Luke 3.1-6

 

In the 15th year of the Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, when Herod was prince of Galilee, his brother Philip prince of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias prince of Abilene, during the High Priesthood of Annas and Caiphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

And he went all over the Jordan valley proclaiming a baptism in token of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the prophecies of Isaiah:

A voice crying aloud in the wilderness,
"Prepare a way for the Lord;
clear a straight path for him.
Every ravine shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill leveled,
the corners straightened
and the rough ways made smooth.
All humankind shall see God's deliverance."

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I am unclear what the connection is between the quote from Isaiah and the baptism? I saw in someones commentary that road preparation was expected when a monarch passed through the countryside. This sounds like a lot of work!

I don't know about the passing monarch custom, though any such person would have brought along a small army & lots of luggage! [But building roads was easy: tell your peasants they need to volunteer. Now!]

 

The Isaiah quote is about God making a 'highway' for the Jewish exiles returning from Babylon.

 

More about this later, but there's a strong, widespread sense among 1st Century Jews that ~'We really haven't returned, either from exile or divine disfavor-- not if God is still subjecting us to foreign rule and taxation.' 'Sins' are seen as the original cause of the exile, as well as its continuation.

 

John is baptising in the Jordan, the river where the Jews under Joshua are said to have first entered the Promised Land.

Why Is John the Baptist out "Crying in the Wilderness."

 If you consider the actual words in Isaiah, they say that Israel has already paid double for all her sins; all is forgiven and Jerusalem is to have peace. That's written in-or-around the honeymoon of Persian rule, when the exiled Jewish elite were returning with permission to rebuild the Temple.


Things are different when that "Second Temple" period has thoroughly set in, and Herod (a foreign king of Israel) and his descendants have replaced that modest rebuilt Temple with a huge, spectacular new version. This is not a time of peace, but of oppression and restlessness, marked by the crucifixion of some 2000 Galilean Jews by a Roman punitive campaign near the time of Jesus' birth, and the upcoming destruction of Herod's Temple in the next major revolt in CE 70.

And so we are shown John the Baptist, dressed up like Elijah, out in the wilderness talking about "the Wrath to come." Everybody knew...

To quote a little from NT Wright's The New Testament and the People of God:

---------------------
"If the creator had entered into covenant with this particular nation, then why were they not ruling the world as His chosen people should? If the world had been made for Israel's sake, why was she still suffering? What was the creator and covenant God now up to? And within this, a further question: What should Israel be doing in the present to hasten the time when He would act on her behalf? How should one, how could one, be a faithful Jew in the time of present distress, in the time of puzzling delay? ... These questions gave characteristic form to the articulation both of Israel's hope and of the requirements of the Covenant....[ which involved both] the divine intention to remake and restore the whole world, through Israel... [and] His intention to remake and restore Israel itself....

"Most Jews of this period, it seems, would have answered the question 'Where are we?' in language which, reduced to its simplest form, meant, We are still in exile... In all the senses which mattered, Israel's exile was still in progress. Although she had come back from Babylon, the glorious message of the prophets remained unfulfilled. Israel still remained in thrall to foreigners; worse, Israel's God had not returned to Zion... Israel clung to promises that one day the Shekinah, the glorious presence of her God, would return at last... [but] Nowhere in second-temple literature is it asserted that this has happened; therefore it still remains in the future. The exile is [therefore] not yet really over. This perception of Israel's present condition was shared by writers across the board in second-temple Judaism. We may cite the following as typical:

     Here we are, slaves to this day-- slaves in the land that you gave to
     our ancestors to enjoy its fruits and its good gifts. Its rich yield goes
     to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins; they
     have power also over our livestock at their pleasure, and we are in
     great distress.

....

"This needs to be emphasized in the strongest possible terms: The most natural meaning of the phrase 'the forgiveness of sins' to a first-century Jew is not in the first instance the remission of individual sins, but the putting away of the whole nation's sins. And since the exile was the punishment for those sins, the only sure sign that the sins had been forgiven would be the clear and certain liberation from exile."

Luke 2.21-22 (& Psalms etc)

 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the Heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from Heaven, "Thou art my beloved son; with thee I am well pleased."


["Other ancient authorities read 'today I have begotten thee.' "]

---------------
Psalms 2->2.9 ["a royal psalm, composed for a coronation" (notes are from Oxford Annotated Bible, 2nd Edition 1971)]

Why do the nations conspire
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the Earth set themselves
And the rulers take counsel together
against the Lord and his anointed, saying
"Let us burst their bonds asunder,
and cast their cords from us."

He who sits in the Heavens laughs;
the Lord has them in derision.
Then He will speak to them in his wrath
and terrify them in His fury, saying
"I have set my king
on Zion, my holy hill."

I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, "You are my son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make
the nations your heritage
and the ends of the Earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel."

----------------
from 1 Samuel 9 & 10...


Now the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed to Samuel: "Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the tribe of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel... When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord told him, "Here is the man of whom I spoke to you. He it is who shall rule over my people."....

Then Samuel took a vial of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him and said, "Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over his people Israel?"....


When they [Saul & servant] came to Gibeah, behold, a band of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God came mightily upon him, and he prophesied among them."

------------------------------------

I Samuel 16.1-13

The Lord said to Samuel, "How long will you grieve over Saul, seeing I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons."

And Samuel said, "How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me!"

And the Lord said, "Take a heifer with you, and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.' And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me him whom I name to you."

Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came trembling to meet him, and said, "Do you come peaceably?"

And he said, "Peaceably. I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice." And he consecrated Jesse and his sons, and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked at Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed is before me."

But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees. Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."

Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, "The Lord has not chosen these." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Are all of your sons here?"

And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep."

And Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and fetch him, for we will not sit down till he comes here."

And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.

And the Lord said, "Arise, anoint  him; for this is he."

Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.
There seems to be a pattern in the Bible. God chooses the least likely candidates to carry out the grand plan: a tongue tied Moses, the foul tempered Samson, a skinny runt called Dave and a carpenter's son.

The "Sonof" Begats in Luke

 

First of all, why is there a genealogy at this point? Who rates genealogies in the Bible?  Patriarchs and royalty, David for example.

The discrepancy with  Matthew's genealogy could mean: 1) That Matthew made changes to fit things into his scheme of "14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 from David until the exile, and 14 from then until the Messiah." Or 2) Both are fictional.

From NT Wright's The New Testament and the People of God, (pg 319) re messianic expectations in the first century:

"1. Expectation was focused primarily on the nation, not on any particular individual. The hope [of deliverance from pagan domination & divine displeasure]... remains fundamental, occurring far more widely than expressions of hope for a Messiah or similar figure. Sometimes, indeed, texts are might be thought to speak of a Messiah are referred to the whole community, a process which is already visible within the Hebrew Bible itself.

"2. This expectation could, under certain circumstances, become focused upon a particular individual, either expected imminently or actually present. The circumstances under which this was possible seem to have been threefold; the appearance of an opportunity (such as at the death of Herod), the particular pressure of anti-Jewish action by pagans (such as under Hadrian), and the crescendo of speculation connected with the attempt to work out messianic chronology.

"3. When this happened, the generalized expectation of a coming figure can be redrawn in a wide variety of ways to fit the situation or person concerned. Davidic descent can clearly be waived. The idea of two Messiahs is not a contradiction in terms. The particular felt needs of the time can influence the presentation: Herod could hope for his son to be the true king; the Sicarii could put forward Menahem, or the peasants Simon bar Giora...."

 "Davidic descent can clearly be waived."-- And in all three synoptic gospels, we find Jesus himself arguing against the belief that the Messiah must be descended from David. In the case of David himself, the crucial fact was not his pedigree, but his anointment by Samuel... and his prestige among the people.

Another detail that also comes up in the synoptic accounts of Jesus arguing on the Temple grounds, when the authorities ask him: Where does he get his authority? He asks them whether they accept John the Baptist's authority. It's a minority view, but clear to me personally, that Jesus became officially Messiah (de jure king of Israel) from his anointing by John the Baptist, that this was why the gospel writers all mention his encounter with John. If so, "Baptism" (though it might be ceremonially appropriate for a man who could be taken to "represent" Israel in some sense) was not the significant point of their meeting.

There is, as it happens, some question about Jesus' paternity. I myself wonder about the medieval Jewish legend that he was fathered by a Roman soldier (There was, after all, a punitive raid through Galilee near the time of his birth.) That legend has not been traced back to any source near the first century; but it is odd that his fellow villagers are said to refer to him as "the son of Mary", which was not a nice thing to call someone in that culture. It could be a misquote by gospel writers who didn't think he could be a "son of God" if he was simply the son of Joseph. And how he physically came to be born... might just have very little to do with who he was, and is.

but it is odd that his fellow villagers are said to refer to him as "the son of Mary",


I've heard another explanation for that one. It also explains why a woman's name periodically pops up on the begat lists.

We don't know anything about Joseph's life pre-Mary or post Jesus age 12. Gospel writers pretty much write him out of the story. He was a ride to Egypt, not much more.

Having more than one wife was common especially given deaths related to childbirth. Using the same name for more that one child in a family was common.

So, if Joseph had 2 wives, say Martha and Mary and each had a son named Yeshua, the only way to distinguish them was to say 'Yeshua bin Mary' or 'Yeshua bin Martha'.

Just a thought.

This one sounds less likely than a virgin birth. Yeshua was a common name, but other names were available, a whole Bible full of names.

 

Given that "son of Mary" seems to be a feature of newer manuscripts rather than older ones... I think we've got a little retroactive  theological editing going on.

 

The Medieval Jewish story may go back all the way, or it could be a later response to Christian birth stories.

 

What we have beyond doubt-- is something just a little irregular about Jesus' birth, in the two (inconsistent) stories we've been given. The vision (Mary's) or the dream (Joseph's) that reassures them that this birth is God's will-- could be just an echo of the stories of Moses' birth-- but we've got two otherwise incompatible stories that agree there was serious doubt whether Joseph should marry the woman, because she was with child & not supposed to be.

 

The Roman punitive expedition was fact. If Mary had been a victim of that... She wouldn't get stoned-- not in a village where she could call out, and have nobody near enough to help-- and certainly not anyone prepared to fight off Roman soldiers.

 

If Mary did travel from Nazareth, so that Jesus actually was born in Bethlehem, the explanation of "Luke" is entirely backwards. (No one traveled to a place they'd formerly lived to be taxed, but to the place where they lived and owned land.) Traveling to the far end of the country, so the neighbors wouldn't talk about an inconveniently-timed conception, that makes some sense. It also makes sense that the neighbors would talk anyway. So maybe they really did call him "son of Mary," when they wanted to disparage him. None of our manuscripts is old enough to say for sure.

Luke 4.1-13

 

Full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan, and for forty days was led by the Spirit up and down the wilderness and tempted by the devil.

All that time he had nothing to eat, and at the end of it he was famished. The devil said to him, "If you are the son of God, tell this stone to become bread."

Jesus answered, "Scripture says, 'Man cannot live on bread alone.'"

Next the devil led him up and showed him in a flash all the kingdoms of the world. "All this dominion will I give to you," he said, "and the glory that goes with it.; for it has been put in my hands and I can give it to anybody I choose. You have only to do homage to me and it shall all be yours."

Jesus answered him, "Scripture says, 'You shall do homage to the Lord your God and worship him alone.'"

The devil took him to Jerusalem and set him on the parapet of the Temple. "If you are the son of God," he said, "throw yourself down, for scripture says, 'He will give his angels orders to take care of you,' and again, 'They will support you in their arms for fear you should strike your foot against a stone.'"

Jesus answered him, "It has been said, 'You are not to test the Lord your God.'"

So, having come to the end of all his temptations, the devil departed, biding his time.

Luke 4.14-21

 

Then Jesus, armed with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee; and reports about him spread throughout the countryside. He taught in the synagogues and all men sang his praises.

So he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went to synagogue on the Sabbath day as he regularly did. He stood up to read the lesson and was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the scroll and found the passage which says:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me;
He has sent me to announce good news to the poor,
to proclaim release for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
to let the broken victims go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him.

"Today," he said, "in your hearing, this text has come true."

That "Impractical" Jubilee Year Stuff...

 

It's probably pretty ho-hum news by now, to anyone who's looked into it, that Jesus in this passage is portrayed as proclaiming a Jubilee Year: Release of debts and debt-slaves, return of foreclosed property to the original owners.

Is this something that ever happened, people wonder, or just an idealized, impractical notion.

The economist Michael Hudson has studied this extensively: "This paper accordingly traces the evolution of the Biblical debt and property laws as recorded in clay records that only recently have been deciphered and placed in their historic context. These laws which periodically cancelled debts, freed Israelite debt- servants and returned lands to their traditional holders have confused Biblical students for many centuries. They have long been virtually ignored by historians on the ground that, to modern eyes, they would seem to wreak economic havoc. Already by the first century of our era no less a theologian than Rabbi Hillel developed the prosbul, by which borrowers signed away their rights under the Biblical laws. Hillel explained that credit would dry up without such a clause.

"Recent discoveries of Bronze Age Near Eastern royal proclamations extending from 2400 to 1600 BC throw a radically new light on these laws. Like their Biblical analogues, Mesopotamian royal edicts cancelled debts, freed debt-servants and restored land to cultivators who had lost it under economic duress. There can be no doubt that these edicts were implemented, for during the Babylonian period they grew into quite elaborate promulgations, capped by Ammisaduqa's Edict of 1646. Now that these edicts have been translated and their consequences understood, the Biblical laws no longer stand alone as utopian or otherworldly ideals; they take their place in a two-thousand year continuum of periodic and regular economic renewal.

"There is no record of just how or when Babylonian legal traditions were transmitted to Israel. No doubt there were numerous periods of influence, headed by a Bronze Age inspiration early in the second millennium. One suspects that during the Babylonian captivity (586-539 BC) the Jews rediscovered much of this Bronze Age heritage, continuing a reaction against the economically polarizing impact of usury and landlordism that had gathered momentum under Josiah with the rediscovery of the Deuteronomy scroll by priests renovating the Jerusalem temple in 610.

"In a sense it is almost immaterial whether the Biblical debt and land-tenure laws were introduced by Canaanite rulers celebrating New Year Clean Slates, brought by the hapiru or transmitted during the wars with Assyria and Babylonia. What is important is that the Bronze Age precedents provide a living historical context for these laws. The central role played by Mesopotamian Clean Slates - so important that they became synonymous with "royal edict" (simdat) - indicates how equally important they were to the Pentateuch. Modern readers of the Bible may skim over these laws quickly as if they were the fine print, so to speak, but to the Biblical compilers they formed the very core of righteous lawgiving."

Luke 4.22-30

 

There was a general stir of admiration; they were surprized that words of such grace should fall from his lips. "Is this not Joseph's son?" they asked.

Then Jesus said, "No doubt you will quote the proverb to me, "Physician, heal thyself!", and say, "We have heard of all your doings at Capernaum; do the same here in your own home town.

"I tell you this," he went on. "No prophet is recognized in his own country. There were many widows in Israel, you may be sure, in Elijah's time, when for three years and six months the skies never opened, and famine lay hard over the whole country; yet it was not to none of those that Elijah was sent, but to a widow at Sarepta in the territory of Sidon.

"Again, in the time of the prophet Elish there were many lepers in Israel, and not one of them was healed, but only Naaman, the Syrian."

At these words the whole congregation were infuriated. They leapt up, threw him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which it was built, meaning to hurl him over the edge.

But he walked straight through them all, and went away.

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