- 2Samuel 5:1-5,9-10 and Psalm 48 (or Ezekiel 2:1-5 and Psalm 123)
- 2Corinthians 12:2-10
- Mark 6:1-13
This week's readings offer challenges to several episodes long accepted as historical certainties by readers of the Bible:
- the capture of Jerusalem by David as he becomes ruler of a united kingdom
- Paul's conversion in the "Damascus road" event
- Jesus' sermon in the synagogue of his home town, Nazareth
As we have often had occasion to observe, the stories that people of faith tell one another are not neccesarily historically correct. Their value lies not in their historicity but in their capacity to shape and sustain faith. These are mythic stories, and our desire for history is our problem not the concern of the ancient story tellers.
First Reading: David becomes king of All-Israel
The first reading takes up the transition of David from local ruler of the Judah clans around Hebron to king of all Israel, with Jerusalem as his capital.
The set passage omits the description of the capture of the city, with its offensive references to disabled persons as excluded from the presence of God:
The king and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, "You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back" thinking, "David cannot come in here." Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, which is now the city of David. David had said on that day, "Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates." Therefore it is said, "The blind and the lame shall not come into the house." (2Sam 5:6-8 NRSV)
To many commentators this appears to be a reference to the capture of the city after access was gained via the water shaft used to draw water from the Gihon Spring. However, the happy consensus about the identity of this water shaft has collapsed following critical appraisals by Israeli archaeologists; first, Yigal Shiloh (in the1980s) and more recently, Eli Shukron and Ronny Reich:
- The famous tunnels and shafts are now seen as 8C BCE works, perhaps better associated with Hezekiah.
- However these 8C works are seen as improvements to natural fissures that have existed for thousands of years, if not longer.
- It is not clear whether Warren's Shaft was ever used as a town water point.
- The story of Joab climbing the shaft to gain access to the city may owe as much to later exploits by Jerusalem youths as to any memory of clandestine access by David's general.
Interestingly, the reference to "the blind and the lame" may have been illuminated by archaeological finds in the ancient Hittite capital:
... the late Prof. Yigael Yadin was the first to suggest a solution that has become generally accepted, by examining the history of other nations in the region. Noting that the Jebusites of Jerusalem were probably of Anatolian-Hittite origin, Yadin made the connection to Hattusha, the ancient Hittite capital, where documents were found that described soldiers taking an oath of loyalty to the ruler.
The soldiers were paraded in front of a blind woman and a deaf man, and told that anyone failing to live up to his oath "will be as these" - that is, will be stricken blind or deaf. The passage about the taking of Jerusalem may refer to a similar idea, where the defenders placed the blind and lame in the front lines as a way of casting a spell on the attackers, threatening them with blindness and lameness. SOURCE:
The nature and extent of David's empire is very much in question these days, and it is generally acknowledged that the northern kingdom of "Israel" was afar more significant local kingdom than Judah down to the time of its destruction by Assyria around 722 BCE. It was only after the demise of its northern neighbour that Judah was able to project its influence, and talk of an original "united kingdom" is simply myth-making by the much later community of "returnees" from exile in Babylon.
Whatever historical value we may see in these ancient stories of David's rise to power, there can be no doubt that the myth of David's Jerusalem continues to exercise a powerful hold on the imagination of Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Second Reading: Paul's religious experience
In Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, Marcus Borg prefaces his treatment of Paul's letters in the New Testament with a discussion Paul's so-called "Damascus Road" experience.
While that phrase has become part of our language, many scholars conclude that Luke had no reliable information about the religious experience that lay at the heart of Paul's faith in Jesus. Rather, Luke may have created the dramatic conversion scene on the way to Damascus to provide an appearance by the risen Lord to commission Saul as an apostle. The raw material for Luke's literary creations â including Paul's controversial claims to apostolic status based on a belated appearance by the risen Jesus, his activity as a persecutor of Jesus' followers, and his escape from Damascus after becoming a Christian himselfâis all to be found in Paul's own letters: 1 Cor 15:8-10; Gal 1:13-17; 2 Cor 11:21-33.
It is possible that we may get a better sense of some life-changing religious event in Paul's life from his own words in this passage from 2 Corinthians 12. Is it possible that this mystical experience is the occasion of the "appearance" of Jesus to Paul? How does such a religious experience relate to the description found in Rev 1:10-20?
1:10 I was in the spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 1:11 saying, "Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea." 1:12 Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 1:13 and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. 1:14 His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 1:15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 1:16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force. 1:17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 1:18 and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. 1:19 Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this. 1:20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
Gospel: Jesus at Nazareth
The Gospel takes up the tradition that Jesus came from Nazareth. Mark seems to have been the source for this story about Jesus making a visit to his hometown near the beginning of his public activity and being somewhat underwhelmed by the reception from his own townsfolk.
It is interesting to note the way this tradition is handled in each of the Synoptic Gospels:
- Jesus First Day - the text in parallel columns
We can observe the steady development of this episode as it is elaborated in different ways by Matthew and Luke:
Matthew is content simply to tidy up a few theological embarrassments that he found in Mark's account:
- Jesus is no longer a carpenter, but rather the carpenter's son.
- Jesus is not described as "the son of Mary," removing any social stigma that formulation might suggest.
- Jesus' inability to perform deeds of power in his hometown is qualified, and the cause is laid on the unbelief of the Nazareth population.
Luke develops the story as a formal inauguration of Jesus' mission, creating a story that has a role in his Gospel that parallels the role of the Pentecost legend in Acts:
- Luke's Jesus is a rather more conventional character, whose "custom" was to attend Sabbath services in the local synagogue.
- This Jesus is literate, and functions as a respected synagogue member in taking his turn at reading the Scriptures.
- Here Jesus explicitly claims that the prophetic texts are being fulfilled in himself, right there that very day.
- Rather than being offended at his interpretation of the Scriptures, "all spoke well of him."
- Jesus is identified as "Joseph's son" and the low status occupation of carpenter (Gk: "teknon") is expunged from the account.
- There is no mention of his mother, brothers or sisters.
- Jesus actually provokes his own rejection by an otherwise positive audience when he preempts any request for miracles and identifies his listeners with the recalcitrant Israelites from the times of Elijah and Elisha.
- Predictably, Luke then described a mob rampage that almost resulted in Jesus being thrown of a (non-existent) cliff in Nazareth except that by force of his own charisma he calmly walked through their midst and escaped the danger.
Central to all these accounts is the well-attested saying:
No prophet is welcome on his home turf;
doctors don't cure those who know them." [Complete Gospels]
This saying is known from Thomas, Mark, Luke and John and seems independent of this specific episode. It doubtless preserves a memory of Jesus' personal experience of rejection by his own nation, whether not these words were actually spoken by him.
Crossan [Historical Jesus, 347] considers this "a statement of unbrokered egalitarianism coming from the historical Jesus and not just from Mark's dislike of Peter." He asks just what was the precise tension between Jesus and his hometown, his family and especially his brothers? The obvious response that these people did not believe in Jesus or accept his vision of God's imperial rule is countered by their significant leadership roles within the early Christian movement after Jesus' death. Instead, Crossan offers an alternative suggestion:
If Jesus was a well-known magician, healer, or miracle-worker, first, his immediate family, and, next, his village, would expect to benefit from and partake in the handling of that fame and those gifts. Any Mediterranean peasant would expect an expanding ripple of patronage-clientage to go out from Jesus, through his family and his village, to the outside world. But what Jesus did, in turning his back on Nazareth and on his family, was repudiate such brokerage, and that, rather than belief or disbelief, was the heart of the problem. The complex 22 Prophet's Own Country [1/4] is simply Jesus' own experience of what we already heard aphoristically in 74 Peace or Sword [1/2]. This antibrokerage activity is confirmed, finally, by the very well attested complex 10 Receiving the Sender [1/5].
For additional information about ancient Nazareth, see the following links:
- Nazareth Village (modern reconstruction of an ancient Galilean village)
- 1C Nazareth winepress excavations
The question of Jesus' biological family has occupied scholars since early times. It is now usual to assume that the brothers and (unnamed) sisters mentioned in this episode were the natural children of Joseph and Mary, rather than step-children of Mary resulting from her marriage to Joseph (traditionally assumed to have been a widower with children of his own).
The exact significance of tekton (carpenter) is also unclear. It seems better to translate it in a more general sense like "construction worker" (Mahlon Smith) or "woodworker" (John P. Meier), than as carpenter. In any case, as Meier [A Marginal Jew, I;280] observes:
... in the whole of the NT, "woodworker" (tekton) is used only in Mark 6:3 and Matt 13:55, in the former text of Jesus and in the latter of Joseph. Hence the universally known "fact" that Jesus was a carpenter hangs by the thread of a half verse. Yet there is no cause for us to think that Mark 6:3 is inaccurate, especially since there was no reason why Mark or Christian preachers before him, should have gone out of their way to attribute to Jesus a calling that enjoyed no special prominence in his society, is never referred to in Jesus' own teaching; and has absolutely no echo elsewhere in the doctrine of the NT.
The description of Jesus sending out the Twelve in pairs as itinerant preachers and healers gives un insight into an important and characteristic aspect of earliest Christianity. Early Christianity was a missionary organization that fostered the movement of itinerant prophets between communities. These missionaries proclaimed the coming of the God's empire, forgave sins, healed the sick, and presided at communal meals that fostered koinonia (common life).
The origins of this practice go back to Jesus' own life as he moved around the villages of Galilee and Judea, rather than setting up a prophetic/healing ministry located at a specific place. Other charismatic holy men of the time tended to stay in their home location with others coming to them to seek a blessing. Instead, Jesus seems to have been an itinerant prophet of the Empire of God (always understood by his listeners as a sacred reality over against the other empire, Rome), and to have established a loose community of itinerant prophets that continued after his death.
The early Q community centered in the Galilee continued Jesus' mission in his homeland. Converts such as Saul of Tarsus continued that same practice on a wider canvas, with Paul even planning a missionary journey to Spain. The Didache provides another window into this early Christianity in which pairs of missionaries, sometimes a male "apostle" and his female companion (the mysterious "sister-wife"), were still acknowledged as the original expression of the faith but were increasingly being displaced by resident pastors who remained with the local congregation rather than moving around.
The Didache is a text that gives instruction on how a Christian community should treat itinerant Christian prophets. It was written sometime in the late first or early second century and gives good evidence for a structured church's shift in orientation away from spirit-possession. The Didache is written from the view point of a community leadership that distrusts, and yet respects, Christian prophets, one that wishes the prophets to leave town as quickly as possible, yet would have them welcomed in town when they arrive. The Pastoral and Petrine epistles stem from a slightly later time, when authority in the Christian movement was based on the prerogatives of office rather than on prophetic powers. [Stevan Davies, Jesus the Healer p. 175]
For an extensive and influential discussion of Jesus' social program, under the rubric of the "brokerless kingdom," see John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus, pages 225-353.
There are also echoes of the Cynics whose lifestyle and social mission paralleled that of Jesus in many respects.
- More on the ancient Cynics
- 022 Prophets Own Country - for vss 1-6a
- 230 Among the Villages - for vs 6b
- 001 Mission and Message - for vss 7-13
Liturgies and Prayers
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt's web site
Other recommended sites include:
See the following sites for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre: