Friday, May 25, 2012

Bitter Focus

According to Luke, Jesus sent out seventy-two disciples to prepare His path to Jerusalem, thanked God for hiding the Truth from wise people, and revealed what you must do gain eternal life; following that up with the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) to further explain how to love your neighbor as yourself, and who your "neighbor" was. Then, Jesus continued on His way to Jerusalem.

Bitter Focus
What is in a name? Meaning and identity. Martha (Marta) and Mary (Miriam, Miryam) are derived from the same Hebrew root word, which is transliterated as "marar" and means "being bitter," as in bitter taste. According to this resource, the Hebrew take on "bitter" was not the same the negative connotation we have in English, but rather it became associated with "strong," being that bitter is a strong taste. In turn, it seems that Martha came to mean a woman in charge, while Mary came to mean a strong woman, strong-willed woman, or even rebellious.

That covers meaning. What about identity? We will start with a short anecdote, Luke 10:38-42, which goes like this: While Jesus and crew were traveling to Jerusalem, a woman named Martha invited Jesus into her home. While Martha made preparations, her sister, Mary, sat and listened to Jesus. Martha complained to Jesus, asking Him to tell Mary to help her with the preparations. In Luke 10:41-42, we find Jesus' reply:
"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." NIV
Consider what Martha was probably doing here: Perhaps arranging bedding? Perhaps preparing food? Both? At this point, this is not just Jesus traveling; this is Jesus, plus the Twelve Disciples, and possibly plus seventy-two other disciples. That is thirteen to eighty five people! Martha is probably just preparing the bare necessities for all of these house guests. She saw all of these people coming along with Jesus, and she voluntarily chose to make herself a servant to all of them.

Jesus would later say that being a servant to all is the kind of behavior that would make you the greatest in Heaven (Matthew 20:26, Matthew 23:11, Mark 9:35, Mark 10:43, Luke 22:26). But Jesus set a different priority here, and rudely insulted Martha's generous effort in the process. In this case, Jesus thought that it was more important to sit and listen to Him than to do what He would later endorse. Go figure. Yet this singular focus is a repeated message in the Gospels. This episode has a more mild form of that theme, but earlier we saw how Jesus promoted forsaking everyone, and even your own life, in favor of pursuing God.

Who were Martha and Mary, other than being sisters? Luke is the only one to record this episode, so there is not blatant tie in with any other characters in the Gospels.

This Mary is not Jesus' mother, and probably is not Mary, the mother of James and Joseph (Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40, Luke 24:10), who may have been Jesus' mother as well (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3). Maybe it is Mary, the wife of Clopas, whoever that is (John 19:25). Catholic doctrine conflates this Mary with Mary Magdalene, but there is no explicit link (The first appearances of Magdalene: Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40, Luke 8:2 [Jesus exorcised seven demons from her], Luke 24:10 [Luke's second mention of her, corresponding to Matthew and Mark], John 19:25). The picture of this Mary is blurry, so let us focus on Martha.

The name Martha is only used twelve times in the Bible; only in the Gospels, and limited to Luke and John. Just like here in Luke, the first time Martha is mentioned in John, Mary and Martha are reported as being sisters (John 11:1). That seems like a fairly strong, even binding, coincidence, right? These should be the same people. After all, how many sisters, of the names Mary and Martha, were Jesus likely to run into in His travels which were noteworthy enough to include in the Gospels?

John 11:1-44 tells us the story of Lazarus' death and subsequent resurrection through Jesus. In John's account, Lazarus was Mary's brother (John 11:2), and obviously Jesus had known that family for some time based on the great love He had for them (John 11:5) and on the fact that Jesus wept at Lazarus' death (John 11:35). That is where it gets screwy.

Neither Matthew nor Mark record anything at all about Martha, Mary, and Lazarus; this little family that Jesus so dearly loved. And Luke, who does know something of Martha and Mary, neglects to mention that they have a brother who is loved and resurrected by Jesus! Luke does later mention a Lazarus, but only in a parable told by Jesus, with Lazarus being a fictional beggar, and without any connection to Martha and Mary (Luke 16:19-31).

What you see here is the evolution of a myth recorded for all posterity. It is just a shame that it is not presented as such.

What? You do not believe me that this story is a myth? Well then, consider that John 12:1-11 has a grand dinner in Jesus' honor with the resurrected Lazarus in the town of Bethany, where Lazarus called home. Martha served dinner and Mary anointed Jesus with expensive perfume. Judas objected to that waste of money on the perfume. Does that story sound familiar?

Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9 record Jesus having a meal at the house of Simon the Leper, where some unnamed(!) woman anointed Jesus with expensive perfume. Some of the disciples objected to that waste of money on the perfume. Jesus said that the story of this strangely unnamed woman would be told as a memory of her whenever the Gospel was shared. It is odd for such a praise-worthy woman to not have a name, right? It kind of begs later authors to fill in the blank.

Luke 7:36-50 also records Jesus having a meal where He was anointed by an unnamed woman with perfume. However, Luke records this much earlier in the Gospel timeline, sets the meal at the house of a Pharisee, and drops the reference to the disciples complaining about the waste of money. Luke the Editor did not let a little thing like the truth prevent him from telling the story the way he wanted to tell it. Thus, we can clearly see fossilized bones of this evolutionary myth.

Friday, May 18, 2012

An Eternal Fable

Jesus sent out seventy-two other disciples to prepare His path to Jerusalem, but only Luke seems to know about it. Next according to Luke, Jesus oddly thanks God for hiding truths from the people who are supposed to know them. One of those truths would soon explained...

An Eternal Fable
There are few things more important in this life than the next one, at least for some Christians, Hindus, and others. We will focus on the Christians here, and a little bit of Scripture regarding eternal life. There are many thoughts of what you have to do to get eternal life. Depending on where you look in Scripture, you may find that there is nothing you can do. Some people say that you need to accept Jesus as your Savior to be Saved. Then, there is a little blurb in Luke with a different answer to consider.

Luke 10:25-28 discusses earning eternal life. An expert in God's Law (a.k.a. the Torah) asks Jesus what he "must do to inherit eternal life," so Jesus asked him what is written in the Law (Luke 10:25-26). It is unclear if Jesus' question is "what is written in the Law, in general?" or "what is written in the Law specifically regarding eternal life?" The framing suggests the latter, but there is nothing in the Law that suggests eternal life.

Luke 10:27-28 provides the replies:
[The Law expert] answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." NIV
The first answer the man provides, about totally loving God, is quoted from Deuteronomy 6:5, but it has an amendment made to it. The "and with all your mind" is not part of Deuteronomy 6:5, nor is it in the Torah, nor is it in the entire Old Testament. Where did it come from? We will get to that in a moment. For now, we should note that the Old Testament suggested you leave your own understanding, your mind, behind as a follower of God, and instead trust in His ways with all your heart (Proverbs 3:5).

The sentiment about loving God with "all your heart" is repeated nine times in God's Law, but it only shows up in the last book of the Law. Usually when "all your heart" does show up, it is explicitly or implicitly connected with obeying all of the commandments in the Law, as we see in the verse after the quoted one, Deuteronomy 6:6, as well as in Deuteronomy 10:12, Deuteronomy 11:13, Deuteronomy 26:16, Deuteronomy 30:2, and Deuteronomy 30:10.

The second answer, about loving your neighbor (known informally as the second greatest commandment), is buried about two-thirds of the way through Leviticus (the third book of the Law), was specific to people living in the Israelite nation (both Israelite and alien), was never repeated in the Law at all, and was located between commandments about not harboring hate and not interbreeding different animals, as was covered more in depth in a previous study. In other words, there was no special prominence given to this command in God's Law.

Jesus said that these were the correct answers on what you must do to inherit eternal life, despite the misquote. That means that you have to earn eternal life, and you do so loving God and loving your neighbor. Here in Luke, Salvation is through works, and you do not have to get baptized, get born again, or even acknowledge Jesus.

Interestingly enough, while there is no mention of eternal life associated with the loving your neighbor command, Deuteronomy 30:6 does associate loving God with "living," but this is actually referring to a prophesied time when God will circumcise hearts, and the "living" just means that God would not kill people early if they loved and obeyed Him, but they would still die eventually, as was covered in an earlier study.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is that this little anecdote exclusively in Luke appears to be a conflation of two separate episodes; Matthew 19:16-26/Mark 10:17-27/Luke 18:18-27 and Matthew 22:34-40/Mark 12:28-34. In the latter case, a Teacher of the Law (like Luke's expert in the Law in this study) asked Jesus the question of which commandment was the greatest, and Jesus answered to love God, and that the second was to love your neighbor. In the former case, some random rich man asked Jesus what he "must do to inherit eternal life" (exactly what was asked in this study). In that case, Jesus tells the man to obey the commandments, and even listed a few of them from the popular version of the Ten Commandments, but He never mentions loving God or loving your neighbor!

This conflation is the work of Luke the Editor. Why Luke did it is not entirely clear. Perhaps Luke noticed the oddity in Jesus' reply to the rich man to simply obey commandments which had nothing to do with loving God or your neighbor, or perhaps Luke did not like the thought of Jesus elevating any particular commandment to be the "greatest" and so he had someone other than Jesus suggest them, or maybe both. Yet it is clear that Luke was sourcing this material from Mark and/or Matthew.

Why is this sourcing obvious? Well, do you remember earlier when we discussed "and with all your mind" being inappropriately added to the quote? That comes from Matthew 22:37/Mark 12:30, where Jesus Himself misquoted Deuteronomy 6:5, including "all your mind" in the quotation. If Jesus is misquoting Scripture, then you know have a problem, and if that misquote is propagated, well, you know you have fiction on your hands. Luke has crafted this episode out of thin air.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Seventy-Two Fables

After James and John ask Jesus if they should ask God to rain fire from the sky on people who did not welcome them, the Gospel of Luke briefly shares some material with the Gospel of Matthew. In that section, Jesus makes it clear that attaining the Kingdom of God takes precedence over all earthly affairs, even paying your last respects to the dead. From there, Luke again ventures into the lonely territory of unique material... well, sort of unique, and sort of a rehash of an earlier episode.

Seventy-Two Fables
Before Jesus was resurrected, He sent some disciples out from Him a few times: Jesus sent the Twelve Disciples/Apostles out on the First Mission. Jesus sent two random disciples out to get a colt for Him to ride into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-7 {where they also get a donkey, and Jesus rides both simultaneously!}, Mark 11:1-7, Luke 19:29-35 {NOTE: in John 12:14-15, Jesus found His own colt}). Finally, Jesus sent the disciples (Matthew 26:17-19), or two random disciples (Mark 14:12-16), or Peter and John specifically (Luke 24:7-13), to make preparations for what is known as the Last Supper.

Aside from those instances, Luke uniquely records two other times when Jesus sent out people on a given task, and both of those times were supposedly to make advanced preparations for Jesus to pass through various towns in His planned route to Jerusalem. The first one we examined earlier; when James and John wanted to burn a Samaritan town with fire from Heaven when the residents did not welcome Jesus' messengers. The second is when Jesus sent out seventy-two "others" (Luke 10:1-20).

The strange thing is that Luke's story here is not really much of a unique account. The beginning and ending are unique, but the rest appears to be built from much of the same material that Matthew used for the First Mission. Luke's account of the First Mission is very short compared to Matthew's (Matthew 10+ versus Luke 9:1-6), but Matthew's extra material is not completely lost in Luke. Luke rearranged it, which suggests that at least one of the two authors is wrong, and possibly that Matthew's Gospel was not a direct resource used in making Luke's Gospel. Let us take a closer look. Luke 10:1 begins with:
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of Him to every town and place where He was about to go. NIV
Notice Jesus is referred to as "the Lord" here, suggesting divinity. Also note that these seventy-two people were "others," implicitly meaning disciples other than the Twelve Disciples/Apostles.

Here is where the commonality begins. Jesus gives them instructions for their journey, just like the Twelve Disciple's First Mission (FM). In the following table, you can see the duplicate pattern unfold:

Verse Paraphrased Content Luke's Seventy-Two Matthew's FM
Big harvest, few workers Luke 10:2 Matthew 9:37-38
(Verses just before the FM)
Lambs among wolves Luke 10:3 Matthew 10:16
Do not take supplies with you Luke 10:4
(also FM Luke 9:3)
Matthew 10:9-10
Stay in a welcoming houseLuke 10:5-9
(also FM Luke 9:4)
Matthew 10:11-13
Condemn unwelcoming houses/towns Luke 10:10-12
(also FM Luke 9:5)
Matthew 10:14-15
Jesus condemns Korazin and Capernaum Luke 10:13-15 Matthew 11:21-23
(after the FM, possibly before the Disciples returned)
Vicarious accepting or rejection Luke 10:16 Matthew 10:40

From there, Luke becomes truly unique for a moment. Luke 10:17 has the seventy-two return, marveling at how they could control demons. In Luke 10:18-20, Jesus replies:
[Jesus] replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in Heaven." NIV
So Jesus saw Satan fall from Heaven... What? Clearly, if Heaven was some alternate dimension where God dwelt outside of space and time, there would be no falling from it. This comment only makes sense in perspective of the antiquated belief that the realm of Heaven was directly above the Earth, and Satan was kicked out of it.

This episode continues on with Luke sharing more content with Matthew that we discussed earlier regarding how Jesus was happy that God was preventing people from understanding Him. In Matthew, that subject matter directly followed the above-noted condemnation of Korazin and Capernaum.

Circling back to the broader picture, we should question why and how Luke's sending of the seventy-two others could overlap the Disciple's First Mission so much; drawing in material shared by Matthew which is not in Luke's earlier description of the First Mission. It seems as though either Luke had no problems manipulating Matthew's storyline to his will, or that perhaps Luke was drawing from some other source document that had no, or had different, framing text. In any case, the "Truth" has suffered for it.

One more path to consider is numerology. Numerology? (You ask.) Yes. Strange as it seems, numerology may play a role here either if Luke was knowingly writing a myth or if Luke was "enhancing" the spirituality of events that he thought were historical. (Or, perhaps, Luke's source did this myth writing or enhancement before him.)

There are some hints of Luke being a numerology-sensitive author. While there are several examples of these hints to choose from, one of the easiest ones to perceive is how Luke changes the timeline to the Transfiguration from six days, recorded in Matthew 17:1 and Mark 9:2, to eight days in Luke 9:28. Apologists often explain away this apparent contradiction by saying Luke was counting including the start and end days, while Matthew and Mark were just counting the days in between. However, in numerology, the number six is said to represent imperfection, sin, and/or evil, as well as the physical as opposed to the spiritual. If Luke was numerology-sensitive, he would have balked at Jesus being associated with the number six, especially around a holy event like the Transfiguration. That is why eight would have been more appealing to Luke, because eight was the number of days after birth when Jewish boys were circumcised, and it represents new beginnings.

If the numerology angle is correct, then it becomes a gnostic mystery to decode the number seventy-two. Numerology is tricky, because, as an interpreter, you can almost get it to mean whatever you want, especially with large numbers like seventy-two. That is because the meaning may be in the number itself, or in its multiples. So should we focus on 72, or 8 x 9, or 2 x 36, or 6 x 12, or 3 x 4 x 6, etc.? In this case, we may have a clue to that as well, because Jesus sent out the seventy-two people in pairs; 2 x 36.

Now, just like interpretations of the Bible, what the numbers mean in numerology also varies somewhat depending on your resource, but this one I used suggests that two is the number represents division, while thirty-six is a reference to an enemy or opposition. So one take may be that this represents dividing (and conquering) an enemy force or opposition. Indeed this meaning can be reflected in both Jesus' confrontational destination of Jerusalem (ultimately conquering the hollow, mechanistic Judaism of Jesus' day which was opposed to Him) and in the attack of and power over the demonic forces in opposition to God (with the seventy-two's ability to control demons and Jesus' specific mention of overcoming the power of the "enemy").

Of course, when you delve into the world of symbolism like numerology, nothing is really as it seems. But then, the same could be said about trying to think of the Gospels as accurate history...

Friday, May 4, 2012

...And Fire in the Sky

We are coming to some text contained only in Luke. According to Luke, after the Transfiguration, Jesus exorcised a demon from a boy when Jesus' Disciples could not do so, told His Disciples that the greatest person was the least one among them (Luke 9:46-48), and said that anyone who was not against them was for them (Luke 9:49-50). From there, Luke ventures into unique territory...

...And Fire in the Sky
Sure, Jesus was about forgiveness, turning the other cheek, etc. But that sentiment was not ad infinitum. There was a day coming, a day of Judgement, when forgiveness and the other cheek would no longer be offered. It was a day that God had had picked out since the beginning of time, all according to plan, but arbitrary none the less. Modern Christianity seems a little divided, between not believing that Judgement Day will come anytime soon, and believing that Judgement Day is imminent. In this study, we will take a quick look at a passage which skirts both forgiveness and condemnation.

We begin with Luke 9:51:
As the time approached for Him to be taken up to Heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. NIV
This is a key verse for synchronization of the Gospels. According to the Synoptic Gospels, this is the point where Jesus set His sights on going to Jerusalem for the first, last, and only time since He had recruited the Disciples. According to the Gospel of John, this would be the fifth and final entry into Jerusalem (the preceding four were John 2:13, John 5:1, John 7, and John 10:22-23). But, you know how it is with repeated visits, for Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all of those times probably just blended into one memory. ;-)

Anyway, with Jerusalem as the goal, Jesus sent some people to prepare a Samaritan town along their planned route for His arrival, but the townspeople rejected Jesus coming there when they heard that He had planned to continue to Jerusalem (Luke 9:52-53). The Samaritans, despite essentially sharing the same religion as the Jews, regarded their Temple on Mount Gerizim to be The Temple, as opposed to the one in Jerusalem. So we can understand why there would be some inhospitable hostility at the notion of Jesus going onto Jerusalem.

In Luke 9:54-56, we see how the news of the rejection is taken:
When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from Heaven to destroy them?" But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village. NIV
First, we should consider the idea of calling down fire from Heaven. This is not a new concept. God had rained down burning sulfur from Heaven on Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24). Later, at Elijah's request, God had rained down fire from Heaven to kill over a hundred men (2 Kings 1:9-18).

So this is a Biblically consistent idea, but not a reality consistent one. It comes from a time when Heaven was thought to be the realm above the celestial ceiling that we gazed upon in the night and day. But really we are just a little blue marble, moving in the vastness of our solar system, which is poised in our gargantuan galaxy, which is situated in an incomprehensibly large universe. That makes the concept of anything raining down from a Heaven above laughable, other than meteorites, comets, and our own space junk.

As you can see, Jesus rebuked James and John for suggesting immediate divine punishment, but what exactly was that rebuke? It is not likely to have been a revelation that "Heaven" was not above them, given the Biblical view. Some people might think that this was an example of Jesus' mercy, or that Jesus' was rebuking their spirit of condemnation and retaliation. I do not think so.

Instead, Jesus' rebuke is more likely to be due to the fact that the Disciples were not following Jesus' own orders. Back when He had sent the Disciples out on their First Mission, He told them exactly what to do when a town rejected them: shake the dust off their feet as a testimony against that town (Luke 9:4-5). What was that testimony for? Luke 10:8-12 would later make clear what Matthew had stated earlier: that testimony was the ultimate condemnation for that entire town, which would be enacted at Judgement Day; resulting in a fate much worse than fire raining from Heaven. So Jesus' rebuke was probably not against the spirit of their desires, but rather a reminder that they should let God handle vengeance, and that He would do just that very soon.