November 25, 2012

Matthew's Historical Use(s?) of Irony

It's very difficult to compose a narrative about historical persons without employing dramatic irony at some point. Given hindsight, the writer naturally observes significant moments in ways the participants did not, and leveraging those contrasting contexts or awarenesses is very tempting, for understandable reasons. Using irony gives one's reader a perspective superior to the figures or characters in view and engages the mind more enjoyably during a storyline, not to mention the educational advantage of using irony to provide critical relief, illustrating more clearly and helpfully for a novice some previously unrealized aspect of what past times were actually like. To accomplish all this, however, the use of irony (ironically!) draws the reader's mind just as much towards the present as into the past, which is why some historians detest using irony, or at least over-reliance upon it. Nevertheless, for as long as historians continue to write, some amount of dramatic irony will inevitably find its way into most forms of History, especially historical narrative.

In my present study, I'm examining whether Matthew's use of dramatic irony in 2:22 should be recognized as clear literary evidence of a more specific intent on the part of the writer. I mean, I'm convinced that it should, but I'm working on the argument more carefully. Here's a quick offset summary, in one paragraph:
Since Matthew draws the reader's mind to an ironic contrast between past and present - in this case, Galilee under Archelaus (which already was unsafe) versus Galilee after Archelaus (which turned out to be safe) - we should count this as evidence that Matthew assumed his readers would be familiar with both ends of that context, including the distinction or 'gap' between time periods.* Further, because he placed that demand on his readers' collective cultural memory, we can take confidence that Matthew is giving this episode a very specific chronological setting. For critical purposes, it does not matter here whether Matthew intended to relate fact or compose a historical fiction. In either case, Matthew has effectively set Jesus' return from Egypt precisely into the earliest weeks of Archelaus' reign, when the younger Herod was actually "King" over all Israel. (*) For more on the historical period from 4 BC to 3 BC, and for a rough sketch of the argument-in-progress, see this post. (*)
The payoff here is that a deliberate and fairly precise chronological context was intended by Matthew to go along with this story. What we do with that conclusion is another discussion; today's post is to continue refining what I'm doing so far.

Today, I'm hoping you can help me find Irony elsewhere in Matthew.

But, ah, what kinds of irony (in Matthew) are very similar to this kind of irony!?!?

I have enough confidence in my analysis so far that I might proceed without parallels, except of course for the intrinsic value and potential surprise benefits of simply doing the diligence to examine Matthew more broadly. Is this as unique in Matthew as I suspect, or is it part of a pattern? I'm not really sure how to begin answering that question.

For starters, I'd rather not research broad irony in general. Yes, Jesus becomes the true King and Herod/Archelaus/Caesar/Antipas was not. I see that, and I like it too. I could stand to be oriented towards more examples like that, personally, but in the end I'm not sure it's a helpful comparison for my study on the implied future context about Archelaus in 2:2. What I'm looking for is dramatic irony relating to historical context/s that were both recent and well known in Matthew's day.

Are you aware of any other "historical irony" (so to speak) in Matthew's Gospel? Is there other dramatic irony in the Jesus storyline, or something about the disciples? Could there possibly be any such irony regarding the implied futures of King Herod or Pontius Pilate? (I mean, aside from them dying or being recalled in disgrace, which is so general I'm not sure it qualifies. What do you think?) Or the future of the high priest? Does anything in Matthew allude to the rising influence of the Pharisee party? (Post AD 70?) Or am I overlooking someone else whom the original readers may have known as a historical figure? Is there any irony implied about John the Baptist's future legacy? Does Jesus wink at us, via Matthew's pen, about JTB's future legacy, when Jesus discusses the old wineskin? It'd be a stretch to think Matthew was concerned about Apollos, but perhaps there were other folk running around Judea not too different than Apollos. Or perhaps not. Of course, since we're unaware this kind of irony would be hard to detect, but it could potentially be there. But - again - is it like the implied reference to Archelaus' future in 2:22?

These questions today are just me spitballing, of course. I'm trying to purify my own expectations before I begin research, and I guess you can see that my tactical focus is starting to narrow a little bit.

For now, friendly readers, if you have any ideas or prior knowledge about Irony in Matthew - whether about any kind of Irony in general or whether the specific kind I'm considering - I will greatly appreciate all your suggestions. Thanks in advance!

November 16, 2012

Did Galilean Anti-Imperialism really exist?

Prior to 44 AD, "Roman Galilee" wasn't Roman. How, then, could it be anit-Roman?

Although Judea became Roman in AD 6, Galilee remained "independent" for all of Jesus' natural born life. Of course, today we know very well that Herod Antipas ultimately answered to Caesar in Rome, but at that time a large part of the imperial "client king" understanding was that Herod and all of his subjects got to maintain the illusion of true independence.

Thus, for Jesus and all his contemporaries, Judea was Roman, but Galilee was decisively not. Here are several concrete examples to help paint the picture in a bit more detail:

The tax collectors in Galilee were Herodian. (The Gospels call Levi a 'publican' for semantic convenience. That Italian word had become Greek-ese for "tax collector".) In political-financial terms, what we know is that the residents of cities like Sepphoris paid taxes to Antipas, whose own financiers dutifully sent along the imperial tribute. Likewise, the merchants of harbor towns like Tiberias paid customs fees to Herodian agents, one of whom was Antipas' own nephew Agrippa (who served there briefly, somewhere between 30 and 32 AD, before leaving Galilee, and later returning as King in 41).

In Jesus' era, Herod Antipas was free to collect all the revenue he could justifiably commandeer. Rome would look into his overall wealth and increase expectations when appropriate.

Any soldiers in Galilee were Herodian. The centurion in Capernaum was retired (and probably not even Italian*). Any local peace keeping was done by Herodian soldiers or by Herodian-authorized armed Galileans. At one point, Antipas built his own army. (We don't know when, or how large it remained, but there may be some continuity between the Royal Army dissolved in Judea (by AD 6) and the Army which Antipas stationed at Gamla (c.34-36). At the very least, some internal peacekeeping was necessary, to say nothing of providing deterrent for potential threats: whether Trachonitie brigands, revenge-minded Nabateans or budding Gaulanite Zealots.

Antipas couldn't have not kept at least a small army. Syria's four legions were more than twelve or fifteen days' march to the north!

(* On Capernaum's Centurion: We know he was retired for two reasons. First, there were no Romans stationed in Galilee directly at this point. Second, the Centurion's wealth suggests he must have sold the land granted to all Legionaries who survived 20 years' service. Now, his designation as "Centurion" means he'd worked for the Romans, not that he was born an Italian. Like most Roman soldiers recruited under Augustus, the man probably came from outside Italy; but he probably wasn't Galilean himself, given his gentile status. The major piece of knowledge we don't have is to know why he chose to relocate to Galilee, of all places - especially since, circa 30 AD, it had been 24 years since a Legion's recorded march through the region, and 34 years since Rome's last military action *in* Galilee!  One plausible explanation could be that this Centurion bought, freed and married a Galilean slave woman whom he found somewhere else in the empire. This could also explain the great fondness he reportedly held for in general. Alternatively, he could have grown up a gentile in Galilee before becoming a soldier, but that would not as easily explain the fondness involved in his desire to return. *)

The synagogue communities, whether or not they received oversight from or paid tax to the government, held joint property and did commerce solely at the pleasure of Herod Antipas. Tiberius sometimes had opinions about Jewish people in Rome, and he paid due heed to the political prowess of the Jerusalem Temple party and all their adherents, but there was no need for Caesar to meddle directly with religious affairs that took place strictly in Galilee.

In general, therefore, the population of Galilee, being Jewish but not Judean, were in a more comfortable position regarding everything Roman. As long as Herod Antipas kept the peace, Rome wasn't worried about Galilee. As long as the Galileans didn't revolt, Rome wouldn't come depose Herod. This much should have seemed abundantly clear after the Galileans observed what happened to Archelaus' Judean regime (4 BC to AD 6). Being content under Herod was a good way to remain with the "devil they knew".

One natural consequence of Galilee being so insulated from Rome is that Galilee never seemed to develop as much concern about Rome. The independent government of Judea (AD 66 - 67) had to send out Judean generals (such as Josephus) to rouse a Galilean defense from the coming onslaught. And when Vespasian came in, his first target was the zealot hotbed of Gamla (that also being strategic high ground in the Golan). In contrast, the Galilean defenses were neither such a priority nor very difficult to surmount.

For another example, the famous rebel of AD 6, "Judas of Galilee" stirred up a lot of anti-Roman feeling in Judea, due to Quirinius' settlement, but his "No Lord but God" rhetoric didn't go down as being leveled against Antipas in Galilee or with Philip's tetrarchy. (It's well known Judas was from Philip's lands, not Antipas', but that doesn't affect the point here.) Apparently, it must be the case either that Judas didn't feel that way about Herodian princes or that he couldn't make the argument stick with their subjects. 

Either way, the Galileans seemed content enough to remain under Herod. Instead of making them anti-Rome, that only makes them conservative culturally (as all ancient cultures naturally were). Granted, also, Antipas' peaceful rule deserves some credit for its own modest success. One can paint pictures of the big, bad, evil empire from Italy, but the very strong evidence for that accurate portrait is not based on experiences being felt by the Galileans of Jesus' day or before. 

((** Not even in Sepphoris of 4 BC, where that individual city was itself overrun by a gang of toughs who decided to play king of their very small mountain. That Judas, "son of Ezekias" had no grand vision or ideological agenda, is the record from Josephus. That Sepphoris was burned down is probably due to the inexperience of the Legion's commander on that day when, after a brief ultimatum, Varus' son ordered destruction by fire. A dark tragedy can be written about the drama in Sepphoris in that season, but it did not stem from prior anti-Roman sentiment and could as easily have been blamed on the brashness of the Galilean agressors or the (passive?) complicity of the Sepphorian city folk. At any rate, if Galileans had any cause to hate Rome, it would have been over Sepphoris, and yet we have no record of such sentiment. In fact, we don't even have record of Galileans in general caring much about Sepphoris. As horrific as it turned out to be, the burning of Sepphoris had been Rome's first violent incident and the after-event publicity no doubt did put the blame onto Judas E and his gang. Such a dubious and isolated event - however horrible - cannot by itself succeed in creating a national uprising of furor against those involved, nor sustaining such furor three to four decades later (nor even seven, apparently). **))

All in all, the Galilean experience prior to Jesus' heyday just doesn't show any evidence of being rife with anti-Roman sentiment. To the contrary, all the above evidence quite suggests that, at least to speak of, there simply was none. Probably there was some general sympathy pain for the Judean experience, since many Galileans cared a good deal about Jerusalem. However, again, since these feelings didn't seem strong enough to stoke up much resistance even in the raging days of the late 60's, how much righteous secondary anger was there likely to be around Galilee in the placid 20's and 30's? 

Down in Judea, Pilate made one or two newsworthy mistakes but they were cleaned up quickly enough, and Caligula didn't threaten his Temple stunt until AD 40/41. Even those were primarily, if not strictly, Judean events. (Personally, I'm fully convinced the Galileans were Jewish, but they weren't Judeans. Or, to rephrase that as a comedic Greek speaking New Yorker might say - The Galileans were Ἰουδαῖοι, but not, you know, Ἰουδαῖοι-Ἰουδαῖοι.)

Even the Judean's own strong feelings against Rome weren't built in a day! Significantly, it wasn't so much the famous but isolated incidents which caused Judean hostility to develop, but the daily emotional grating effect of seeing Roman influence everywhere. After five hundred years of being ruled from afar, the Romans were least tolerable - not only because they came last, but because they were most brutally effective at the actual governing part. Rome didn't just send Satraps to send home their tribute money. Rome stationed soldiers in the Antonia fortress next to the Temple. Rome greatly limited local governmental autonomy in micro-managerial ways. Rome acquired the Samaritan cavalry in 4 BC and kept them (with their Greek name, Sebastioi) as enforcers of Roman authority over Judeans. Rome did all this and more - relentlessly - for several decades in a row.

But Rome did all of this only in Judea. In great contrast, Galilee suffered from none of these symptoms.

In short, "Roman Galilee" wasn't ever Roman enough to become anti-Roman.

In fairness to certain popular theories today, one can indeed make a case that Jesus himself was somewhat anti-imperialistic, but it seems only for personal, spiritual and devotional reasons. There's no way to show that Jesus was overtly driven by feeling that "Caesar is bad". There are, deeply, many ways to show that Jesus was jealous for the Hebrew Divinity's behalf. If Jesus had any "anti" imperialistic sentiment, it wasn't anti, but pro. It would have been, simply, "God ought to rule". 

In conclusion, however, I don't think one can argue strongly that such a message played well *politically* in Galilee in the late 20's and early 30's AD. Judea, yes. But Galilee, no.

And in this, perhaps, we might find a surprising new opportunity for research.

One could perhaps look for a slight change in message as Jesus moved from Galilee into Judea, late in his ministry... but then that would require re-examining the Gospels (first as literature, second as historical portraits of both Jesus and the context swirling around him) to determine whether Matthew, Mark, Luke and/or John made any efforts to consistently present such a "slight change in message" as their narratives draw towards Jerusalem. And if so, another question is whether that narrative arc would stand as evidence of deliberate chronological or generally developmental narration by the Gospel writers.

Such a new research project only has to begin with one simple chronological supposition. It is both general, basic and easy to detect in the Gospels. The general alignment of episodic content across the Synoptic Gospels (and John, to a lesser extent) divides sharply into two groups content narrated before John's beheading versus after John's beheading. If the episodic content aligns so consistently, perhaps the didactic content was also placed deliberately into two groups - what Jesus preached early in Galilee, and what Jesus preached later in Judea. (Full disclosure: in complete honesty, these last two paragraphs came on me by surprise. The post above was never set up to lead me to chronology. It's just that chronology wasn't far from my thoughts at the moment this post was beginning to wrap up. Go figure!)

Again, I say all this would involve a great deal of future research. I hope someone is game enough to take all of this on. I heartily encourage them hereby so to do!!!

BONUS: One more side observation to all this: the crowd members shouting "make him King" at the seaside around Passover time were most likely those crowd members from outside of Galilee. There was already reason to suppose that some of these multitudes seeking Jesus were substituting one pilgrimage for another, but the present discussion now suggests with more definite specificity that there were most likely Judeans in this crowd of pilgrims, Judeans who were leaving Judea and traveling away from the Temple to go visit Jesus at Passover time, instead.

November 9, 2012

Appeal to Nero? To Nero you will go!

Luke-Acts names "Tiberius" and "Claudius", but with Festus and Paul, it says "Caesar". Not "Nero". Seven times, in Acts 25-28, the text avoids all opportunities to name the specific Emperor and add credibility. But why?

That this Caesar is Nero has been already flatly implied. Any readers familiar with the time of Felix and Festus would have understood this was Nero's era. So why not name drop? I'm no expert on the 5th (6th) Roman Autocrat (Dictator), but I've never heard of any taboo against using his name.

This, along with the inclusion of "Augustus" (Gk: Sebastos) at 25:21 suggests (to me) that Luke was deliberately attempting to honor Nero, because his writing was intended to defend Paul before Nero. Using the imperial title repeatedly and throwing in the superlative honorarium to boot?

It's no smoking gun, but it's absolutely something Luke would have been wise to do at the time.

Note: I just noticed this today, so if it's been discussed before feel free to enlighten me, anyone, though I'm sure the late-date advocates can offer some other explanation, if they haven't already. Personally, I will always believe the bulk of Luke-Acts was researched and written drafted during Paul's two year Judean imprisonment. Still, this observation seemed remarkable enough to post on. So there it is, FWIW.

Don't get Miscouraged

Bad success happens to everybody. Accomplishing X proves difficult so you find yourself shifting to Y. At least it's going well, and it's almost the same. But Y isn't X. You've been mistakenly encouraged. Don't get miscouraged.

Should I struggle through disappointment or settle for something else? That's not the problem. The problem is celebrating a victory but failing to notice you've 'won' a whole different fight.

This blog post was ENcouraged today by Seth Godin, who continues to find helpful ways to give us great life reminders. Seth's real focus is studying human endeavor, which applies to us all. Check out "the false proxy trap". I hope it helps reset your focus on the right yardsticks, so to speak.

The "false proxy", btw, is very different from the subordinate goal. Sometimes we have to focus on taking one hill, before we can refocus on taking the city. 

November 5, 2012

The Memory of the Eyewitnesses (or) The potential of *very* early oral tradition, among the Twelve

Let's begin with a thought experiment based on a personal experience of mine, one that some of you may possibly share.

When your preacher gets big, you get visitors. Some of them show up already knowing a lot, about who you all are, about what you all do, and about the famous personality whom you all gather around. Other visitors, however, show up having learned only small bits of info about what's going on, information intriguing enough to get them moving in your direction, and intriguing enough to spark lots more questions once they arrive.

Have you been with this guy very long? What's his story? Where's he from? How did this all get started? What's he like, really? Can you help me meet/see/talk to/follow him?

Jesus' disciples must have dealt with this often. With thousands of visitors, and with only one Jesus, the new people would naturally gravitate towards them. Over time, certain questions probably came up more frequently than others, and it's a worthwhile thought experiment to apply Jesus' own question historically.

Jesus said to his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" Well, so? Who did they say that he was? I mean, during the time of Jesus' actual ministry, what did the disciples tell people about who Jesus was?

Back to the modern analogy, which is timeless enough in the basic dynamics. As any popular group quickly learns, the group-task of repeatedly answering 'FAQs' starts to generate a collection of routine and semi-routine answers. That is, the group as a whole develops one shared collection of frequently offered responses, which become regularly expressed with less and less variance by distinct individuals. Surprisingly, this happens not so much because of any social coercion or group pressure to emulate certain people in answering, but mainly because of a gradual and mutually shared discovery that certain phrasings and certain key details simply prove to be more direct, more efficient, and more helpful in creating positive responses to the persistent, repetitive FAQ experience.

Back to Jesus' disciples, we might be able to do slightly more than imagine. At least, it would be interesting to work through the Gospels and try to re-imagine these stories about Jesus - and Jesus' own stories and sayings - as if some version of them was already being shared very soon after the original events. The more you think about this, the harder it is to imagine things as wonderful as the Beattitudes or the Parable of the Forgiving Father (aka, 'the parable of the prodigal son') or the story about Levi's philanthropy - it's hard to imagine that these stories weren't being shared and repeated as soon as humanly possible.

Let's take, for example, the Lord's Prayer. From one angle, the Gospel story reflects to us that someone was asking for instruction in prayer and was given an illustration in actual words. From another angle, the Gospel text certifies that the words of the LP as we have them were eventually written down. Now, it's yet a third different question to inquire about what happened in between! But what seems more likely? Did someone reconstruct, years later, the kind of prayer Jesus would have prayed, and then attribute those words to him after the fact? ((**  I'm not against the implications of that, btw. It's one possible explanation for the text that we have, and we could still take it as a very faithful rendition of Jesus' actual praying, not to mention (more importantly) of his driving passion in life. **)) Or instead, does it seem more likely that Jesus actually did answer someone's question and then pray something very close to those actual words? ((** Please note, I'm not answering that question! **))

The answer is, we don't know. Of course we don't know. And we'll never know. One theory seems more likely to some, and the other theory is clung to by others. Like many speeches in ancient histories, it may be that the LP is a reconstructed example of the kind of prayer Jesus was remembered as praying. Or, it may somehow be that there was such a prayer on some particular day, so unique, so impactful, so inspirational, and so peculiarly well ordered, that it simply happened to prove extraordinarily memorable.

If, then, Jesus did perhaps pray these words (or something very close to these words) of the Lord's Prayer as we have it today, at least once (or perhaps more than once) then is it not likely that his public prayer on one occasion (if not several) was so amazing and so quotable that - and here we come back to the thougt experiment from at top - that the disciples in this case pursued an active policy of repeating those words? As prayer, to God. As encouragement, to one another. And to new 'visitors', as one illustration of Who Jesus Was. (And if the words aren't "accurate like a courtroom transcript", they could be very close, being based on a recent and collective memory. More on this in a moment.)

In all this, please don't misunderstand. I'm not talking about the reliability of the text. I'm talking about the potential reliability of the text, based on this theory, that development of oral tradition may have begun from the earliest possible dates. (More on "potential reliability" below.)

Imagine for a moment - and this is *not* to write fiction freely but to illustrate the idea that we're grasping at here - imagine that one day someone walked up to the disciples and asked, Does Jesus ever pray? Seems like a likely and plausible question, doesn't it? And it seems equally likely and plausible that a variety of answers emerged, which gradually coalesced into a community FAQ response.

Continuing this thought experiment: let's suppose, for instance, on the first time someone asks, "Does Jesus ever pray?" that maybe one disciple starts to answer that question with an emphatic description of Jesus' devotion. But then someone else wants to prove that Jesus really does pray by giving a concrete example of Jesus actually praying, so that disciples begins offering their own remembered version of that one significant prayer. And perhaps at that point this new strategy seems to be helping, and so it (the strategy) piques the enthusiasm of some other disciples. Next, perhaps, another disciple or three might take turns interrupting and offering their own slightly different versions of different LP phrases. And so on. Or they discussed things among themselves later.

Note again, this is just a hypothetical example. But after this kind of thing happened a few times, with any particular piece of testimony about Jesus, a remembered community version of that testimony would very likely begin to develop. ((** By the way, I'm also not against hypothetically supposing that someone among them was known to have had a very reliable memory, which could have often been helpful... but I'm also not insisting on that wishful thinking being true (aka, 'special pleading') because my point isn't to push the supposition that we have anything close to 'courtroom transcripts'. Again, not only is that not my argument here, that's not even remotely my focus, in this piece. **))

In sum, what I'm trying to suggest might be seen as a blending of work by Richard Bauckham and recent memory studies, such as those by Anthony Le Donne, in that I am starting to see the Gospel material as coming from the Memory of the Eyewitnesses. What that means is, no I don't think we have courtroom transcripts entirely and yes I do see a great deal of merit in the logic of what memory studies have to say about personal testimony. But on the other hand, I still don't see any logic in the idea that oral tradition didn't begin to reach final form until the eyewitnesses started to die off.

The Jews weren't all literate, but they were communally literate. They were a people of the book, and a traditionally encouraged oral readings, much more than oral recitation. Just how quickly the Jesus movement began writing things down is a completely separate question, but here's where I'm settling for now:

I do think there was a middle stage in between the actual Jesus events and the eventual Jesus writings. I do think the limitations of human memory affected the initial transmission of those stories. And I don't think that the entire text of any Gospel account is entirely "accurate" in the sense of a transcript, but I do think that any given portion of a Gospel account could be entirely accurate in the sense of a transcript.

Note, I do not say is. I say could be. and this will be the central refrain of my argument from here on.

Despite all of our best theorizing, we don't know which portions of remembered details may or may not happen to contain a great deal of accuracy. However, by the same token, we also don't know which remembered details don't contain a great deal of accuracy!

Therefore, in the case of the Gospel texts, it is my contention that any particular reference or phrase potentially could have made it through unscathed, or at least relatively unscathed due to limitations of memory. The basic quotes and descriptions of things in the text - not entirely, or on the whole, but in any particular case - are not guaranteed to be, but may potentially be, as reliable as any historical reference ever can be - and to be clear, I am arguing *not* that this is true of the Gospel texts in their entirety, or even on the whole, or in general, but I am arguing that it could be true in any particular case. In the end, we simply don't know that it's not. ((** I won't contend over supernatural assertions today, but naturally, the method I'm proposing is also subject to questions of basic historicity as well, obviously. For instance, if resurrection is simply impossible, then none of this logic can be applied to texts which purport resurrection. **))

Again, this boils down to merging Memory theory with the generally greater reliability of early eyewitness testimony. But again, I'm not trying to apologize for reliability here. What I'm after by increasing reliability is not defense of the sacred (!) but a justification for historiographical exercise.

Why is this a unique or a new suggestion? Here's an illustration to answer that question:

Although a police sketch is not the same as a photo, but a remembered face, drawn skillfully, can be very similar to the actual face. We might not have the nose quite right, but that mole on the cheek might be drawn almost exactly in the right place. If we're handed the sketch, we can easily pick the face out of a lineup. But if wey have only the sketch, having not seen the face, we still have seen something very much like the actual face. We don't know if it's the nose or the mole that's a bit off, or the part of the hair, or the tilt of the eyes. We don't even know if one or two of those details are completely contrived. Nevertheless, with a police sketch in hand we can proceed to more than merely trust that the overall image is very generally close. Critically, and practically speaking, we can do one other thing. If we're looking for this person, we can, should and morally must do this one other thing. We can walk around town looking for this face, while hypothetically considering that any given detail in the sketch could be a part of the telling combination that reveals, finally, which person you're seeking. Now, to complete the analogy, which I think actually holds up more consistently than most analogies do, we may or may not find Jesus' actual face on Main Street today... but while "looking" for the "real" Jesus, we can proceed to hypothetically consider that any given detail in the Gospels could indeed be a part of the telling combination of details which reveals, finally, which Jesus it is that we're seeking.

By the way, this applies not just to sayings but to phrases describing events, also. With memory theory being applied to early testimony from actual eyewitnesses, it's very plausible that any particular detail in a story may be a more or less if not perfectly accurate account of the historical aspect it attempts to describe.

Logically, this much is true: Not that a testimony is accurate, but that it could be accurate, for as much as we know. As with the sketch artist, memory theory suggests that it's most logical to suppose we have the accurate 'gist' more than all the trimmings in perfect detail. But, again, with individual details, it's not necessarily logical to assume that a text doesn't recount that particular detail with a great degree of accuracy.

In all this, I hope it is very clear that I'm not interested in defending a high view of scripture. In fact, I hope it is clear that I've personally retained a high view of scripture throughout this entire discussion, but I hope it's equally clear that I'm not pushing such a view. Not at all. The Gospels say what the Gospels say, and I can't make anyone believe what they say. My struggle is to figure out what we can say, what we can see, and what we can do with these sacred (but not sacrosanct) texts.

Where my interest lies is in building potential for hypothetical reconstruction of History based on the Gospel.

Personally, I think there is great potential indeed. How about you?

November 3, 2012

The Complete Irony of Matthew 2:22

When Joseph fears Archelaus, and chooses Galilee, Matthew winks at the reader. Did Joseph really need divine instructions on where to go? After all, the reader should be aware that Archelaus didn't wind up ruling Galilee after all. His brother Antipas did. That is, at least, Antipas took over Galilee once Caesar finally ruled on King Herod's modified will.

At any rate, Matthew's irony works because *we* know, as his original readers most certainly also did know, that Matthew had no need to fear Archelaus in Galilee. But Matthew says Joseph did not know that, which is why God has to send one more dream with instructions. Trust me. Go north. Well, wphew! Thank God that God knew what Joseph should do! Because Joseph himself, Matthew is telling us, didn't know any place else to go.

This geographical irony is so well recognized among scholars of Matthew's Infancy Narrative that they can refer to it obliquely, or barely in passing, but there is another significant aspect hiding here which I've not seen commented on yet by anyone, and it is simply this. This geographical irony works much better if the reader is somewhat familiar with the basic timeline of that year, the year King Herod died, the year we call "4 BC".

Remember, Matthew claims that Joseph, Mary and Jesus left Egypt on the very night Herod died. Even if critics today take that to be legend (which I do not, but nevertheless) the reference still stands as Matthew's embedded chronological marker, one of three major deaths recorded in Matthew's account. Regardless of Egypt, Matthew is placing Joseph's fear of Archelaus at a time shortly after the death of the King. And (for the critics) if Joseph had not yet left Bethlehem, we should find this massacre of that April was most likely his very best reason for doing so. Likewise (for the faithers) if there was an angel in Egypt, Matthew is still locating this event - Joseph's moment of fearing the new Herod - in a very precise window of time.

Either way, therefore, Matthew is telling us two things, at least: that Joseph took his family to Nazareth for fear of Archelaus, and that it happened very shortly after the King died.

Now, to be more specific; that this time frame includes the famous massacre of thousands at Passover is a fact without question, and IFF the account has a historical basis then it's logical to conclude that the massacre was at least one major factor in Joseph's eventual determination. However, there are no words in Matthew's literary construction that directly refer to any specific events. The Gospel here credits Joseph's fear only to the (purported) news that Archelaus was ruling just like his father.

For Matthew's original readers, a reference to Archelaus at the start of his rule would instantly spark recollection of this massacre. Again, historicity aside, Matthew is directly alluding to a specific time frame that his readers knew well, and Matthew is placing this moment in that one. (More can be said about this. See below.)

The decision to leave Judea is one thing but where to go is another. More critically, why should Joseph need advice from God about how best to avoid Archelaus? And why did Joseph not decide on Galilee for himself? Even without Luke's testimony (which may give us Galilee as Matthew's previously adopted home, but which *cannot* help us in understanding Matthew's text purely on its own terms) Galilee should have seemed like the obvious choice. But this begs the original question: was Galilee even an option?

If Archelaus was truly ruling ἀντὶ ("in the place of" or "just as") his father, does that not include Galilee?


(There is much more to be said here in a future version of this piece. For today, let me cut to the chase.)


This may be the principle objection to the argument, here. Does the irony in Mt.2:22 require a chronological aspect in order to work, as irony?

At first glance, perhaps not. Obviously there are many adept readers who've recognized the geographic and political irony without taking thought for the chronological context, and certainly without having any idea of the year 4 BC's precise micro-chronology (as here outlined in this paper). However, one consistent failure of virtually all scholars who've commented on this passage is a gross over-simplification (if not complete unawareness) of the transitional phase of Galilean government in the year 4 BC. In short, most writers and commentators routinely sum up this transition in one sentence, to the effect that Herod died and Caesar divided his kingdom into three parts (etc). So summarized, time has stopped moving and all is collapsed into one grammatical 'moment'.

What this reveals is that a trans-chronological irony has been detected by scholars who seem to have only a trans-chronological view of the background material. To be fair, readers only have so much mental space for the geographical catalog! Archelaus gets assigned to Judea, in the mind, and Antipas to Galilee. The nuance of development and sequential interaction is never considered, because, of course, such aspects are the very fabric of what makes someone's study historical. (*** In the Academy, of course, what do we have? The historical-critics are indeed free to treat the Egyptian interlude as a fantasy, but in neglecting the return from Egypt they neglect a historical separation between Joseph and Archelaus that still begs some type of explanation. The evangelical-positivists are indeed free to trust that Matthew is providing reliable facts, but they do not proceed here to analyze and reconstruct historically. All a positivist needs is the text and defense of it. That is less than one half of proper Historiography. ***)

Back to Matthew's original readers; aside from recognizing that Antipas took Galilee and recalling that Archelaus was restricted to Judea for nearly all of his 10 seasons of power, what else did they know? If human nature is any guide, we shouldn't expect Matthew's readers remembered anything with a high degree of precision, and we shouldn't even imagine that many participants, even scant decades later, would have been able to reconstruct conversationally a general progression of all the events from the 8 to 12 months of transition in Galilee. In sum, it is highly unlikely that any of Matthew's readers knew the details from Josephus' sources, or that they knew as much from other available means, and to go further we should be certain that Matthew absolutely did not expect his readers to know the precise chronological map of the year 4 BC. But none of that is necessary to this argument.

What I think Matthew's readers did know - and what Matthew expected them to remember - is that there was a brief period in which Archelaus had absolute power, political, military and geographic. As Matthew does in fact say, the young man had begun ruling ἀντὶ his father, or "just as" Herod had ruled. This, necessarily, incorporates Galilee.

What Matthew's readers should have remembered - or the story they should have known well - is that good news came back from Rome some time later, and that all Herodian subjects became greatly relieved. The Galilean subjects and others outside Judea were obviously free from the hothead. The Judean subjects took benefit from their new ethnarch's resources being halved! And the new subjects of every Herodian tetrarch could be glad that Augustus had shown these three would *not* be allowed to rule "just as" Herod had done.

The point here is vital: that, in general, the experience was tremendously memorable. When it finally came, the news-breaking of Caesar's settlement was, by itself, a significant event and (more importantly) a distinct event coming many moons after the death of King Herod. The chronological context does not have to be anything close to complete, or at all so precise, as it can be made through historical reconstruction. The chronological context for a reader of Mt.2:22 only has to be general. But, and this is the crucial justification for this paper's existence - the chronological context at least has to exist.

It really doesn't take much. Matthew's readers only need be aware that there was a progression, a development, that the Herodian transition took place in stages. The most specific knowledge this reading requires is simply that Archelaus' brutal massacre came immediately after the King's death, and that the news about someone else being ruler in Galilee was sent around much later on.

No matter whether this Gospel was written for passing around in the 30's, 50's or 80's of the first century AD wrote in the mid or late first century, we should feel very confident that this basic distinction would have been carried on by social memory, easily recalled by the group being read to when the Gospel was shared.

The wink and the nod here isn't that Antipas ruled Galilee. It's that Antipas ruled Galilee later on. And, see? That's why God's God. Because He knew in advance why it was going to be safe!

The irony of Matthew 2:22 is geographic, political and chronological, but that irony isn't complete without knowing all three.

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