Friday, April 29, 2022

On "Books," Scrolls, and "Malachi"

This was originally written as an extended note for a Lectionary reading in December, 2015.  It may be of some interest, however, to people who wonder how we got the various components of our traditional scriptures. 

Modern Christians think of Malachi as the last book of the Old Testament, and so it is in printed Protestant Bibles.  In ancient times, however, there was no Bible – no single large “book” containing all or major parts of the scriptures. 

(There’s a good reason you have never heard of “the Dead Sea Books.”)

The Judean scriptures in Hebrew occupied 22 to 24 separate scrolls, and in their Greek translations closer to 30 scrolls.  (The Torah was originally five scrolls; thus, the pentateuch, the five-scroll work.)  “The scriptures,” therefore, consisted of one or more large cabinets with pigeonholes.  Such cabinets (called capsa in Latin) contained the many scrolls scribes needed in their studies. 

The only order of the “books” was by content:  the Exodus narrative followed the Genesis narrative, as you could discover by reading the two scrolls.  Scrolls like Psalms, Job, and Proverbs were shelved as the presiding scribe thought fit.  Prophetic scrolls were probably grouped vaguely by historical period of the prophet mainly involved.  

Fixed order of scrolls was established in written form only after the invention of the codex, the “book.” 

Christians adopted the codex (quires of pages fastened at the side – our “book”) around 200 CE.  The great advantage of the codex was that it could hold the contents of many scrolls.  The Christians first used it to combine all four Gospels into one "book," the Gospel.  (By the third century a separate codex, the Epistle, contained the New Testament "letters.")  

[About the codex… ]  The … new book format appears initially to have had little success for Latin and Greek literary texts, for which the roll was used exclusively.  It appears to have been wholeheartedly accepted by Christians, however, so much so that the new religion… is often credited with establishing the codex as the standard format of the book, gradually supplanting the roll.  (Georgios Boudalis, The Codex and Crafts in Late Antiquity, Bard Graduate Center, New York City, 2018, p. 3.) 

The first complete Bibles, containing both Old and New Testaments in Greek – huge works, very expensive [for example, codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus] – were made by or for a few wealthy churches in Egypt and Syria beginning in the 4th century, a generation after Christianity became a legal religion in the Roman empire.   (Jews kept using scrolls for their scriptures until sometime in the early Middle Ages – and still use scrolls today for their Torah readings in Synagogue.) 

How We Got Malachi.  In both Hebrew and Greek there was a separate big scroll called “the Scroll of the Twelve [Prophets].”  This scroll, about the size of the big Isaiah scroll found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, contained smaller collections of prophetic oracles from such as Hosea, Amos, Micah, etc., but also included a short story about a prophet – the story of Jonah. 
At the end of this scroll there were three prophetic pamphlets, all beginning, “A burden:  the word of Yahweh to/concerning...”  Each pamphlet is headed by the Hebrew technical term “burden.”  This is the Hebrew word massā’, translated “burden” in the King James Version, but more recently as “oracle” (RSV, NRSV, ESV), “prophecy” (NIV 2011ed), “message” (NJB), or “pronouncement” (CEV).  The word literally means a load, something lifted, something picked up and carried, thus, metaphorically a message carried to someone else.  The word is so used many times in the scroll of Isaiah. 
These three pamphlets headed “burden” followed the original collection of Zechariah oracles (Zechariah 1-8).  The first two pamphlets (now Zechariah 9-11 and Zechariah 12-14) came to be treated as continuations of Zechariah, though they are very different in content from Zechariah’s original prophecies.  Modern scholars call these first two pamphlets Deutero-Zechariah, the second “book” of Zechariah. 

The third pamphlet had the heading, “Burden:  the word of Yahweh to Israel by the hand of my messenger.”  “My messenger” in Hebrew is mal’ākî, which, after going through Greek and Latin, became “Malachi” in Modern English. 

(The Greek translation of the heading of the pamphlet is, “Burden of the word of the Lord concerning Israel by the hand of his angel.”  Greek angelos means “messenger,” but this Greek translation would have the prophet named “Malacho” [his messenger] rather than Malachi [my messenger].)  

The heading of this third pamphlet, therefore, does not contain a proper name.  “My messenger” is a title, not a name – until later pious folks needed it to be a name.  It was then decided that this whole pamphlet was a separate prophecy by someone named Malachi.  

This process of turning the title into a name probably happened when it was decided that the big scroll contained the writings of exactly TWELVE prophets.  The last pamphlet was peeled off to be the twelfth “book” of the scroll.  That probably happened sometime between 350 and 200 BCE, between the old Hebrew version and the Greek translation. 

Thus the “book” of Malachi is actually an anonymous pamphlet that was added to the other “minor” (that is, “small”) prophetic scrolls to make up the “twelve” someone had decided was the number needed.  

This pamphlet has its own character and historical setting (a century or so after the exile), addressed to a time when the temple service had degenerated and some social evils (like divorce) had appeared.  Such conditions were present in Judah before the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah, which began around 450 BCE. 


Monday, April 11, 2022

The Gospel According to Luke

The Revised Common Lectionary takes most of its Gospel readings in Year C from the Gospel According to Luke.  Thus some introduction to that work may be appropriate, even after the year is well along.  

[Other postings in this blog that are relevant here are Luke 24:  the 
Risen Jesus, and Luke 12:  Life-styles of an Apocalyptic Commune.] 

For eighteen hundred years, the Gospel According to Luke was something of a step-daughter within the Christian Scriptures.  Of the four Gospels, the going-away favorites through the ages were Matthew and John.  Luke was valued alongside the others because of a number of outstanding gems found only in this Gospel, such as, 
  • the peaceful Christmas stories (to balance Matthew’s fearful nativity cycle),
  • some magnificent parables (such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son),
  • Jesus’ saying on the cross, “Father, forgive them...,” and
  • Jesus’ walk to Emmaus with two disciples on Easter day.  

Otherwise, Luke was used to supplement (harmonize) the total Gospel story presented mainly in Matthew, or to provide a little compassion for the poor to balance the super-high Christ doctrine of the Gospel of  John.  

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the first three Gospels had been sorted out into two early documents – the Gospel of Mark and the Sayings Source Q – and other materials contained only in either Matthew (M) or Luke (L). Matthew and Luke themselves were composite documents, of historical value only for the later development of the Jesus tradition and of the early church. 

(This later development included, of course, everything about Jesus’ birth and the more graphic post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.)
The Sources of Luke’s Gospel.  
The consensus of critical scholars about how Luke was composed is as follows:  
1.  The overall narrative structure is based on Mark’s Gospel.
2.  Luke prefixed, from sources of his own, the Birth and Childhood stories of John the Baptist and Jesus, Luke 1-2.  
3.  Mark’s ministry of Jesus in Galilee was expanded by additions from the Sayings Source Q and a few items of Luke’s own, Luke 3-9:50.  (Luke also omitted a big hunk of Mark [Mark 6:45-8:26] between Luke 9:17 and 18, skipping straight from the feeding of the 5,000 to Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah.)  
4.  Luke created a large section, often called the “Travel Narrative,” which sits between the Galilean ministry and the Jerusalem ministry, Luke 9:51-19:44 These ten chapters contain rather miscellaneous materials from Q and L, the latter especially rich in parables.  Near the end, Mark is drawn on again for his journey to Jerusalem, Luke 18:15-43.  While theoretically this is a “travel” narrative, the journey never makes any progress (except in the section taken from Mark).  The “journey” is a device for depositing a great conglomeration of teachings of Jesus not included in the Galilean ministry.  
5.  Luke follows Mark’s account of Jesus’ debates in the Temple, though with small variations (e.g., no cursed fig tree; the apocalyptic discourse is in the temple, not on the Mount of Olives), Luke 19:45-21:38.  
6.  The Passion narrative follows Mark, but with major distinctive touches (omitting the anointing in Bethany; having a symposium of speeches at the last supper; Jesus sweating in Gethsemane [a later addition]; Herod Antipas included in the Trial of Jesus; the Father forgive them saying [also a later addition]; the penitent thief on the cross), Luke 22-23.  
7.  The Empty Tomb is taken from Mark, though Luke (as often) needs two angels where one is sufficient for Mark and Matthew, Luke 24:1-11.  
8.  In post-resurrection appearances there is no Mark to follow, and Luke goes his own way (the walk to Emmaus, the appearance in the closed room, and especially the ascension), Luke 24:13-53.  (The Gospel of John also knows the closed room episode, John 20:19-29.)  

When the Gospel was Composed. 

Luke compiled his two-volume work after the developing Jesus tradition had passed a significant landmark:  the deaths of the first generation of prominent Jesus followers.  
All three major leaders mentioned by Paul in I Corinthians 15:3-8 – Peter, James the Brother, and Paul – had been martyred in the early 60’s of the Christian Era.  James the disciple, elder brother of John son of Zebedee, had already gone the same route around the year 41 (Acts 12:1-2).  Of the early group, the only known survivor was John the younger Zebedee brother, who migrated from Palestine to the Roman province of Asia (Ephesus), probably sometime after James the Brother was executed in Jerusalem in 62 CE.  
None of the deaths in the 60’s is recorded by Luke in Acts – not because he did not know of them but because he is a disciplined writer and the scope of his work was to get Paul to Rome, still freely proclaiming the Gospel (Acts 28; see 1:8).  The persecution of the Christians in Rome by Nero in 64 had come and gone, but carrying the narrative through that dark episode did not fit Luke’s objectives as shaped in the 80’s or 90’s.  

On Jesus’ Return in Glory

Attributed to Alfred Loisy around 1906:  “Jesus announced the coming of the Kingdom of God, and what showed up was the Church.”  
Luke retained the apocalyptic tradition...  When Luke wrote, one whole generation was gone and another was well along.  Yet in his Gospel, Luke preserved those passages from Mark which predicted that the Son of Man (the risen Jesus) would return in glory before that first generation had died.  
Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.  But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.  (Luke 9:26-27.)  
Luke has modified the last sentence of Mark’s version.  In Mark, that generation would not taste death “until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power” (Mark 9:1).  Mark preserved more thoroughly the truly apocalyptic orientation of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom.  That coming of the kingdom would culminate (after Jesus’ death) in the spectacular coming of the Son of Man on the clouds (Mark 13:24-27), an event Mark also asserted would happen before “this generation” passed away (Mark 13:30).  
...but Luke varied that tradition.  Luke modified Mark’s saying by dropping out the phrase “with power” from the coming of the kingdom.  This creates an important ambiguity.  The “kingdom” may not necessarily be the apocalyptic climax with the Son of Man on the clouds; the kingdom might be something less spectacular, like a charismatic movement that advanced steadily and impressively across the Roman empire.  
Luke also adapted other traditional sayings about the coming kingdom.  
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’  For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you [alternative translation, “within you”].”  (Luke 17:20-21.)  
Luke has Jesus go from this statement to the Pharisees to a long disquisition to the disciples about the suddenness of the Day of the Son of Man (17:22-37).  This discourse (mostly from the Sayings Source Q) says that Day will be like Noah’s flood or Sodom and Gomorrah – like lightning across the heavens.  There will be no time for preparation; two women grinding, one gone, one left.  
Thus Luke and his communities still expect the sudden time of judgment, but it cannot be predicted.  In the MEANTIME – “the kingdom of God is among you.”  
As Luke reads the apocalyptic tradition of Jesus, the great judgment – first announced by John the Baptist (or Malachi) and declared more emphatically by Jesus – is sure.  Sure – but still in the future.  Given that certainty, Luke in both the Gospel and Acts tells how Jesus prepared for, and the apostles’ worked within, that great MEANTIME, a time during which many vigorous and faithful assemblies (churches) came into being.  
How the kingdom was announced.  Luke’s different take on Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom is seen in the contrast between Mark’s introduction of Jesus and Luke’s.  Here is Jesus’ first proclamation according to Mark:  
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near [or “is at hand’]; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15.)  
Though he follows Mark for most of the actions in the Galilee period, Luke omits this opening proclamation.  Instead, Luke has Jesus go to Nazareth and preach his first sermon to the home folks (Luke 4:16-30).  Instead of announcing that the kingdom of God is at hand, Jesus announces that HE is at hand.  And who he is is given in the prophet Isaiah:  he is the one Anointed by the Spirit of God, not to execute a great judgment, but to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed.  
This is a new definition – at least a new formulation – of the kingdom of God.  This is the kind of activity the disciples (later apostles) will be engaged in.  It is the kind of activity the chains of assemblies (“churches”) will be engaged in.  This is the coming of the kingdom of God – as Jesus first announced it, according to Luke.  

On the Challenge of the “Meantime.”  

John the Baptist’s reform program.  Luke and his referent communities knew they lived in the “meantime.”  The character and importance of that time between Jesus and the end is very much a concern of Luke’s writings.  Mark and Matthew present John the Baptist as a preacher of repentance and conversion before the judgment.  Only Luke has John present a program of social reform to guide conduct in that waiting time.  
And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”  In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”  Even the tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?”  He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”  Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?”  He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”  (Luke 3:10-15, NRSV.)  
When Luke is moved to expand on the inherited tradition, he does so in the direction of the poor and the oppressed.  Here is a program for (1) a social safety net, for (2) an honest internal revenue service, and for (3) a non-corrupt police and military establishment.  When Luke focused on the MEANTIME, these are the needs he saw.  
Wealth.  On the same lines, the era of waiting – between the times – must inevitably raise the problem of the have-mores and have-nots.  Wealth is a major preoccupation in Luke’s Gospel:  In contrast to Matthew, Luke’s beatitudes for the poor, the hungry, the mourning, and the persecuted are balanced by woes on the rich, the satisfied, the joyful, and the well-esteemed (Luke 6:20-26).  The parable of the “Rich Fool” condemns an exemplar of capitalism (Luke 12:13-21), and a whole chapter is given to miscellaneous (and ambiguous) parables and sayings, generally devoted to condemning wealth (Luke 16).  
More than the other Gospels, Luke shows us Jesus paying attention to the poor, the sick, women, the despised, and in general the marginalized.  No nearness of the great judgment is an excuse for ignoring suffering, injustice, and neglect.  Jesus is constantly finding and ministering to such folks around him – whether Luke takes the reports from Mark, Q, or his own informants (L).  Luke conveys to his circuit of assemblies (churches) that those things are what the Meantime – the waiting for Jesus time – is about.  
Into the World.  What particularly shows the nature of the MEANTIME is the book of Acts.  Pentecost, the great irruption into the world of God’s Spirit, does not cause the disciples to simply cultivate their spiritual community in Jerusalem.  Pentecost sends them out – thus the great emphasis on all the foreigners who hear the gospel proclaimed.  Acts portrays how the waiting time allowed believers to be sought in SamariaCaesareaSyria, the provinces of GalatiaAsiaMacedonia, and Achaia as well as finally reaching Rome.  The world of the kingdom in Luke is not only the Galilee and Judea of the Gospel but the extended world of the apostles Peter and Paul.  

On the Church:  Luke thinks of churches – not the Church.  

Allowing for some exaggeration, the following is roughly true of the church in the Gospels:  
  • Mark has no church; only discipleship, those following Jesus toward martyrdom or his return in power. 
  • John has no church; only a mystic communion of disciples, exemplified in the Disciple that Jesus Loved.  (The appendix in John 21 does have a church, fed by Peter.)
  • Matthew has a Church – with Authority.  Only Matthew has the word “church,” ekklesia, assembly (Matthew 16:1818:17).  “ are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19, NRSV).  
  • Luke has no “church” in the Gospel, but in Acts Luke presents the Courage to be the churches. 
In Acts 1-5 Luke presents an idealized picture of the “original” church of Jerusalem.  That church had ceased to exist around 66 CE and was no longer, if ever, relevant to Luke’s situation in Asia Minor and Greece.
The churches of Luke’s world are reflected in the many people of the churches Paul founds in GalatiaAsia, and Greece.  The names of many of these local believers are included in Acts – Lydia in Philippi, Jason in Thessalonica, Sopater in Beroea, Dionysius and Damaris in Athens, Titius Justus and Crispus in Corinth, Eutychus in Troas, and the elders of Ephesus to whom Paul made his farewell speech (Acts 20:17-38).  
The church for Luke was all these local assemblies, particularly those who traced an origin to the missionary work of Paul.  The book of Acts preserves the founding story of those assemblies for the next generation.  Luke knew these assemblies over a period of time, as well as others not mentioned in Acts.  As a young man he had accompanied Paul on some of his trips – especially the one to Jerusalem and Rome (Acts 21-28).  
As a more mature leader of the movement, Luke knew these churches more as they appear in the book of Revelation than as they were in Paul’s missionary days.  In Revelation, chapters 2-3, the visionary receives letters from the heavenly Lord to seven of the churches of the province of Asia.  These churches are a mixed bag, hot, cold, and luke-warm, but they almost certainly represent the state that the Jesus movement had reached at the time Luke wrote his two-scroll work, Luke-Acts.  
In the perspective of Luke’s Gospel, these churches were that “kingdom” that Jesus’ generation would see before it died.  These were the congregations caught up by the Spirit and directed to the work of that kingdom that, Jesus said, was “among you.”  

Friday, August 27, 2021

The Job Project

 In the month of October, 2021, the Revised Common Lectionary has four readings from the book of Job.  Not only is the scroll of Job many sided, it has been approached, praised, and analyzed in a multitude of ways.  As early as 1884, a prominent Old Testament scholar wrote,

The question, What is the purpose of the Book? has been answered in so many ways, that a judgment regarding it must be put forth with the greatest diffidence.  Almost every theory that has been adopted has found itself in collision with one or more of the parts of which the book now consists, and has been able to maintain itself only by sacrificing these parts upon its altar.  (A.B. Davidson, Job, The Cambridge Bible, Cambridge University Press, 1884, p. xxiii.) 

I have a 5-foot shelf of books on Job, and that only scratches the surface.  Nevertheless, here is my take on the scroll of Job.  

NOTE:  This essay is about how the Job scroll was composed (or compiled).  It does not attend to the thought contained in it.  A discussion of the arguments presented in the debates would be a long and complex process.  

The Job Project:

How an Intellectual Symposium Enhanced a Pious Legend.

A few years ago I spent much of one summer reading and pondering the scroll of Job, and books about it.  The outcome was this view of a group of ancient Israelite intellectuals (“sages”) who joined together in “the Job Project”! 

The Basic Facts about the Job Scroll. 

First, there are a few things that are givens.  They must be dealt with in one way or another by anyone trying to explain and interpret this complex work. 

1.  Job was an old legendary figure of the non-Israelite past.  Ezekiel (around 600 BCE) could assume that his educated audiences were familiar with the legendary figures of Noah, Daniel, and Job, renowned as righteous men of the past (Ezekiel 14:14 and 20.  “Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job, these three, were [here], they would save only their own lives by their righteousness…” Ezekiel 14:14.) 

2.  The Job scroll has a prose framework around a very large and complex body of poetry.  (There is also a prose introduction to the extra figure Elihu.) 

Prose:  1:1-2:13; 32:1-5; and 42:7-17. 

Verse:  3:1-31:40; 32:6-42:6. 

3.  The early poetic portions are organized into “speeches” by Job and his friends who have come to console him: 

·        3:1-21:34 – Two complete cycles in which Job speaks, each of his three friends speaks, and Job replies to each friend separately – a total of 13 speeches.  (Each speech is marked by an opening rubric, such as “Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said…”) 

·        22:1-27:23 – A third cycle begins but is not complete.

4.  The last part of the scroll, still in poetry, is somewhat miscellaneous, with Yahweh’s speech(s) from the whirlwind as the climax.

·        Chapter 28 is an independent speech about the elusiveness of Wisdom.

·        Chapters 29-31 is a long self-defense by Job, quite different from his speeches in the debates with his friends.

·        Chapters 32-37 are speeches by Elihu, an extra sage not otherwise mentioned in the scroll.  (He knows, and sometimes corrects, the other speeches.) 

·        Chapters 38:1-41:34 give two long speeches by Yahweh from the whirlwind, with a couple of groveling responses from Job. 

5.  The poetry of Job is very literary and difficult.  This is not popular, street-wise verse.  These speeches assume very learned and acute audiences. 

“Job is written in an extremely sophisticated, ‘learned’ Hebrew, with a higher proportion of words unique to itself than any other book of the Hebrew Bible.”  Edwin M. Good, “Job,” Harper’s Bible Commentary, Harper & Row, 1988, p. 407. 

6.  There are two Jobs – the “patient Job” and the “angry Job.”  

·        The Job of the prose passages is the patient Job.  At the end of his ordeal of testing by the Satan, when his wife invites him to “curse God and die,” Job says, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”  And the narrator says, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”  (Job 2:10.) 

·        The angry Job appears with the first poetry in the scroll:  “Let the day perish in which I was born…” (Job 3:3.)  The Job who speaks in the long poetic debates with his “friends” is mostly the angry Job. 

Job and His Friends.  
Relief Sculpture, at Wohl Rose Park, Jerusalem, Israel.    Benno Elkan, 1877-1960. 
Courtesy of Vanderbilt University Divinity Library.  

Argument for “The Job Project.”

1.  The traditional story of Job (chapters 1-2, in prose) told only of the testing of Job’s faithfulness to God and ended with his second reply to disaster (2:10).  At that point the test is over.  (A restoration sequel may have been popularly supplied sooner or later, 42:10-17, in prose, like chapters 1-2.)  

2.  A group of intellectuals -- the Symposium -- decided to make the traditional story the basis of a Project:  What did Job REALLY say?  

3.  These were well-educated persons, accomplished speakers.  They took turns presenting speeches to each other representing first, what Job said (a brilliant composition, chapter 3), then what the tradition-oriented friends said in reply.  

4.  Each speech was (is) self-contained, exhibiting the speaker’s skill (see their sophisticated poetic effects, which only their peers would appreciate).  

5.  Many speeches were developed but the “debate” (definitely not a “dialogue”) that gradually unfolded was never completed.  Chapters 24-27 contain valuable pieces, not integrated into organized speech cycles but simply dictated in a miscellany to end the debate.  27:1-6 is definitely Job’s final avowal, whenever that would have come in the debate.  

6.  Chapter 28 is a self-contained unit (with no speaker identified, i.e., no rubric), not related to the debate.  Chapters 29-31 make up the most organized speech attributed to Job, but it is not in debate form!  It is, rather, a full-fledged apologia (argument for the defense, a very elaborate “lament” speech:  How great my lot used to be - chapter 29; How miserable things are now - chapter 30; yet I am innocent!! - chapter 31). 

7.  After the Symposium had been going on a while, the challenge of whether to attempt a divine reply to Job was considered, and finally ventured on at least twice (38-39 and 40:6-41:34 [41:26 in the Hebrew text], with each of these perhaps made up of several attempts).  

8.  When the Symposium had ceased as an active group, someone undertook to collect and record the speeches in a substantial scroll.  They were organized by rubrics into the “speeches” in the current Masoretic Text.  The various accommodations to popular piety at the end (see below) were probably composed at this written stage of the Project.  After all, it was now addressed to a public, not just the wise persons who had tested themselves by the original challenge of Job’s disastrous fate.  

9.  The Elihu speeches (chapters 32-37) were compositions of a later member of the Symposium, after it was dissolved (or dissolving).  The speaker (whose work is imitative) demonstrated his skills and made explicit references to the earlier speeches, though there are no verbatim quotations, making it unlikely that any written texts were yet available for “Elihu” to read.  

10.  The “replies” of Job, 40:1-5 and 42:1-6, still in the poetic materials, were added when the Scroll of Job was composed for public consumption.  They turn Job into a baffled and groveling repentant (which is, of course, supposed to magnify the grandeur of Yahweh’s “answer(s)” in chapters 38-41).

11.  The prose ending in 42:7-9 was also added when the scroll was prepared for the public.  That brief, makeshift ending sells out the entire project that had made the Symposium interesting to start with.  
     The LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite:  "My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.... Job shall pray for you [and] I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly;..." (Job 42:7-8).  
     This little ruthless twist tries to vindicate Job’s complaints against God without understanding them at all!  It is designed to save the popular belief in divine rewards and punishments -- and, incidentally, to let Job’s virtue redeem his misguided critics from God’s wrath! 

The "Greatness" of Job.

Extravagant things have been said about the greatness of Job.  

"The book of Job is the greatest work of Hebrew literature that has come down to us, and one of the great poetical works of the world's literature."  George Foot Moore (quoted in Job, Victor E. Reichert, Soncino, 1946, p. xiii.)  

"There is nothing the Bible or out of it of equal merit." (Thomas Carlyle, quoted in Ibid.)  

In what does this greatness consist?  

Here is one answer, in a volume that presents several modern appraisals of Job (paragraphing added).  

The manifold influence of Job on theology, philosophy, art, and literature derives not only from its literary excellence but also from its distinctive Jewish perspective on perennial features of the human predicament:  the relation of good to evil, the nature of God, the character of justice, and the enigma of suffering. 

The book's profundity does not arise, however, from "solving" these problems of existence.  On the contrary, it does not hesitate to leave the reader with painful questions about suffering or calamity; it challenges simplistic appeals to moral order in history; it enmeshes human responsibility in fate or destiny, but without absolving the human  of responsibility. 

From antiquity to the present, therefore, the book of Job has been a fascination, often a problem, occasionally a scandal and a danger. 

(The Voice from the Whirlwind:  Interpreting the Book of Job, eds. Leo G. Perdue and W. Clark Gilpin, Abingdon Press, 1992, p. 11.)  

It is also true that one of the great affirmations of faith (and a profound aria) is quoted from Job, 

"I know that my Redeemer lives..." (19:25, NRSV), 

though the context in Job is not as hopeful as later believers take it.  

On Reading About Job

·    For over 2200 years literate people read Job in manuscripts (scrolls, and later in codicies) as “scripture,” as written words with divine messages to later generations.  After about 1500 CE, European people read Job as something printed.  The mental and esthetic associations of the printed page wholly dominated the way people thought of Job in the Jewish and Christian scriptures during the last five centuries.  

·    The heritage of this written/printed reception of Job was the concept of “the Job Poet” (a very “natural” concept to European interpreters).  Ironically, both traditionalists, who want the book to be unitary and inspired, as well as highly critical scholars, who see several different sources combined in the final “book” of Job -- all of these have spoken of “the Poet” or “the original Poet.”  There was a single, unitary mind / plan behind the whole "original" work.  This “original” work of the poet, of course, is some selection of materials from the five major parts of the Scroll; other parts to be explained as additions of various kinds.    

·    Recent commentators on Job, since about the 1970s, have produced a curious coalescence of traditional and postmodern interests that reads the Job Scroll as a single united work; traditionalists because they want a unified and consistent (inspired) perspective presented by a single author.  Postmodernists because ...  well, the finished “book” is what we have before us and we might as well make the best of it.  Besides, any “historical analysis” would privilege some parts of the Scroll against other parts, introducing modern biases.  Never mind that the “poet” ceases to be a credible composer in the process. 


Along the way, I found a few quotes that encouraged my reading:

“Within the general form of a debate by means of long addresses, the poem contains poetic pieces that may be regarded as independent compositions.”  Robert H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament, Harper Bros., 1948, p. 685.  

"[The debate] itself is far from homogeneous, in either language or thought.  It is a collection of diverse materials, with a variety of styles and a wealth of ideas in which there is often a clash of opinion." (Francis L. Anderson, Job, "Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries," Inter-Varsity Press, 1976, p. 45.)

"The debate between Job and his three friends has a highly literary form, not resembling an informal debate in which there would be interruptions and shorter speeches.  It is formal, allowing each of the speakers to finish before another responds....  Snaith well observed... 'Job is scarcely a dialogue... The content of each speech is usually strangely independent of what has gone before and what follows.' " (Tremper Longman III, Job, Baker Academic, 2012, p. 55, italics added.)  

[This last sentence, in italics, is one of the most important statements about the literary character of the poetic Job in all of Job criticism.]  

Friday, July 16, 2021

A Detour in John's Gospel

A Detour in John’s Gospel:
John 5:1-47.

A few years ago, simply for my own interest, I put together all the selections from the Gospel according to John included in the Revised Common Lectionary.  Though John, unlike the other Gospels, is not featured in any one year of the Lectionary, it gets generous selections along the way. 

Included are the “Logos” prologue, the wedding in Cana, the cleansing of the temple, the night meeting with Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, five weeks on the Bread of Life story and discourse (chapter 6), the healing of the man born blind (chapter 9), and the raising of Lazarus.

Not included in the Lectionary is anything from chapter 5 of John.  This is a healing story with sequels, probably omitted in favor of the similar healing story in chapter 9 (reading for Year A, 4th Sunday in Lent.) 

I have found the chapter 5 story and discourses interesting in their own right and have done the following studies of them, as if they were in the Lectionary.  These were written in 2018.

John 5:1-18. 

This passage is remarkable for three things:  (1) the healing at the Sheep Gate pool, Bethesda, (2) the accusation of Sabbath violation, and (3) Jesus’ declaration about his and God’s working. 

(1) The healing story has several interesting details – interesting, though not essential to the larger narrative.  

The details of the place have busied scholars over the ages.  The “Sheep Gate” is apparently at the northeastern corner of the old city, just north of the Temple site (near the present “Lions” or “St. Stephen’s Gate”).  The pool has different names in different manuscripts of the Gospel:  “Bethesda” in the great majority of late manuscripts (after which many modern hospitals are named); “Beth-zatha,” preferred by current scholars as probably the earliest reading; and other spellings include “Bethsaida,” otherwise known as a town in northern Galilee. 

“Healing at the Pool of Bethesda,” painting in Vienna, by Pedro de Orrente, about 1620.
Courtesy of Vanderbilt University Divinity Library.

This pool was the center of a healing area.  The original story assumed hearers were familiar with the healing powers of the pool, but centuries later scribes added verses 3b-4 (missing in most early manuscripts) to explain the old custom to hearers in later times. 

Periodically a heavenly messenger (“angel”) came and stirred up the waters of the pool, and the first person to get into the water after the stirring was healed of their malady.  The disabled man in this story could never get there soon enough, and so he had been waiting for 38 years for a chance to get healed.  Jesus sees this man, and “knowing” [the Greek means he comprehended the whole situation], offered to heal him. 

The healing happens at Jesus’ command:  “Get up!  Pick up your mat and walk” (verse 8, CEB).  These are the exact words with which Jesus commands the paralytic to rise and walk in Mark 2:1-12, and the two stories probably have a common ancestry in early tradition.  The unusual word for “mat,” krabatton, is used several times in these two stories.  The paralytic in the Mark story has his sins forgiven, which is the equivalent to being healed – the primary point in that story.  There is an echo of that point in the John story when Jesus later says to the healed man, “See!  You have been made well.  Don’t sin anymore...” (verse 14).  

(2) But it all happened on a Sabbath!  This is only mentioned as an after-thought (verse 9), but as John’s story develops it becomes the main point. 

“The Judeans” [“Jews” in later European translations] accost the healed man for carrying his “mat” on a Sabbath.  “The man who healed me made me do it,” explained the now able-bodied man.  They ask who that was, but the man doesn’t know.  Later, Jesus warns the man about sinning, and the healed one runs back to tell the authorities it was Jesus that gave him the orders.  (Commentators are divided about whether this was an innocent mistake or a very ungrateful act.) 

Finally we arrive at the crux of this healing story:  Jesus was responsible for making people violate the Sabbath laws!  The Judeans begin to “harass” (CEB) Jesus, even plan to kill him (verse 18), because of his crimes against the Sabbath.  This leads us to the real point of the chapter – Jesus’ reply. 

(3) Jesus’ declaration to the Judeans is bold and challenging.  “My Father is still working and I am working too” (verse 17, CEB). 

The first thing to notice about this reply is that Jesus chooses to talk about “working”! 

Working has to do with the Sabbath!  Everybody knows from Genesis 2:1-3 that God “works” for six days, but ceases work on the seventh day, and humans honor that model by observing the Sabbath.  Jesus says, God is still working, and (therefore) so am I.  One thing this means is that in God’s view right now is NOT a Sabbath.  Divine work is going on because THE Sabbath has not yet come.  In God’s economy, this is not yet the seventh day, when God will cease working.  The real work of God is still going on – and as long as it is, Jesus will be working!  

(See the same viewpoint in 9:4, "We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work," NRSV.)  

But the really challenging thing about Jesus’ reply is the implication that God’s work and Jesus’ work are coordinated – that they are on the same plane, equally divine! 

The Judeans recognize correctly what Jesus means, and indict him accordingly:  “...he was doing away with the Sabbath ... [and was] making himself equal with God” (verse 18). 

The charges are now fully developed, and the stage is set for Jesus’ monologue in defense, which comes next. 


John 5:19-30.  This monologue has three speeches that begin “Amen, amen” (“Very truly” in NRSV; “I assure you” in CEB), verses 19, 24, and 25.  Each speech is relatively independent.  

(1)  19Jesus said to them, “very truly [amen, amen] I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.  20The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished.  21Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes.  22The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, 23so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.  Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.  (John 5:19-23, NRSV.)  

(2) 24Very truly [amen, amen], I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but  has passed from death to life.  (John 5:24, NRSV.)  

(3)  25Very truly [amen, amen], I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.  26For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; 27and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.  28Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29and will come out – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of condemnation.  (John 5:25-29, NRSV.) 

 30”I can do nothing on my own.  As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.  (John 5:30, NRSV.) 

The first speech has Jesus speak of the “Son” in the third person – “the Father loves the Son...” (verse 20).  Then in the second speech, verse 24, Jesus speaks in the first person, “anyone who hears my word...”  Verse 25 then goes back to “Son” language, “...the dead will hear the voice of the Son...”  The final verse of the passage (30) repeats the opening verse (19), but now in first person speech instead of third:  “I can do nothing on my own...” 

The third person speech in verses 19-23 and 25-29 may be a clue to the background of such Son-and-Father language.  The message of these verses is that the Son does exactly what the Father does, including raising the dead. 

God and Son of Man in Daniel.  This kind of God-and-Son situation is presented in Daniel 7:9-10 + 13-14.  There the “Ancient One” (God Most High) sits in judgment on the evil empires that have been ruining the earth.  That Ancient One then receives in the heavenly court “one like a human being” (literally “like a son of man” – a human to replace the inhuman beasts of Daniel 7:1-8).  That Human One is given “dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him” (Daniel 7:14, NRSV). 

The assumption in the Daniel vision is that God empowers the “Son of Man” to carry out God’s rule over the earthly powers.  The Son of Man is the implement to establish God’s rule.  He thus does exactly what God is in fact doing (through him). 

The Daniel passage does not have any speech between the Ancient One and the Human One, but the Most High is definitely giving authority and power to the newly arrived Human One.  If the Human One were to speak to others about his authority and mission, he could say the very things Jesus says about the “Son” in John 5:19-30. 

(Modern commentators on John do not seem to have observed this Daniel background to this Son-Father speech, but it seems to me it exactly fits the language used in John 5:19-30.) 

The central verse in this passage, where Jesus speaks in the first person (verse 24), is very awesome:  “Very truly [amen, amen] I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life” (NRSV).  This verse alone states the central message of the entire Gospel. 

Resurrection.  The Son’s power to raise the dead is elaborated in the second third-person speech (verses 25-29).    “For the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his [the Son’s] voice and will come out – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (verses 28-29, NRSV).  (The resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked is also promised in Daniel:  “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt,” Daniel 12:2.  This promise of the two-fold resurrection is given nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible.) 

In Jesus’ own voice, this promise of a resurrected life is a truly spectacular claim for those who bet their lives on the truth of Jesus’ gospel! 


John 5:31-47. 

First, this passage is about “testimonies” – who vouches for the truth of Jesus’ identity and authority.  (The Greek word-group involved here is marturéō; to witness, testify; marturía, a witnessing, a testimony; and mártus, one who witnesses, testifies [in later times, “a martyr.”]  These words occur eleven times in verses 31 to 39.) 

Secondly, this passage is not about “Son” and “Father”; it is about “me” and “you (plural).”  There is no third-person speech here; everything is direct address by Jesus to the unbelieving Judeans.  This is accusation and condemnation of the opponents, those who do not believe, who do not accept the “testimony” to “me.” 

The issue in this passage is, what does it take to get the Judeans to believe in Jesus as the one sent by God?  What testimony can be offered?  The passage will consider five possibilities. 

First, Jesus’ own testimony can’t be used (verse 31).  From other people’s viewpoint, he is the question, not the answer.  (A slightly different rhetorical tack is taken on this topic at 8:13-18.) 

Secondly, Jesus knows that John the Witness (“the Baptist,” though never called that in this Gospel) gave true testimony to him.  The Judeans even sent people to question John about that, and for a while he was “a burning and shining lamp” in whose light the Judeans were willing to rejoice (verses 32-35). 

Third, there is a testimony “greater than John’s,” namely, “the works that the Father has given me to complete” (verse 36).  These, of course, are such things as healing the disabled man at the pool of the Sheep’s Gate.  (See also Nicodemus’ testimony in John 3:2.) 

And, apparently as a testimony separate from the mighty works, “the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf” (verse 37).  This seems to refer to one of the divine speeches in which God addresses Jesus as “son,” since Jesus goes on to say, “You [Judeans] have never heard his voice or seen his form [as I have], and you do not have his word abiding in you...” (verses 37-38).  Unlike Jesus and those who believe in him, the Judeans do not have the rapport with God the Father that would enable them to “hear” the divine testimony to Jesus. 

The fifth and final possible testimony to Jesus is the scriptures.  Here the Judeans have a great advantage.  These are THEIR holy writings.  “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life” (verse 39).  These should be convincing because “it is they that testify on my behalf”!  Yet, “you refuse to come to me to have life” (verse 40).  There clearly were very different ways of reading the scriptures! 

In a kind of peroration (verses 41-47), Jesus ticks off more reasons why the Judeans are not able to believe in him.  “How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God?” (verse 44).  And as a final shot at their pride in the scriptures, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me” (verse 46). 

(Note:  It should be obvious that there is nothing “fair” – much less “true” – about these slams at the “Judeans.”  Like Matthew 23, these statements are fierce propagandistic slurs fired at  powerful enemies in the religious wars of Jesus believers against synagogue teachers – possibly at an early time in Judea, more likely well after 70 CE in Asia Minor [Ephesus].)

Jesus has recited many testimonies why the Judeans should believe in him – rather than plan to kill him!