The Bible in and as History: Luke


The Good Samaritan

If one were to ask a layman, the sort who hasn’t ever read the Gospels in full and absorbed most of what he knows of Jesus from a combination of Sunday School, popular stories and badly drawn Children books, what the main beats of Jesus’ life are, what I think would be interesting is how many of them come in part from Luke.


Like Mathew but unlike Mark, Luke has a far more supernatural bent.  The Jesus of Luke is a divine figure, less a man than a proxy for God who speaks in mystical parables and with hints of hidden knowledge.  Where the Jesus of Mark laments his death on the Cross, a Prophet and Messiah figure asking ‘Where are you God?’, Luke’s Jesus is more serene, surrendering himself up to God as if the entirety of these events was expected.  That indeed is the part of Luke’s theology that becomes apparent and the part where, like each of the two previous works, we must try and see in historical context what was recorded for Theological purposes.  Mark, Mathew, Luke and Later John will all record events of supposedly the same person, yet have very different purposes, interpretations and even actually recordings of sayings.  Like the Akira Kurosawa film ‘Rashomon’ in which several different people each retell the same set of events from their perspective, we are left with different reflections of historical and ahistorical events, and we must parse them.

To my first point; My own, very vague, limited ‘Anglican in Theory’ upbringing would lead me to the following ‘stories’ about Jesus; The Christmas Narrative, we all know Jesus was born in a Manger in Bethlehem, under a glowing Star.  Three Kings show up to give him gifts.  A whole bunch of animals; humble birth to the sainted King of Kings.  What’s interesting is how much of that popular fiction isn’t even constructed from the Biblical texts.  The ‘Three Kings’ or the ‘Magi’ as I’ve referenced before, show up years after Jesus birth in the biblical tellings.  More interesting is that much of this is almost assuredly fiction.  The parts we could match to history simply don’t’ have any support.  No indication of a wide-spread hunt and slaughter of Babies by Herod for example.  Absolutely no reason for people to ‘return to their birthplaces’ for some sort of Census or tax thing.  The Romans were effective tax collectors, and the idea that people would have to return to their supposed birthplaces to do so would appear as strange to them as it does to us.  Astrological indications also don’t seem to point to any Star.  Certainly, the expansive Persian records would record something in this regard?  But all that is sort of immaterial in talking about Luke.  Luke’s start of Jesus’ life is about a consistent theological construction of that life.  Where for Mark, Jesus shows up as an Adult man, a follower, or something similar to John the Baptist to whom the torch is passed, etc.  In Luke Jesus is foretold, and everyone around him knows it.  John is birthed in mystical circumstances as well, a prophet of Jesus’ coming.  These are not historical understandings of events.

Moving on discussing the limited knowledge of my youth; Jesus was a preacher or something, he walks on water, feeds a whole bunch of people Loaves and Fishes through some sort of Magic, throws the Money Changers out of the Temple for some reason, and gets nailed to the Cross, where he dies and then comes back three days later.  What one notices is that much of what I ‘recall’ of my childhood exposure is magical.  Now obviously the fantastic is going to stick with a child more than any esoteric theology is going to.  That’s precisely why fairy-tales and all manner of fantasy are engrossing to children of varied cultures.  As my previous discussion on Mark talked about, however, merely because something is magical doesn’t mean there isn’t a potential for historical truth within.  The Stories of Troy, famously, are filled with the intercessions of Greek Gods, yet they led to the discovery of actual historical cities that were thought mythical.  We don’t take this as evidence that Zeus is an actual figure, however.

So Lukes text is similar, but more expansive and focused on other things compared to Mark and Mathew; Jesus and John the Baptist are born in mystical circumstances, Jesus is baptised by John, prophecy is fulfilled.  Jesus starts his ministry, isn’t well received in his home.  He travels to Jerusalem, whereby he knows the future that awaits him.  This is the biggest departure from the other two I think; wherein Mark and Mathew might abstractly suggest Jesus had some inkling of things going south, Luke straight up says “Jesus knew his destiny was to die on the cross”.  This different obviously has theological implications, if not historical ones.  In any case, Jesus has confrontations with local Jewish Leaders, he is arrested and executed on the Cross, he arrises three days later, miracles abound, etc.

Textual analysis of Luke pairs it with Acts, a book of the bible I haven’t gotten to yet.  These are generally considered to be done by the same author(s).  Luke has many similarities to Mathew and Mark, and it is generally agreed upon that Luke was formed through utilisation of Mark and ‘The Q Source’, with about a third of it unique to Luke.  Looking at surviving texts, we actually have two separate ‘streams’ or ‘families of versions’ of the two works.  There is considerable evidence that Luke was being revised well into the 2nd century.  To a society such as our, where the copying of text is so astoundingly easy that we often forget how difficult it once was, it can seem amazing that a central religious text would be altered over time.  Yet when books have to be copied out by hand, and where the survival of texts beyond a few centuries is most assuredly not guarantee, it is entirely possible and indeed likely for variations within a codex to propagate.



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One response to “The Bible in and as History: Luke

  1. Pingback: The Bible in and as History: Acts | Future Scribe

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