March 11, 2010

Luke Liked Most Jews

Springboarding from my post on Racism & Geography, back into the New Testament:

The Ioudaioi who come off well in Luke-Acts tend to be non-Judean and non-authoritarian. The Ioudaioi who come off poorly in Luke-Acts tend to be Judean and/or controlling authority figures. This is especially interesting given the traditional understanding of the writer as a gentile from Syria, and that his only known trip to Judea was during Paul's arrest and imprisonment.

In that light, I might not argue real hard with someone suggesting that Luke's writing reflects a prejudice against Judean Jews, and if that person suggested Luke's strongest prejudice was against Judean-Jewish authority figures, I'd completely agree. What I cannot understand is why intelligent scholars would suggest that the author of Luke-Acts was generally, let alone universally, anti-Semitic. He simply wasn't.

Let's be event-centered and person-centered about this. Let's not interpret a man's attitude based mainly on weighty passages in that man's literature. Let's examine the facts evidenced by the text. Here are some Jews Luke liked:
(Question marks can mean we're not sure Luke liked them, or we're not sure they were Jewish. In order of appearance:) Zechariah?, Elizabeth, Aaron?, Mary, David, Abraham, John, Joseph, Jesus, shepherds, Simeon, Anna, religious teachers (in the Temple), Nazarenes (who favored Him), Isaiah, John's baptized crowds, penitent tax collectors & soldiers, (skip the genealogy), Adam?, Galileans (who praise Him), the poor/captive/blind/oppressed, Elijah, the widow-of-Zarephath, Capernaumites, Simon-Peter, Peter's mother-in-law, townspeople?, James, John, Moses?, Levi/Matthew, sinners, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, James bar Alphaeus, Simon-the-Zealot, Judas bar James, the poor/hungry/weeping/hated/excluded/mocked/cursed, Capernaum leaders, the widow-of-Nain, an immoral woman, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, Jairus, his wife and daughter, a hemorrhaging woman, Moses!, a desperate father, 72 other disciples, an expert in the law, Martha, Mary, a mute, Jonah?, Solomon?, Abel?, Zechariah?, faithful servants, a crippled woman, Isaac, Jacob, fictitious characters in parables (some-not-others), Noah?, Lot?, children, a beggar near Jericho, Zacchaeus, Bethany's Passover Pilgrims, crowds in the Temple, a poor widow, Simon of Cyrene, one crucified criminal?, Joseph of Arimathea, Cleopas, Jesus' brothers, 120 believers, Joseph Justus, Matthias, godly Jews from many nations, Joel, three thousand believers, a lame beggar, all Jewish ancestors?, Samuel, thousands more believers, Barnabas, Levi?, Gamaliel, (Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas - all converts), Joshua (vs. the gentiles!), Saul/Paul, Ananias, Aeneas, Tabitha, Simon, Jews in Caesarea (who respected Cornelius), Agabus?, John Mark, his mother Mary, Rhoda?, Benjamin?, Jesse, believing Jews in Antioch-Pisidia, believing Jews in Iconium, Jewish believers in Phoenicia and Samaria (who rejoiced about Gentiles being converted), the Jerusalem church (that welcomed Paul & Barnabas), James, Judas Barsabbas, Silas, Timothy, after his mother, women outside Philippi?, Lydia?, Jewish believers in Thessalonica, Jason?, Jewish believers in Berea, Aquila of Pontus, Priscilla?, Crispus and all his household, other Jewish believers in Corinth, Apollos, Jewish believers in Ephesus (and all over Asia), Alexander?, Jewish believers in Troas?, Jewish-christian elders at Miletus?, Jewish believers at Tyre and Ptolemais?, Philip's daughters?, Agabus?, Mnason?, many thousands of Jews (spoken for by James), four bald vow takers?, Drusilla?, Agrippa (II)?, Bernice?, some believers in Puteoli?, some brothers and sisters in Rome?, & Rome's Jewish leaders.
Did I miss anybody? ;-)

That's quite a list, and it's probably very close to 100% Jewish. Granted, you get the occasional surprise, like the tenth leper who came back from the pool and turned out to be a Samaritan. But overall, there are A LOT of Jewish people whom Luke's writing definitely seems to favor. Critically speaking, I take it as part of the cultural context that any 1st or 2nd century audience would have assumed this much - that most of the people Luke wrote about should have been Jewish. So unless Luke-Acts was written centuries after the Temple was destroyed, and delivered to people who didn't know Palestine had been Jewish, this humble list above really should be enough to secure this point. And if Luke ever seems at all anti-Semitic, elsewhere, then - at the absolute minimum - he's not being very consistent about it.

In my strong opinion - despite all the ways in which Luke-Acts (not to mention the rest of the New Testament) has been abused over the centuries, heinously misapplied to support violent anti-Jewishness, it is nevertheless true that no scholar should feel justified in saying Luke himself was even generally disparaging of Jews. He wasn't. He was only disparaging of some Jews. In fact, it was mainly the Jews who in Luke's experience tended to be from Judea and/or held positions of great authority. Technically, that's not Luke being prejudiced. That's Luke being past-descriptive, partly based on particulars of his own geographic and personal experiences. But either way, as the list shows, Luke liked most Jews.

Critically, again, all of this means I don't buy the supposition that certain fact-claims in Luke-Acts were contrived by a writer with anti-Semitic agendas. If someone thinks Luke was making those kinds of things up on his own, they're going to have to give me a better excuse than racism for saying so.

Until then, I'm going to go on believing that some jews Luke met actually were horrible, despicable, cruel and occasionally violent. Obviously such behaviors are never isolated to people of just one ethnicity, and it would be incredibly stupid and absurd to suggest such a thought. Likewise, such persons of any ethnicity ought to be harshly rebuked and criticized, and it would be incredibly unfair to our own hopes for justice if we let such behaviors go uncriticized.

In sum, I don't blame Luke for disliking those whom he disliked, because I don't believe for one second that Luke's feelings were based on bigotry or anti-Semitism. Therefore, I won't doubt Luke when he accuses some people of doing heinous things, at times.

Such as during events reported by Acts 6 & 7, for instance...


Eddie said...

Hi Bill,

Great post! I have had to “battle” several people on different discussion boards who have labeled the Gospel narratives “anti-Semitic” (especially John). Your list of who Luke liked must have taken some time to collect, but I, for one, am happy to see you post it, because I never thought of doing it, but it makes perfect sense in doing so, and you have spent all the labor it took to collect the data. All I can say is “Thank you!” :-)

I have a question. Is the only reason we believe Luke was a Gentile because he is listed with a group of Gentiles in Colossians 4? I have been considering he may have been a Hellenistic Jewish believer, of the Diaspora who had resettled in Jerusalem. I thought he might have been one of the original Jews from Cyprus (probably fleeing the persecution that began after Stephen’s death) who had begun to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles at Antioch (Acts 11:19-20; cp. Acts 13:1-2). Lucius of Cyprus is called Paul’s kinsman (Romans 16:21), and he seems to have been one of the original Messianic Jews who preached to the first Gentiles at Antioch.

I was wondering how strong the tradition is that Luke was a Gentile. If he were a Jew of the Diaspora who had resettled in Jerusalem, but fled due to the persecution following Stephen’s death, he would have a little dislike for some of the Jewish authorities behind what was going on. One curious thing, however, is that he never openly puts any of the high priesthood in the Annas family in a bad light. He doesn’t offer the names of the High Priests of that family whenever a criminal act is performed. The other Gospel narratives have no problem naming the individuals involved—but Luke holds back. I thought that was a curious anomaly. Any thoughts?

Have a great day,


Bill Heroman said...

I don't think Luke was Jewish, Eddie. I did pick up Bock's commentary recently, and it looks like there's a good section on authorship there, which you can check out if you like.

I do lean heavily toward the idea that his letter(s) were first written at least partly for Paul's defense in Rome. It's debatable however as to what counts as a 'bad light'. I think the acts committed under those high priests speaks for itself. Caiaphas ruled the entire time Pilate was prefect, after all.

But you do have a point. Luke also avoids saying certain things about the Herods that were unnecessarily critical. My hunch is that such omissions simply would have been unbecoming of his efforts at diplomacy with Rome.

John's Gospel has its own issues, by the way. But I'm sure you're aware...

Mike K said...

Hey Bill, I agree with you that Luke-Acts should not be considered anti-Semitic. An issue is that Acts generally portrays huge success among the Ioudaioi in the beginning, but the Jerusalem church fades more and more as the gospel travels with Paul to the center in Rome, as well as the literary pattern in Acts where Paul receives an initially positive response in the synagogue followed by a much larger hostile reception from a Jewish mob. Robert Tannehill's "Israel in Luke-Acts: A Tragic Story" JBL 104 (1985) I think rightly argues that unlike the successful Gentile mission Luke sees the Jewish mission as largely a tragic failure, but the opening chapters in Luke as well as Jesus' saying that Jerusalem will only be trampled by Gentiles for a limited time (Luke 21:24) or Acts 1:6-7 hope for a restoration of Israel provide glimpses of a hopeful future. You may also like Joseph B. Tyson 1988 book, "Luke-Acts and the Jews: Eight Critical Views", which has a full range of views on the question.

Bill Heroman said...

I think I agree on all points, Mike.

Thanks very, very much for those references. I stand in your debt.

Xaire & Shalom

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