Farrer Theory in Practice – The Prologues and Genealogy

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You will find all posts related to this subject under the tag, Gospel Criticism.

Over the Christmas Holidays, a discussion was held on the Virgin Birth. It started because one scholar suggested that Matthew was a dullard at translating. Other scholars enjoined and one in particular went so far as to produce a podcast. In this podcast, Goodacre mentions brief the genealogy of Jesus as something befitting the controversial birth. After all, Matthew chose to include several women who were notoriously promiscuous  or maybe I’ll let you define how we should treat this women. The genealogy of Jesus is absent in the oldest Gospel, Mark. Before I proceed with this, let me establish a few methodological points, a procedure that will no doubt accompany this blogject for some time.

First, Mark is written between 72 and 75, Matthew near 80, and Luke some time after that. I am not too concerned about the dating of Luke, although I would suppose that if we give Luke a date between 90 and 100, we are sufficient, as Acts comes shortly there after. I do not think that there are multiple /an/Christianities; nor would I go so far as to suggest that there is one heterodox Christianity. Instead, there is a proto-Christian group, still Jewish and still wrestling with the Gentile question as evidenced by the writing of the “Jerusalem Council,” that retroactively published hallowed history.

Second, as in regards to oral tradition, I find that focusing too much on this is a chore; yet, I maintain that instances such as the exorcism in Mark 9 does reflect something of a historical basis. Counterpose this miracle to other exorcisms in Mark. What one notices is a ritualistic answer to a known medical condition. Exorcists are real, even if the demons are not. Further, the genesis of the Gospels are the oral traditions about a Jesus who died a criminal’s death. Do not loog for a dismal of the historical person of Jesus because I will spend sometime studying the development of the literary tradition enshrined in the Gospels and will call into question from time to time the supposed historical events found therein. There is no crisis if there is no one to have a crisis centered around. This may be a simplistic understanding of literary events; yet, with previous works, such as Adam Winn‘s The Purpose of the Gospel of Mark, we have come to know something of the impetus pushing Mark to write. I will go further in my forth coming work, Mimetic Criticism and the Gospel of Mark, giving more detail. In this book, I suggest Matthew’s impetus is continuity, something that explains several of Matthew’s Judaizations of Mark. The reason Luke wrote, no doubt, was to polish for his continuance his received canon.

The idea of canon is not a Christian invention, but found in the Greco-Roman world. Homer’s work led to numerous continuances and (re)modeling. Virgil contributed a sequel. Lucan wrote to finish the canon. I would go so far as to say that Mark wrote in such a way (including his breaking into the story with 1.1 as well as the way he leaves it in Mark 16.8) as to invite sequels in order to build a /an/Christian canon. I think we might see an answer in this not only in Luke’s prologue where he writes so as to suggest that he is finishing the canonical project. John, too, at the end of his work, writes to suggest that everything that needs written is already written, almost as if to say “stop it.” We know that his message was not received, as other Gospels were written, although not accepted. Thus, the lack of Mark’s prologue is an invitation to another writer, answered by Matthew, to add something to Jesus’s story.

The continuity issue, realized by the social science perspective of Matthew’s Antiochian community I would think, in Matthew is answered somewhat by the genealogy. Jesus is now someone with a designated point in history. He is not just Mary’s son, as we have in Mark 6.3, but is the son of David and Abraham. In Luke, Jesus’s role in history developed even past Abraham, having his line traced directly back to God (Luke 3.38). Mark’s Jesus has no such foundation but is left to various interpretations of a wandering prophet or other homeless Sophist. While Mark’s Jesus is a Jew he is also confused by Jewish leaders with a Roman plant or perhaps another client king (Mark 3). It may be that the community had grown through Gentile converts that Matthew needed a more concrete lineage than just saying Jesus was a Jew. No, Jesus had to be a Jew of Jews, so that his line is that of a proper king, as opposed to Simon b. Gioras who may have been born to a Gentile convert on his father’s side. Or, let us compare Jesus to Vespasian, once more.

This is where Matthew’s genealogy becomes a propaganda tool. Vespasian was a commoner, but more than this. Suetonius writes that Vespasian descended from a traitor and a coward. The emperor’s grandfather was a soldier for Pompey during the Civil War. He fled the battlefield at Pharsalus and returned home to become a banker. His son was a tax collector (this is where parallelomania must be avoided, although I find it tempting to suggest that Mark’s tax collector is a literary wink to Vespasian) who was thought to be honesty by his fellow countrymen. Suetonius goes further, however, and writes of a local myth suggesting that Vespasian’s great-grandfather was nothing more than a day-laborer. Vespasian had no royal blood in him and no connection to Rome’s past. Indeed, his past portrayed a lineage of several who could possibly be an escaped slave, a coward, and a dead tax collector. Jesus, on the other hand, knows his lineage, or rather the read knows the lineage of Jesus, as it reaches through the great heros of Israel’s sacred writings. His line includes not day laborers but kings along with a few heroines that are the anti-hero. Ruth, a Moabitess who used her feminine wiles to gained the attention of Boaz the great Judge and son of Rahab (Joshua 2), accompanies Bathsheda, the Queen who led David to a great fall, as well as Tamar who lured her father-in-law into her bed while acting like a prostitute. Or at least in Matthew’s genealogy. Luke has no problem suggesting men somehow along produced the line of Jesus.1

The question is not to the historical value of the genealogies, if they provide us some form of validation in lieu of a birth certificate. The question, remains, rather, what they provided Matthew’s audience. The use of genealogy in Matthew is two-fold. First, it connects Jesus to a the history of Israel and thus gives his community continuity with David and because of David, the kingdom if Israel. This genealogy not only provides continuity with Israel and her people for the /an/Christian community but likewise, helps to redefine what “Son of David” means, a concept as Horsley has demonstrated was undergoing radical changes during the remnants of the popular social banditry movements. Second, it does suggest, as Goodacre alluded to in his podcast (forgive me if something more substantial has been written on the subject), that Matthew is covering up for an embarrassment to the early community, perhaps of a particular nasty rumor about Jesus’s mother. The women mentioned in Jesus’s lineage have one thing in common, besides Jesus — they were all related to sexual controversies. There is nothing else to gain by alerting the reader to Mary’s indiscretion  something Luke forgoes altogether in directing the line to Joseph with no mention of Mary (see footnote above).

As Dewey and Miller note, no other Gospel has Jesus’s genealogy.2 Yet, Thomas has the closest allowance of familiar aspect to it. Thomas opens his work up by calling himself three names already familiar to the readers of the Gospels. He calls himself Didymos, Judas, Thomas. In John’s Gospel, Thomas is twice given the name of Didymus.3 Judas, however, is a now aperture . In a second allowance, which will be discussed later, Thomas includes a scene similar to Mark 3.31-35.4 I will argue later, however, that Thomas is only using the standing tradition. What Thomas may highlight here is that the tradition of Jesus’s family is not important to other segments, say more non-Jewish segments, of later trajectories. If Thomas is somewhat gnostic, this may be explained through gnostic which viewed the body as evil, but both of these are arguments from silence.5

Luke’s changes are perhaps more in line with a less crucial time. Perhaps, I would think, Luke is writing to clear up fringe traditions or even writing to supplement both Mark and Matthew as well as to (re)establish a tradition. Luke has an issue with Matthew’s genealogy including notorious women and so removes them. Further, he corrects some of Matthew’s emendations, stretching out the genealogy to fit a proper inspection. He includes it because Matthew has.

What about John? John’s prologue is as mysterious as Mark’s, although the origin point of Jesus is given before the age. He still appears in the flesh and makes his home (maybe a reference to the womb, given the mention of being born in the same prologue) in a body. I do not want to, otherwise, focus on John; however, I think John’s prologue is purposely similar to Mark’s.

 

  1. Both genealogies are directed to Joseph. The differences between them are not worth considering at the moment, although it is worth noting that sans the usual Christian apologetics, they are severely different
  2. See page 9, note. No other Gospel except the two under current discussion
  3. John 11.16; 20.24
  4. Compare Thomas 99.1-3 with the Synoptic versions
  5. We might argue for the inclusion of Ignatius’ writings, especially for the shorter versions in our argument. After all, in the eight considered his, he mentions Mary as both a virgin and the mother of Jesus. If this were so, all of this would only point to the acceptance of Matthew and/or Luke’s story, not any relation to a factual genealogy

Post By Joel Watts (10,049 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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