Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Emmaus as a Conversion experience

In my February 1st blog, I briefly discussed the article by Gary J. Goldberg, "The Coincidences of the Emmaus Narrative of Luke and the Testimonium of Josephus", The Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 13 (1995), 57-77. Today we will consider two interesting aspects of the Emmaus pericope: 1) Emmaus as a conversion experience and 2) the use of the first person plural by the author of the Gospel.

Luke tells an embarrassing story. The Emmaus episode is embarrassing in that it is an episode about the flight of two followers from Jerusalem. These two men became so overcome by panic and fear of what would happen to them now that the Master had suffered the ignominious death of a criminal that they fled the city. They literally ran away from Jerusalem but on the road to Emmaus they had their confrontation with Jesus.

There is a second embarrassing aspect to the Emmaus pericope that the two men did not recognize their fellow traveler. The embarrassment is, not only that they did not recognize Jesus, but also that their Master revealed their ignorance to them after He, and not the temple guards, literally apprehended them as they were in flight from Jerusalem. Their embarrassment certainly consisted of confusion and discomposure of mind and their movement was hindered.

Brown indicates that one of the purposes of the Lucan Easter narrative is “to restore to the unity of the apostolic community two disciples whose hope had been dashed by the events of the passion; . . .”[i] Brown compares these two individuals to the lost sheep recovered Lk. 15:4-6. Conversion is an invitation to transformation, in our individual lives, in our communities, in our world. Because change is often uncomfortable, these two men resisted. The challenge was issued: “oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!” Perhaps it makes more sense to consider this as a conversion experience.

Margaret Barker has noted that “There is nothing in the MT of the prophets which describes a suffering Messiah who sees the glory of God, so the story in Luke presupposes the Qumran version of Isaiah.”[ii] Did Luke makes this up? No. Barker earlier states that “The Qumran Isaiah describes an anointed one who has been transfigured, suffers, and then sees the light, presumably of the Glory of God.”[iii] Did Luke have access to the Qumran scroll? I doubt it. Luke’s inclusion of this enigmatic quote may be based on his eyewitness Emmaus experience.

Alan Segal in discussing the “glory of that light” stated in part: “Luke did not fabricate a relationship between Paul and Ezekiel; he is not alone in seeing identification between Christ and the Glory of the Lord.”[iv] Since Segal is discussing Paul’s conversion experience as described by Luke, one can just as easily say using the same material, Luke is using the step progression method to prepare his introduction to the conversion of Saul. According to Segal, “Abraham Malherbe has pointed out the wit, irony and sarcasm of the passage [in Acts 26:24-29] depends on understanding differing communities’ definitions of conversion.”[v] Because we have not understood these differences, we have not considered the possibility that the Emmaus is a conversion account.

Returning to Goldberg’s article, I would direct your attention to the discussion about the leaders. “The leaders are further specified -- they are "ours," in both texts, at precisely the same location. The reader is again reminded that the exact Greek word order of both texts is being followed. The match of such small words at key points can be more spectacular than lengthier expositions.” As Goldberg notes there “is a very unusual grammatical match with the use of the first person plural in identifying the our leaders, the principal men among us.”

In the next paragraph Goldberg states: “Stranger still, Luke also does not employ the first person when he identifies accusers of Jesus within the speeches of Acts.” Goldberg concludes the discussion of “the unusual grammatical match” with this question: "If the first person is unusual in both Luke and Josephus, why would both suddenly use them at the same time in harmonious passages?”
It is Goldberg’s conclusion that this is evidence that both Josephus and Luke used the same source.”[vi]

I suggest the following alternate possibility:
1) the Emmaus pericope was a conversion experience for two individuals who were reluctant halfhearted followers of Jesus who fled Jerusalem for fear they too would be crucified;
2) that the pericope is the personal account of the author who was so Jewish he still considered them to be "our" leaders;
3) the author of Luke-Acts is a very careful author and not likely to make a grammatical error because he merely copied something;
4) Luke included his personal account. Luke at the time of the encounter still considered the temple establishment people to be “our” leaders but after this experience he says “they” crucified him. As a result of this experience he had a complete transformation: “our leaders” becomes “they” crucified him; and
5) since Luke also used “I-we” in Acts, we should not be surprised by the use of the personal pronoun in this Emmaus story as the conscious act of the author to include himself in the story.

Each of these blogging points needs to be further developed.

[i] Brown, Apostasy and Perseverance in the Theology of Luke, Rome (1969), 74.
[ii] Barker, Margaret, The Great High Priest, (London New York, 2003), 303-304.
[iii] Barker, 303.
[iv] Segal, Paul the Convert, (Yale Univ. Press, 1990), 11.
[v] Segal, 17.
[vi] For additional information about Goldberg’s argument see

copyrighted 2005


Blogger Buck Eschaton said...

I've heard it said that there was no Emmaus during the time of the Gospels. Can't find this confirmed anywhere though. Need to do some historical research.

11:12 AM


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