: a collection of sayings that predate Mark and presumably Paul and trace back to Jesus, usually by way of one of his close associates. The list of eligible associates is probably limited to Peter, Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee. They perhaps did not write the sayings themselves, but they remembered them and dictated them to a scribe. From this list we can strike Peter, because he was John Mark’s source for the first gospel to be written. According to church tradition, Mark the Evangelist was John Mark, the associate of Paul. Mark went to Rome and became part of Peter’s community, and Peter provided the information for Mark’s gospel. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum: Mark’s gospel does not include any of the so-called Q material. This means one of several things, the most likely of which is that the entire tradition is a later fabrication. Either John Mark was not Mark the Evangelist, or Peter never went to Rome or whatever, but wherever Mark got his material for the gospel, it likely did not come from an eyewitness to Jesus because the source, or sources, were completely ignorant of most of the really important stuff that Jesus said. This ignorance, in turn, is predicated on the data that Q existed and that it is an accurate record of what Jesus actually said. The result is that there is a gaping hole in the explanation provided; it then becomes a question of figuring out the most likely location of that hole.
This leaves us with a couple of choices: either Mark’s gospel did not derive from an eyewitness account, or Jesus didn’t say the things in Q. There are others, such as that Mark chose not to include Jesus’ teachings; however, that strikes me as a bit unlikely. Why on earth would Mark’s source not tell Mark what Jesus taught, or why would Mark deliberately choose to leave this stuff out of the gospel? I would really like to hear someone try to explain that one.
Another consideration is whether the things Q says Jesus said make sense for Jesus’ time. We touched on this in the commentary, in verses 22 & 23, in which they are blessed who are reviled for Jesus’ sake. These seem to be references to some sort of “persecution” of the followers of Jesus. As pointed out, there is no indication in any of the gospel accounts that Jesus or his followers really suffered any kind of persecution during his lifetime. Yes, we have the account of Paul, but that came later. So we are faced with the situation in which something that Jesus said is likely due to circumstances that only came about after Jesus’ death. And we know that Jesus said this because it’s part of the Q material, and we know that it’s part of the Q material because it’s included in both Matthew and Luke. But if it is unlikely that Jesus said this, that makes the Q hypothesis rather untenable because it, apparently, includes material from after the time of Jesus’ death.
Which leads us to one of the more annoying aspects of the Q hypothesis. In order to cover some of these embarrassing moments, it is posited that Q exists in strata, in layers, that accumulated through time. The implication of this is that some of the material obviously does not trace back to Jesus. This is an eminently convenient suggestion, because it means that Q can include whatever those reconstructing it say it includes. In this way it has all sorts of stuff that a true sayings gospel does not have. We also mentioned this in the commentary: Thomas is a true sayings gospel. Virtually all the passages begin with “Jesus said”. This is how a true sayings gospel should be set up. Much of the hullaballoo about Thomas was that it vindicated the Q theory by being a sayings gospel. Well, Q is not a true sayings gospel. It includes too much extraneous information about John the Baptist, the set-up for the Centurion’s son/servant, the setting of Jesus going up the mountain. All this points to a Q thesis that is not internally consistent, which makes the construction of the entire story suspect.
The point of all this is simple. When the Q debate is taken from the safe environs the Q people have created for it, the conclusions are not nearly so secure. The implication of this is that a legitimate Q debate needs to happen.
There’s no way this section isn’t going to be short. We have a total of four verses. Of course, this is another story allegedly from Q, from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount vs Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, so there will likely be some back-and-forth on that. Who knows what will turn up? So, without any further ado, let’s proceed to the
46 Τί δέ με καλεῖτε, Κύριε κύριε, καὶ οὐ ποιεῖτε ἃ λέγω;
47 πᾶς ὁ ἐρχόμενος πρός με καὶ ἀκούων μου τῶν λόγων καὶ ποιῶν αὐτούς, ὑποδείξω ὑμῖν τίνι ἐστὶν ὅμοιος:
48 ὅμοιός ἐστιν ἀνθρώπῳ οἰκοδομοῦντι οἰκίαν ὃς ἔσκαψεν καὶ ἐβάθυνεν καὶ ἔθηκεν θεμέλιον ἐπὶ τὴν πέτραν: πλημμύρης δὲ γενομένης προσέρηξεν ὁ ποταμὸς τῇ οἰκίᾳ ἐκείνῃ, καὶ οὐκ ἴσχυσεν σαλεῦσαι αὐτὴν διὰ τὸ καλῶς οἰκοδομῆσθαι αὐτήν.
49 ὁ δὲ ἀκούσας καὶ μὴ ποιήσας ὅμοιός ἐστιν ἀνθρώπῳ οἰκοδομήσαντι οἰκίαν ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν χωρὶς θεμελίου, ἧ προσέρηξεν ὁ ποταμός, καὶ εὐθὺς συνέπεσεν, καὶ ἐγένετο τὸ ῥῆγμα τῆς οἰκίας ἐκείνης μέγα.
“And why does someone call me, “Lord, lord,” and not do what I say? (47) All coming towards me and hearing the words of me and doing them, I will show you someone the same as this: (48) he is like unto a person building a home who dug and went deep and placed the foundation upon the rock. There became a flood the river beat that house, and not strong to shake it on account of the beautiful building of it. (49) And the one hearing is not like the man building his house upon the land without a foundation, which the river battered and immediately it collapsed, and it became a great ruin of that house.”
First of all, Luke is really going to town on the unusual vocabulary. About a half-dozen of the words in here occur in Luke and nowhere else in the NT. Recall how a few verses back we got the bit about lending at interest, which Matthew used but once while Luke jammed it in three times in two verses. Here, we had Luke slavishly following the verbiage of, ahem, Matthew–I mean Q–in the story of the good and bad trees, only then to cut loose and let fly with barrage of fairly obscure words, to the point that there is very little overlap of vocabulary between Luke’s version and Matthew’s. What do we make of that? Is it me? Am I the only one who sees a bit of puckish humour in Luke’s approach here? Given the enormous creative ability of Luke as an author–the author of The Good Samaritan, The Prodigal Son, etc–and Luke’s obvious depth of Greek vocabulary, would we not expect him to come up with more stories like this one, in which he does not follow the letter of Q so closely? This proves beyond doubt that he had the capability, so why didn’t he do it more often? I don’t know the answer to that; nor do I fully understand whether the number of times Luke adheres to “Q” (by which I mean Matthew) vs the number of times he doesn’t supports or undercuts my dismissal of Q. No doubt a decent rhetorician could make the case either way. Heck, if I thought about it, I could probably argue it either way.
And again, either the previous example or this one could easily be written off, but do not the two of them together add up to something a bit more? That’s a very difficult question, but it’s one I would like to see discussed in the context of the pro/con arguments for Q. And it’s exactly the sort of thing that we do not see in the literature, and more’s the pity.
46 Quid autem vocatis me: “Domine, Domine”, et non facitis, quae dico?
47 Omnis, qui venit ad me et audit sermones meos et facit eos, ostendam vobis cui similis sit:
48 similis est homini aedificanti domum, qui fodit in altum et posuit fundamentum supra petram; inundatione autem facta, illisum est flumen domui illi et non potuit eam movere; bene enim aedificata erat.
49 Qui autem audivit et non fecit, similis est homini aedificanti domum suam supra terram sine fundamento; in quam illisus est fluvius, et continuo cecidit, et facta est ruina domus illius magna ”.
Chapter 4 continues. I did a bit of hanging you all from a cliff by breaking this passage where I did. Recall, Jesus has just read the passage from Isaiah talking about the blind seeing and the broken people being delivered. Having finished, and closed the book, when last we saw our hero, all eyes in the synagogue waiting…for something. My inference was that he was expected to comment on the text he has just read. Why this one would create an air of pregnant expectation the way it supposedly did is sort of left to our imagination. Remember that Isaiah did not have pride of place among the Jews that we Christians would like to suppose. And in addition, the section that Christians most often cite comes from Deutero-Isaiah, someone writing in the prophet’s name who wasn’t the prophet. In the same way Paul’s disciples wrote letters from Paul that the apostle did not write. I have even heard it suggested that there was a third author of Isaiah; I’m not sure I’d put a lot of faith in that one. The point is, for the Jews, Elijah is sort of the headliner of the prophets. As such, I’m not sure why Jews would be stretched on tenter-hooks at the prospect of hearing Isaiah discussed. This is a great example of Christians reading stuff back into the HS that was not entirely (at all?) there.
21 ἤρξατο δὲ λέγειν πρὸς αὐτοὺς ὅτι Σήμερον πεπλήρωται ἡ γραφὴ αὕτη ἐν τοῖς ὠσὶν ὑμῶν.
22 Καὶ πάντες ἐμαρτύρουν αὐτῷ καὶ ἐθαύμαζον ἐπὶ τοῖς λόγοις τῆς χάριτος τοῖς ἐκπορευομένοις ἐκ τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἔλεγον, Οὐχὶ υἱός ἐστιν Ἰωσὴφ οὗτος;
(21) He began to speak towards the that “This day this writing is fulfilled in the ears of you.” (22) And all witnessed him and were amazed upon his words of grace that issued from his mouth, and they said, “Is this not the son of Joseph?”
“The ears of you” is completely literal; “in your hearing” is probably a bit less jarring. And to be just as jarring, I left it as “words of grace”, since the standard translations is “gracious words”. But honestly, I’m trying to figure out how to render this in context. As the next part of the verse indicates, the people listening are a bit put off by what Jesus said. I don’t get the idea that they would consider the words “gracious” in any sense of the term. The outrage felt will become even more clear as the passage proceeds.
Remember that Jesus is in his hometown, and that Luke specifically names the town as Nazareth. So he names the father of Jesus to go with this. So what Luke has done here is combine Mark Chapter 6 and Matthew Chapter 11. Why? Let’s recall that Luke adds a lot of material to his gospel. So it’s possible he he felt he could not recount all that Matthew said and then add his own material and not have a text that runs to a hundred pages or more. So he chose to compress where and as he can. But note that the corresponding episode in Mark does not occur until Chapter 6. As such, he’s Luke is drastically rearranging the order of Mark. This is significant because one of the primary arguments for Q is the notion that Luke would not possibly have messed with Matthew’s “masterful” arrangement of the Q material. In fact, only a “fool or a madman” would do something so ludicrous. But nary a word that Luke felt free to rearrange Mark. Since Mark laid down the basic storyline, it would seem to be more of a problem that Luke felt free to copy and paste different episodes into different places; however, such appears not to be the case. So once again, the “argument” for Q turns out to be very situational: order of arrangement is hugely important, except when it’s not. Or, it’s important for some stuff, but not for other stuff. And these are the people who demand an editorially consistent explanation for every time Luke rearranges Matthew’s “masterful” order of the Q material.
One other thing that Luke does–or, actually, doesn’t do–here is to recite the names of Jesus’ siblings. Matthew truncated the list provided by Mark, but still gave us four of his brothers, most notably James. Here, Luke gives us none of them. The reason for this is likely to be the desire to let Jesus’ siblings–perhaps most notably James–fade into the background at this time. Many scholars have suggested that the list of siblings was embarrassing for the later Church with its insistence on the virgin birth. Mark had no such problem, since he did not tell us that Mary was a virgin who conceived by the sacred breath. Matthew apparently felt no constraint at what could be seen as a contradiction. Luke, in culmination, just eliminates the list completely. Also, by the time he wrote, James had been dead for several decades, his role in the early church becoming largely forgotten. So Luke perhaps judged it best to let sleeping dogs lie, and not awaken the memory. And let’s not forget that Luke may have been aware of Galatians, in which Paul meets with the brother of the lord. Maybe this suggested to Luke the wisdom of not reawakening that role of James and the conflict he had with Paul. After all, Luke very much downplayed this meeting when he recounted the event in Acts.
There is one aspect in which Luke provides a unique take on this. In Mark, Jesus was called “Mary’s son”; in Matthew, he was the “son of the carpenter, Mary’s son”. Here, he is the son of Joseph. This is especially notable, IMO, since in his genealogy he said that “it was supposed” that Jesus was the son of Joseph. Now I cannot stress enough the level of significance that attaches to Luke naming Joseph as Mary’s husband. This and the virgin birth, and the annunciation by an angel, etc. are all ways that Luke follows Matthew, and in material that no one says was in Q. It did not occur to me at the time, but Matthew’s “son of the carpenter” is sort of a step back from his own genealogy in which he states that Joseph begat Jesus. Honestly, it would be more appropriate for Luke to say that Jesus was the son of the carpenter and leave Joseph unnamed, since it was only “supposed” that Joseph was the father of Jesus.
The point of this, however is significant, and perhaps a crucial piece of the puzzle of Luke’s relation to Matthew. Was the relation only incidental, passing through Q? Or was it more than that, a relationship of direct affiliation? Here again, the contrast between Luke’s treatment and what came before him seems so disconnected that at least the suspicion of intent has to creep in here. Could he honestly have been so related to, and yet so distinct from the other evangelists that he did not plan this relationship of distinction very deliberately? And again, we have to look at this inside of, or as part of, the general trend. He’s done this before with the birth narrative. Echoing parts of Matthew without actually repeating Matthew. Draw your own conclusions, of course. My complaint is that these are aspects of the relationship between the two evangelists that are never discussed. Q is assumed, it’s stated, and it’s never really questioned. And the Q proponents have been so successful in establishing belief in Q that they have managed to force the anti-Q people to fight the battle on the Q people’s terms by insisting on an editorially consistent explanation for every time Luke differs from Matthew in the treatment of the alleged Q material. That is, they are rather forcing the Q opponents to prove that Q did not exist. That is truly masterful.
21 Coepit autem dicere ad illos: “ Hodie impleta est haec Scriptura in auribus vestris ”.
22 Et omnes testimonium illi dabant et mirabantur in verbis gratiae, quae procedebant de ore ipsius, et dicebant: “ Nonne hic filius est Ioseph? ”.
23 καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, Πάντως ἐρεῖτέ μοι τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην: Ἰατρέ, θεράπευσον σεαυτόν: ὅσα ἠκούσαμεν γενόμενα εἰς τὴν Καφαρναοὺμ ποίησον καὶ ὧδε ἐν τῇ πατρίδι σου.
24 εἶπεν δέ, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδεὶς προφήτης δεκτός ἐστιν ἐν τῇ πατρίδι αὐτοῦ.
25 ἐπ’ ἀληθείας δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, πολλαὶ χῆραι ἦσαν ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Ἠλίου ἐν τῷ Ἰσραήλ, ὅτε ἐκλείσθη ὁ οὐρανὸς ἐπὶ ἔτη τρία καὶ μῆνας ἕξ, ὡς ἐγένετο λιμὸς μέγας ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν,
26 καὶ πρὸς οὐδεμίαν αὐτῶν ἐπέμφθη Ἠλίας εἰ μὴ εἰς Σάρεπτα τῆς Σιδωνίας πρὸς γυναῖκα χήραν.
27 καὶ πολλοὶ λεπροὶ ἦσαν ἐν τῷ Ἰσραὴλ ἐπὶ Ἐλισαίου τοῦ προφήτου, καὶ οὐδεὶς αὐτῶν ἐκαθαρίσθη εἰ μὴ Ναιμὰν ὁ Σύρος.
And he said towards them, “Surely you will say to me this parable, “Physician, heal thyself. How much we hear being to Caphernaum you have done, and this much in your home town. (What you have done in Caphernaum, also do here in your home town). (24) “Amen I say to you, that no prophet is accepted in his own home town. (25) In truth I say to you, that many widows there were in the days of Elijah in Israel, when the sky was closed up for three years (“closed up” = “no rain“) and six months, so that there became a great famine in the whole land, (26) and towards no one was sent Elijah if not of the Sarepta of Sidon, to the widow woman. (27) And many lepers there were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and no one of them was cleansed if not Naiman the Syrian”.
First, let’s note that Luke is acknowledging the connexion of Jesus to Caphernaum. Mark simply says that Jesus and Peter, James, and John went to Capheranaum; Matthew explicitly says Jesus relocated there. If you’ll recall, when reading Mark I argued that Jesus was actually from Caphernaum and not from Nazareth. It is Matthew, with his quote that “He will be called a Nazarene” that identifies Nazareth as the the town where Jesus grew up. Then, to square with Mark, he has Jesus move to Caphernaum. Here, however, Luke seems to be correcting the compromise forged by Matthew which, in effect, gave Jesus two separate “home towns”, as it were. So here again, it is at least plausible that Luke is directing this at Matthew, without explicitly saying so. Because recall Luke’s statement that he verified the traditions in order to provide an accurate account, because many have undertaken to tell the tale. Now, it is not necessary to include Matthew in that “many”, but…really? And this certainly seems to be another of those situations that seem to indicate that Luke was certainly aware of Matthew, as in the case of “son of Joseph” above.
As for why the record needed to be corrected, Luke likely believed it was difficult to say that he was “Jesus of Nazareth” if he lived in Caphernaum. By the time Luke wrote, the “Jesus of Nazareth” had become lodged in the tradition, and he intended to cement it there. Recall: Mark mentioned Nazareth once, Matthew three times, and Paul, never. Matthew likely is the one who situated Jesus in Nazareth to begin with, but then he waffled by moving him to Caphernaum. Luke, OTOH, mentions Nazareth early and often, and with the aim of clarifying the situation once for all. So, yes, I’d say this indicates he was fully aware of Matthew.
As for the actual bulk of the passage, the meaning is probably clear enough. A prophet is not respected in his home town/land; but note that we are given examples of when the prophet chose to do good to someone aside from one of his fellow citizens. Rather than go to an Israelite widow, Elijah* goes to a widow in the territory of Sidon. Rather than cure an Israelite leper, Elisha* cures Naiman the Syrian. The beauty of this is that Luke does double duty with these examples. Not only does he show the prophet dishonored, but he shows how, even in the days of Elijah, non-Jews were shown the benefits of God. If it were true even back then, why not even more so at the time Luke wrote. Luke is supposed to be Gentile-friendly; I guess this would be an example.
* I have no idea what the historical orthodoxy on this is, but the Elijah/Elisha seems like such an obvious example of twinning that it should be simply accepted at this point. Of course, if you believe in the literal meaning of the Bible, this sort of confusion is impossible. But in the realm of historical research, such an identity of the two would at the very least be a point of discussion.
23 Et ait illis: “ Utique dicetis mihi hanc similitudinem: “Medice, cura teipsum; quanta audivimus facta in Capharnaum, fac et hic in patria tua” ”.
24 Ait autem: “ Amen dico vobis: Nemo propheta acceptus est in patria sua.
25 In veritate autem dico vobis: Multae viduae erant in diebus Eliae in Israel, quando clausum est caelum annis tribus et mensibus sex, cum facta est fames magna in omni terra;
26 et ad nullam illarum missus est Elias nisi in Sarepta Sidoniae ad mulierem viduam.
27 Et multi leprosi erant in Israel sub Eliseo propheta; et nemo eorum mundatus est nisi Naaman Syrus ”.
28 καὶ ἐπλήσθησαν πάντες θυμοῦ ἐν τῇ συναγωγῇ ἀκούοντες ταῦτα,
29 καὶ ἀναστάντες ἐξέβαλον αὐτὸν ἔξω τῆς πόλεως, καὶ ἤγαγον αὐτὸν ἕως ὀφρύος τοῦ ὄρους ἐφ’ οὗ ἡ πόλις ᾠκοδόμητο αὐτῶν, ὥστε κατακρημνίσαι αὐτόν:
30 αὐτὸς δὲ διελθὼν διὰ μέσου αὐτῶν ἐπορεύετο.
And all were filled with the breath of life/anger in the synagogue hearing these things, and standing up they threw him from the town, and led him to the edge of the hill (cliff) on which the city of them was built, so that to throw him down. (30) But he going through the middle of them went away.
The word << θυμος >> (“thumos”) presents an interesting lesson in the difference between pagan Greek and so-called “NT Greek”. In the Great Scott, the Middle Liddell, and one of my NT Greek lexica, following their lead give the primary definition of this word as “breath of life”, or something such. The definition of “anger” does not show up until definition #4 in part B. This latter derives from “thumos” as the “seat of the emotions”, which is another usage of the term in Classical and Homeric Greek. Two other NT lexica give “anger” as the primary definition. Now, this is not a case of the word starting off being used for one thing and then gradually coming to mean something else, the way “entrepreneur” started off as “undertaker” and now means something rather different. Rather, “thumos” is used both as “breath of life” and as “anger” in The Iliad. Rather, it’s a case where NT authors use it (apparently) in the latter sense, so that is the only sense in which the NT lexica translate the word. Now, in one sense, this is fine; presumably one is consulting an NT lexicon because one is reading the NT. In this way the translator gets the way the word is used in the limited number of passages where it occurs: Luke/Acts, Paul, and Revelations. The problem is that the translator does not get the full range of the word; that has been done for the reader by previous generations of NT scholars who have come to agree on what the word means. This is how “baptize” has come to have one specific meaning. And there have been a few places in which I have not agreed with the “consensus” translation. Unfortunately, I can no longer recall any of these passages, but I do know I coined the term “consensus translation” already when we were reading 1 Thessalonians and Galatians. For the record, the context of this passage pretty clearly indicates that “anger” is the proper way to render the word, but I dislike–very much–the way it’s handled by NT lexica. There is no such thing as NT Greek.
As for the meaning of the passage, Luke here exaggerates the reaction Jesus got in some of the other stories of the other evangelists. Jesus caused consternation, and even outrage, but never (?) this degree of anger. They want to throw him from the cliff! IIRC, James the Just was executed in this manner in Jerusalem. I’m not saying Luke was aware of this and repeated the tradition. I’ve been told by priests for years now that this was a fairly common manner of execution; I suppose that Josephus could be regarded as having verified this fact.
The first really interesting aspect is the implication that “the Jews” wanted to kill him this early in his career, right from the outset. The other side of that is that the would-be executioners were not the powers-that-be, they were not the Temple officials or even the Pharisees or Scribes; they were simply those present in the synagogue that day. If this story is conceived of as having happened on Sabbath, we would imagine that most of the men in the town would have been there. But it was the townspeople, those that had watched Jesus grow up now decided that what he had said was so heinous that he deserved to die. Wow. That is one tough crowd. Of course, it’s all academic since the event never occurred; the issue is rather what Luke was trying to convey through the episode. I suppose this would be to demonstrate that Jesus was upsetting people directly at the start. That’s obvious; the question is why Luke wanted to get across this anger at Jesus so soon? To justify the crucifixion, I suppose. Which leads us to ask whether we think 2M were insufficiently clear about this? And this leads to the question of how much difference there was between the first two evangelists; was one, or both of them insufficiently convincing? Then, of course, we have to ask if we can tell whether Luke knew about Matthew’s case for the crucifixion. This extremity of this episode may make more sense if Luke had not been aware of Matthew’s case.
Having checked, 2M approach this issue in similar ways. The animosity towards Jesus starts as muttering and grumbling from onlookers, usually because Jesus has transgressed some standard practice of Judaism. Here, there is no warm-up or warning: just straight to homicidal rage. Luke was obviously trying to make a point, but, what, exactly?
The last thing is that I wonder if they could they kill him like that. Was it legal? So much is made in the Passion story about how the Jews have to beg the Romans to kill Jesus because they don’t have the authority. But then again, they executed James the Just–assuming that we can accept the testimony of Josephus as we have it, that this episode was not the interpolation of a later Christian copyist. And also, this was occurring in a provincial town out in the boondocks where there was no Roman presence to speak of. So, if it happened, who was going to complain? It’s not like the Romans were even going to notice.
The final last point is Verse 30: and passing through the midst of them he left. What Luke is describing is a supernatural event. It’s similar to the way he passed through solid walls and locked doors after the Resurrection in John’s telling of that sequence of events. Like the verse before it, one has to wonder what Luke’s point of this was. Presumably, he’s providing evidence that Jesus was a divine being, but to a level of divinity that is unprecedented. In the other gospels Jesus performs miracles and walks on water, but there is nothing like this. In fact, this could easily be read as borderline Docetism: that Jesus did not actually have a corporeal body. This, of course, is dualist theology of the sort that many sects would espouse. Many–but not all–Gnostics were also dualists, but there is no necessary connexion between the two. Most dualists were not Gnostics. The Cathars of the 13th Century were the last great dualist sect; the belief sort of died away after they were exterminated by Innocent III and the king of France.
I suppose the lesson to be drawn from these two verses is that Luke wants us to know, right up front, that Jesus was on the wrong side of Jewish public opinion and that he was truly divine, almost to the point of being non-corporeal. Or, at least, he was capable of becoming non-corporeal when the situation called for it.
28 Et repleti sunt omnes in synagoga ira haec audientes;
29 et surrexerunt et eiecerunt illum extra civitatem et duxerunt illum usque ad supercilium montis, supra quem civitas illorum erat aedificata, ut praecipitarent eum.
30 Ipse autem transiens per medium illorum ibat.
Here’s what I think, where I think Matthew fits in. The early period of development saw a mosaic of different communities. Some of them were organic: they grew up in Jerusalem and Galilee, in places where people had been touched directly by Jesus. The community in Galilee owed a lot to the organization and patronage of Mary the Magdalene. She knew Jesus when the latter was alive, and probably provided some financial support for him and his small crew that included Peter, probably the sons of Zebedee, and maybe James, brother of Jesus. I’ve toyed with the idea that perhaps the Magdalene was married to James, brother of Jesus, but I think that’s unlikely given the way the paths diverged after Jesus’ death. The Magdalene probably followed Jesus into Jerusalem and was there, in some capacity, when Jesus was executed. At which point she returned to Galilee with a significant number of Jesus’ followers. This community was likely responsible for the creation of the Passion Narrative. Perhaps this did not come about immediately, but the tales of being in Jerusalem during the last days of Jesus’ life were told by the group in Galilee, and eventually grew into a story that reached Mark, who probably re-worked it to fit the pro-Roman sympathies of the day. The Galilean community were responsible for the part of the Passion/Resurrection Narrative present in Mark and Matthew that included instructions that the survivors were to return to Galilee. This group did not see Jesus as a divine individual, but he was revered as a wonder-worker who had performed miracles, which was seen as demonstrating Jesus had God’s favour.
Another group grew up in Jerusalem. This, of course, was the community led by James the Just and Peter. If the sons of Zebedee were indeed followers of Jesus, they went back to Galilee with Mary, for they are not part of the landscape for Paul. It’s possible that they did not exist, but their roles are so prominent that I’m loathe to consign them to the dustbin of fiction. But note how they disappear from the scene during the Passion and Resurrection. If these two narratives are the creation of the Galilean community, then chances are that these two were not part of this community. So if they were not part of neither the Galilean nor Jerusalem communities, then where did they fit? Most likely they were part of the community that produced Mark; he features them prominently, and he treats them much better than he treats Peter; so I would suggest that they played an integral part in the foundation of the community to which Mark would subsequently belong, so Mark wrote them into the role of being founding members of Jesus’ inner circle. Note that they do not–most likely, cannot–supplant Peter for pride of place. Peter’s role is apparently too well established to be left out, or even just ignored; he can, however, be slighted, disparaged, and superseded to some degree.
The elevation of Peter comes at the expense of James the Just. Based on Paul’s testimony, I do not think it can be productively argued, or even asserted, that James was not the leader of the Jerusalem Assembly. “The James Gang” as I rather facetiously nicknamed them back when we were reading Galatians. The thing is, Paul’s account is just sufficiently jaundiced to make it highly unlikely that he was making it up. Paul did not particularly like James, and Paul didn’t have a terribly high opinion of Peter, based on the latter’s unwillingness to stand up to James. That James stayed in Jerusalem is one reason I discarded the notion that perhaps it was James who was married to the Magdalene. It’s not impossible that they were married, but parted company, but I would think that such a relationship would have shown up in the Passion Narrative that Mary most likely helped create. At the very least, she prepared the ground for it by telling–and doubtless re-telling–the story of Jesus’ last days. Mark disparages Peter, but he completely omits James the Just, and yet the latter’s reputation persisted to become incorporated into the Gospel of Thomas. Of course, this reputation only “persisted” if the Gospel of Thomas was written later, rather than earlier; but I believe it to date to the second, if not third quarter of the Second Century, based on content and form and other internal evidence.
This puts Mark and James on separate tracks. It has often been pointed out that Mark’s knowledge of the geography of Judea and Galilee & environs is perhaps sketchy at best. I am not qualified to confirm or deny this; I will operate on the belief that there are legitimate reasons for saying this and take the position that the assessment is accurate, largely because I’ve never encountered an argument denying this position. The implication, therefore, is that Mark was most likely separated physically from Jerusalem, and so may not have been aware of the tradition of James. One of the more salient implications of this lack of awareness is that Mark was probably also unaware of Paul. Wherever Mark was–and Rome is not impossible, which some traditions suggest–Paul was not there, and his presence was not known to whatever community it was to which Mark belonged. It was a community that probably owed its origin to the sons of Zebede, who are not mentioned by Paul. In which case, we have to ask–and question–whether these sons were real, or if they were actually close followers of Jesus. It is doubtful that they were disciples ab origine, as Mark and Matthew say, or whether they were participants to any of the great events of Jesus’ career, such as the Transfiguration and the events in Gethsemane. Of course, we have to ask if any of those events actually took place; if we conclude that they didn’t, then of course they did not participate. And Matthew most likely just followed Mark on much of this because he had no reason not to follow Mark.
That takes us back to something said in the commentary to the text. The writing of a gospel by Mark was probably a watershed event for the development of the proto-church for many different reasons. First and maybe foremost–to put this in crass commercial terms of the 21st Century–it was probably a killer app as a marketing tool. Suddenly, you had a complete story of your founder, and you had a consistent story. The fragmentation would slow down considerably; thinking in terms of a river, it’s like being able to keep the main channel strong, thereby preventing the branching into a thousand streams of a delta. This way, someone hearing the story in one town would not go to another and hear a different story. The effect of this would be that the two stories would reinforce each other. Conflicting versions would be reduced, which means that someone new to the story would not find the different versions confusing, leading the potential convert to conclude that the believers simply didn’t know what they were talking about, leading her to return to the worship of Isis. Tied to this, a written story is very portable and so exportable. Yes, manuscripts were time-consuming to produce, but the fact of the matter is that Mark isn’t that long, so it could be copied and then read to many, many new people.
This, in my opinion, is why the gospels took precedence over Paul’s letters. These latter were not really intended for general circulation; they were written to specific groups to address specific circumstances. Mark’s gospel, OTOH, was general and universal. It set the tone and the outlines, digging the primary channel in which the main stream of the river would flow from that point forward. At root, the Jesus of Mark was the wonder-worker who told parables about the kingdom. The latter was neither fully nor effectively explained. Maybe this was to de-emphasize Jesus’ connexion to the Baptist; or maybe it was designed to prove Jesus’ connexion to the Baptist. In this latter case, perhaps Mark, writing from a physical as well as temporal distance, did not really understand what the Baptist had actually meant by the kingdom, thereby causing Mark to leave this part of Jesus teaching rather vague and undeveloped.
With all this, Mark was not a complete story. Far from it. Many details were missing. Being aware of this, Matthew set out to correct these deficiencies. First thing was to give Jesus a father, thereby to reduce the charges that Jesus was a bastard. Mark does not know–indeed, he does not care–who Jesus’ human father was. For Mark, Jesus was a man whom God chose at the moment when he was baptised by John. Then, and only then, he became “my son”, as God declared from the heavens. To compound the problem, Mark later calls Jesus the son of Mary (Ch 6). So Matthew has to set the record straight. So he provides Jesus with an earthly father, but goes further to provide Jesus with that most important of documents of legitimacy: a pedigree. Not only was Jesus given an earthly father, he was given a royal lineage. This provided an enormous boost to Jesus’ credibility. Jesus was not some nobody; he was the descendent of the Judahite king David (who had pretensions, however illegitimate, to the throne of Israel). This was a brilliant stroke, because it gave legitimacy to Jesus’ heritage, but also to the claim of being the Christ, the Anointed, the Messiah. This aspect of Jesus’ identity had become grafted, however imperfectly and incompletely, onto Mark’s story. This was not nearly enough for Matthew.
Aside from making it clear that Jesus was not a bastard, Matthew decided to take this all to a truly cosmic level, to demonstrate that Jesus’ birth was an event of universal significance. We are so inured to the story of the Star of Bethlehem* that I am not sure that we don’t quite grasp the enormity of this concept. Jesus was so important that the stars themselves aligned to announce his birth. That is to say, that his birth was destined from the beginning of time, so that it was written into the course of the heavens. Now, as the descendants and intellectual heirs of a millennium of absolutist philosophical thinking, we are sort of accustomed to this sort of thing, and we don’t get what it all means. To anyone of Matthew’s day, none of this would have been lost. The idea that Jesus had a star, and that it was read and understood by magoi from further east. Just so we’re clear, a magos–plural magoi, in Latin magi–was, at root, an astrologer. They were “wise” because they could read the secret language of the stars. The point to take from the episode of the Magi is that this was written before the idea of God that we take for granted did not permeate the popular conception of God to the degree it does today. God’s response to Job was, “where were you when I laid the foundations of the universe?”; Paul tells us he was selected from the time he was in his mother’s womb, and talks about God laying the foundations of the cosmos, but there is not the sense of God setting out the course of things from The Beginning. This is not a Jewish conception, nor does it fit with the attitude of Free Will that took root in the thinking of the Patristic thinkers. No, what Matthew is describing is, at root, pagan Fatalism. Just as the course of the planets is fixed, so the course of history is fixed. We are allotted our role, our fate is determined, and we play out the string fundamentally unable to do anything about it.
Looking back on this now I see this is as a very big clue about Matthew’s origins. After checking to see what I said at the time, I hadn’t picked up on it then because I had not begun to piece together the bits of evidence that Matthew began life as a pagan, rather than as a Jew. After all, everyone agrees that Matthew is the most Jewish of the evangelists, and it’s widely assumed that Luke was the only pagan among the evangelists. It’s taken on faith. But having picked up on a number of other clues, the whole theme of the Star of Bethlehem is like a big, blinking neon sign that says “PAGAN !!! “. The Jews were anti-astrology, and this attitude carried over to the early Church. Astrology, and its concomitant concept of ineluctable Fate was disparaged by both Jews and strict Christians as pagan, and the latter saw it as inexorably opposed to, and completely incompatible to the idea of Free Will. So the idea of an astrological event announcing the birth of the Christian Saviour is ironic in the extreme. It’s ironic to the point of contradictory. It’s contradictory to the point that it almost seems to be the final piece of evidence necessary to prove definitively that Matthew was not raised as a Jew. Of course, most biblical scholars and clergy will doubtless disagree with me, and vehemently, and vigourously deny that Matthew was a pagan, and vociferously assert that this motif of the Star and the astrologers even suggests such a ridiculous idea, let alone proving it.
A bit of research has turned up various thoughts and interpretations of the star and of the “wise men”. Overall, there is a concerted effort to play down the role of the magoi/magi as astrologers. One recent commentator even puts the word “astrologers” in quotes, as if to sniff away the idea as preposterous. Of course, there are all of the attempts to explain this as a comet, or a supernova, or some such occurrence based on the science of astronomy. Of course, these attempts miss the point, and really need not concern us; at the moment, we are concerned with how the star is explained by biblical scholars, not astronomers. The former want to play down the role of astrology because, even today, good Christians are at least uncomfortable with, if not overtly hostile to, the notion of astrology. But the point remains that this is the base meaning of magos/magus. Like the Nile, the rivers of Mesopotamia flood each year, and being able to predict the timing of the flood was very important for agriculture. The floods are seasonal, and the seasons are related to the movement of the earth around the sun. So the sky provided a very reliable calendar, if one knew how to read it. Here is the birth of both what we call astronomy and astrology; the thinking was that if the sun and stars all determined when the rivers would flood, then of course they have significant influence over mere humans, too. So it’s very important to realize that there was no difference between the two until the later 1500. Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, and other founders of astronomy were really doing what we would call astronomy. Kepler was trying to figure out the length of time the various planets “stayed” in a given constellation of the Zodiac when he discovered his Laws of Planetary Motion.
So, all in all, the use of the Star is, I think, a fairly strong indication that Matthew was a pagan.
to be continued…
* By happenstance or coincidence or divine intervention, I’ve been writing about the Star of Bethlehem on the 24th and 25th of December. Of course, we got Luke and the shepherd who were “sore afraid” (at least in the KJV) rather than Matthew for the gospel.
During the course of the two gospels, we’ve touched on the book by Reza Aslan, Zealot: The Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth. In that book, Aslan claims that Jesus was indeed a zealot, and that he was crucified for his rebellious activities. Two key props for his argument are that crucifixion was reserved for rebels, and that the word used to describe the two men crucified with Jesus << lestes >> specifically meant rebel.
At this point I have not done a summary view of all records of crucifixion, and have not performed a statistical analysis on the reasons why the Romans crucified these people. A famous example is the mass crucifixion of thousands of rebels following the suppression of the rebellion of Spartacus. Certainly, these men were rebels, and they were crucified in punishment. But saying only rebels were crucified is a bit of a black swan argument: no number of examples of white swans can prove that black swans don’t exist; one black swan, however, proves that they do. So, no number of crucified rebels will prove that only rebels were crucified, but even a handful of non-rebels will prove that this punishment was not reserved for this class of individuals.
The other argument he uses is that the word “lestes” specifically means ‘rebel’. Liddell and Scott, who have to be considered THE authoritative source for Greek vocabulary, disagree. So do Lewis and Short, who hold the same position for Latin vocabulary. In the Vulgate translation of this section, St Jerome translated “lestes” as “latro, latronis“*. As I have mentioned before, given that the sample size of Latin texts is much larger than that of Greek texts, seeing how the Vulgate renders a specific word can give us some clues to the meaning of the underlying Greek word, especially if the latter is rarely used. Now, the Greek word “lestes” is not terribly unusual, but I think it is still useful to see how it gets translated into Latin by St Jerome. Bear in mind that Jerome was bilingual; he was adept in Greek, even if Latin was his primary language. What word does he use?
First, I also want to point out that we have the episode of the Cleansing of the Temple to consider. Recall the “den of thieves” declamation used by Jesus? Well, the word there is “lestes“, the same word as is used of the two men crucified with Jesus. To the best of my knowledge, this passage has never been translated as “den of insurrectionists”. So this alone is almost a mortal wound to Aslan’s argument. And again, the Vulgate renders the Greek with the Latin word “latro, latronis”.
The final nail in the coffin is provided by the Latin author Apuleius. He wrote, among other things, a work called Metamorphoses, a Greek word that got taken wholesale into Latin via transliteration. It means pretty much what it does in English: a change in shape. In the Penguin edition that I have, the title is rendered as The Golden Ass, because the main action of the book involves the adventures of the main character after he has been magically, and mistakenly, transformed from a person into a donkey. In any case, shortly after his transformation, he is stolen by some bandits, who use him to haul away stolen goods. The word used? Latro, latronis. This example is even more useful than the Vulgate because it was written in the Second Century, much closer to Matthew than it was to the Vulgate. So we can have a substantial level of certainty that the word had not changed, had not undergone a metamorphosis, coming to mean simply “bandit/thief” whereas in NT times it had meant rebel.
As of this writing, I have no idea how Aslan’s book has been received in circles of biblical scholarship. I don’t know if it has been thoroughly refuted and rejected by most biblical academics. I do know, however, that it has seeped into popular consciousness. I recently had a Facebook debate with someone who put Aslan’s thesis forward as accepted fact. This is truly unfortunate. It’s also pretty much dead wrong. If this thesis has been absorbed into biblical scholarship, I despair of it even more than I did before.
* The base meaning of “latro, latronis” is “mercenary soldier”. From there it turned into “freebooter”; unpaid mercenaries had a tendency to extract their arrears of wages by plundering whomever was unfortunate enough to be at hand. This tradition was alive and well during the Thirty Years War. From there, it came to be “robber”. “bandit”, “thief”. These words are not completely interchangeable, but close enough. In particular, “bandit” has the sense of a group of outlaws living in desolate places where they’re hard to find, preying on unsuspecting travelers. Aslan tries to suggest that such bandits were actually insurrectionists, but that is simply stretching the word past its breaking point,