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Historicity of Lk 4:16-30 (Nazareth)

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Synoptic Cc: GPG, WSW, Paul Elbert On: Historicity of Lk 4:16-30 From: Bruce The question has arisen, whether this Jesus Preaching in Nazareth episode is
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 21, 2009
      To: Synoptic
      Cc: GPG, WSW, Paul Elbert
      On: Historicity of Lk 4:16-30
      From: Bruce

      The question has arisen, whether this Jesus Preaching in Nazareth episode is
      historical, or if not, what are the good reasons why not. It was more
      recently suggested that its sequential position within Luke is irrelevant to
      the question, since "the Synopticists routinely arranged passages to achieve
      literary and theological goals." I should think that arrangement in
      furtherance of literary and theological goals is highly relevant, and I here
      proceed to take it into consideration.


      I begin with basics: the relationship of the three Synoptics in time. This
      is established, at least to my satisfaction, by the fact that when arranged
      in the order Mk > Mt > Lk, these show increasing reverence for Jesus,
      increasing respect for his family, a steady tendency to diminish the
      importance of John the Baptist and to assimilate John into the story of
      Jesus (in Lk, this occurs even prenatally), an increasing Jerusalemization,
      an increasing retrojection of the Gentile mission into the lifetime of
      Jesus, and so on. The more general of these developments are virtual
      constants in the history of any cultural movement, and the more specific
      ones reflect outside events (such as the supersession of Galilee by
      Jerusalem as the authority center for early Christianity, or the spontaneous
      and unlooked-for interest of the Gentiles in the message of the Apostles)
      which could not possibly have taken place in the opposite order. The
      direction of the standard aggrandization developments being highly
      predictable, and the sequence of the relevant historical events being not
      plausibly reversible, it follows that very great confidence may properly
      attend the inference that the sequence of composition of Mt, Mk, and Lk *in
      their final form, as we have them in the NT canon today,* was

      Mk > Mt > Lk

      I emphasize one phrase as a qualification, for reasons immediately to be
      expounded. The Synoptic Problem as usually defined does not match the
      Synoptic Gospels as we may easily discover them to be, and thus, as stated,
      that Problem is strictly speaking insoluble. The chief flaw is that this
      statement of the Problem assumes that each of those three Gospels was
      written only once. That is demonstrably untrue. Luke, as I shall presently
      show, was written in two phases: an A phase in which Luke was aware of, and
      closely modeled himself on, Mark, and a second or B phase in which he became
      aware of, and was deeply (if resentfully) influenced by, the recently
      available Matthew.


      Fitzmyer Luke 1/71f takes up seven passages (plus a possible eighth) in
      which Luke's order of story units is different from that of Mark. Fitzmyer
      proposes very reasonable reasons why, given the Markan order, Luke might
      have preferred a different order. Each of these explanations amounts to a
      directionality statement: it explains which of two related items is
      secondary to the other. In all cases, the Lukan order is secondary to the
      Markan order. Then we have the unavoidable conclusion: Mk > Lk. This, it
      will be seen, is merely one component of the above Trajectory conclusion: Mk
      > Mt > Lk. It is not only consistent with that conclusion, it confirms it on
      independent material, and on a smaller scale. The microstructures agree in
      sequence with the inclusive macrostructure. And in addition, the motivations
      for the Lukan changes of order begin to give us a finer grained picture of
      Luke's authorial mind, his agenda, the point he was trying to make to his
      readers in writing as he did.


      If what was before us in Luke was simply a rearranging of Markan stories in
      a new order, *as* they were added to Luke's text, it would be one thing.
      What we have, however, is another thing. As I have previously shown, in
      considerable detail, is that these reordered units in Luke *originally stood
      in Markan order.* They were first added to Luke in the order Luke found them
      in Mark, and only later rearranged. It is this later rearrangement that
      distinguishes Luke B (our canonical Luke) from the previous Luke A (the Luke
      not yet divergent from Markan order). And how do we know that this is so? By
      the fact that the changes of order in Luke are not only motivated, they
      create inconcinnities in the resulting text. Do these inconcinnities result
      from the arrangement alone? No, they result from the specific wording of the
      passages. In the Nazareth scene, Jesus is asked to do miracles "such as you
      did in Capernaum." But in Luke's own story, Jesus has not yet been to
      Capernaum, let alone worked miracles there. That event is still to come.
      Now, if in the Markan version that same demand occurred, Luke might have
      created his problem by simply reordering Mark even as he drew from Mark. But
      no, *that line is not in Mark.* It was then added by Luke, and it can only
      have been added at a time when, in Luke as in Mark, the Capernaum episode
      came earlier than the Nazareth episode.

      The case is similar with the Calling of Simon, into which I will not enter
      here. For my summary of earlier treatments of these three units, see


      Again, I don't think there is any alternative explanation that will meet the
      facts. It then follows as a firm and actionable conclusion that Luke first
      borrowed his Markan material in Markan order, and in doing so, rewrote it at
      least in part *to harmonize with that order.* At some later point, he moved
      the Nazareth episode, but *without changing the elements earlier added to
      that episode that were inconsistent with its new position.*

      To put this additional fact in the same form as the above conclusions:

      Luke A > Luke B.

      And combining all so far:

      Mk > Luke A > Mt > Luke B

      It is at this point that the need, and the utility, of redefining the
      Synoptic Problem becomes apparent.


      So what is Luke up to in all this? What was the reason for Luke B? That
      question cannot be answered in its entirety by studying one passage, but one
      passage is still useful; if correctly apprehended, it should eventually form
      part of a comprehensive understanding of the whole Synoptic Gospel process.

      Fitzmyer says of the Nazareth transposition: "Jesus' visit to Nazareth (Mark
      6:1-6) is transferred by Luke to the beginning of Jesus' Galilean ministry
      (4:16-30) to serve a programmatic purpose: it presents in capsule form the
      theme of fulfillment and symbolizes the rejection that will mark the
      ministry as a whole." This is putting it pretty gently. The Markan Jesus at
      first encounters enthusiastic Jewish hearers in Capernaum, they are
      impressed by his message and astonished by his novelty. Crowds begin to
      gather. The Lukan B Jesus from the very beginning encounters hostility from
      his Jewish hearers in Nazareth; they attempt to kill him (a detail not in
      Mark). This fits the theme which is incessantly hammered in throughout Luke
      and Acts: the Jews killed Jesus.

      The Markan Jesus develops within the Markan Gospel. He is at first
      successful, and only gradually encounters opposition, and the opposition he
      does encounter is at the top of the hierarchy, Pharisees and Herodians
      (Quislings), and of course eventually also the Romans. But the Markan crowds
      are very much for Jesus at the beginning, and they stay enthusiastic until
      the very end, when they reject him, and then (as Mark is careful to specify)
      only because they have been stirred up by those evil persons, the high
      priests; the Jerusalem hierarchy. In Mark, the Nazareth rejection is purely
      a matter of family and childhood friends; it has as its parallel Jesus's own
      repudiation of his mother and brothers (who think him crazy; a detail
      distinctly softened in Luke). In Luke, the earliest result of Jesus's
      teaching is his rejection by mortally hostile crowds.

      Does this fit Luke's scenario? Most certainly; not only in the matter of
      Jewish guilt for Jesus's death, but in the equally constant theme of Jewish
      rejection of Jesus's message. How, we might carefully ask, does the whole
      grand saga of Luke/Acts end? With the authoritative and final rejection of
      Jesus's offer of salvation by the Jews of Rome, and by Paul's transfer of
      the message to the Gentiles, "Let it be known to you then that this
      salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen" (Ac 28:28,
      the next to last verse in Acts).

      Is there any further sign in the Lukan Nazareth episode that Luke intended
      this passage to have this symbolic meaning? Most certainly there is. In one
      of the segments added by Luke to Mark's prototype story, we have

      Lk 4:25 "Truly, I say to you, there were many widows in Israel in the days
      of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when
      there came a great famine over the land, [26] and Elijah was sent to none of
      them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a
      widow." Sidon is outside Israel. Later verses show the exclusive favor of
      God, according to the unanswerable authority of the OT, to Naaman the
      Syrian, and to no other recipient of divine assistance. Not only are the
      Gentiles included in the mercy of God, ONLY the Gentiles are included in the
      mercy of God. Lk 4:25f resonates with Ac 28:28, and the two together bookend
      the ministry of Jesus and his Apostles taken together: the Jews are rejected
      for their unbelief, and the Gentiles are accepted as the new recipients of
      God's mercy; the Promise to Abraham is renegotiated.

      The Nazareth passage is the whole program of Luke/Acts in miniature.


      These details, precisely because they are potent in Luke's grand design, can
      only be Lukan bedizenments on the Markan original. But for just that reason,
      they have no standing as history. Their literary effect is tremendous; their
      historicity is nil. So also with the sequence of events: the Lukan position
      is artistically constrained and thus historically spurious, whereas the
      Markan sequence is the only one that has a chance of reflecting any real
      sequence of events in the actual life of the actual Jesus.

      Whether it *does* reflect such reality is a whole separate question. We have
      however so far established that the Lukan Nazareth story is not in the
      running as a competitor. Only Mark is at the starting line.


      This analysis can be repeated for every one of the Lukan transpositions
      noticed by Fitzmyer, and for a score of other Lukan transpositions *not*
      noticed by Fitzmyer. In the end of all that analysis, we get an immensely
      detailed feeling for what Luke was up to in writing as he did - and also in
      *rewriting* as he manifestly later did. We get from the work of analysis,
      not efforts to imagine, from a modern suburban perspective, what Luke
      thought or intended, but something better: a large body of material where
      Luke's authorial thoughts and intentions are clear and sometimes explicit.
      That analysis was undertaken by myself in an SBL paper of November 2006, and
      is continuing (with time out for other, also pressing things) at the present

      It seems to me that all of the above are reasonable conclusions based on
      objective evidence, neither imaginary nor speculative, but responsible to
      the textual facts before us. I submit that they establish a valid way
      forward, out of the usual circling around the topic, and moving off in a
      more fruitful direction.

      One of the fruitful questions to ask, already of this single segment, might
      be, Was the rewriting of Luke, the change from Luke A to Luke B, conditioned
      by the wish to extend an original Gospel of Luke to the wider history of
      Christianity which is represented by our Luke/Acts? What does one make of
      Randall Buth's stylistic assessment, that the break in Luke/Acts comes, not
      with Luke vs Acts, but with Luke/Acts A vs Acts B? These and kindred
      question might well come up for discussion, any day now.

      Since Benjamin Bacon was already asking some of them nigh on to a century
      ago, nobody can call such issues premature. Au contraire.

      Respectfully suggested,


      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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