Markus Vinzent's Blog

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Jesus' Rejection in Nazareth - according to Marcion and Luke, or who copied whom?

Although Luke and Marcion's The Gospel are mostly literally related, one of the reasons, why I am trying in my work in progress to assess who is copying whom, in this opening passage of The Gospel which in a sense is the start of Jesus' public appearance in Luke, too, both texts deviate eminently from each other, both with regards to the whole composition of the narrative as also, as will be shown, in their content. To give a better understanding, let me place Luke and The Gospel (as re-constructed by myself, but please also compare Roth, Harnack, Zahn and others), and read for yourself, how to assess these two texts side by side:

The Gospel 1:3-9
Luke 4:14-30
1:3 when Jesus came down from above,

                                                                       he appeared and began teaching in the synagogue.


                                             1:4 And all were
                           puzzled at the gracious words coming out of His mouth. 1:5 And they said, ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son? 1:6 Let be! What have we to do with you, Jesus! Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God.’ 1:7 But Jesus rebuked him and said to them: ‘No doubt you will quote to me the proverb, “Physician, heal yourself!”’

 1:8 They got up, forced him out of the town, and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 1:9 But he passed through the crowd and went on his way.

4:14 Then Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and news about him spread throughout the surrounding countryside. 4:15 He 
                   began to teach in their synagogues
and was praised by all. 4:16 Now Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 4:17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 4:18The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, 4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lords favor. 4:20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him. 4:21 Then he began to tell them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read.” 4:22 All were speaking well of him, and were amazed at the gracious words coming out of his mouth. They said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

4:23 Jesus                  said to them, “No doubt you will quote to me the proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ and say, ‘What we have heard that you did in Capernaum, do here in your hometown too.’” 4:24 And he added, “I tell you the truth, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 4:25 But in truth I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s days, when the sky was shut up three and a half years, and there was a great famine over all the land. 4:26 Yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to a woman who was a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 4:27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, yet none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 4:28 When they heard this, all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage. 4:29 They got up, forced him out of the town, and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 4:30 But he passed through the crowd and went on his way.

Luke starts with a strange, but revealing duplication, ends with a rather astonishing passage, yet, also the entire pericope has been criticized for being less compact in comparison, for example, with Mark 6:1-6 on which I will come back. Schürmann speaks of introductory verses 14 and 15 and together with v 44 calls them a ‘frame’. While vv 14-5 report about Jesus’ successful preaching in the synagogues of Galilee (He ‘was praised by all’), vv 43-4 state that this initial judgement was not quite accurate, as Jesus met with the dangerous situation in Nazareth. Although, it seems, that Nazareth was an exception (Luke 4:24: ‘no prophet is acceptable in his hometown’), and, then, Luke reports, Jesus was driving out a demon in the synagogue of Capernaum and his fame spread ‘into all areas of the region’ (Luke 4:37), was also healing Simon’s mother-in-law (Luke 4:38-40), healed other sick, rebuked more demons and became so popular that crowds were looking for him, the final reaction is to move away from Galilee, to ‘proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns too’, and to ‘preach in the synagogues of Judea’ (Luke 4:43-4).
The rather strange duplication at the beginning has made scholars ask whether Luke had another report (perhaps the one that was behind Mark 1:21-8. 32-9) in front of him which he cut down and summarized in these two opening verses, although the mentioned Mark-passage is clearly parallel to what we read in Luke 4:31-44.[1] The awkward beginning may simply have been an attempt to respond to the clearly anti-thetical pericope of The Gospel. While this passage builds, as we have seen, on the contrast between the appearance of the teacher who is not understood, rejected and almost killed, Luke tries to minimize the negative reaction of the people. Yes, he does not remove the passage from The Gospel, but builds his positive noise around it and broadens both, content and geography. So Jesus is not simply coming into a synagogue, perhaps between Jerusalem and Judaea, if we can follow the Syrian witness, but according to Luke ‘in the power of the Spirit’ he returned to Galilee. The return is necessary, because in the previous passage – missing in The GospelLuke had told the reader of Jesus’ temptation in the wildernis (Luke 4:1-13), after his baptism at the river Jordan (Luke 3:1-22). The praise ‘by all’ in the synagogues of Galilee, the ‘new about him’ that ‘spread throughout the surrounding countryside’ (Luke 4:14-5) reduces the importance of the one-off negative response that Jesus experienced in Nazareth. But even with regards to this one dramatic scene, Luke a) provides a sensible explanation why Nazareth was such a particular place – it was Jesus’ hometown, and prophets are not appreciated at home, as he makes Jesus say; b) he is portrayed, at least initially, as a welcomed reader of a messianic passage from Isaiah and a teacher in the synagogue who provoked no other response as previously: ‘All were speaking well of him, and were amazed at the gracious words coming out of His mouth’. After our short introduction to The Gospels pericope (‘1:3 when Jesus came down from above, he appeared and began teaching in the synagogue’), the last quote from Luke picks up The Gospel, but states the opposite sense. While in The Gospel the audience is immediately ‘puzzled’ (καὶ ἐθαύμαζον) which results in the hostile questions, instead, Luke says that ‘all were speaking well of him’ (ἐμαρτύρουν αὐτῷ), so that the Greek term which in The Gospel translates as ‘puzzled’, in Luke gains the notion of ‘amazed’. Had Luke not already mentioned before that Jesus was teaching in the town, ‘where he had been brought up’, what follows would be incomprehensible. And, yet, even with this previous information, the story suffers from a literary hiatus. After so much praise and success, after they have spoken well of him and their amazement ‘at the gracious words coming out of his mouth’ – what triggered the criticism. The Greek text has no indication whatsoever that a dramatic change is taking place in the very same verse, and there is no preparation for Jesus’ first answer with the proverb about the ‘Physician’ either. The break, however, becomes immediately explicable, when we recognize from the comparison with The Gospel that Luke is trying to integrate the existing narrative that he found in The Gospel, an integration which has left its marks that we can still detect. ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’ now is taken out of its original setting and given a new meaning (as it happened just before with the term ἐθαύμαζον). The ‘Physician’ proverb hangs in the air and the verse after it does not follow it up. Who can one reconcile, the proverb ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ with the following part of the verse ‘and say, “What we have heard that you did in Capernaum, do here in your hometown too”’. Does the author want to say that he had healed himself in Capernaum? Certainly not, although this would have been the meaning. Instead, he simply alludes to ‘healing’ and refers to what he is only going to report later in Luke 4:31-44[2]. This is contentwise a somehow distorted passage, and the comparison with The Gospel teaches, why – it is the result of Luke avoiding to read it as a response to Jesus’ rejection of him being the Messiah ben Joseph, and as Jesus attacking his audience, knowing that they want to provoke him to heal himself, and to fight and to do precisely what they wanted to have proven, that he is the warrior ben Joseph Messiah. What in The Gospel is, indeed, a theologial dilemma, well grafted and literally formulated, has been watered down into an inconsistent narrative. It is one first clear passage that not Luke is the matrix for The Gospel, but, on the contrary, The Gospel the source for Luke.
Luke waters down the content of this theological dilemma into a literal triviality (Luke 4:24: ‘I tell you the truth, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown’). And it does not help the story either that he adds two examples from the Jewish Scriptures (2Kings 17;1-24; 2Kings 5:1-19), the latter taken from later in The Gospel, to support the proverbial statement of Jesus of the non-acceptance of the prophets at home, but, in effect miss the point and ‘do not support the original and real reason for the rejection of Jesus’.[3] And again, we are up for the next disruption in this story, as despite these two Biblical passages, the people in the synagogue ‘were filled with rage’, only because Jesus was claiming on a scriptural basis that prophets cannot heal everybody in their hometown. Luke wants the reader to believe that this was the reason of the audience of the synagogue to kill the poor physician. Of course, it removes the theological angle that The Gospel’s pericope had, but the price for this removal was both the integrity of the narrative and a trivializing of its content.

[1] H. Schürmann, Das Lukasevangelium I/1 (21982), 241-2.
[2] See the many scholars who have sweated over this problem!
[3] H. Schürmann, Das Lukasevangelium I/1 (21982), 238.

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