In Reno, We Had a Discussion with a University Professor Part 1 answers why Torah was written, by whom and for whom. It was written to prove Israel and Judah were one people. It was written to convince the Jewish people, and to the Persian satrap who represents China. It also explains many of the contradictions in Torah. It was written to disparate groups, all of whom had to be appeased.
In the conversation with a university professor, we discussed some of these disagreements. Jewish law prohibits eating meat and milk products. Genesis 18 tells the story of how Abraham fed three strangers, angels. He fed them meat and milk products. Why should we care what some sheepherder fed three strangers, four thousand years ago? 2 Kings 18 tells the story of finding what was probably our book of Deuteronomy. This book gives the command against mixing milk and meat products. As such, it comes before Genesis with the story of Abraham feeding meat and milk to angels. The virtues of this rule must have been subject to debate and our story of Abraham reflects this debate in the community.
Exodus 6:20 reflects how Moses’ father married his aunt. Exodus 20:12 tells us to honor father and mother. Leviticus 18:12 commands that we not marry our father’s sister, exactly what Moses’ father did. Tradition relates that Moses wrote this rule, in essence condemning his father. Further, the Ten Commandments, is written to the people of Israel, whose parents were not worthy to enter the Promised Land. Honor your father and mother.
This can cause a lack of faith. We must put our silver Torah through the flames so that we can grow. We must test the spirits to see if they are true.
Our test shows how the founding fathers of post-exile Israel/Judah, were comfortable with ambiguity and were writing a dynamic and truthful text about who they are as a people. It reflects a dynamic community who were passionate about their faith traditions. It is like our nation is a dynamic community. Each region of our great nation, each ethnic and economic group, and our groupings of rural, suburban, and urban peoples are passionate about our traditions.
We see the same thing in our New Testament, as was related in the conversation with the university professor. St. Matthew relates the story of the star of Bethlehem. Most scholars date this star as coming in the spring and fall of 7 B.C.E. Scholars also date the Passion as being 1 April, of 33 of the Common Era. That means Jesus was born in the fall, Yom Kippur or the feast of atonement of 7 B.C.E. It also means Jesus died when he was 40. The temptation scene in 4 Matthew and in Mark reflect 40 days of temptation, one for each year of Jesus’ life.
Luke states Jesus was 30 when he died. Further, if we date Gabriel appearing to Zechariah on Yom Kippur, when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, and count nine months, John was born in June of the following year. Luke tells us Jesus was born six months later, in December, as in December 25. John tells us Jesus is not yet 50. John also tells us how Jesus said he would destroy the temple and raise it in three days, but the temple refers to his body. The Pharisees confused his reference with the temple, which was 47 at the time. In John, Jesus was 47.
The university professor protested, accurately, that most do not care when Jesus was born.
What is important is that the first century Christian community was comfortable with ambiguity, up to and including when and where Jesus was born. It was comfortable with different understandings of key words and ideas. There was room for disagreement on key issues. None of the Gospels have Jesus explicitly say how old he is. The narrative, not the dialogue, implies that in Matthew, Mark, and John, and states it in Luke. The narrative states the tradition of the particular community of the gospel writer, not the actual age of Jesus.
We need to notice how St. Luke begins his gospel, “Many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us. Those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and rowers of the word have handed them down to us. I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you.”
St. Luke claims to be one writer among many of those who “Have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events…” The fact that he follows St. Mark so closely implies St. Mark is one of those witnesses. There were many traditions floating around, and St. Luke is following good theological reflection to discern which stories are best attested. He believes, based upon his research, that Jesus was 30. St. Mark, getting his word from St. Peter, believes he was 40. Like St. Luke, St. Matthew also gets his word from St. Mark. The difference is that he follows St. Mark’s dating. St. John is on his own.
What is important is to whom our texts were written. Our texts were written to people who were comfortable with disagreement, and who looked to the bigger picture, who they were as a people. St. Luke does not disparage those whose narratives are different than his. He draws his information from them, selecting what he believes to be the best information from them. This is much like listening to the old folks at a meeting of the parish senior citizens to learn about how life was like sixty or seventy years ago. There will be disagreement among these folk. The researcher takes the most attested stories and relates those. The researcher is aware that when listening to these folks, the least attested story might just be the right one. Still, he humbly makes his best guesses and reports these.
Elijah, after all, will come and straighten out the details later. Our Torah and New Testament were written by people who were passionate enough about their faith traditions to relate them, even if they caused ambiguity. Most scholars agree, St. Mark probably wrote first and that St. Matthew and St. Luke used St. Mark’s Gospel as a guide while writing their gospels. Also, St. Matthew and St. Luke probably wrote from the same city, so probably knew each other.
This means they were passionate enough to relate their disagreements about how old Jesus was born, and when he was born, but also understanding enough to allow the other understandings to exist beside theirs.
This also gives us an understanding about God. Our God is a God who allows for disagreement, yet is passionate and calls us for be passionate about what we believe, but not at the expense of forcing our beliefs upon others. Our God is a relational God who believes in E Pluribus Unum, from the many ideas of him, one. Peace, a true sense of tranquility within our communities is to be our main goal. Our question this Lent is, “Do we allow room for legitimate disagreement?
Jesus tells us how a house divided against itself cannot stand. In our pluralistic society is there room for, “Scripture (My denomination’s interpretation) says it; I believe it; that settles it?” Is there room for St. Matthew and St. Mark to believe Jesus was 40, St. John that he was 47, and St. Luke that he was 30? Is this the essence of our faith, or is the cross and the moved stone on Sunday morning the essence of our faith?
Can we put the details aside and allow John the Baptist/Elijah to give us the correct details later, or must we undergo what happened to first Israel, and then Judah, and undergo the humiliation of figuring it all out in committee under the oversight of a foreign satrap?