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[Synoptic-L] Historical Geography and Luke 5:1-11

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  • R. Steven Notley
    I have had computer problems the last couple of days. So, I lost much of the previous postings regarding Matthean influences upon Luke 5:1-11. Let me just
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 12, 2004
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      I have had computer problems the last couple of days.  So, I lost much of the previous postings regarding Matthean influences upon Luke 5:1-11.

      Let me just interject that from one who takes seriously the data of historical geography in my reading of the gospels, there are clear indications that Luke's source for his narrative is not Matthew (or Mark).  Again, I am asking us to look at issues of language to demonstrate assumptions of dependency (or lack thereof).

      As for the text at hand, in some of my current research I found it necessary to investigate the origins of the toponym "Sea of Galilee."  I can say without any hesitation that this term is "Christian."  It appears nowhere else in late antiquity (Jewish or Pagan sources).  I have reviewed all of the relevant literary material.  The toponym only appears in Matthew, Mark and (haltingly) in John.  That it was still unfamiliar to John's readers (and yes in spite of some recent popular retread notions, I do think John is historically posterior to the Synoptics) is indicated by his need to define it in John 6:1 with the Sea of Tiberias.

      Please take note that not only does Luke consistently avoid the inappropriate term THALASSA for the lake (as do the classical sources--either Greek or Latin [i.e. Mare]!), but he had no knowledge of the Christian toponym "Sea of Galilee".  One can not argue that Luke had objections with the Greek term THALASSA, because he uses it freely with other bodies of water.  He just found it (rightly) inappropriate for the Lake of Gennesar.

      I suspect that the toponym is derived from an early Christian midrash (if one is permitted to speak in such terms) on Isaiah 9:1, used to define the theological, biblical significance of the locus of Jesus' ministry in the region of Capernaum.  [It is the only place in the Hebrew Scriptures where we find the collocation of "Sea" and "Galilee".]  This is hinted at in Matthew 4:15-18.  The Evangelist begins to employ the toponym following his biblical citation.  I do not think Matthew is necessarily the creator of this toponym, only the clearest witness to its origins.

      Luke (e.g. 5:1-2) instead consistently uses the appropriate term LIMNH and "Lake of Gennesar" which Josephus tells us is the name used by the local inhabitants.  (With tongue in cheek) let me just express my amazement that Luke can be relying so heavily on Matthew or Mark for his narrative material, and yet so deftly (here and elsewhere) omit their topographical mistakes and provide such precise details.  I hasten to add that these are not matters of theological significance, but historical and geographical detail.  Exit the assumed literary impulse of "Luke the Theologian"...

      It is data like this that consistently speaks to me of Luke's literary independence from Mark and Matthew.  He does have literary sources.  They just are not Matthew and Mark.

      R. Steven Notley
      Nyack College NYC

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