Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tombs of Jesus, Real and Imagined

Michael Barber has posted on a recent conference whose proceedings are being used (with no small amount of spin) to support the claim that the tomb of the family of Jesus (the Talpiot Tomb) has been discovered (including ossuaries for Jesus, Joseph, Mary Magdalene, and a son Judah). This is not a new story, as National Geographic ran a show with archaeologist Simcha Jacobovici some time ago on the subject. The post includes a statement by a long list of the conference attendees, who say "Nothing further from the truth can be deduced from the discussion and presentations that took place on January 13-17, 2008."

I'm rather disappointed in Jacobovici, as I really enjoy his show The Naked Archaeologist. As it happens, I just visited the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre and saw the traditional tomb of Christ. The first day I went to the Old City, just as Fr. Jacques (my guide that day) and I passed Simcha Jacobovici filming and interviewing a group of people who appeared to be debating the primacy of Peter. We had only a short time and didn't stay.

The following Friday, I took a day-long tour that also went to the Old City. The guide was a retired professor with PhDs in history and languages. That said, his understanding of the details of the eastern schism were flawed even by Orthodox standards. However, he made an interesting claim about the traditionl location for the tomb of Christ. He acknowledged the historicity of the location of the crucifixion (on historical, scriptural, and archaeological grounds), as well as the room of the last supper (on historical and scriptural grounds). In particular, he noted that the third wall, built at the time of Herod the Great, proved that the traditional location of the crucifixion was well outside the city wall.

However, our guide stressed that the large shrine (edicule) that is supposed to be the tomb of Christ is purely symbolic and that none of the "tombs" in the area of the basilica could possibly by the true tomb of Christ (or Joseph of Arimathea) because they would be within the "shabbat zone" of the city at the time of Christ. The shabbat zone is apparently an area around the city 630 steps or so away from the boundary in which no one can enter during shabbat, and no Jewish graves can be made. The edicule of the tomb was apparently built by crusaders, but it is very close to what appears to be a real tomb in a ssection controlled by the Armenian Church (which I assume to be the Turkisj Orthodox Church). In any case, this guide said that such a tomb could not be Jewish owned, being as it was well within the shabbat zone.

I'd love to hear anything my few faithful readers have to offer on this subject (Mike A.? You there?)

UPDATE: Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention that the same guide also claimed that the name Jesus wasn't actually his name but was given to him by Pontius Pilate at his sentencing (and written on the placard). His real name was Emmanuel.

All this despite what Matthew and Luke, likely the only actual, records of the events, clearly state.

Yes, in fact, I do wonder where he got that PhD in history.

UPDATE 2: So Marcus Magnus sent an email to Steve Ray to ask about this supposed restriction due to the techum shabbat (or shabbat zone). Mr. Ray commented that there was nothing whatsoever prohibiting graves within the technum shabbat in scripture or tradition and that there were thousands of tombs within this zone near the golden gate and the temple mount. After doing some searching, I have to accept this as a reasonable refutation of the claim. No where did I find any mention of the techum shabbat applying to graves. In addition, I just realized that the Tomb of King David seems like it must also fall into this zone, if not very close to it. In addition, there is a very large Jewish cemetery on the mount of Olives even closer to the temple mount than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Oh, yeah. The tombs of Jehosaphat and Absalom are also located in this area. I'd say the debunking "proof" has been debunked.

Some Thoughts on St. Peter

I was briefly watching the Heresy (History) Channel last night because they ran a show title "There's Something ABout Mary Magdalene." I'm always initially optimistic about some of these programs, but most of the time, a dissenting theologian pops in and says something about dogs eating Christ's body or making some other ridiculous claims. This show was no different. It focused on the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the alternate perspetive one can glean about the relationship between Mary and Jesus and how Peter appeared to feel about it. Apparently, Peter is portrayed as a bit of a hot head in Mary M's gospel.

I have a copy of the Nag Hamadi texts, so I should probably spend a little time reading through it to familiarize myself with the claims it makes. Of course, the experts on the show made no mention of the fact that most of these texts weren't around until more than 100 years after the last canonical texts were written or redacted. And it's interesting that progressive Christians jump all over these texts even though they present a church in which secret, privileged information is given to a select few rather than open to all—not to mention the rather antagonistic attitude Gnosticism frequently has toward matters physical (no pun or redunancy intended).

Anyway, I got to think about Peter as well and his generally reactive, rash behavior that I find both amusing and endearing. The one image I love the most is of Peter responding to John's recognition of Christ. When John says, "It's the Lord," Peter throws on his clothes, then jumps into the water fully clothed to swim to shore. This action is immediately contrasted with the response of the other apostles, who simply walk the boats into shore. Apparently, they weren't all that far out anyway.

I sort of reminds me of the scene in Forest Gump where Gump sees his former commanding officer, Lt. Dan, on the pier. He starts waving, then jumps off his boat to swim to shore. A short time later, while he and Lt. Dan are talking, Gumps boat runs behind them and into the pier. Seems a perfect image of what would happen if the barque of Peter were to be bereft of a spiritual head.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Yad Vashem Honors Byzantine Catholic Bishop

CWN is carrying this story on Blessed Pavol Gojdic, a Byzantine bishop who served in Slovakia during the period of the Holocaust. I was at Yad Vashem just last Friday. The story notes that some Jewish people believe Catholics in Solvaka assisted in their persecution. I can't speak to that, but I did note that the museum had two separate stations on the Catholic Church, both of which seemed to provide a less than positive commentary on the Church's relationship with Judaism, before and during the Holocaust.

The first reference mentioned the "ambivalent" attitude of the Church toward Jews, whom some believed were responsible for murdering their savior. This station had a quote from St. Augustine, unattributed if I recall correctly, mentioning that Christians should disperse the Jews, not kill them. I fon't know if he said any such thing, but without context, it's difficult to say whether he was advocating perscution or mercy.

The second reference dragged up the the accusations against Pope Pius XII, mentioning that the claims were controversial, yet not providing any hint that the claims had been soundly refuted... by Jews even.

All in all, I thought the museum was excellent, but I wish they would have presented a more balanced perspective in those two cases.

Just... Wow

My brother forwarded me this clip of Carlos Vamos playing Little Wing. What incredible tapping technique.

And Another Prayer Request

We have grandchild number 2 on the way. It looks like things are not going as smoothly, and the pregancy is considered high risk because of placenta previa. Please keep mother and child in your prayers.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Prayers for David R.

One of our fellow parishioners sent out a request for prayers for her son. Please add David R. to your prayer list:

On Wednesday I took my son to the eye doctor when he was complaining about seeing a big black spot everywhere he looked with his right eye. He could barely see anything at all. To make what’s turning into a very long story a bit shorter, they’ve discovered a mass of sorts on the macula behind his right eye. We’ve started running tests, and so far no “easy” or obvious answers are appearing. The latest theory is that there may be a growth (tumor) behind his eye in the socket, and some sort of fluid, that is pressing against his eye, causing a fluid leak (thus the object they found), as well as pressure behind the eye, pressing against it.

Next week we will be going to a neurologist for either an MRI or CAT scan to see what can be seen in his head.

As you can probably imagine, this is a very scary time for us. David’s mood is high – which is not surprising, he’s 11 years old and a really great kid. But he is scared, as are mom and dad.

So, I would ask for your prayers… lots of them, please. We need all the prayer warriors we can get. I’m praying that this turns into “nothing,” but at this stage we can’t take any chances. It’s hard not to think about all the “what if’s” – although I know I shouldn’t. So… anyway, please, please pray for David.

A Pilgrim Returns

I'm back as of yesterday, still not fully recovered from the change in time zones, and probably a little worse for the wear because of whatever bugs my neighbors on the airliner were coughing into the recirculated air.

That notwithstanding, the trip was not only successful, but enjoyable and educational. I had two separate tours through the Old City, both of which gave interesting perspectives on the history there. I had a chance to wave at the birthplace of St. John the Baptist, the Visitation, and the Mt. of Olives and Gethsemane. I walked on the floor of the room where the Last Supper was held, a short distance from the Tomb of King David, and I touched the rock of Golgotha. What morecould you ask from a pilgrimage?

Still in the process of recovering. I started back to work today, and I have to admit that I wasn't as on the ball as I should've been.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Dispatch 2 from Tel Aviv

Okay, Day... uh.. 5 in Tel Aviv. I've become much more comfortable here over the past few days. That is probably due to the fact that I've actually met and interacted with people. On my first day on the ground, I saw probably the worst parts of Tel Aviv (some zone between Tel Aviv and Jaffa filled with graffiti and "kibble" as Phillip K. Dick would've called it), followed by some concentrated time in Bethlehem. All of that followed a lovely 21-hour, trans-Atlantic flight--not exactly a formula for cheery times.

However, I've been on the ground and outside of Tel Aviv/Jaffa several times, and I've found that parts of Israel are quite beautiful. One of my colleagues here explained that this year is a shabbat year (or fallow year). You can read Leviticus 25 for an explanation. There are orange, lemon, and kumqwat trees all over the place, and I hear that there is some unimaginable number of olive trees as well. I will go on record that olives in the US are detestable (which I would've said even before I came here). The olives here have been excellent, and you wouldn't believe how much fresh produce is available. I've had some hummus made locally, and frankly, mine is better (probably because I got the recipe from an Egyptian who is also an ex-UN chef).

So I have taken a taxi from Tel Aviv to my client's site in Nes Zyonna/Rehovot for three days running. I haven't had the same route there or back once from what I can tell. Today's routes were particularly interesting--almost entirely surface roads. The funny thing is, whenever I show the drivers the address, they puzzle for a few minutes and then, look at me and utter a phrase that doesn't appear anywhere on my paper. "Pach madad?"

The first time this happened, I just shrugged and said, "I don't know." I don't speak any Hebrew and have yet to be able to utter the only two sentences I know: "Slijat, ani lo medaber Ibrit. Ata medaber Anglit?" (I'm sorry, I don't speak Hebrew. Do you speak English?") I have only choked out variations of the second clause, usually to the supressed titters of whomever is listening.

Anyway, this happened the first day. The second day, the driver didn't ask, but said "Pach madad." The third day, the driver called someone over, they looked at the destination, called another person over, discussed some more (all in Hebrew). I mentioned Rehovot. That just caused a round of dismissals. Finally, someone intoned, "Pach madad?"

And I said, "Pach madad!"

Off we went. My driver, a 60+ year old middle-eastern man who did not use GPS like the rest of his colleagues, merely laughed and said, "Bon voyage." And off we drove to Rehovot this morning, hitting every red light, and getting behind every bus between Tel Aviv and Nes Zyonna. At one point, my cheerful guide turned and said to me, "Israel has 7 million people and 10 million cars!"

Cliched as it might sound, every day has been an adventure.

My readership has dwindled. At least my wife still reads me (right, dear? Dear?)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Dispatch from Tel Aviv

I arrived in Israel on Saturday after sundown, which is good as nearly everything shuts down during Shabbat. I will get to experience that come Friday at sundown. I've been told that I need to catch the bus out of Jerusalem by 4:00 PM. I'd like to try to visit the Old City, so I'll have to get there early Friday morning. Busses do not run during Shabbat. In fact, I think they have only one working elevator here during Shabbat (unless it's called the Shabbat elevator to reserve it for observant Jews). BTW, the doors to every guest room here have a mezuzah. This is a case that holds a copy of the shema and is attached on the doorposts of the homes of observant Jews. I'm actually hoping to get one before I leave.

I was able to get to Bethlehem just barely yesterday. I missed the 9:10 shuttle, so I had to take a taxi to get there on time for Mass at St. Catherine's Church of the Nativity. If you make the trip here, make sure to get advice on haggling with taxi drivers. The concierge here at David Intercontinental recommended to always use the meter. However, sometimes you have no option but to negotiate. The drivers don't like to go to Bethlehem because they're very unlikely to get a fare coming back (at least at this time of year).

However, the taxi drivers in Bethlehem are very open to negotiation. Because of the wall and the closure of many of the checkpoints, many Palestinians have lost their jobs. The standing rate for a ride to St. Catherine's from the checkpoint is 10 NIS (roughly 2.75 USD). I was supposed to call my contact, Fr. Amateis (a Salesian priest and friend of a professor of mine at Holy Apostles), on my way to Bethlehem. However, my phone is apparently able to receive calls but not call out here. The driver I chose called for me (even stopped to by a phone card). As he drove me through the tight streets of Bethlehem, I couldn't help but be a little nervous. As far as I knew, my driver might've been hostile to Americans or taking me to someplace where I wouldn't be able to get back easily. However, after about 10 minutes, we pulled up in front of the Salesian Technical School, and Fr. Amateis stood waiting.

As it turned out, he knew the taxi driver and greeted him warmly. I said to the driver, "Well, then, God must've led me to you." It was actually a rather stunning to me, but Fr. Jacques explained that he knew most of the taxi drivers as he went from Bethlehem to Jerusalem frequently in his work with the Apostolic Nuncio. Father then led me through the streets of Bethlehem and to St. Catherine's Church of the Nativity.

Mass was in Arabic. I can't say there was much difference in the liturgy. From what I could tell, the priest stuck to the rubrics pretty well, and I was able to follow and respond in English where appropriate. Fr. Jacques gave me a tour of the Shrine of the Nativity. He made a point of distinguishing between history and religious practice, but he did not question the authenticity of the locations he showed me in the least. He stressed the importance of trusting those who have passed tradition down to us--a perspective with which I completely agree.

Fr. Jacques treated me to lunch, then took me to the Old City. I'll follow up with a post on that trip later.

One thing that is quite striking is the presence of the military on the streets. The first infantryman I saw was standing on the street in the dark in Tel Aviv, tucking in his shirt, with his M4 slung over his shoulder. That seemed odd enough. However, the next day gave me a real eyeopener. A taxi dropped me off at the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. The moment I walked in, I was greeted with dozens of young soldiers, men and women. I struggle with calling them men and women because they were the same age as my stepsons and daughters--no older than 23. They, too, carried M4s or other sidearms, clearly well used as the finish was worn on most. They carried their assault rifles slung over theis backs, barrel down, as casually as they might carry a briefcase. For the most part, these seemed no different than any other young adult, which shouldn't be surprising. Military service is mandatory for Israeli youth (although some can get out if they have religious objections).

More later.

Two Women of Grace?

One of the important lessons of the Old Testament, and one which points toward future doctrinal matters in the New Testament, is the matter of grace and gratitude and its role in Christian salvation economy. Where grace is seen as man’s due, disaster follows. Where grace is seen for what it is (God’s unmerited gift to us), grace abounds and increases. While the Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1–10) stresses the traditional political notion of salvation of the Deuteronomic period, the Song of Mary (Luke 1:46–55) seems to portray a more abstract, spiritual notion of salvation—one less concerned with political salvation than personal and spiritual. More importantly, while the language in the two pericopes is strikingly similar, the structural roles each play in the narratives in which they occur suggest a higher degree of craft than the typical reader would assert as mere coincidence.

Hannah (חנה) stems from the Hebrew chên (חנ) which means “grace” or even “favoured one.”[1] In the Septuagint, her name is rendered as Aννα.[2] She is the wife of Elkanah (אלקנה), whose name means “God has obtained.”[3] Hannah’s story prefigures the story of the people of Israel. Robert Polzin notes that the language in 1 Samuel reveals a political ideology and that “Hannah’s request for a son is intended to introduce, foreshadow, and ideologically comment upon the story of Israel’s request for a king.”[4] Having endured the provocations of her rival and Elkanah’s other wife, Penninah, Hannah refuses to eat, and she goes to the temple to pray (1 Samuel 9). She entreats the Lord for a child and promises to give him back to the Lord “all the days of his life” (1 Samuel 11). At the temple, she encounters Eli the priest, who thinks she is intoxicated (1 Samuel 12). However, Hannah acquits herself, and he gives her a blessing and an affirmation that her request will be granted: “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have made to him” (1 Samuel 17). Hannah’s conception of Samuel, like Sarah’s and Rachel’s before her, follows years of barrenness. She gives birth, and after her son Samuel (שםואל or Shemuel, which means “heard of God”) [5] is weaned, Hannah takes him to the temple and leaves him in the care of Eli, saying “Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord” (1 Samuel 28).

Hannah’s words of dedication are followed by her song in 1 Samuel 2:1. The imagery is largely royal, militaristic, and triumphal. As Polzin notes, we should expect that this poem is more than what it appears to be: “This little hymn at the beginning of our story is far from an ‘all-purpose poem’ appropriate wherever a pragmatic redactor would need to have a character turn a tune for poetic relief within a monotonous sea of prose.”[6]

The poem begins innocently enough. The first three verses note both praise of God’s glory and a sense of having been vindicated in the eyes of one’s enemies: “My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in the LORD. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in thy salvation.” The song continues in verses 4 through 10, alternating between images of reversal: the high are brought low, and the low are exalted. Interestingly, in verse 10, Hannah makes reference to “his king” and “his anointed.” The perspective of this last verse is as if the kingship of Israel has already been established. In a sense, it has, as Polzin points out: “The royal climax of Hannah’s song appears out of the blue, completely irrelevant to Hannah and her situation until we understand the story of Samuel’s birth as a finely orchestrated overture on the birth of kingship in Israel.”[7] The roles of Samuel and Saul here are intertwined from the beginning, but even more so than the relationship of priest and prophet to king would suggest.

In 1 Samuel 1:20, Hannah provides a folk etymology for Samuel’s name: “I have asked him of the Lord.” In 1 Samuel 27, Hannah again makes reference to having asked for a son. As Polzin points out, the connection in these two verses has caused considerable discussion among scholars:

In both these pericopes (1:20, 28[sic]), commentators have grappled with the wordplay whereby Hannah speaks of Samuel, or refers to his name, using a puzzling etymology that appears more appropriately to explain the name of Saul. Is there an accidental or haphazard mixture here of two traditions, a hybrid, a tebel, which confusingly “explains” Samuel’s name by offering an etymology for Saul’s?[8]

Clearly, the roles of Samuel and Saul are bound up in each other. While Samuel acts as priest and prophet, it is through his anointing (by God’s command) that Saul becomes king, and through Samuel’s guidance is Saul’s authority legitimate. Due to Saul’s abuse of authority, proper exercise of kingship eventually falls to the next king anointed by Samuel, David. It is through the Davidic line that God “preserves” the kingship of Israel.

Polzin notes the similarities between Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2 and David’s poem of praise in 2 Samuel 22.[9] In this victory song of David, many of the same images and reversals are present: salvation from one’s enemies and the image of the horn (1 Sam. 2:1; 2 Sam. 22:4); God as a rock (1 Sam 2:2; 2 Sam. 22:32); adversaries brought down to Sheol; the weak being girded with strength (1 Sam. 2:4; 2 Sam. 22:40). The similarities are many, and the author contends that “Hannah’s poem…is a prophetic song looking forward to that same victory.”[10] Still more, the two poems together wrap as with bookends the story of the rise of kingship in Israel: “Hannah’s initial song and David’s final hymn of praise form a poetic inclusio for the history contained within the book of Samuel.”[11] While David’s kingship ultimately ends badly, the movement is notable, and the relationship between the two poems is clearly more than coincidental.

What, then, can one conclude from the similarities between the Song of Hannah and the Song of Mary? Does the Gospel of Luke contain a similar inclusio marking the rise of a king of the Davidic line? Is there merely a superficial similarity in the composition of the poem, or do other elements in the context of the annunciation story also point to a connection? To start, one sees that both songs begin with praise to God the Father Almighty. For Hannah, praise is tied up with vindication in the eyes of her rival: “My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in the LORD. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in thy salvation” (1 Samuel 2:1). For Mary, her exclamation of praise has nothing to do with how others see her but with recognition of her lowly nature: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden” (Luke 1:46–47). One must note that both here and in the annunciation pericope of Luke 1:38 that Mary refers to herself as a “handmaid” or “handmaiden,” or in Greek, δονλής, maidservant, the same term used repeatedly by Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:16–18. Another consideration is the name Hannah itself, which means “grace” or “favored one,” words used by the angel Gabriel in his annunciation greeting to Mary in Luke 1:28. Hannah conceives through normal means by the merciful intervention of God (1 Samuel 1:19–20). Mary conceives through miraculous means by the intervention of God through the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). Add to these details the sacred tradition that the mother of Mary’s name is the same as the mother of Samuel, in Greek, Aννα or Anna, suggesting that Mary is truly the child of grace or favor.[12] With so many similarities in detail, the “coincidences” begin to seem hardly coincidental.

Mary’s song continues with a series of reversals, just as in Hannah’s song. The similarities in theme abound:

He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts (Luke 1:51).

The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength (1 Sam. 2:4).

[H]e has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away (Luke 1:53).

Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger (1 Sam. 2:5).

[H]e has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree (Luke 1:53).

He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor (1 Sam. 2:8).

However, it is in the final verses that the critical difference makes itself known. While Hannah claims a primarily worldly victory of the Lord over His adversaries and strength to the Lord’s anointed king (1 Samuel 2:10), Mary invokes the promise to Abraham to remember his children, God’s servant Israel (Luke 1:54–55). It is this tone of mercy in Mary’s song that differentiates the two poems. It is also this tone that points the reader to the other structural parallel of this book, a parallel that, using Polzin’s model in the books of Samuel, one can predict in the Gospel of Luke.

In Luke 6, Jesus comes fully into His ministry. He reveals to the Pharisees his power over the Sabbath and over the laws of nature (Luke 6:10). He names twelve apostles from his larger group of disciples (Luke 6:12–16). He performs the signs that indicate the establishment of the Kingdom of God: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” (Luke 7:22). He then delivers the quintessential Christian teaching:

“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger. Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:20–26)

Clearly, this teaching represents a pivotal moment in Christ’s ministry. Luke contains four of the eight blessings of the Beatitudes from Matthew 5:3–11, but what is interesting is that the account in Luke also contains four woes (or curses) that are not part of Matthew’s text. Whether these woes are new Lucan material or from the ever elusive Q source, they mark a significant departure from the text of Matthew’s Beatitudes. The woes also neatly correspond to the first four blessings, resulting in four reversals much like those presented in the songs of Hannah and Mary:

Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20).

But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation (Luke 6:24).

Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied (Luke 6:21).

Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger (Luke 6:25).

Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh (Luke 6:21).

Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep (Luke 6:25).

Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets (Luke 6:22).

Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets (Luke 6:26).

What is the purpose of the blessings and woes, the four dramatic reversals in Luke’s version of the Beatitudes? It is the announcement of a new order, of a salvation far different than that prophesied or expected by the Jews of the first century. Structurally, the blessings and the curses seem to have more in common with the era of Moses and Joshua, but when compared with the songs of Hannah and Mary, something else is happening here. Where Hannah’s song announces the rise of David in 2 Samuel 22, Mary’s song announces the rise of her son, our Lord in Luke 6. In a sense, the author of Luke seems to borrow the authority of the Deuteronomist to bolster his own authority, much in the same way that the Deuteronomist, as Polzin argues, subverts the authority of Moses to establish his own authority over the Law and its interpretation.[13]

Given how important it must have been to the author of Luke to demonstrate that Christ was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy, these similarities should not surprise the reader of scripture. However, more intriguing are the numerous ways in which the Luke account thwarts, overturns, or supersedes the Hannah/Samuel connection. An early hint that something new is afoot comes with the differences in the circumstances of each woman. Hannah is married and barren—not an enviable position for a first-century Hebrew woman. She makes her dissatisfaction known to Elkanah, who takes her unhappiness as a personal rejection: “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8). As one of two wives of Elkanah, one would not be out of line to think that Hannah already has all she needs and possibly more.[14] Hannah goes to the temple and entreats the Lord for a son. She encounters the priest, who affirms that she will be heard. She conceives through God’s intervention, and after she weans Samuel, she turns the child over to the temple. Only then does Hannah give praise for the intervention of God in her life in the form of her song in 1 Samuel 2.

Contrast this sequence of events with those in Luke’s account. Mary is not married and makes no explicit requests of God. She is contacted by God through Gabriel and is informed that she will give birth to a child through God’s intervention. She humbly submits to God’s will. Prior to the nativity, Mary praises God for having shown her favor in the song of Luke 1:46–55. She gives birth while on exile with her betrothed in the lowliest of circumstances. At the time of purification (Luke 2:25–35), she meets Simeon in the temple. The author of Luke does not indicate that Simeon is a priest, but his blessing of the Holy Family suggests a priestly function, and he certainly demonstrates more prophetic clarity of sight than Eli in Hannah’s account, who cannot tell the difference between a supplicant and a drunkard. Simeon indicates in very clear terms that Christ will be the cause of reversal: “[T]his child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34). The author adds yet one last element to confirm his intentional connection between the two stories: he “resurrects” Anna (the Greek form for “Hannah”) to have her announce Christ at the temple (Luke 2:38). In essence, the account of the annunciation, conception, birth, and dedication of Christ are the exact reversal of the account in 1 Samuel 1 and 2. If nothing else, the author of Luke was adept with the two-by-four of literary allusion.

The reversal of the accounts plays an important role in defining the newness of this encounter with Christ. As each precursor of the Messiah proves to be partial, mitigated, faulty, the taint of Adam’s sin on all mankind becomes more evident. It is no wonder why Hannah and Mary are juxtaposed to each other. Hannah is one who is not satisfied with what God has obtained for her (אלקנה or Elkanah), any more than the first Eve was satisfied with what God provided to Adam. Mary, the new Eve, undoes this ingratitude in her acceptance and trust of God’s will for her, even though it is a sword that will pierce her own soul (Luke 2:35). Her son rises from obscurity through a path of humiliation, taking on the sin of man rather than incurring the sins of other kings (Saul, David, Solomon, and all those who followed), dies a horrible death, and defeats the lowest of all defeats to be exalted above all. While the Davidic line, through mankind, leads to ever new lows, it is redeemed and raised up by Christ to ever new heights.

Works Cited

The Apostolic Bible. Newport: Apostolic Press, 2006.

“Hannah.” 26 October 2007. Wikipedia. 11 November 2007 <

Kirby, Peter. “Infancy Gospel of James.” 2007. Early Christian Writings. 17 November 2007 <>.

Polzin, Robert. Moses and the Deuteronomist. New York: Seabury Press, 1980.

—. Samuel and the Deuteronomist. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.

Strong, James. “A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible.” Strong, James. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Iowa Falls, Iowa: World Bible Publishers, Inc., 1986. 53.

—. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Iowa Falls, Iowa: World Bible Publishers, Inc., 1986.

“The New Testament.” The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version. Catholic Edition. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1966.


[1] James Strong, “A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible.” In Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, by James Strong, (Iowa Falls, Iowa: World Bible Publishers, Inc., 1986) 53. Also “Hannah,” Wikipedia, October 26, 2007,, November 11, 2007.

[2] The Apostolic Bible. Newport: Apostolic Press, 2006.

[3] Strong, 16.

[4] Robert Polzin, Samuel and the Deuteronomist (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989) 25.

[5] Strong, 156.

[6] Polzin, 36.

[7] Ibid, 31.

[8] Polzin, 25.

[9] Ibid, 32–34.

[10] Ibid, 33.

[11] Ibid, 31.

[12] Peter Kirby, “Infancy Gospel of James,” Early Christian Writings, 2007, <>, 17 November 2007. Also noted in the original Greek text of the Protoevangelium of James and the various translation accessible from the above site.

[13] Polzin, Moses and the Deuteronomist (New York: Seabury Press, 1980) 56.

[14] Elkanah’s sense of rejection seems to prefigure the Lord’s rejection by Israel in 1 Samuel 8.

Messianic Figure and Prefigure

Bruce Springsteen had a point in his 1987 microanalysis of human progress[1], and it was a point evident in the stories of the Genesis patriarchs: for every step forward we make on our own power, we invariably take two steps back. The story of Joseph, son of Jacob, exemplifies the limits of human effort in effecting redemption. While Joseph acts out the role of redeemer and savior for his family, the Egyptians, and the surrounding nations, the salvation he offers is mitigated. However, in his limited messianic role, Joseph points forward to both an ideal of the messiah and to the true Messiah, Jesus Christ.

In any discussion of the term “messiah,” one must look at two competing messianic ideals in Judaism: the national ideal and the apocryphal ideal. The earliest notion (based on early prophecies) is the national ideal, and this concept is the one embraced by Pharisaic Judaism. [2] This ideal focuses on an earthly messiah, one that will establish the Kingdom of God under a son of David and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. As L.W. Geddes describes, “The seventeenth Psalm describes his rule: He is to conquer the heathen, to drive them from their land, to allow no injustice in their midst; His trust is not to be in armies but in God; with the word of his mouth he is to slay the wicked.”[3] Modern Jewish perspectives are not much different from this view, as Tracey Rich explains:

The moshiach will be a great political leader descended from King David (Jeremiah 23:5). The moshiach is often referred to as "moshiach ben David" (moshiach, son of David). He will be well-versed in Jewish law, and observant of its commandments (Isaiah 11:2-5). He will be a charismatic leader, inspiring others to follow his example. He will be a great military leader, who will win battles for Israel. He will be a great judge, who makes righteous decisions (Jeremiah 33:15). But above all, he will be a human being, not a god, demi-god or other supernatural being.[4]

This national messianic ideal is opposed to the apocalyptic ideal, a concept based on the prophecies of Daniel. While the national ideal focuses on an earthly messiah, the apocalyptic ideal stresses a future state: “The future age was to be ushered in by the Divine judgment of mankind preceded by the resurrection of the dead. The Messiah, existing from the beginning of the world, should appear at the consummation, and then should be also manifested the heavenly Jerusalem which was to be the abode of the blessed.”[5]

While Joseph cannot fully qualify under either ideal (as he precedes David), his role as a type of messiah is clearly in line with those of the national ideal: an earthly person who reunites the tribes (sons) of Israel and saves the nations from starvation. The general movement of the story is from someone proud who is humbled through a fall (his brothers’ betrayal in Genesis 37) and who rises through God’s favor to become far more powerful than in his previous state. With each humiliation, Joseph gains in status and power, until finally he exercises the authority of Pharaoh himself (Genesis 41). In this capacity, he effects the salvation of his family and is reunited with them. In the process, Joseph also saves the people of Egypt from starvation and puts the surrounding nations under the control of Pharaoh. As Fr. Paul Tarazi notes, it is through Joseph’s line through Ephraim that the future of Israel is preserved: “Whatever the totality of the biblical Israel is said to have undergone, it undergoes, as it were, by proxy through Joseph and Ephraim. Put otherwise, Judah’s salvation is wrought through its adoption into the story of Joseph/Ephraim’s salvation.”[6] Clearly, then, Joseph serves as a national messianic figure. Through him, the line of Israel is preserved, and he becomes a messianic model against which future messianic figures would be compared.

It should come as no surprise, then, to find numerous parallels between the stories of Joseph in Genesis and the stories of Jesus in the synoptic gospels. Joseph, as the messianic model, sets the tone for the New Testament writers, and many common elements appear in the gospel narrative to reinforce Christ’s messianic mission. Both Joseph and Jesus are conceived through Divine intervention. In Genesis 30: 22–24, God “remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her and opened her womb.” In Luke 1, Mary conceives by the power of the Most High. While Joseph is declared by narrative to be the favored son in Genesis 37:3, God the Father declares Jesus’ favor during His baptism in all three synoptic accounts (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:11, and Luke 3:22) and again in the account of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1–9, Mark 9:1–8, and Luke 9:28–36). Jealousy of Joseph’s favored status in Genesis 37 leads his brothers to betray him for 20 pieces of silver. Jesus is betrayed by Judas to the Pharisees for 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15). Both are tempted, albeit in different fashions—Joseph in his master’s house (Genesis 39:7–18), and Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–11, Mark 1:12, and Luke 4:1–13). While Jesus is most frequently associated with the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, certainly Joseph qualifies as well. Joseph himself recognizes God’s hand in his falling and rising: “So it was not you who sent me here, but God; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:8). Joseph suffers for the sins of his brothers but redeems them in the process. In Isaiah 53:10–11, the suffering servant is an offering for sin as well:

Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities.

Of course, the gospels make reference to Isaiah 53 with some frequency (Matthew 8:17, Mark 10:45, John 12:38), as do other books of the New Testament (Acts 8:32–33, 1 Peter 1:19, 1 Peter 2:22–23, Revelation 5:9). Isaiah 53 is, perhaps, one of the best demonstrations of St. Augustine’s dictum concerning exegesis: “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.”[7]

While some parallels tend toward more literal expression, some are more figurative. Joseph is an apprentice shepherd,[8] while Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11–14). Joseph later acts under the authority of the Pharaoh. At play here is the common representation of the Pharaoh as shepherd, and common depiction of Egyptian royalty and divinity with a crook and flail, the tools of a shepherd.[9] This image is also common to the Hebrew scripture, most specifically in the character of King David.[10] This dual identity of king and shepherd also carries over into Christ’s identity as the Good Shepherd and a king of the line of David.

However well Joseph fits the ideal of the national messiah, he simply does not rise to the level of the apocalyptic messiah. (One could argue that the inverse is true of Jesus—that he fails to meet the national ideal.) Even as a national messiah, any redemption offered by Joseph is temporal and short lived, lasting only as long as the Pharaoh remembers him (Exodus 1:8). While Joseph saves his family from starvation, he ultimately leads them into exile and servitude in Egpyt (Exodus 1:11). Only the sons of Ephraim leave, and only Joseph’s remains return to Canaan to be buried (Genesis 50:25). There is little scriptural evidence that he rises to the level of military leadership or “slays the wicked.”[11] In light of the prophecy in Daniel 7, the dramatic difference between Joseph and Jesus becomes more pronounced.

Geddes explains the importance of the Daniel 7 prophecy in the development of the apocalyptic ideal: “The consummation is not an earth-won ascendancy of the chosen people, whether shared with otter[sic] nations or not, but a vindication of the holy by the solemn judgment of Jahveh and his Anointed One.”[12] Daniel gives the scripture reader far more ethereal images than Isaiah’s suffering servant:

As I looked, thrones were placed and one that was ancient of days took his seat; his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came forth from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened… I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:9–10, 13–14)

The two passages noted throughout Revelation and in all four gospels[13] establish a clear connection between the one who comes “like a son of man” and Jesus Christ. While Joseph exercises power in a purely earthly capacity, this power of the Son of Man is one that is not now but coming—not of the simple earthly kind, but eternally lasting. As Jesus Himself says in John, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews” (John 18:36). Those Jews looking for a national messiah alone would again be frustrated with Yeshua ben Yosef, but those looking for the Christ, the true son of God, would find Him.

Joseph exercises earthly power given by a false god (although ultimately derived from the one True God, cf. Genesis 39:3), while Jesus exercises power of His own Divinity, the power of God the Father working through Him. Joseph is a patriarchal prototype of the national messiah—not a true messiah himself, but providing the model, pointing to, hinting at a messiah to come. As such, he prefigures our Lord Jesus Christ, the figure and form of true salvation.

Works Cited and Referenced

Aherne, Cornelius. "Son of Man." 1912. The Catholic Encyclopedia. 17 October 2007 <>.

Alter, Robert. The Five Books of Moses: Translation and Commentary. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004.

Catechism of the Catholic Church. New York: Doubleday, 1995.

Dunn, Jimmy. The Crook and Flail in Ancient Egypt. 13 10 2005. 15 October 2007 <>.

Geddes, L.W. "Messiah." 1 October 1911. The Catholic Encyclopedia. 14 October 2007 <>.

The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version. Catholic Edition. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1966.

Rich, Tracey R. "Moshiach: The Messiah." 2001. Judaism 101. 14 October 2007 <>.

Springsteen, Bruce. "One Step Up." Tunnel of Love. By Bruce Springsteen. 1987.

Tarazi, Paul Nadim. The Old Testament Introduction Vol. 1: Historical Traditions. New, Revised Edition. Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2003.

[1] Bruce Springsteen, “One Step Up,” Tunnel of Love, 1987, <
songs/OneStepUp.html>, 13 October 2007.

[2] L.W. Geddes, "Messiah," 1 October 1911,. The Catholic Encyclopedia, 14 October 2007, <>.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Tracey R. Rich, "Moshiach: The Messiah," 2001, Judaism 101, 14 October 2007, <>.

[5] Geddes, <>.

[6] Paul Nadim Tarazi, The Old Testament Introduction Vol. 1: Historical Traditions, New, Revised Edition *Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2003), 72.

[7] Catechism of the Catholic Church, (New York : Doubleday, 1995) 42.

[8] Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: Translation and Commentary (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004) 206.

[9] Jimmy Dunn, “The Crook and Flail in Ancient Egypt,” 13 10 2005, Tour Egypt, 15 October 2007 <>.

[10] Tarazi, 47–51.

[11] Geddes, <>.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Cornelius Aherne, “Son of Man,” 1912, The Catholic Encyclopedia, 17 October 2007 <>.

Monday, January 07, 2008


Greetings, and a happy new year to you all!

I'm sorry for being so unresponsive over the last few months. I guess I've been going through a spiritual rough patch. Managed to get through my scripture class without messing up my GPA, and I will resume regular blogging shortly—probably with fewer quizzes and more of my own cogitations.

I do have one thing to ask fo you, and that is for your prayers for my upcoming trip. I'm headed to Tel Aviv to do some technical training, and I hope also to take in some historical and archeological sites. Please keep me in your prayers for a safe trip, and if you have any suggestions outside the obvious sites to visit, please let me know.

I have been reading Surprised by Truth and have been surprosed at how similar the stories sound to my own (with the exception that early all of these folk caught on a lot earlier than I did). I am going to make a concerted effort to finish my conversion story and post it. I also have two papers and a meme to which I need to respond... a-and I've been meaning to post some thoughts on a few passages from Luke 1. Or something.

God bless all of you.