Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent 2b: "The First Christmas": genealogy as destiny chapter

Excerpts for discussion from Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan:

"Most Christians and many non-Christians could tell you the basic story of the conception and birth of Jesus. But they would probably never mention the detailed genealogies given to him in Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38...Nowhere is it so clear as in these two genealogies that theological metaphor and symbolic parable rather than actual history and factual information create and dominate the Christmas stories of the conception and infancy of Jesus.

Different genealogies for the same Jesus:
Matthew comes at the very start of his Christmas story while Luke's genealogy comes at the start of Jesus' public life--after his baptism, in fact--and therefore outside his Christmas story. Matthew goes from Abraham to Jesus; Luke from Jesus to Adam. Matthew descends from David through Solomon, a king; Luke descends from David through Nathan, a prophet; Matthew names Jesus' grandfather as Jacob, but Luke names him as Heli. Both are heavily male-oriented, but Matthew names four women ancestors whereas Luke names none. Where have all the mothers gone?...They point to Josephus' own genealogy as an example, as Josephus includes especially how he has a royal and a priestly lineage, and they say "That combination is the highest Jewish pedigree for that time and place. Luke--but not Matthew--gives a similar double pedigree to Jesus. He is of priestly lineage through Mary and of royal lineage through Joseph. "

The importance of the women named in Matthew's genealogy:
Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, wife of Uriah (Bathsheeba), and Mary. Tamar played a prostitute and bore two sons by her father-in-law who had disowned her, in order to gain justice. Rahab was a Caanite prostitute from Jericho who helped the Israelis. Ruth was a Moabite woman married to an Israeli, a widow who did not desert her Israelite mother-in-law who also became widowed, she returns to Bethlehem with her and seduces Boaz whom marries her. Bathsheeba was the wife of the Hittite warrior Uriah whom David committed adultery with and bore sons, and after Uriah is killed in battle after being ordered to the front by David, David marries Bathsheeba.

The first four were all Gentiles and they say Matthew, who also includes the Gentiles,the Persian Magi, in his infancy story, might be stressing the inclusion of Gentiles in the broader story of Israel. They go on with other possibilities: "The second answer haas the advantage of connecting all five mothers together. In every case there was a marital abnormality, but it was precisely through these five somewhat surprising or irregular unions that God controlled the lineage of the Messiah. It has also been suggested that the women took the initiative and moved boldly to solve the irregularity. But, although that is certainly true for Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and maybe even Bathsheeba with regard to Solomon's royal ascendency, it is hardly true for Mary--as Matthew, rather than Luke, narrates the infancy of Jesus....Why did Matthew find it necessary to defend Mary by linking her to those other ancestral women?" That will be discussed in the next chapter, and the next post...

Luke's genealogy: it emphasizes Jesus' title as Son of God, which is also used at the baptism; Luke's ending the genealogy with Adam evokes Genesis, as does the baptism scene in Luke. His purpose is theological: "Jesus is a new Adam, a new "Son of God", the start of a new creation, the beginning of a transfigured earth."

But why evoke a genealogy at all? Descent from Abraham was true for all Jews; descending from David didn't make one a Messiah. At the time of Jesus, however, there was already a divine Son of God (Augustus), and one who claimed a genealogy back to the time of Troy and the goddess Venus and her child Aeneas who through his son Julus begins the Julian family line. Aeneas escpaes Troy taking his father on his shoulder (his father carrying the family idols) and his son by his hand, and flees to Italy. Artistic scenes of that story were ubiquitous in the Roman empire of Jesus time....Think of that imperical image, they write, when you read the biblical story of another fleeing family.

"...if you wanted to oppose and replace one Son of God born with a millenium-plus descent from the divinely born Aeneas,you would have to introduce an alternative Son of God with a better than millennium-plus descent from, say, the divinely born Isaac, as in Matthew, or, better, the divinely created Adam, as in Luke. But what is always clear is that ancient genealogy was not about history and poetry, but about prophecy and destiny, not about accuracy, but about advertising."

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Advent 2a: "The First Christmas" Discussion--context

Excerpts for discussion From Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan:

"What would you think of a book that started with the opener, I am going to discuss Mahatma Gandhi as a Hindu saint, but I'll skip all that distracting stuff about British imperial India.?..."

They rely on the concepts of text and context and matrix; they say it is clear you can't have context without a text, but not so clear that you can't have a text without a context; and matrix is the "necessary mutuality and reciprocity of text and context." So, for Christmas discussion, they say their context is to set out first the "clash between the kingdom of Rome and the kingdom of God" and the differences between the two. Then they discuss the "terrible brutality with which the kingdom of Rome struck Jesus' Galilean heartland around the very time of his birth."

The matrix fo the Christmas stories has three layers for them: 1. first that they were understood only within Christianity; 2. after WW II "especially forced ecumenical respect but historical accuracy between contemporary Christianity and Judaism, the contextual matrix was expanded to interpret the Christmas stories within Christianity within Judaism, especially for that traumatic first century c.e.; 3. especially at the end of the 20th and start of the 21st century,the "full context for those Christmas stories is to see them within Christianity within Judaism within the Roman Empire.

The context: their use of the term "kingdom" "emphasizes not so much territorial space, regional place, or ethnic identity, as much a mode of economic distribution, a type of human organization, and a style of world orderk social justice, and global peace....The infancy stories of Matthew and Luke "move, of course, within the kingdom of God over against the kingdom of Rome."

The kingdom of Rome: After Octavian's defeat of Antony and Cleoptra at the Battle of Actium in 31 bce, the "Augustus-to-be had saved the Roman Empire and brought peace to the Mediterranean...Was he not Savior of the World? And that almost instant upgrade from Son of God--son that is of the already divine Julius Caeser--to God in his own right was not just because of Augustine's personality or even character, but because of his program...the four successive elements of Roman imperial theology...religion, war, victory, peace. You worship the gods,you go to war with their assistance, you are victorious with their help, and you obtain peace from their generosity...always peace through victory, peace through war, peace through violence.

The kingdom of God: Drawing from the Book of Daniel, also written near the time of the beginning of the Roman Empire, they discuss how Daniel condemns all the other kingdoms besides God's, and God's kingdom has the same end for peace, but it is peace through justice and nonviolence. The question for Judaism in considering the vision of God's kingdom is what would God do to the Gentiles, and how?...In the bible, both Hebrew and Christian scriptures, there are two answers to the what: one is that there would be a final extermination in battle, the other that there would be a great conversion to the God of peace and a feast of all nations..."Which one, do you think, is announced by those Christmas stories? When Luke's angels announce "peace on earth" to those shepherds at Bethlehem, is it peace through victory or peace through justice?"

The answer to the how it would happen raises the question of a mediator to effect it: "Would God have some Messiah or Christ--that is, some Anointed One--as viceroy or administrator for the establishment on earth of the kingdom of God?" They give two examples of a pre-Christian Jewish expectation of such a Messiah: the first from the Psalms of Solomon, and names the one as Son of David, who does battle of sorts, but not militarily, against Rome; the other from the Dead Sea Scrolls, and names the one as Son of the Most High, with an eternal kingdom of peace.

Now they turn to the immediate context of Nazareth of Jesus' birth near the time of Herod the Great's death in 4 bce. Jewish uprisings after that death, and they carried messianic overtones. Putting down those uprisings was done with brutality. One of the uprisings happened at Sepphoris, capital of the Galilee, very near Nazareth. The Roman legions went to Sepphoris and burned it and enslaved its inhabitants. History doesn't record what happened to nearby villages, but later when it does record other Roman punishments for uprisings they did the same brutality to nearby villages.

"Jesus grew up in Nazareth after 4bce, so this is our claim. The major event in his village's life ws the day the Romans came. As he grew up toward Luke's coming of age at 12,he could not not have heard, again and again and again, about the day of the Romans--who had escaped and who had not, who had lived and who had died...This is our imagination to what his coming of age entailed:

"One day when he was old enough, Mary took Jesus up to the top of the Nazareth ridge. It was springtime, the breeze had cleared the air, and the wildflowers were already everywhere. Across the valley, Sepphoris gleamed white on its green hill. "We knew they were coming," Mary said, "but your father had not come home. So we waited after the others were gone. Then we heard the noise, and the earth trembled a little. We did too, but your father had still not come home. Finally, we saw the dust nd we had to flee, but your father never came home. I brought you up here today so you will always remember that day we lost him and what little else we had. We lived, yes, but with these questions. Why did God not defend those who defended God? Where was God that day the Romans came?"

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