Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Luke reads Psalm 118: Part II

In Psalm 118:22 we read: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.” The Septuagint and MT are in agreement. This verse is quoted from the Septuagint in Luke 20:17 as part of the Parable of the Wicked Tenants and Acts 4:11 as well as I Peter 2.7. It also appear in Matthew and Mark in their respective versions of the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.

Although the Parable of the Wicked Tenants appears in all the synoptic gospels in nearly identical language, there are changes that are not stylistic, indicating each author understood the parable differently. Scholars agree that the Parable of the Wicked Tenants is based on the Song of the Vineyard found in Isa. 5:1-7. However scholars disagree on whether the parable was spoken by the Historical Jesus. Prior discussions on the synoptic differences have focused on which of the gospel accounts is the earliest and whether or not this parable is an authentic Jesus' saying without considering the significance of the Lucan differences.

A common explanation of Luke's editorial policy is that Luke is making changes in the traditions transmitted to him because his Gentile audience can not understand the Hebraic, Semitic, Judaic nature of the original gospel. This explanation can not be the reason Luke omits the details of the hedge, winepress and watchtower because the Parable concludes with an allusion to Psalm 118:22 about “the stone which the builders rejected” that would be equally obtuse to a Gentile audience. None of the Gospels tell us Jesus is the stone which was rejected or that “builders” is a term for the religious aristocracy. Luke tells us in Acts 4:7-12 that Jesus is the stone which was rejected. It was a favorite quotation of the early church as a description of the death and resurrection of Jesus. By the time of Justin Martyr, “the stone” had become on of the names for Jesus. The identity of “builders” as “scribes” is also supported by rabbinic traditions. The Semitic character of the Parable is clearly established by this quotation and the wordplay it invites between the son = ha-ben and the stone = ha-'eben.

The allusion to Ps. 118:22 in the parable is Luke's third reference to Psalm 118. The first two citations to the Psalm are somewhat subtle. The first citation of this Psalm in Lk. 13:35 applied the cry of recognition to Jesus. This earlier 'cry of recognition' reference to Psalm 118 strengthens the conclusion that Jesus intends his wordplay to allude to the wordplay in the Song of the Vineyard wherein a cry for help is included. A second citation in Luke 19:38 made explicit reference to the king, and shows that the psalm is regal and messianic. The second citation thus ties in the messianic psalm with the stone established in Judaism as a messianic symbol (Isa. 28:16 and Dan. 2:44-45), and prepares the audience for the third remarkable citation to Psalm 118:22.

Luke by his triple allusion to Psalm 118 and the wordplay between 'son' and 'stone' intends a reversal of traditional Jewish thinking about the identity of the messiah. In this instance, Luke is announcing that a reversal is about to occur.

Repetition is used in this instance and with respect to “hanged on a tree” to make the point that the vindication of the stone by the power of God is the reversal of the action of a group identified as “the builders” who rejected it.

The publication of the Qumran fragment, 4Q500 which is based on Isa 5:1-7, suggests that the interpretation preserved in the Targum and also in 1 Enoch predates the New Testament. The text of this Qumran corpus reveals that the third line containing 'wine vat built among stones' is a clear allusion to Isa. 5:2 and that 'the gate of the holy height' in line 4 refers to the Temple.

The Isaiah Targum gives the Song of the Vineyard passage a narrower and distinctively cultic cast. It is exactly what we might expect of someone viewing the animal sacrificial system in the years following the destruction of the Temple and looking for scriptural comfort. Such a person might rewrite a biblical passage to support such new realities. An outsider to the temple establishment, such as the Qumran community, might also view the temple establishment as anti-cultic. In any event, Chilton, Baumgarten and Evans have demonstrated that the hedge, winepress and tower represent the sanctuary and altar of the Temple and the parable with such language included has an anti-Temple institutional orientation.

Matthew and Mark rewrote Luke to provide an anti-Temple institutional orientation to their gospels consistent with their condemnation of the animal sacrificial system. Luke does not condemn the Temple or the animal sacrificial system. The usage of the Septuagint together with the Semitic character of the Lucan Parable of the Wicked Tenants is strong evidence that The Lucan Parable was not written with a Gentile audience in view.

Copyrighted 2006


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