August 16, 2009

The Nazareth Synagogue - 2

As a man, Jesus always attended the festivals at their peak, to reach (and be protected by) the crowds at their fullest. But as a boy, it was the opposite. At age 12, in 7 AD, Jesus did not set forth to do his Father's 'business' in the Temple until after the crowds of pilgrims had all gone home. The specific timing and other details of that early event serve to inform us that no one from Nazareth, other than Joseph or Mary, knew what Jesus had done in Jerusalem.

(Even if the traveling party containing their relatives and acquaintances wasn't the entire contingent from their small village, as it very well may have been, any other travelling groups would almost certainly have been gone by that time, as well. -- Please note, I am arguing this point completely on top of the fact that it already seems to be Luke's clear implication.)

In Luke's Gospel it's a short span (Baptism - Geneaology - Temptation) between that childhood episode and Jesus' first return to Nazareth. With the above episode still fresh in his reader's mind, Luke tells us the grown up Jesus surprises his family and old friends primarily because of his words. To that, Luke immediately adds 'their graciousness', but the emphasis is on the words themselves. Primarily, they were surprised by his [public] speaking. Evidently - all things considered - the natural conclusion here feels pretty strong. The Nazarenes had never heard him speak publicly in the Synagogue, before that day.

How solid a conclusion is this? Luke tells us they'd heard Jesus had been speaking in Synagogues, recently. This explains why they were not surprised to see him stand and read, or to imagine that he was about to speak, but only after the words themselves came out. Still, most translations avoid the NASB's italicized "began teaching in the Synagogues" - because it's not in the text and I suppose also because, technically, we can't we can't absolutely prove that he had never taught in any Synagogues anywhere, before... not that the ultra-cautious won't admit their strong leanings when pressed.

In deference to that traditional caution, we must admit that no evidence explicitly states such a thing. However, very few historical conclusions are ever 100% airtight and christian scholarship should not eschew probabilities of very strong liklihood. Instead, I believe we must begin to find profit in acknowledging them for what they are - probabilities of very strong liklihood.

We are neither adding to nor taking away from the words of scripture - certainly not any more than theologians have been doing for centuries - we are reconstruting the most likely course of events. Probability is simply how History works. So I'll say it again, and qualify the statement historically.

Luke's strong implication is that Jesus had never spoken publicly in the Nazareth Synagogue before this occasion and his collection of facts, put together and judged on their own merit, shows this is most likely true. At the very least, he had never spoken anything of significance or consequence, so as to leave a memorable impression.

Now I'll say it more plainly.

It seems Jesus never spoke any memorable words in the Synagogue, while growing up in Nazareth.

Why am I taking such pains for what seems like the obvious conclusion? First, because I am trying very hard not to make any 'easy' assumptions. Second, because I'm trying to make a point of acknowledging the aspect of probability. And third, because we actually do need to be pretty sure this view is solid before we stake any further claims about Jesus' time in Nazareth during the so-called "silent years"... which we absolutely should attempt to do.

If we truly believe the Gospels are historically reliable, it feels irresponsible and possibly two-faced not to analyze them historically. (Oh, okay. Perhaps it is merely being "ultra-cautious". But I think that caution comes from a misguided and unnecessarily defensive mindset.)

That said, don't think I'm trying to go way out on any limbs, here. My goal is only to say what seems perfectly reasonable - but not until we've exhausted all the available evidence on the Nazareth Synagogue.

To be continued...

Series Update: The Nazareth Synagogue
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

1 comment:

Peter Kirk said...

"It seems Jesus never spoke any memorable words in the Synagogue, while growing up in Nazareth."

OK, I'll accept this version, with "memorable". I don't put any weight on NASB's "began teaching", if you mean in Luke 4:15, as this is a simple imperfect "(at this time) he was teaching ..." But this by no means rules out him having previously been on the rota of readers at the synagogue, and having read his passage unremarkably, not in a "memorable" way.

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