Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Rewriting Elijah

At the beginning of the First Century, Elijah was probably the most important prophet in Judaism. The Prophet Elijah was the subject matter of considerable speculation appearing in many texts of ancient Judaism including Malachi, Sirach and 4th Ezra to name a few. Malachi had issued a prophecy that Elijah will play a key role at the end of the days. Malachi had said: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:”

“Most important, perhaps in reference for Christian claims for Jesus (see Paul 1985, 472-480; Fornaro 1979 431-436), Josephus avoids the Biblical reference to Elijah as a ‘man of G-d’ (1 Kings 17:18; 17:24).” In fn8, Feldman notes that Josephus does use the expression with respect to Moses in Ant 3.180. Feldman indicates “The key characteristic of Josephus’ remolding of the biblical portrait of Elijah is his elimination of its Zealot features.” In Josephus, it is the Israelites who kill the prophets of Baal not Elijah (Ant. 8.343). But later when the Josephan Elijah is asked why he fled Queen Jezebel, he says it is because he killed the prophets of Baal and is being pursued by Queen Jezebel.

Although I had planned to focus on the usage of the word “peace” in the Gospel of Luke during Lent, I could not help but wonder about Josephus’ rewriting of Elijah, the zealot prophet. This is one of many works in progress.

Copyrighted 2009

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gospel of Peace

In Acts 10:36-38 we read: “You know the word which he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), the word which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” Why does Peter mention “preaching good news of peace by Jesus Christ”? Luke uses the Greek word ερνη for peace more times in Luke-Acts than any other NT writer.

Dunn has indicated “the language [of verse 36] is clearly built round or two deliberate scriptural allusions.” Dunn mentions Psalm 107:20 which has “he sent out his word and healed them” and Isaiah 52:7 “those who preach peace.” Dunn also indicates that “Psalm 107:20 is echoed again in 13:26 and Isa. 52:7 is cited in Romans 10:15 as part of a catena of texts.”

It is important to note that in verse 36 Peter proclaims the word was sent to Israel but Peter clarified his explanation to Cornelius by adding that Jesus Christ “is Lord of all.” Thus, in the words of Soards, “the universality of God’s work and Jesus’ lordship are emphasized.”

Turner has established that there are linguistic parallels between Acts 10:35-38 and the Nazareth pericope in Luke 4. The statement in verse 38 that Jesus was “anointed” is an explicit allusion to Luke 4:16.

In Romans 10:15 we read: “And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!’” There is no question that Paul is alluding to Isaiah 52:7 which reads: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” Is Paul also alluding to Luke-Acts?

What message about the gospel of peace did Peter impart to Cornelius? The most comforting part about the gospel of peace that Peter preached to Cornelius was that Cornelius was also a member of the people of God.

This is a work in progress for Lent 2009.

Copyrighted 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Shalom for the shepherds

The angels informed the shepherds of the good news ending their announcement with these words: “and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” Luke has announced the birth of the new age. Danker said: “All ceremonial requirements are shattered with this one piece of good news, for even unclean shepherds are welcomed in God’s presence.” Yamaski states: “peace is stipulated as a resulting state for those experiencing God’s salvation. To put it another way, God bestows salvation on the people in the form of peace.”

In these uncertain troubled and violent times, I would like to spend a little time thinking about Luke’s distinctive uses of the Greek word ερνη. Perhaps this will be my project for Lent.

Copyrighted 2009

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Luke and the Holiness Code

Luke has an interest in showing that Jesus and the Jerusalem community are following the teachings and traditions of the Priestly Narrative as interpreted by Ezekiel, Sirach, et al. The priestly writers were interested in temple rituals, the ordering of the priesthood, the sacred holidays, the rite of circumcision, and worship at the Jerusalem Temple.

The Priestly Narrative includes a section added to it known as the Holiness Code. Eichrodt documented the innovative nature of the Holiness Code but it was Ringgren who first observed that the Holiness Code had moral content. Drawing on Eichrodt and Ringgren, Knohl asserted that “Isaiah is the only prophet who unequivocally expresses the moral dimension of holiness.”

Under the title, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God, am Holy” (Lev. 19:2), the Holiness Code includes the injunctions on Sabbath observance and the sacrifice of the whole offerings along with the command to take care of the poor and the prohibition against robbery, fraud and showing partiality in justice. (Lev. 19:2-15).

The Prophet Isaiah tells us the Lord God “cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.” The Lord God does not desire the offerings of Israel and their Sabbaths but the correction of injustice and oppression and upholding the cause of the orphan and the widow (Isa. 1:11-17).

Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, “prophesied saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel . . . that we should be saved from our enemies . . . that we might serve Him in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.” The Lucan Jesus demonstrated what it means to “serve Him in holiness and righteousness”, inter alia, by telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable, Jesus tells the lawyer and the audience who is their neighbor thereby explaining the moral content of Leviticus 19:33-34 which is part of the Holiness Code. The Lucan Jesus adopted the Holiness Code and unequivocally expressed the moral dimension of holiness. He taught that we should be merciful as God is merciful.

One further indication that the Luke has an interest in the Holiness Code is shown by the theme of the return of the remnant of Israel to God which common to Isaiah and the Holiness Code (Isa. 10:20; Lev. 26:39-45) and also to Luke-Acts (Litwak, Echoes of Scripture in Luke-Acts (2005).

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2009

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Day of Rest

Some one suggested on the internet that mixing a little religion in the economic stimulus package was not all bad. Unfortunately, I did not read the article so now I am wondering what that religious content might be. How about a day of rest?

Being open 7 days a week has got to be a drain on the employees and management. Chick-Fil-A is a unique fast food operation in that it has never been open on Sunday and has made money every year since 1946.

Over the past twenty years, Americans have increased the number of hours they work every week and have reduced the amount of vacation time they have taken every year. This weekend I had appointments Saturday and Sunday because I was unable to meet the people during the week. However when I do work weekends I try to take time off during the week to avoid exhaustion and fatigue which is the result of working more hours and completing less work. I find I am more productive when I work 4 and half days a week than when I am working more hours.

I am not advocating a return to the mandatory Sunday Blue laws or every place being closed on the same day. I am suggesting voluntarily introducing some common sense. A day of rest with the resulting quiet time may actually stimulate the economy.

Copyrighted 2009

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Negro Spirituals Goes Public

Negro spirituals were created over a 200-year period during the time of slavery by the spiritual leaders of the slave community. They combined elements of church services they overheard with experiences of slavery and passages from the Bible into music that illustrates biblical messages of freedom and hope for a better future. Slaves created their songs of sorrow and hope to sustain them. Negro spirituals -- songs like “Go Down, Moses," “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “He's Got the Whole World in His Hand” – tell the story of slavery and the black struggle.

One of the best-known spirituals describes the Biblical tale of Moses leading the Jewish people out of slavery in Egypt. The Exodus story was very powerful for the African-American slaves.

“When Israel was in Egypt's land: Let my people go,

Oppressed so hard they could not stand, Let my people go.

Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land

Tell old Pharaoh,

Let my people go.”

Most Americans were unaware aware of the existence of the Spirituals until after the Civil War. In 1871, the Negro spirituals goes public when the Fisk Jubilee Singers, in an attempt to raise money for the nearly bankrupt Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, gave concerts in Europe and America and helped make American Negro spirituals become extremely popular. The first national tour raised $20,000 after a slow painful start. The original repertoire had included classical music, popular ballads and patriotic anthems. However they noticed the strong response of the audience when they sang one of their cabin songs. The group had been reluctant to sing its slave music for whites.

In November 1871 they visited Oberlin Ohio and waited in the back of the church for a break in the proceedings of a national convention of white Congregational ministers. On the afternoon of their second of day of waiting there was a break in the convention proceedings. The 9 member group slowly and quietly entered the choir loft and began singing unannounced “Steal Away to Jesus.” The group was well received singing its authentic slave music. One of the convention delegates, Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, invited the group to perform at his church, Plymouth Congregational in Brooklyn NY. They collected baskets of money that evening. The next day the NY Tribune called the slave songs “the only true native school of American music.” These songs, which the 9 member group including 7 former slaves had been ashamed to sing, were designated a National Treasure by Congress in 2007.

There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.

There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.

One of these mornings bright and fair,

I’m gonna lay down my heavy load.

Gonna kick my wings and cleave the air,

I’m gonna lay down my heavy load.

Copyrighted 2009

Sunday, February 01, 2009

There is a balm in Gilead

Today in church we sang this well known Negro spiritual that is based on the text in Jeremiah 8:22. Gilead was famed for its physicians and the balm made from a tree found in the area (see Genesis 37:25). But there is more to the story of the Negro spiritual than the brief descriptions reveal.

According to Arthur Jones, Wade in the Water: The Wisdom of the Spirituals, 3rd ed. (2005), “The important spiritual ‘Balm in Gilead’ expresses the predominant experience of hope and healing that has been at the center of the African American experience since the beginning of slavery and has always received expression in the spirituals. This song, with its gently soothing melody and lyrics, offers the final word on matters of suffering, struggle and resistance.”

Howard Thurman, perhaps the most knowledgeable interpreters of the spirituals, in his analysis in Deep River and the Negro Spiritual Speaks of Life and Death (1975) said the Negro slave songwriter “straightened the question mark in Jeremiah’s sentence into an exclamation point: ‘There is a balm in Gilead!’ Here is a note of creative triumph.”

Again quoting Jones, “As Howard Thurman indicates, ‘Balm in Gilead’ is an especially important song in the spirituals tradition expressing the ability of enslaved Africans to transform sorrow into joy to make a way where no way seemed possible.”

I plan to read more about Howard Thurman.

Copyrighted 2009