Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

We live in a day when we need to say Happy Holidays so as to be politically correct but I would rather be theologically correct. Happy Holidays is an acknowledgment that we live in a pluralistic society. Merry Christmas is a profession of one’s belief, and a statement that some believers need to make as a member of a religion that believes in the zealous preaching and advocacy of the gospel. I wish you a Merry Christmas and so that you can enjoy a Happy New Year, I pray that you are given a new heart.

And I do plan to close shop for a few days.

Copyrighted 2006

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Who owns the goods?

The scholars have generally agreed that Luke has presented us with a group of parables and sayings dealing with possession and wealth one of which is the Parable of the Unjust Steward. For the most part, these scholars have assumed the steward was a slave and the master a rich man and that the transaction was one involving the extension of credit, perhaps involving usury.

In these academic writings, there has been no discussion about the ownership of property. After the exodus, sacred history records that the people wandered in the desert for forty years. Early Judaism was influenced both by its experiences in Egypt and by nomad concepts of property, individual rights and essential equality for all members of the community.

The people of the exodus left a land which experienced numerous extravagant building projects and great wealth where the oppression of foreign slaves was the norm. The priests of the land participated in this increase of power and wealth, with a third of the land coming under their ownership, and with temple slaves constituting 20 percent of the total population. This experience influenced the community and its social structures established in the Promised Land. Hanson notes “Even the economic system of the new community was drawn consistently out of this norm, for according to the institution of the nahala, each family received from Yahweh as a trust in perpetuity a piece of land (its inheritance or patrimony) sufficient for its sustenance. Since there was no absolute authority save Yahweh, no one was allowed to dispossess another, for to do so would violate the norm upon which the entire society was based, the norm of righteous compassion and equality, the norm drawn from the heart of a loving God.” When the land was divided among the tribes “no portion was given to the Levites in the land, but only cities to dwell in, with their pasture lands for their cattle and their substance.” The purpose of the jubilee law was ultimately to protect basic individual property and to guard against unlimited accumulation, thus preventing the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few individuals.

Notwithstanding these extensive provisions throughout the Torah, power and wealth did become concentrated in the hands of a few by the first century. Stern suggests that the statement of Hecataeus (Diodorus Siculus 40.3.7) that Moses gave the priests a larger share of land than other Israelites reflects the social condition in Palestine in the Second Temple period. Certainly Hecataeus did not base his observation on the Torah since, according to the Law, (Dt. 10:9, 12:12, 18:1, Num. 18:24) the priests and Levites did not own any land. As Stern also notes, it is doubtful that the priests could have become wealthy from the tithes alone since the Mishnah indicates that many peasants did not always pay them.

Jeremias, Marshall and more recently, Bock have each viewed the Lucan Jesus in the 'temple cleansing' episode as criticizing the excessive profiteering of the trade, controlled by the high priest's family, and not the sacrificial system itself. This may explain how certain groups of priests became wealthy. Luke's criticism focuses on the use of these temple resources by the religious aristocracy for their own selfish purpose. Thus the power and authority of Temple leadership was also expressed in the control of the people's resources. Another aspect of this control is the role of the Temple as a large landowner.

Linnemann has asserted that “a firmly established result of recent parable interpretation is that the parables of Jesus refer to the historical situation in which they are told.” Several Lucan parables also give clear indications both of the precarious situation of tenants and of the built-up antagonisms and criticism against landlords (16:1-8; 19:12-27; 20:9-16). Gerd Theissen makes this comment: “A progressive concentration of possession probably heightened the struggle over the distribution of wealth in the first century A.D.” Sean Freyne stated: “The Galilian Jewish peasant found himself in the rather strange position that those very people to whom he felt bound by ties of national and religious loyalty, the priestly aristocracy, were in fact his social oppressors.” There was considerable popular resentment against the High Priest because the high-priestly families of the Annas, Boethus, Phiabi and Kamith, who dominated the office of the high priest from 35 B.C.E. to 66 C.E. and possessed considerable economic, religious and political influence, had abused the sacred trust.

Copyrighted 2006

Monday, December 11, 2006

Why two different Greek words for steward?

Luke uses two different Greek words for steward. The Greek word used to describe the Chuza’s position is ἐπίτροπος. This is a person who manages a household but Chuza is Herod Antipas’ steward and his household is quite large. What then is the significance when Luke uses a different Greek word translated as “steward” in the Parable of the Faithful Servant and the Parable of the Unjust Steward? This fact, and what I wrote earlier about Erastus and also the observations of Austin and Plummer with respect to this parable, prompted my question. Is there anything in Luke to suggest that Luke is in fact discussing the temple establishment that would permit me to link the parable of the unjust steward with the rich man clothed in purple?

Recently Lee Dahn suggested to me that one verse of the Parable of the Unjust Parable may be an allusion to a verse in the Book of Ezra. Two different biblical resources stated emphatically that there are no quotations in the New Testament from several books of the Septuagint including the Book of Ezra. Consequently an independent investigation was necessary to validate the proposal made by Lee Dahn with respect to one verse.

Ezra was a priest and scribe, a direct descendant of Aaron through Eleazar (Ezra 7:1-5). His father was Seraiah, the last High Priest to serve in the First Temple (2 Kings 25:8-21). What we know about Ezra is found in Ezra chapters 7 to 10, and Nehemiah chapters 8 to 10, where he led the second group of exiles that returned from Babylon to Jerusalem. Ezra is the only person in the Bible described as “skilled in the law of Moses” [Ezra 7:6 RSV].

Ezra was a man of extraordinary learning who educated his people. “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and ordinances in Israel” [Ezra 7:10]. Ezra is credited with reviving an interest in the study of scripture. Ezra led the reform of post-exilic Judaism.

The temple at Jerusalem had been rebuilt and dedicated but more priests were needed to carry on its services. There was a pressing need of men of God to act as teachers of the people. Therefore Ezra issued a second appeal to the Levites, sending them an urgent invitation to unite with his company. To emphasize the importance of quick action, he sent with his written plea several of his "chief men" and "men of understanding." Ezra 7:28; 8:16.

Ezra 8:24: Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests: Sherebi'ah, Hashabi'ah, and ten of their kinsmen with them.

25: And I weighed out to them the silver and the gold and the vessels, the offering for the house of our God which the king and his counselors and his lords and all Israel there present had offered;

26: I weighed out into their hand six hundred and fifty talents of silver, and silver vessels worth a hundred talents, and a hundred talents of gold,

27: twenty bowls of gold worth a thousand darics, and two vessels of fine bright bronze as precious as gold.

28: And I said to them, "You are holy to the LORD, and the vessels are holy; and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering to the LORD, the God of your fathers.

29: Guard them and keep them until you weigh them before the chief priests and the Levites and the heads of fathers' houses in Israel at Jerusalem, within the chambers of the house of the LORD."

30: So the priests and the Levites took over the weight of the silver and the gold and the vessels, to bring them to Jerusalem, to the house of our God.

As a special precaution in safeguarding the treasure, Ezra "separated twelve of the chief of the priests," men whose faithfulness and fidelity had been proved “and weighed unto them the silver, and the gold, and the vessels, even the offering of the house of our God, which the king, and his counselors, and his lords, and all Israel there present, had offered.” These men were solemnly charged to act as vigilant stewards over the treasure entrusted to their care. "Ye are holy unto the Lord," Ezra declared. Ezra also stated "the vessels are holy also; and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering unto the Lord God of your fathers. Watch ye, and keep them, until ye weigh them before the chief of the priests and the Levites, and chief of the fathers of Israel, at Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the Lord." 8:24, 25, 28, 29. Ezra appointed faithful officers to act as stewards. These people by the first century had become known as treasurers of the temple.

There are no details provided about what happened during the five month journey of the second wave of repatriates led by Ezra. In his memoirs Ezra writes "I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way; since we had told the king 'The hand of our God is for good upon all that seek Him'..." Fasting and prayer thus secured safe passage (Ezra 8:22ff.) The contents of chapters seven and eight indicate concern for Temple cult and personnel played a primary role in the organization of the journey.

Thus it is apparent that the Book of Ezra has described how Ezra appointed twelve trustworthy chief priests to act in a role which could easily be described as treasurers of the temple. Is there any Second Temple literature confirming the existence of temple treasurers? Josephus told how when Ezra arrived in Jerusalem he “presented the sacred money to the treasurers, who were of the family of the priests.” Josephus also stated in describing the custody of the vestments of the high priest during a particular period: “Before that time they were kept under the seal of the high priest, and of the treasurers of the temple.”

The Talmud preserves a lamant of Abba Joseph ben Hanan, who lived during the era of Herod's temple; he conveys the plight of the common person under the high-priestly families:

Woe to me because of the house of Boethus,

woe is me because of their staves.

Woe to me because of the house of Hanan,

woe is me because of their whispering.

Woe to me because of the house of Kathros,

woe is me because of their pens.

Woe to me because of the house of Ismael ben Phiabi,

woe is me because of their fists.

For they are high priests

and their sons are treasurers

and their sons-in-law are trustees

and their servants beat the people with staves.

Babylonian Talmud Pesahim, 57a; Tosephta Menahoth 13:21 cited by Menahem Stern, 'Aspects of Jewish Society: The Priesthood and Other Classes,' in Jewish People, ed. Safrai and Stern, 2:602-3.

The significance of this first century lament is that the sons of the High Priests were treasurers providing further proof of the existence of this temple position. Does the Greek word οἰκονόμος in the Parable of the Unjust Steward refer to a person connected with the temple? The answer is a qualified yes. Thayer’s Lexicon notes that the word can mean “the superintendent of the city's finances, the treasurer of a city (or of treasurers or quaestors of kings)” and the entry under Strong for this word includes a fiscal agent (treasurer).

We now come to the verse which Lee Dahn believes is an allusion to a verse in the Book of Ezra. Note that in Luke 16:6-7, the owed amounts are 100 baths of oil and 100 measures/cors of wheat. In Ezra 7:22, we read “up to a hundred talents of silver, a hundred cors of wheat, a hundred baths of wine, a hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much.” The Greek words appearing in the Book of Ezra (LXX) match the Greek words in the Gospel of Luke. In verse 21, we read the King decreed these quantities of silver, wheat, wine and oil were to be turned over to Ezra as a gift for the temple in Jerusalem. Josephus describing this same gift to the temple stated, inter alia, “And that God may not be at all angry with me, or with my children, I grant all that is necessary for sacrifices to God, according to the law, as far as a hundred cori of wheat.” Thus the treasurer of the temple, translated in the parable as steward, had each debtor reduced the quantity of the item owed to the temple. In several other verses, these items, but in different quantities, are mentioned in temple transactions.

There are several other examples in Luke-Acts that may be allusions to the Book of Ezra that have been overlooked.

The following words, phrases and concepts appearing in the chapters of the Book of Ezra describing Ezra and his accomplishments can be found in Luke-Acts: “law of Moses”, Luke 2:22; 24:44; “set his face” may allude to “set his heart” (but see Gen. 31:21; Isa. 50:7; Jer. 21:10; 44:12; Ezek. 6:2; 13:17; 14:8; 15:5; Dan 11:17-18); “chosen vessel,” Act 9:15 may allude to “You are holy to the LORD, and the vessels are holy” and “men of understanding” is contrasted with lack of understanding in Luke 2:50; 8:10; 18:34 and 24:45; Acts 7:25; 28:26-27.

The fact that there are a number of allusions in Luke-Acts to the Book of Ezra is confirmation that the allusions are intended as part of a common theme.

I need to check Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, to determine if the history of the offices of the temple is discussed. I do not believe so. Nor does Skarsavune, In the Shadow of the Temple discuss the history of the offices of the temple.

More work is needed before the transaction can be changed from “steward” to “treasurer of the temple.” The next part in this series about the proper economic, legal and social context of some of the parables will address the significance of the order to “give an account.”

Copyrighted 2006

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Erastus, the city treasurer

In 1929, during an archeological excavation of Corinth, a first century pavement was uncovered which contains the following inscription: "Erastus, Procurator and Aedile, laid this pavement at his own expense." Was this the Erastus who was the companion of Paul?

The Erastus, who was associated with Timothy as an assistant of Paul, was probably not the city treasurer of Corinth mentioned in Romans 16:23. This Erastus, since Erastus was a common name, was probably a Corinthian freedman who had acquired considerable wealth in commercial activities. This Erastus was an example of the public οἰκονόμος which the RSV translates as city treasurer.

But this explanation does not explain why Paul was sending greetings to Erastus.

Copyrighted 2006

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Importance of contrasts in the Gospel of Luke

Luke seems to emphasize contrasts, such as the thankful vs. thankless lepers, the repentant and unrepentant thieves, the Samaritan and the Pharisees, and the rich man and Lazarus. The author also contrasts high and low (1:51-2; 14:7-11), proud and humble (18:9-14), rich and poor (4:18; 6:20, 24; 16:19-31). This is a characteristic of wisdom literature. If Luke is using wisdom literature as a model or source, one should expect to see parallelism, vivid words, examples from life, metaphors, comparisons and contrasts.

Contrasts are presented in a number of different forms and methods. For instance, Luke may place two words, phrases, incidents and/or individuals in juxtaposition to create comparisons and contrasts. Consider the stories of Bartimaeus who sat by the side of the road while Zacchaeus "climbed up into a sycamore tree." The one was seeking alms from people passing by while the other had planned to see Jesus. The crowd rebuked Bartimaeus for crying to Jesus and complained that Jesus was going to be a guest of Zacchaeus.

Compare these examples. Witness the contrasts between "fell" and "added" in the expressions "there fell of the people that day about three thousand men" (Ex. 32:28), and "the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41). These two examples are the only occasions where "about three thousand" is used in Scripture. Similar too is this example: "there were with him [David] about four hundred men" (1 Sam. 22:2), and there "rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves" (Acts 5:36). In 1 Samuel 28:24, we read of the "fat calf" of the witch of Endor while in Luke 15:23, we are told of “the fatted calf” which was killed for the prodigal son! In all three instances, these contrasts are between passages that are used only twice in sacred writings.

The contrast can also be established by the use of a word. The prodigal son took his journey to the “far country" (Luke 15:13), and a very different one of the nobleman (Luke 19:12). In my next article, the example will be given of two different Greek words translated the same but having two different meaning as a result of which the reader fails to appreciate the contrast intended by Luke.

But I did not need to tell you what a skilled writer Luke is!

Copyrighted 2006

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Best post of the year

The next carnival should be interesting. Tyler Williams at Codex invites us to submit our best post of the year. Tyler likes to grade papers. I do plan to select one from my short list. This should be a good offset to those letters we all receive from friends at this time of the year as an insert to their Christmas card telling us about their year. Unfortunately much of what I do is subject to attorney-client privilege. I did have the occasion to meet and discuss with a recently retired FBI agent his involvement in the investigation of the theft and recovery of the seven Grandma Moses paintings. They were stolen from a house within walking distance of my current residence. Apparently the thief repented and shipped them anonymously to the Grandma Moses Museum which coincidently had been named by the owner in her will as the beneficiary. I suppose these friends writing letters follow up by making New Year’s resolutions. I find that the later I make my resolutions the better chance I have at keeping them.

I have started preparing my list of nominations for the Best Post of 2006. Of course, I will be the judge.

Can of Worms, 1-24-2006

The Problem of Allusions and Synoptic Solutions, 1-28-2006

The Fruits Theology of Matthew, 2-1-06

Delay of Parousia, 2-23-2006

Word of the Lord, 3-1-2006

On the Third Day, 3-5-2006

Precision Time Markers, 3-6-2006

Positions of Prominence, 3-7-2006

Verse 12, 3-12-2006

On the Third Anniversary, 3-20-2006

Reading Luke Chiastically, 3-26-2006

Lack of understanding of Theophilus, 4-1-2006

The Significant of Miletus, 4-3-2006

Common or Unclean, 4-6-2006

Rewriting the Transfiguration, 4-9-2006

Stephen's Sermon, 6-1-2006

Intermarriage, 6-6-2006

What is the most important issue in NT Studies? 6-12-2006

Independence Day, 7-2-2006

Something Happened, 7-5-2006.

As a matter of policy, I do not plan to consider any posts written in the second half of the year.

Although, my first choice is Independence Day, I have to tell you that there are several posts that I believe will be very significant for Lucan studies. Certainly, some of the thoughts and concepts of these posts will figure prominently in my writings in 2007. During the year, I received emails from people commenting on my blog and requesting “my two cents” causing me to write extensively on Jonah, parables and worms. Thank you for your comments. These comments are appreciated and they do cause me to consider new areas. As you might suspect, I am attempting to better explain the literary structure and/or solve the central travel section. I also have reflected extensively on Jonah, parables, stewardship, victory motif and salvation.

Repentance is also very important. Did the art thief repent or did he see the FBI agent parked in the street in front of his house?

Copyrighted 2006

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Happy new (church) year!

I have been waiting for the beginning of lectionary year C. As you know, Luke is my favorite gospel and this coming church year, Luke will be the focus of the lectionary readings, sermons and blogging. O Happy Days. There will be a lot of material available including no doubt, new blogs that will follow the lectionary readings of the Gospel of Luke for the new year. The new church year begins tomorrow.

Let me be the first to wish you a happy new year.

Copyrighted 2006

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Stewardship Series

I plan to start a new series on stewardship which will discuss the radical aspect of the concept advanced by Luke. This discussion will include the legal significance of “Turn in your account” as well as who might be the “Chief Steward.” These articles will be interspaced with my series on Talbert’s list, Blomberg’s criteria and chiastic structures in Luke-Acts, plus all those other writing projects in various stages of completion. I also have the boss’s list, husband’s list, father’s list and Santa’s list that I need to complete. These other lists give new meaning to the concept of stewardship.

Copyrighted 2006