Friday, 30 September 2011

The Rage of God

Good post here from Richard Beck. He's quite right, Revelation is a text about martyrdom. We really need to take it seriously, rather than leaving it to the nutcases! My interest is a little different from Richard's; he ignores the angelic struggle, which echoes the angelic revolt in 1 Enoch. I get fascinated by stuff like that. But never mind; on other aspects of the book we sing from the same hymn sheet.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

An immoral trade

I don't use the word 'immoral' lightly; it brings back memories of Mary Whitehouse and 'My Ding-a-Ling', and I wonder how much meaning it still retains. I don't know what other word to use of the arms trade, though, and the emerging scandal over illegal munitions and shackling equipment on sale at the DSEi fair in London. It's not even the first time such stuff has been on offer.

There have been times - Sierra Leone (I declare an interest here; it's where my wife and kids come from), probably Libya, where the UK armed forces have done real good. There have been too many occasions when they've been nothing but a bloody disaster; the only unique aspect of Bloody Sunday was the publicity it gained. Behind it all, though, lies the murky world of arms dealing, in which Britain is an international leader. Again, I have an interest; the civil wars in Sierra Leone and so many other places would never have been possible without Europeans eager to buy smuggled diamonds or whatever, and snaffle up the cash in return for weapons.

It's easy to justify a small arms industry, producing weapons for national self-defence. A multinational juggernaut manufacturing machinery designed wholly and solely for killing human beings in all sorts of ingenious ways, and selling it to all comers with as few questions asked as possible, however, is something else. I wonder how many deaths the British arms industry has been responsible for over the last decade?

Surely there's an answer. Over a decade, say, we could retool the vast majority of those factories, and employ the skilled workers there to produce something useful. British industry has been hollowed out over a generation by turning asset stripping into a national pastime. Who knows; there may be a chance here to rebuild some of it, given sufficient ingenuity. We need a government with the guts to bite the bullet, preferably before it's fired.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Synagogue Visit

I had an interesting morning with a church group at the Progressive Synagogue down the road, after having gone to the wrong synagogue by mistake. Quite a few of us managed that.

The service was mostly in Hebrew, and very hard to follow, though I did catch the odd word. That being said, it was no harder than the time I visited the Coptic Orthodox Church, where they use a somewhat Hellenised version of the language of the Pharaohs. It was very liturgical, following the book throughout, and the combination of prayers, hymns and readings was familiar. The one element which was new to me was short readings interspersed with commentary from the book, which seemed to replace the sermon. There's nothing surprising here; our church liturgies are descended from the synagogue service, and still follow the same overall pattern. Even some of our traditional prayers are recognisably Jewish, with phrases like 'walk in [God's] way, borrowed from the Hebrew, and doubtless a complete mystery to any non-churchgoing Gentile.

Someone had his bar Mitzvah, which I haven't seen before. The phrase means 'son of the commandment', and it marks the point where the boy is starting to develop into an adult, and is considered able to follow the commandments on his own initiative. Our nearest equivalent would be confirmation, but this is a lot more demanding, as the lad had to read a passage of Torah in Hebrew, which would be more than enough to boggle most Christian minds. The service ended with the congregation pelting him with sweets; I should have asked someone what the significance was, but didn't think of it. We stayed for kiddush, a blessing said over bread and wine on the Sabbath. I don't know whether there's any conection with Christian communion or not, but it's something to look into.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Thursday, 8 September 2011

In the Beginning...

The creation accounts (plural) in Genesis have always been of interest to me; I suppose it comes of having a degree in geology. Not long after I became a Christian, a fundamentalist girlfriend pressurised me into reading a couple of creationist books. I checked out everything I read - none of it sounded remotely right - and hit the roof. The books were a mass of halftruths, larded out with plain porkies. Worse, they had to have been written by someone who knew exactly what he was doing. One thing I never could stand is the person who earns money as a religious charlatan.

Despite all the arguing about the first few chapters of Genesis, it's not often they get read for what's really there in the text. People tend to bring their preconcieved ideas - this is a regular problem when it comes to reading the Bible - and of course they find what they expect to find.

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.

On the face of it, Genesis 1 verse 1 is simple enough. In the beginning - as a first act - God created everything there is. Genesis 1 uses the same word for God - Elohim, which can be used of any divine being, as well as being a name for God - throughout. The word used for the creative act; BARA', is used elsewhere in the passage, in 1:21, 1:27 and 2:3. So it's reasonable to suppose it was all produced at pretty much the same time, by the same group of people. Whoever put the Bookof Genesis together placed it at the beginning; whoever compiled the Hebrew canon - the official list of holy books making up the Hebrew Scriptures - placed it in pole position, right at the start. The placing of the text privileges it, forces us to read it as making an important statement about God and his creation.

However, there are debates about its exact meaning. Should it be translated 'In the beginning God created', or, as the NRSV has it, 'In the beginning when God created...'? Is it part of a continuous narrative, a title, or perhaps an independent creation story? Let's not forget that the Bible has several accounts of creation, and they're all different. Whatever the author's intention, the narrative moves on to God's interaction with things he doesn't appear to have created. The waters, the deep, the darkness; where did they come from? We're used to the idea of creation ex nihilo - out of nothing - but this is a much later idea. As far as I can make out, it's first mentioned by Tertullian, writing at the end of the 2nd Century AD. He rejects it, insisting that God created out of something, namely matter.


In the Ancient Near East, it was assumed that the god, whoever the individual worshipped, had created the world out of a pre-existing, watery, chaos. This was ruled over by a monstrous deity, whom the god defeated in a primal battle. In the Babylonian Enuma Elish, there's a long and elaborate acocunt of how the god Marduk fought against the armies of his mother Tiamat, and killed her after a titanic struggle. Having done so, he then built the world out of her corpse. There's only the faintest generic resemblence to Genesis 1, but we do find the chaos monster and the primal battle elsewhere in the Old Testament.

Psalm 74:10-17:

How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
Is the enemy to revile your name forever?
Why do you hold back your hand; why do you keep your hand in your bosom?
Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the earth.
You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters.
You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
You cut openings for springs and torrents; you dried up ever-flowing streams.
Yours is the day, yours also the night; you established the luminaries and the sun.
You have fixed all the bounds of the earth; you made summer and winter.


 
The sanctary of Zion - or Jerusalem - has been destroyed; Judah's enemies are triumphant, and the psalmist reminds God - or his people - of his mighty power. He rules everything; he destroyed Leviathan; he can deal with Babylon as well. In the midst of it all, we find the primal battle clearly, though briefly, described. God crushed the heads of the dragons (TANIN: sea-monsters) in the waters; he crushed Leviathan's heads and fed him to carrion beasts. Leviathan (LWTN in the original; vowels are a medieval addition to the text) derives from the Canaanite Latan (LTN), a seven-headed water monster who features in a poem found on a clay tablet at Ugarit, in modern Syria. There, Baal slays Sea, dragons (TANIN again), and Latan. Lingustically,  Hebrew is a late dialect of Canaanite, so the resemblances aren't surprising.

We find the battle again in Psalm 89, which celebrates god's covenant with the house of David, and sings of his might:

Psalm 89:9-12

You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.
You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it-- you have founded them.
The north and the south-- you created them; Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.

The name Rahab is sometimes used of Egypt, but the primary reference is to the chaos battle. Perhaps we're justified in hearing an echo of the destruction of Pharaoh as well, since the story of his end in the waters of the Red Sea parallels it so neatly. In Isaiah 27:1, Leviathan and the primal battle appear again, this time as a metaphor for evil:

Isaiah 26:20 - 27:1 Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the wrath is past. For the LORD comes out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no longer cover its slain. On that day the LORD with his cruel and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will kill the dragon that is in the sea.

Over time, the Israelites' idea evolved. God gets bigger, and the monsters smaller. In Genesis 1, the monster appears in v21, as something created by God. In Psalm 104:26, Leviathan is said to have been created by God, to play in the sea. The monster makes a final appearance in Jonah, in the form of a great fish which turns out to be a more faithful servant of God than his wretched prophet.

The chaos battle, then, has disappeared in Genesis 1, which presents a God who is clearly in control of the creation. Even he, however, doesn't seem to find it easy to get the primal waters under control. On the forst day, he calls light into being, and separates it from dark; on the second, he makes a dome (RIQQUA - something beaten or stamped out, an expanded plate). He doesn't call it into being, he gets his hands dirty, and he uses it to split the waters horizontally, into waters above and below. The expanse is called 'sky'. In the story of the flood, we gain an extra detail; the expanse contains sluices or floodgates - there are various translations to be found, but this is the only one which makes sense in this context - which God opens to let the waters through. The waters above make good sense in a pre-scientific society; large quantities of water regularly fall from the sky, so there must be a great deal of it up there somewhere. God is seen to control the weather thoughout the Old Testament, in, to give one example, the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, who was another, rival, weather god.

On the third day, once more, God is at work, commanding the waters to be gathered together in the sea. Thus the dry land appears. There's a pattern here; heavens (light and dark) - sea/air - land, which is found repeated in the rest of the six days of creation; with the creation, first, of the heavenly bodies, then of fish and birds, and finally of land animals and human beings.

I think that's enough for one post, but this stuff fascinates me, as you've probably gathered. I'll continue in a couple of days.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Dealing with the sinner

We were discussing part of yesterday's lectionary reading, Matthew 18:15-17, in the prayer meeting this morning. It's the section about how to deal with another church member who's sinned against you:

If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

I think this is something the church as a whole fails to get right. At one time, a significant number of our ladies had been drummed out of other churches, for getting pregnant and/or being in relationships with men they weren't officially married to. All of them were in committed relationships, some of which had lasted for many years. There has to be something wrong here; our view is that the church should celebrate such relationships, regardless of whether or not the couple have paid for a ceremony and a legal ticket. The problem doesn't lie with such couples, but with a culture which has developed a historically narrow understanding of marriage.

Coming back to Matthew, this is an area where the Methodist Church has a real problem. Some of us were discussing our experiences round the country, and between us we covered quite a number of Districts. In every one, we'd all found the identical problem. Cliques and little tinpot dictators. Nobody wants to start expelling church members, but we go to the opposite extreme of allowing small numbers of people to alienate potential church members, or drive existing members away, in large numbers, for the sake of childish ego games. Anything rather than challenge these people, and sort the problems out. My view is that we should sometimes be willing to vote people out of office, but even this seems to be too difficult. Once someone's elected, an office all too often becomes a lifetime appointment, and if the church has appointed the wrong person, it's in trouble.

I don't pretend to have instant solutions, but a denomination which is in long-term decline can't afford not to tackle its awkward squad.

Luke's Infancy Gospel

Luke's narrative is considerably longer than Matthew's. He begins with a brief introduction, dedicating the book to 'Theophilus', whoever he was. I don't see much point speculating. He makes it clear that he's not an eyewitness (despite subsequent claims, no gospel author says anything which would clearly indicate that he was present at any of the events described), and that he's using sources. He's not too impressed with them, and writes an 'accurate account'. One of his sources has to be Mark, since a lot of material is transcribed verbatim, and, like Matthew, he re-orders the material, in his own way. I rather think that he also has a copy of Matthew, but if so, he rejects Matthew's infancy gospel, and writes his own.

He begins with Gabriel's appearance to Zechariah, promising the miraculous birth of a son, John the Baptist. Gabriel then goes off and appears to Mary to announce the coming birth of Jesus; she's most upset since she's too young. Unlike Matthew, there's no explicit virgin birth. So here we have two angelic visions, two miraculous births, and Gabriel appears, not to Joseph, but to Mary. The unborn John is made to bear witness to the unborn Jesus, as a way of emphasising that Jesus is superior. All four Gospels take up this theme in their different ways; Jesus seems to have joined John's movement at some time - this  is implied by his baptism - and that would imply that John was superior.

The magnificat - Mary's psalm in 1:46-55 - brings in one of Luke's favourite themes; wealth and poverty. The humble shall be raised up, the hungry filled with good things; the proud are scattered, the mighty torn from their thrones and the rich sent empty away. It's traditional OT language, expressing a thoroughly Jewish vision of salvation. Luke's concern for the poor is established as being in line with traditional Jewish expectations. There's an eschatological meaning here; Jesus comes to bring the new age of the Kingdom - not immediately, but within the lifetime of at least some of his hearers (9:27) - and the 'mighty' who are to be torn down aren't specific rulers, but all rulers who stand in opposition to the rule of God. The just society is coming, and the church should embody it in microcosm (Acts 4:34-7), but it's the work of God, despite the church's role in subverting the present order. The remainder of the chapter is concerned with John's birth, and Zechariah's prophecy, which promises that a Davidic saviour (literally a 'horn of salvation') is coming, and that John will be a prophet. We've spiritualised the concept of 'saviour' until we've lost touch with the meaning it held at the time, but it was a royal title, often taken by the founder of a dynasty. One of Alexander's generals, for instance, a man named Ptolemy, seized power in Egypt after Alexander's death, and called himself Ptolemy Soter; Ptolemy the Saviour. The implication was that he had 'saved' the Egyptians from the dreadful rule of the previous dynasty. A horn was a Jewish symbol of military power; we're still in a world where the mighty are liable to be torn from their thrones, and it's clearly the power of God which is behind it. At the same time, obviously, we have a second figure, Jesus, who somehow embodies or possesses that power. We're still in a thoroughly Jewish world, but that is about to change.

Chapter 2 puts us straight into the Roman world. It begins with a reference to a census, allegedly ordered by Augustus, across the entire oikumenon, the inhabited world, or in other words, the Roman empire. We're not yet in the era of the world-empire on which the sun literally never rose, but the attitude is the same. There is, of course, no evidence that Augustus ever ordered any such thing, and it's hard to see why he would wish to go to the trouble and expense of doing so. It's possible that this might be a reference to a general policy of carrying out periodic censuses. A census was a local thing, ordered to determine what sums could be expected in taxation from a specific province. In this case, Judea and Samaria had been ruled for ten years or so by Archelaus, the eldest surviving son of Herod I, the 'King Herod' of Matthew 2. Archelaus was not a success as a ruler, and after a series of complaints from the Jews, Augustus sent him into exile, and imposed direct rule over his domain, while his younger brothers were left in place over the parts of their fathers' kingdom they had inherited.

Quirinius, the Syrian Legate, was the most important Roman official of the day, after the Emperor, with responsibility for the defence of the entire eastern frontier as far as the border of Egypt. The area had been conquered by Pompeius Magnus - the 'Pompey' under whose statue Caesar fell - in the previous century, and the administration had always been extremely lightweight. Wherever possible, it was ruled via native princes like the Herods. Judea was set up as a sort of sub-province, governed by an equestrian - a member of the lower aristocracy - with a small policing force of auxiliaries. His function was to keep order, with the aid of the native elite, which had to be kept in line, and to collect taxes. In the event of serious trouble, the Syrian Legate, a senior Senator, usually an ex-Consul, with major military and political experience, would have to intervene with his legions. This arrangement wasn't unique; the Decapolis was run on a similar basis.

One of the first tasks was to carry out a census, in order to establish the taxation base, which took place in late 6 or early 7 AD. Taxes would be farmed out; rich men would pay the money up front, and then had to collect the money, plus their take. Judging by the number of complaints, the latter was often excessive. Normal practice, understandably, was to assess households in their place of residence. Forcing everyone to return to their place of birth would be disruptive, administratively complex - I wonder how well modern states would cope with it? - and pointless. To make Luke's story yet more implausible, Joseph and his family are apparently living in Nazareth, in Galilee. This was under the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas, Tetrarch (a title given to a minor native prince) of Galilee and Perea, an area on the East Bank of the Jordan. Antipas, of course, raised the taxes there, and then made his own payment to the Romans. So Luke would have us believe that Joseph travelled from one jurisdiction into another, to register for a tax he wasn't liable for. It's not impossible that Herod held a census for his own purposes, and Luke rejigged the story, but if so, we have no record of it. If Joseph was only temporarily absent from Bethlehem, and had a regular home there, it's strange that he should end up sleeping in an inn stable. The answer, of course, is that Luke's writing, not history, but theology.

The point is, of course, that Jesus was known to have been from Nazareth. His followers, however, were convinced, brobably on the basis of Micah 5:2, that the Messiah had to come from Bethlehem, like David. Matthew and Luke deal with the difficulty in quite different ways. Matthew starts the story in Bethlehem; Joseph and Mary appear to be living there. They become refugees in Egypt, and eventually, after the death of Herod, move to Galilee. His son Archelaus is ruling Judea - there's no mention of Antipas, ruler of Galilee - and Bethlehem isn't safe for the family. Luke starts with the family in Nazareth, and concocts the census story to account for a visit to Bethlehem, and at the same time to emphasise that Jesus is born under Roman rule.

Here, of course, we find a major contradiction between the two versions. Matthew, writing for Jews, has Jesus born in a thoroughly Jewish context under Herod I, who died in 4BC. Luke's Jesus is born ten years or so later. He, of course, writes for Gentiles, and wants to convince his audience that Christianity is perfectly compatible with the Roman order. So he places the birth in a Roman context; his Jesus is born in the civilised world, not under some exotic eastern ally of Rome.

Fundamentalists will sometimes claim that 'there is evidence', or some such expression, that Quirinius had been Syrian Legate before, and that the two accounts are therefore not incompatible. The 'evidence', however, consists of a mistranslation of a partial inscription which doesn't contain the name of the governor it refers to. All we know about Quirinius' previous career is that he had held office in the east; the rest of it is ideological wishful thinking.

Luke's date is almost certainly too late. Pilate was Prefect of Judea from 26 to 36 AD. That would make Jesus about thirty when he was dismissed, and in his mid to late twenties at the accepted time of his death. It's rather too young to make him a plausible leader for a religious movement. Matthew's date is more likely, but it's perfectly possible that neither author knew the correct date. It was an agricultural society, with a low literacy rate, and in such cultures, people often don't know own their birth dates.

Luke's Jesus is born in a stable, and his first visitors are shepherds, not Gentiles as in Matthew. Luke's interests are different; he writes for Gentiles, who need no reminder that they need to be included in the church. He's always concerned about the poor, and so his Jesus comes into the world in conditions of poverty, attended only by ordinary people. Gabriel appears, not to Mary of Joseph, but to the shepherds, announcing a saviour, who is Messiah and Lord, of the house of David. Despite the humble circumstances, these are more resonant titles than Matthew uses; he only calls Jesus 'Messiah' in his infancy gospel. A saviour is one who rescues the people from tyranny; a Messiah is an eschatological ruler sent from God, and 'Lord' can mean anything form 'Sir' to the Most High God himself in person. Jesus isn't being identified with God, but he is being set up as his plenipotentiary.

There's an echo of the claims made for Augustus; an inscription from Priene reads: 'Providence … has brought into the world Augustus and filled him with a hero’s soul for the benefit of mankind. A Savior for us and our descendents, he will make wars to cease and order all things well. The epiphany of Caesar has brought to fulfillment past hopes and dreams.' This sort of language isn't unique to Augustus. It's not necessarily a direct reference, but Jesus is being placed on a level with the emperor. The difference is that Jesus is sent from God himself, while Augustus or his flatterers is content with his being the epiphany of his adoptive father, the divine Julius.

Jesus is circumcised, taken to the Temple, and a sacrifice made, as Torah demanded. The turtledoves or pigeons of v24 are from Leviticus 12:8, which specifies them as a poor woman's offering for purification after childbirth. She's considered to be unclean for a period - seven days for a male child, fourteen for a girl - then there's a period of blood purification; thirty-three days for a boy or sixty-six for a girl. At that point, she makes the offering, and is considered clean. After the seven or fourteen days, she's technically clean, but has to stay at home for the further period, and avoid contact with anything holy. It's a long way from anything in modern European culture, but there is a hangover from it still with us; some of the more deeply misogynistic Anglo-Catholics I've come across have worried about the mere possibility of a menstruating woman entering the sanctuary of a church, let alone administering Communion. Luke's point, however, is that Jesus is a Jew, brought up as a Jew, and that his family are devout observers of Torah.

The Angel of the Lord appears to the shepherds, the glory of the Lord shines around, and they react with the fear which Luke considers appropriate to divine manifestations. There are a number of places in the OT where the distinction between God and angel becomes blurred; in Genesis 16:7, the Angel of the Lord appears to Hagar; in v13, she addresses him as God himself; in Exodus 3:2-6, the apparition  in the burning bush is both the Angel of the Lord and God. And so on. This is an acceptable way to describe a theophany; the message is to be understood as coming from God. The angel announces the coming of a saviour, who is Messiah and the Lord, and the heavenly host appears around him. Quite a vision, but described in such a way as to be compatible with the idea that it was impossible to see God and survive the experience. This puts Luke around the midpoint on a sliding scale; at one end we have John, who insists that nobody has ever seen God at any time; at the other we have a full-frontal vision of God in Revelation 4 - and, of course, several more in the OT. Luke manages to maintain a degree of ambiguity in the shepherds' vision. What really matters is the overwhelming majesty of the vision, not so much the precise - and necessarily inadequate - theological language used to describe it.

The shepherds rush off to see Jesus - rather than Gentiles being the first, as in Matthew's account, it is now the poor who have priority - and the baby is taken to the Temple for the appointed sacrifice. While there, Simeon and Anna offer messianic prophecies over him. Simeone is an old man who's been promised a sight of the Messiah before he dies, by no less than the Holy Spirit. The Jews thought in terms of 'extensions' of God; God himself was 'out there', and inaccessible, but his Spirit, his Word, his Wisdom, his mighty arm, his angels, all served to mediate his presence within creation. The New Testament adds his Son to the catalogue, but remains essentially within Jewish tradition. Simeon prophesies that Jesus will be a 'sign' for the falling and rising of many in Israel - no mention of the Gentiles, in keeping with Luke's idea of 'the Jews first, then the Gentiles'. He goes on to say that Jesus will be opposed, and that a sword will pierce Mary's heart, an early indication of trouble to come.

Anna is a devout old woman who never leaves the Temple. She tells everyone who is looking for 'the redemption of Jerusalem' about the baby. The phrase parallels the inscriptions on First Revolt coinage; the first rebel government was run by priests, and one of their early acts was to issue shekels - providing the pure silver required for the Temple tax - which bore no image, unlike the shekels of Tyre used earlier, and bore the Hebrew inscription 'Shekel of Israel' on the obverse, with the date 'Year 1', and on the reverse, the inscription 'Jerusalem the Holy'. The following year, a less aristocratic regime brought in small copper coins, with the inscription 'The Freedom of Zion'. By the fourth year of the revolt, the government was run by radicals who freed slaves, redistributed property, and appear to have been attempting to enact the Law of Jubilee in Leviticus 25. (Obscure stuff here, so I'd better give some references. Josephus, War, 4:508; Neil Faulkner, Apocalypse: The Great Jewish Revolt against Rome AD 66-73, Tempus, 2002, p288; Ya'akov Meshorer, A Treasury of Jewish Coins, Amphora, 2001, p115ff).

Luke's intention is to show that Jesus' movement is compatible with Roman rule, while the 'freedom' or 'redemption' of Zion on the coinage is principally freedom from Roman rule. However, nobody picks up a term from the surrounding culture, and instantly uses it in a radically new sense. Meanings and interpretatioins evolve with time, and in some cases - Paul's ideas about the salvation of the Gentiles, for instance - we can watch ideas developing within the NT. When Jesus or his diciples first used messianic language, they must have been thinking about political liberation; these ideas changed later, as the movement developed within a Roman context, and realised that, contrary to what Paul and his people believed, Jesus wasn't going to return to sweep the existing world order away in the next five minutes. The crucifixion has to have begun a process of reassessment; by the time we get to Paul, we've moved beyond the vision of the messiah as an earthly king to something more akin to the angelic Son of Man of Daniel 7; Jesus is raised up, set over all, appointed to be Son of God with power at his resurrection. By the time we get to Luke, writing a generation after Paul, we find a concern to live alongside political structures which is just barely there in Paul, who doesn't really think such things matter. In his view, Jesus is due to return any moment, so it's not even worth marrying, let alone worrying too much about the Romans!

After this, the family return to Nazareth, until Jesus is twelve. At that age, a Jew would have been growing up, but not yet an adult. He goes to Jerusalem whith his family, to celebrate Passover, and stays behind, vastly impressing everyone who heard him. Various figures of the ancient world - Samuel, Cyrus, Epicurus, and so on - were said to have made a great impression at this age, so Jesus falls into a known pattern here. When his parents come looking for him, Jesus tells them that they should have expected to find him in his father's house. The relationship with God is to the fore here, and while we may well be expected to see the  divine Wisdom at work in Jesus here, it isn't made explicit at this point. He then goes home with his parents, and obeys them like a good lad, increasing in wisdom, and in divine and human favour, while he gets older. So if he had enough wisdom to impress people at twelve, we should expect something tremendous as he grows up!

Luke's infancy gospel ends at this point, and chapter 3, where the main text begins, looks very much like another beginning to the Gospel. This has taken me far too long to write, and I don't intend to attempt to cover two chapters in a single post again!