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The High Priestly Garments January 23, 2010

Posted by Lee in Xa: The High Priestly Garments.
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Some historical intrigue surrounds the Jewish high priestly garments. These vestments bestowed great splendor upon the high priest (cf. Sirach 45.6-13; Wisdom of Solomon 18.24). They were thought to bear some cosmic symbolism (Philo, Life of Moses, 2.109-126, esp. 2.117ff.). Josephus offers an elaborate description of the garments:

“When he officiated, he had on a pair of breeches that reached beneath his privy parts to his thighs, and had on an inner garment of linen, together with a blue garment, round, without seam, with fringe work, and reaching to the feet. There were also golden bells that hung upon the fringes, and pomegranates intermixed among them. The bells signified thunder, and the pomegranates lightning. But that girdle that tied the garment to the breast was embroidered with five rows of various colors, of gold, and purple, and scarlet, as also of fine linen and blue, with which colors we told you before the veils of the temple were embroidered also. The like embroidery was upon the ephod; but the quantity of gold therein was greater. Its figure was that of a stomacher for the breast. There were upon it two golden buttons like small shields, which buttoned the ephod to the garment; in these buttons were enclosed two very large and very excellent sardonyxes, having the names of the tribes of that nation engraved upon them: on the other part there hung twelve stones, three in a row one way, and four in the other; a sardius, a topaz, and an emerald; a carbuncle, a jasper, and a sapphire; an agate, an amethyst, and a ligure; an onyx, a beryl, and a chrysolite; upon every one of which was again engraved one of the forementioned names of the tribes. A mitre also of fine linen encompassed his head, which was tied by a blue ribbon, about which there was another golden crown, in which was engraven the sacred name [of God]: it consists of four vowels. However, the high priest did not wear these garments at other times, but a more plain habit; he only did it when he went into the most sacred part of the temple, which he did but once in a year, on that day when our custom is for all of us to keep a fast to God.” (War 5.7)

The region of Palestine had been riddled with unrest. Rome had grown tired of listening to the civil disputes and eventually began appointing new officials to Judea and the surrounding regions. Even these appointees behaved unruly at times, requiring official intervention from Rome in various capacities. One of Rome’s solutions to the power struggle involved taking custody over these seemingly powerful and glorious Jewish vestments in 6 or 8CE, when Annas was high priest.

But they were eventually returned to the Jewish priesthood in 37CE. As James VanderKam writes,

“During the period when the Romans assumed control of Judea, the governor took over these symbolic clothes and permitted the high priest to have them only during festivals. As Josephus explains, the robe worn by the high priest when he sacrificed was at all other times kept in the citadel located to the northwest of the temple complex. Herod himself kept custody of the robe, and after him the Roman rulers placed it under their control until the reign of Tiberius (14-37CE). At that time custody of the robe was given as a favor to the people by Vitellius, governor of Syria; Jewish control of it continued until the death of Agrippa I in 44CE. … The garment was thought to convey such a powerful impression that the authorities worried about the political and social effect it might have.” (Judaism, 180-181)

E. P. Sanders similarly notes,

“When Vitellius, the legate of Syria, visited Jerusalem in 36CE, he asked what return he could make for his kind reception. The Jews asked to have the [high priestly] vestments under their own authority, and Vitellius obtained this favour from Tiberius (Ant. 15.403-5; 18.90-95). They remained in Jewish control until the death of Agrippa I in 44. …Control of the vestments was important, so important that two Roman emperors concerned themselves directly with it, important enough that people who had absolute military power worried about letting these garments out of their control. …With his sacred vestments on, the high priest spoke for Israel to God, and for God to Israel. The office, symbolized by the vestments, was not just respected, it was revered. …In the absence of a Davidic king the natural assumption was that the high priest was ordained by God to lead the people. The vestments were sacred, and they symbolized his holy office – whether or not the wearer was worthy of them.” (Judaism, 326-327)

This historical data offers a significantly different understanding for Luke’s second volume. In Acts 9.31, we read that the church enjoyed a time of peace. This peaceful interlude followed Saul’s sanctioned persecutions on the heels of Stephen’s death (7.54-8.1). It is estimated by most scholars that this time of peace began in 37CE.

In 37CE, Caesar Tiberius died and Gaius Caligula was granted the throne. Marcellus replaced Pilate as Prefect of Judea and Herod Agrippa I was appointed Tetrarch of Batanaea. Two years prior, Vitellius had been given the governorship of Syria. So the region of Palestine saw significant changes in Roman authority.

Additionally, Caiaphas was desposed of the high priesthood by Vitellius, who appointed Jonathan ben Annas in his stead. Jonathan served for about one year from 36 to 37CE, when his brother Theophilus replaced him at Vitellius’ order. Theophilus served the high priesthood from 37 to 41CE.

All of this means that during Annas’ reign as high priest, the holy vestments were taken from Jerusalem in an effort to settle the unrest that had existed in Jerusalem and Judea. Consequently, the priesthood lost its visible glory and honor, and most probably the respect and homage from the people. When the vestments were returned, Theophilus ben Annas would have been the first to don them since his father. And this coincides with the peaceful interlude we find in Acts 9.31.

Of course, this time of peace should be understood as a direct consequence to the newly appointed officials in the region. But the holy vestments had given the people of Jerusalem a restored reverence for the office of the high priest, which had, at various times, lost control over a number of situations and disputes, not the least of which involved Jesus the Nazarene and his followers. These Jesus believers continued to reside in Jerusalem and worship in the Temple amid the disturbing, even hostile, environment (Acts 2.46; 3.1-10; 4.1ff.; 5.17-42). That the high priestly garments were revered by the Jewish leadership and people explains, to some degree, the ensuing peace upon their return.

The term of Theophilus ben Annas as high priest markedly contrasted the terms of his father and brothers (and brother-in-law Caiaphas). Annas and Caiaphas were visibly responsible for the death of Jesus and the struggled with Jesus’ followers (see the Gospels and Acts 4.6ff.). No such smear exists on Theophilus’ name. Instead, we read of a peaceful reign.

The high priest responsible for Stephen’s death is not named by Luke. This is puzzling, as he reveals no hesitation to name those high priests which had been directly responsible for previous matters (cf. Acts 4.6). Most likely, Theophilus’ brother Jonathan was responsible for Stephen’s death. Thus, his being deposed after a very short term. And that Luke does not name Jonathan might demonstrate his irenic appeal to Theophilus. Why implicate the brother of Theophilus in a document which might be read widely when Luke’s goal is to convince Theophilus of the legitimacy of the Jesus movement?

Certainly Theophilus’ appointment was accompanied by Rome’s demand for a peace in the region, especially on the heels of Stephen’s death at the hand of Theophilus’ brother. But that Theophilus had enjoyed the privilege of wearing the holy vestments surely contributed to the eradication of unrest in Jerusalem, or at least to a mutual respect between the priesthood and the people. Luke’s words found in Acts 9.31 should thus be understood as a compliment to his recipient, Theophilus ben Annas, high priest of 37-41CE.


Luke 16.19-31 January 17, 2010

Posted by Lee in i:16.19-31: Rich Man and Lazarus.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

[19] “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. [20] And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, [21] who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. [22] The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; [23] and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. [24] And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ [25] But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. [26] And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ [27] And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, [28] for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ [29] But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ [30] And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ [31] He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'”

Luke’s story from Jesus of the rich man and Lazarus has sparked much debate regarding various issues ranging from theology to form. Some make theological arguments on the nature of the afterlife. Some speculate over whether or not the story belongs in the catalogue of parables. (If so, this is the only parable in which Jesus names a player.) Whatever the possible theological implications or form, it should be asked what interest Luke’s recipient Theophilus would have in such a story, and what Luke was doing in telling it.

Attempts to identifying these individuals with historical figures have been made, though none yet found convincing. Some have linked the five brothers to Herod’s household. Some have attempted to link Luke’s Lazarus with the Lazarus raised in John 11. Though risking a similar fate of its predecessors, what follows is a different effort to connect the players in this story with real, historical figures of the period – namely, the rich man with Caiaphas, the rich man’s father with Annas, the five brothers with Annas’ five sons, and Lazarus with the Lazarus of John 11. As such, the Lucan Jesus has related this story as an implication of the priesthood’s corruption. Several details reveal this.

First, the rich man is said to be “clothed in purple and fine linen” (2.19). This is a description of the high priestly garments, according to Exodus: “The also make the coats, woven of fine linen, for Aaron and his sons, and the turban of fine linen, and the caps of fine linen, and the linen breeches of fine twined linen, and the girdle of fine twined linen and of blue and purple and scarlet stuff, embroidered with needlework; as the Lord had commanded Moses” (39.27-29; cf. also Leviticus 16.4). Sirach reads likewise: “[The Lord] clothed [Aaron] in perfect splendor…with the sacred vestment, of gold and violet and purple, the work of an embroiderer” (45.8-11). Josephus notes the same: “[In Alexander’s presence] The priests stood clothed with fine linen, and the high priest in purple scarlet clothing…” (Antiquities 11.8.5 [331]; cf. War 5.7 [231-36]). So, Jesus’ brief description of this rich man matches that of the high priest.

Second, Luke’s story shares some degree of parallel with John 11, in which Jesus raises his friend Lazarus from the dead. Most scholars have been hesitant to connect Luke’s Lazarus with John’s. In the words of J. A. Fitzmyer, “There is no hard evidence to establish a connection between this Lucan parable and the Johannine miracle-story” (Luke, 2.1129).  Yet, a brief analysis of the historical data indicates that such a connection is plausible, if not probable.

In John, we read that when Lazarus was raised, the chief priests and Pharisees plotted with Caiaphas to kill both Jesus (11.45-53) and Lazarus (12.9, 10). The teaching on resurrection (5.29; 11.24, 25) and the demonstration of such a teaching put Jesus at risk among the Sadducean leadership. As a result, a great interest was taken not only in Jesus, but also in Lazarus.

From a statistical standpoint, the likelihood that no other Lazarus than the Lazarus found in John 11 would appear in the NT by chance is roughly 1% (Richard Fellows, personal correspondences: 31 Aug 2008, 11 Jan 2010; see end note). Given the imminent danger surrounding Lazarus post-resurrection, it is highly unlikely that a Jesus-believer would have taken up or publicly retained the name. The need for protective anonymity (cf. Fellows’ article) was obvious. And, even if there were a number of individuals named Lazarus in Palestine, the likelihood that one sympathetic to the Jesus movement would have been included in a Jesus story is very low. The writers would have run the risks of confusion, as in cases of mistaken identity, and thus endangering the ‘other’ Lazarus(es).

In John 11.47, 48, we find that the chief priests were concerned about Rome’s perception of the incident: “‘What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on thus, every one will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.'” It is quite possible, though not stated, that a warrant for Lazarus’ arrest may have been issued. If so, the church would have been guilty of harboring a wanted criminal, in which case she would have been all the more interested in keeping Lazarus and his name out of the public eye. Such an interest would have precluded any reference to any Lazarus in formal, pro-Jesus documents, thus making Luke’s reference to a Lazarus all the more puzzling if it were not meant to represent the resurrected friend of Jesus.

Additionally, that John does not hesitate to include the historical details of Lazarus’ resurrection indicates that Lazarus had most probably died by the time John wrote. Conversely, that Luke offers a cryptic telling of Lazarus’ resurrection in parabolic form indicates that Lazarus was most probably still alive post-resurrection when he wrote. Further, that Lazarus was a close friend to Jesus and the Twelve (John 11.11ff.) at least implies a great interest in protecting Lazarus and his name.

All of this highly suggests that Luke’s Lazarus and John’s Lazarus are one and the same.

Third, this poor Lazarus is said to lay “at his [the rich man’s] gate” (16.20). This might very well refer to the gate which guarded the temple. Luke, in Acts 3.2, 10, mentions another beggar at the temple gate, there called “Beautiful”.

That Lazarus is portrayed as poor and infirm ought not deter one from concluding that he is the Lazarus who was raised by Jesus in John 11. Luke often employs a poor/rich dichotomy. Lazarus’ need for protection may have prompted Luke to further obscure his identity by depicting him as poor and infirm. And, given that Luke’s point is to expose the corruption of the priesthood, the emphasis is not on Lazarus’ poor state, but on the rich man’s wealth and his refusal to reach out to the poor and needy who were in his immediate vicinity (an indictment which also comes through in Jesus’ story of the good Samaritan, in which a priest and a Levite fail to help one in need). Such care for the poor and needy was a high priestly duty given by God.

Fourth, the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to “my father’s house” and to his five brothers. Caiaphas was the son-in-law to Annas ben Seth, the high priest of 6-15CE. Annas had five sons: Eleazar, Jonathan, Theophilus, Matthias and Ananus (all of whom eventually served as high priests after Caiaphas, though only Eleazar and Jonathan preceded Theophilus). Caiaphas, as the rich man, is referring to either the house of Annas or the temple, in accordance with Luke’s use of the phrase “my father’s house” elsewhere (Luke 2.49; cf. 19.46), or both.

Fifth, Caiaphas was a Sadducee. Sadducees denied angels, the afterlife and resurrection. This story in Luke 16 expressly includes these elements. Lazarus is conspicuously said to have been carried away by angels upon death. The rich man, while he is in torment post-death, begs Abraham to resurrect Lazarus and send him to his Sadducean family members, as though such an event would have meant something to them. The irony is that Caiaphas and his Sadducean family members did not find Lazarus’ resurrection meaningful or convincing. As Jim Hamilton notes, “In Luke 16 Abraham declares that even if someone were to rise from the dead the rich man’s brothers would not believe. In John 11 Lazarus is raised from the dead and the Jewish religious leaders do not believe” (“Did Jesus Really Raise Lazarus…?”, n. 6).

Considering that Caiaphas was directly interested in Jesus’ raising of Lazarus (as told in John 11), that he was son-in-law to Annas and had five brothers-in-law, that he was a Sadducee, that he would have regularly and occupationally worn purple and fine linen, that the temple had a distinguishing gate at which the beggars and infirm laid in hopes to gain food or alms, it is quite plausible, if not probable, that Luke’s “rich man” is meant to refer to Caiaphas.

As noted above, there is tremendous irony in this story. Caiaphas the rich Sadducean high priest who denied angels, the afterlife and resurrection begs father Abraham from the grave to raise Lazarus from the dead in the hopes of convincing his Sadducean family members of the legitimacy of the Jesus movement. Theophilus ben Annas, brother-in-law to Caiaphas and high priest of 37-41CE, would have found this story most interesting, and possibly even irritating. But Luke’s irenic, cryptic presentation of his indictment on the priesthood should be considered as an effort to gain a hearing from Theophilus.


Richard Fellows’ statistical analysis on the likelihood that no other Lazarus would appear in the NT by chance:

“Tal Ilan’s Lexicon of Jewish name has 177 men called Eleazar [of which Lazarus is the shortened form] out of 3193 people.  The chances that someone is not called Eleazar is therefore approximately (1-177/3193) = 0.945. I say approximately because it may be appropriate to distinguish between the historical and the fictitious people in the database. Also, Ilan admits that the frequency of common names is over-stated by the statistics because where a common name appears more than once she assumes that different people are referred to, whereas when a rare name appears more than one in the same archealogical site she assumes that the same person is referred to, and counts them only once.

“If there are 80 [named individuals of Palestinian extraction in the NT other than Lazarus] then the probability that none of them will be called Lazarus is then 0.945^80, where ^ means ‘to the power of’. 0.945^80 = 0.01, which is 1%.”

Luke 2.40-52 September 5, 2009

Posted by Lee in i: 2.40-52: Jesus the Child.

Jesus the Child

[40] And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
[41] Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. [42] And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom; [43] and when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, [44] but supposing him to be in the company they went a day’s journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances; [45] and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him. [46] After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; [47] and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. [48] And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” [49] And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” [50] And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. [51] And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.
 [52] And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.

Luke 2.40 and 2.52 act as bookends to the story of Jesus’ childhood experience in the temple. At the age of twelve, Jesus accompanied his parents on their customary annual journey to Passover (2.42). Upon returning to their hometown, Jesus’ parents noticed his absence, and turned back to Jerusalem to find him in the temple with the Jewish teachers, who were astonished at his questions and answers.

It might be asked why Luke alone among Gospel writers includes this story of Jesus’ childhood. Why would Theophilus be interested in such an episode? There are a number of reasons.

Theophilus was the son of Annas, high priest from 6-15 CE. Annas would have been the high priest during the twelve-year-old Jesus’ visit. Theophilus would perhaps have been familiar with the story from his own childhood. The fact that “all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (2.47) might have resonated with Theophilus.

Secondly, Luke 2.40-52 is a strong parallel to 1 Samuel 2-3. Luke three times mentions the “growth” of a child: 1.80, of young John the Baptist; 2.40 and 2.52, of young Jesus. Between the latter two we find the story of Jesus in the temple. There are three such comments in 1 Samuel 2-3 as well: 2.21; 2.26; 3.19, all concerning young Samuel. Between the latter two we find a detail of the corruption of the priesthood and God’s plan to make adjustments. Is Luke suggesting that the priesthood of Jesus’ day was corrupt just as the priesthood of Samuel’s day? Perhaps…

Like Jesus’ family, little Samuel’s family was accustomed to making an annual trek to make sacrifice (1 Samuel 2.19; see also 1.3, 21). Though the text of 1 Samuel does not give Samuel’s age, Jewish historian Josephus has somehow come to conclude he was twelve at the time of God’s calling him (Ant. 5.10.4 [348]). (There is also a slight parallel of Luke’s comment about Jesus’ growth with that of a young Moses in Jos. Ant. 2.9.6 [228-231].)

After the “growth” comment in 1 Samuel 2.26, the writer details why God has turned against the priesthood, blaming Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas (2.12ff.). God promised that they would drop dead, and that he would raise up a faithful priest. (2.34-35). Samuel’s mother had made for him a “linen ephod” to wear on the annual trips to sacrifice (2.18). This is one of God’s requirements of the priests when “going before [him]” (2.28). Eli had favored his sons more than God (3.29). So, God promised to remove Eli’s sons and place his own priest in charge. From 3.1-18, we get the idea that Samuel fits the requirements God had established for the priests, thus seemingly fulfilling the promise to “raise up for myself a faithful priest” (2.35). Though Samuel did not serve as a priest proper, he did perform many of the priestly duties.

The high priestly family members of Theophilus ruled for 35 years between 6 and 43 CE. It was a corrupt priesthood for most of those years. Jesus’ outstanding character before the teachers in the temple demonstrated that God’s hand was upon him, that just as young Samuel was called by God for service so God was calling young Jesus. Jesus’ question to his parents upon their finding him was, “Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?” (Luke 2.49). Doubtless this is an allusion to God’s fulfilling his promise to raise up a faithful priest in “a sure house”, “your father’s house” (1 Samuel 2.27, 28, 30, 31, 35). And the little editorial detail from Luke, that Jesus’ parents “did not understand the saying which he spoke to them“, is a clue for Theophilus. It is Luke’s rhetorical way of indicating to Theophilus that this episode is significant. In paraphrase, Luke is saying, “They did not understand what Jesus meant by ‘my father’s house’. But there is a meaning there, Theophilus.” And that editorial note is meant to draw attention by way of allusion to 1 Samuel 1-3.

Luke tells the story of Jesus’ childhood to establish to Theophilus that Jesus is the eschatological priest, fulfilling the promise God made in 1 Samuel 2. Luke has subtly pointed to data personal to Theophilus (such as Annas’ witness of the twelve-year-old Jesus) to prove his case. The story of Eli’s sons is perhaps the best known story of the Jewish priesthood’s corruption. For Luke to parallel Jesus’ childhood experience to that of Samuel’s in a context where the corrupt priesthood is specifically targeted by God, who promised to raise up a faithful priest for his house, would have given his story special leverage, being addressed to a certain high priest.

There are other elements in common between Luke 1-2 and 1 Samuel 1-3. The stories of Mary and Hannah are quite similar in their respective tellings. First, there is the Song of Mary (Luke 1.46-55) mirroring the song of Hannah (1Samuel 2.1-10), both with reference to the respective infants. Second, Mary was called “highly favored one” (Luke 1.28) by the angel, and responded with the statements, “Behold, I am the handmaid [doule] of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (1.38). Similarly, Hannah, upon hearing that God would grant her request to bear a child, said, “Let your maidservant [doule] find favor in your eyes” (1 Samuel 1.18). And when she decided to ween little Samuel before taking him on the annual trip to sacrifice and dedicate him to the Lord in Shiloh, her husband Elkanah said, “Do what seems best to you, wait until you have weeed him; only, may the Lord establish his word” (1.23). The similarities are striking.

Additionally, Luke mentions a prophetess named Hannah/Anna, daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher (2.36-39). This is the only NT occurrence of the name. It means “grace, favor”. Luke makes much use of grace and favor in the early chapters of his Gospel (1.28, 30; 2.40, 52). As Fitzmyer notes, “Such favor was claimed for Mary in 1.30. …This entire v40 [of Luke 2] echoes the Samuel story, especially 1Sam2.21c … and 2.26…” (Luke, 1.432). Like Luke’s Hannah/Anna, Samuel’s mother Hannah is called a prophetess in later Jewish writings (Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel, and Megillot 14a; cf. also, R. Youngblood, ABD, “Hannah”, III.52). The later text of the Protoevangelium of James tells of the legend of Mary’s presentation at the temple. Her mother, also said to be named Anna, was a widow who begged God for a child. God granted this wish, and Mary was born. Anna presented Mary to the temple at an early age, just as Hannah did Samuel. The writer of the Prot. James includes a “growth” comment with regard to Mary (6.1), just as is found in 1 Samuel 2 and Luke 2. If this later writer saw certain similarities between his story and that of 1 Samuel, and if he/she employed the very elements of parallel with 1 Samuel as we find in Luke’s telling of the childhood Jesus, we can surely conclude that Luke has 1 Samuel 1-3 in view here.

A few more similarities between Luke and 1 Samuel are worth noting: 1) There is in both a comment that “this shall be a sign unto you” in close proximity to the stories in question (Luke 2.12; 1 Samuel 2.34). 2) There is a forumlaic “X blessed X” found in both contexts (Luke 2.34; 1 Samuel 2.20).  3) In 1 Samuel 2.36 God says that the destitute will come to his faithful priest begging for a piece of silver or a morsel of bread. Perhaps this is fulfilled throughout Luke’s Gospel (14.1-24, esp. v15; 15.8, 17).

As mentioned above, Luke’s intention in including this story of Jesus’ childhood is to demonstrate the corruption of the (present) priesthood and to present Jesus as the Samuel-like fulfillment of God’s promise. 1 Samuel 2-3 represents the epitome of priestly corruption, in the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas. There we find God’s promise to raise up a faithful priest. Young Samuel appears to fulfill this role sufficiently in that day, even performing the regular priestly duties in Shiloh. It is no stretch, then, to conclude that Luke is subtly presenting Jesus as the eschatological [high] priest promised of old. For, if he were intending to present Jesus in this way, what better text to conjure up than that of 1 Samuel 1-3? Though subtle, Luke’s presentation would have been easily identifiable to his addressee, Theophilus the high priest.

Audience and Purpose August 13, 2009

Posted by Lee in 0c: Audience and Purpose.

Luke’s purpose in writing to “Most Excellent Theophilus” was to confirm those things about which Theophilus had been informed concerning Jesus and his followers. Most agree that Luke is not merely interested in presenting historical information. J. A. Fitzmyer writes, “The ‘assurance’ (asphaleia) that is involved has often been assumed to be historical assurance…. But it amost certainly involves more than that, for the Lucan historical perspective transcends the mere question of historicity” (Luke, 1.9).

However, there is some disagreement as to Luke’s full purpose. Fitzmyer suggests it is “mainly doctrinal or didactic: to explain how God’s salvation, first sent to Israel in the mission and person of Jesus of Nazareth, has spread as the Word of God… to the Gentiles and to the end of the earth” (Luke, 1.9). J. Green sees it as “primarily ecclesiological – concerned with the practices that define and the criteria for legitimating the community of God’s people, and centered on the invitation to participate in God’s project” (Luke, 22). I. H. Marshall asserts, “Thus [Luke’s] work was probably intended for members of the church, but it could at the same time be used evangelistically, and its outward form (in the manner of a historical and literary work) strongly suggests that such a wider audience was in view” (Luke, 35).

B. Witherington III asks appropriately, “What sort of person would have needed, and could have understood and appreciated, this two-volume work?” He answers briefly, “This is not a defense for a pure outsider’s ears where nothing in common could be presumed or presupposed. Rather, it is a reassurance or confirmation for someone who may have had doubts or was insufficiently socialized into ‘The Way’ at the time of Acts’s composition” (Acts, 63).

This is surely right. There were indeed shared presumptions and presuppositions between Luke and Theophilus. But who was Luke’s recipient? Can we know?

There is no consensus as to the identity of “Most Excellent Theophilus”. Some claim the name “Theophilus” refers not to an individual, but to a communal “lover of God”, as the moniker means. Such a claim, however, does not account for the title “Most Excellent”, nor for absence of any such known communal addressee by a single proper name in the period in question. That said, identifying this individual is a difficult task. Any proposition is not without problems, due to the sheer lack of external evidence, and is dependent almost entirely on what we find in Luke’s texts.

A working thesis of this commentary is that Luke’s addressee Theophilus was the high priest of 37-41CE. This Theophilus was the son of Annas, high priest of 6-15CE. He was brother to four other first-century high priests: Eleazar, Jonathan, Matthias, and Ananus. His brother-in-law was Caiaphas, high priest of 18-36CE. This family filled the office for 35 years between 6 and 43CE.

Identifying Luke’s Theophilus as the high priestly son of Annas sheds great light on Luke’s story of Jesus and his followers. Many of Jesus’ parables take on new significances. Luke’s citations and allusions to OT passages are found to color his narrative in very specific, unique ways. Pericopae cohere with one another, eliminating any seeming randomness or wooden-ness of Luke’s telling of Jesus’ and his followers’ actions and teachings. Definition of Luke’s purpose in writing Acts emerges.

This thesis accords nicely with Luke’s numerous references to priestly individuals in both volumes. This Theophilus had (at least) two sons: Matthias, who served as high priest just before the fall of the Temple (see below); and John, evidenced in an ossuary found approximately 7 miles from Jerusalem (cf. Barag and Flusser: “Ossuary”). The ossuary also names Theophilus’ granddaughter, Joanna. Luke twice mentions a Joanna in his Gospel (8.3; 24.10). She bears the place of prominence in Luke’s resurrection account: “[8] And they remembered his words, [9] and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. [10] Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; [11] but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24.8-11). Her prominence is evident in a chaistic rendering of this text:

A They remembered his words (rhematon).

B and returning from the tomb, they told all these things (tauta panta)

C to the eleven

D and to all the rest (loipois).

E Now it was Mary Magdalene

F and Joanna

E’ and Mary the mother of James

D’ and the other women (loipai) with them

C’ who told to the apostles

B’ these things (tauta);

A’ but these words (rhemata tauta) seeemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

Joanna was a fairly common name among Jewish women of the given period. However, high-ranking officials named Theophilus were not so common. That both are named and given prominence by Luke in a text which (it shall be demonstrated in the commentary) criticizes the priesthood is indeed ironic. It is fairly obvious that Luke has singled-out Joanna among his eyewitnesses of the empty tomb. (On this chiasm and some effort to give it significance, see Bauckham: Women, 187; Nolland: Luke, 1191, n. 327; and Dussaut: “Triptych”, 168.) When Luke’s recipient is identified as Theophilus the high priest of 37-41CE, we can understand why Joanna was significant. The prominent (“Most Excellent”) individual named Theophilus and the significant eyewitness named Joanna appear only in Luke’s Gospel. Joanna’s prominence would have been immediately appreciated by Theophilus ben Annas.

Consider also the presence of a Matthias in Acts 1. Already mentioned above, Theophilus had a son named Matthias who served as the second-to-last high priest before the fall of the Temple. Matthias’ high priesthood was taken from him by the Romans by the casting of lots, the lot falling to Phannias. Josephus tells of this story (War 4.3.7-8 [151-7]). Is it possible that Matthias was chosen to be high priest in like fashion? Interestingly, Luke tells of a different Matthias who was chosen by the casting of lots, but with prayer and the subsequent intervention of God. Why should Luke relate such an event when his Matthias plays absolutely no role in the story of Acts? Perhaps it was Luke intention by way of contrast to demonstrate that, unlike the Roman-appointed Jewish priesthood, this Jesus movement had God’s sanction and blessing. As with Joanna, Matthias was a comon name of the period. But the above suggestion does not rely on statiscs, but on irony. Whether or not such an idea be accepted, one cannot dispute that the identity of Luke’s Theophilus as the high priest of 37-41CE makes some interesting sense of Luke’s story concerning Matthias.

Additionally, Acts 4.6 names four high-priestly individuals: “[5] On the morrow their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem, [6] with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.” Annas we know to be the high priest of 6-15CE. Caiaphas we likewise know to be the high priest during the period covered by Luke’s Gospel. But who are John and Alexander? John most probably refers to Theophilus’ brother, Jonathan. (Some MSS reflect a gloss reading the full name, Jonathan.) And Alexander may be a Graecized form of Eleazar. If this be the case, these known high priests would have already served in the office by the time of the events recorded in Acts 4. Taken with the broad stroke of “all who were of the high-priestly family”, we have here a tidy reference to the family of, and perhaps even an implicit reference to, Theophilus the high priest of 37-41CE.

Of course, these and other similar pericopae are taken up in the body of the commentary, as well as in various addenda.

Granted, this thesis needs to be tested by Synoptic studies proper, for it perhaps implies an early date for Luke’s Gospel. A full proper testing exceeds the present scope of this commentary. But, as a living document, there will be time devoted to this in the future. Nonetheless, at present the question of date begs to be addressed in light of the Theophilus Proposal.

Preface August 7, 2009

Posted by Lee in 0a: Preface.
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To Richard H. Anderson

This blog serves as a living commentary on Luke-Acts. It is living, in that it will most probably be edited and modified time and again. (Please visit the How to Use and Edit Log pages regarding the processes of entries and edits.)

Several years ago, I came across the work of Richard Anderson on the Gospel of Luke. Intrigued by his proposal regarding Luke’s recipient, “Most Excellent Theophilus”, I began working with Richard as a research assistant of sorts, logging my work at Most Excellent Theophilus. While Richard and I have not always agreed these several years on all things Luke-Acts, he and I continue a wonderful relationship to this day. I am indebted to him. We are two laymen striving to remain relevant in the academic field of New Testament studies.

With Richard, I believe that Luke wrote to Theophilus the high priest of 37-41CE. His father was Annas, high priest of 6-15CE (mentioned variously in Luke, John, and Acts). Annas had five sons, all of whom served as high priest: Eleazar, Jonathan (serving twice), Theophilus, Matthias, and Ananus. Theophilus was brother-in-law to Caiaphas, the high priest from 18-36CE. This family filled the office for 35 of 37 years, between 6 and 43CE. Theophilus’ son, Matthias, served as the second-to-last high priest before the fall of the temple in 70CE. He had a granddaughter named Johanna, evidenced in an ossuary. Luke alone mentions a Johanna, twice (8.4; 24.10). (These historical facts are taken up in detail in addenda, “The Family of Annas” [soon to come].)

While this may imply an early date for Luke’s Gospel, this commentary will not address issues regarding the synoptic problem proper. Such issues certainly deserve attention, and may eventually be given their due, perhaps in a series of addenda. But, at present, there is no plan for them.

This commentary seeks to address each pericope of Luke’s two volumes. Admittedly, it is sometimes assumed that Luke’s recipient is Theophilus ben Annas,  though the hope is that such an assumption is demonstrated throughout. However, one need not adopt the Theophilus Proposal, as Richard and I have come to call it, in order to find value in this work.

This is not a critical commentary proper. It does not delve into the inner-workings of Luke’s Greek and the various textual traditions at every turn. It does not make comparisons with other Gospels at each pericope. It does not consider the various methodological approaches offered in scholarship proper. Nor does it reference all known secondary literature previous to it. Rather, it takes up the narrative elements and content of Luke’s work, attempting to present a cohesive two-volume story. In that sense, this commentary attempts to address Luke’s text on its own terms, with historical, social, geographic, onomastic, rhetorical issues in view. (I recall that Joel Green’s NICNT volume on Luke also claims to take Luke’s Gospel on its own terms. Green’s work is much more critical than the present work, and surely more valuable on various matters. This commentary is not offered as a corrective to Green’s volume. They just happen to share a similar starting point.) The entries here are more like short essays than commentary notes. Were this commentary to be printed on paper, the volume would most likely be of modest length in comparison to others.

I am indebted to several others for their insights over the years. Richard Fellows has demonstrated the utmost care and grace in critiquing my work. His work in protective anonymity and the phenomenon of name change in the ancient world have proven most helpful time and again. John Lupia has provided fascinating, often rogue insights that have stimulated me to explore various avenues, for good and bad, I would have otherwise ignored. Those on the Synoptic-L e-list have likewise been influential. I have not and do not often participate in the discussions, but am a devoted lurker. Thank you all.

I hope you enjoy reading.

Lee T. Dahn

Friendswood, Tx