More on Luke’s use of Genesis

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by Neil Godfrey

One of Luke’s changes to the Gethsemane account found in the Gospel of Mark was in the way he chose to describe the kiss of Judas.

Luke changes the wording in Mark in preference for the same wording in the Greek Septuagint uses in Genesis to picture Jacob kissing his father Isaac in deceit. (This is another tidbit I picked up from Jenny Read-Heimerdinger and Josep Rius-Camps article I drew on in my first Ennaus post.)

One can compare the Greek words in the Greek-English interlinear Septuagint available here, but the English translations are suggestive enough in this quick blog context:

And he came hear and kissed him (Genesis 27:27)

And drew near to Jesus to kiss him (Luke 22:47)

It has been argued that in an oral culture where people listened regularly to favourite readings, where education included large doses of learning to memorize key passages and analyzing and discussing them from many perspectives, such repeated refrains across texts may well have been as discernible to ancient audiences short sections of popular or well known songs and music are easily recognizable when heard in another piece. I’m not sure if the musical and verbal components of our brains will match each other rigorously in such a comparison, but there seems little doubt that ancient authors had confidence that their regular tendencies to make such allusions did register with enough of their audiences to matter.

Luke drawing on Genesis here, specifically aligning one of the Twelve with Jacob, sits well with that other allusion to Genesis also discussed in my earlier Emmaus piece — the dream-meeting between Jacob and God at “Oulammaus” (Luz/Emmaus).

Unlike Mark and Matthew, Luke does not have the disciples flee and scatter when Jesus is arrested. They hang around, presumably. Two of them eventually decide to walk to their home not far from Jerusalem. Jacob, after deceiving his father Isaac with a kiss, the kiss described with the same “drawing near” motion later used of Judas in Luke, soon afterwards, a day or two it seems, left the scene of the betrayal of his father and brother to go to his mother’s home in Haran. It was on the way that near the end of a day that God appeared to him in the dream as he slept on rock or stone that assumed significance in Jewish legend — at “Oulammaus”. All of these features of the Jacob story are echoed, as previously discussed, in the story of Jesus appearing and revealing his identity to the two on the road to Emmaus.

And all of the Genesis references in the Emmaus account would appear to follow closely from the Genesis allusion in the kiss of Judas (in Luke’s gospel).

I think the use of Jacob as a model for the disciples served his larger purposes well. The canonical gospel, with Acts, clearly intends to base the Christian faith in the traditions and history and scriptures of Israel. Jacob was the patriarch who started out as the deceiver and the cheat, but who later wrestled with “God” with the consequence that his name and character were finally changed. Jacob the “usurper” became Israel the blessed patriarch. In canonical Luke and Acts we find the same kind of transformation of the disciples. The disciples are essentially worthy from the beginning, just as Jacob was worthy by birth and promise, and only needed time, experience and better understanding and “grace” to make it to their destined status.

Luke’s disciples are never at any time the rejects they are in Mark’s gospel.

Why bother?

This identification of the twelve with a character in Genesis may seem trite or inconsequential to most readers today. But in the early years of Christianity, the religion was far more diverse than at any time since. Some schools of Christianity did trace a founding father or genealogy that was in opposition to other schools that claimed their faith was rooted in the Twelve. The rival founding names or groups of names became the focus of different interpretations and beliefs. Some rejected the Jewish scriptures totally, some read them allegorically, some literally.

The form of Christianity that won, of course, was that which read the Jewish scriptures allegorically (so they could be argued to predict or foreshadow — allegorize — the church and Jesus). By claiming their faith was rooted in such an ancient set of books, and the more details they could point to in order to demonstrate the “truth” or “predestined” nature of the role of their founders, the Twelve disciples, the more authoritative they could present themselves.

Luke’s use of Genesis

a. parents are called righteous in Gen.26:5 and Luke 1:6;

b. mothers were barren in Gen.11:30 and Luke 1:7;

c. parents were old in Gen.18:11 and Luke 1:7;

d. angels speak to a doubting father in Gen.18:11 and Luke 1:11;

e. angels tells fathers nothing is impossible in Gen.18:14 and Luke 1:37;

f. while in the wombs it was foretold the older would serve the younger in Gen.25:19-23 and Luke 1;

g. infants leapt in the womb in Gen.25:22 and Luke 1:44;

h. Rachel’s words in Gen.30:23 are spoken by Elizabeth in Luke 1:25;

i. mothers expressed their lowly status and said they would be called ‘blessed’ in Gen.29:30, 13 and Luke 1:48;

j. Jacob at Peniel, sees God and lives in Gen.32:30, as do Zechariah and Anna the daughter of Peniel in Luke 2:30, 36.

(Above list adapted from Spong, 1996; the points below from Read-Heimerdinger and Josep Rius-Camps, 2002.)

k. Jacob drew near to kiss Isaac (Gen.27:27) as Judas drew near to kiss Jesus (Luke 22:47)

l. God meets Jacob at evening as he travels to his family home (Gen.28:10-19) as Jesus meets the disciples late afternoon as they travel to their home (Luke 24:13-34)

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Neil Godfrey

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5 thoughts on “More on Luke’s use of Genesis”

  1. The lurid account of the betrayal by a kiss is in Mark and Luke, whatever. But yes, why shouldn’t the final writer of Luke have used the “drawing near” form of the words in Genesis 27.27 of the Septuagint for added effect? The kiss to point out the well-known prophet was completely unnecessary and is an obvious fabrication. May be the final writer of Luke was subliminally telling the reader that there was a close family relationship between the prophet and the betrayer, similar to the relationship between Isaac and Jacob. I am thinking here of a father-in-law and high priest Ananias, and his son-in law prophet, who I believe was Judas. For added effect again, may be the final writers of Mark also subliminally told us that it was someone “who dips bread into the bowl with me” (Mark 14.20), a phrase not in Luke who possibly felt it gave too much away, i.e. that the betrayer was indeed a close relative of the prophet who had shared meals with him.

    Something that comes right out of the book of Genesis is the Garden of Gethsemane. It was in the Garden of Eden that the serpent beguiled Eve, who in effect by listening to the Serpent, symbolic of the Devil or Satan, betrayed Adam. Adam and Eve were cast out as a result. The parallel with Judas betraying Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is obvious. The ‘casting’ language is echoed with Judas casting or throwing himself down in Acts and in throwing down the thirty pieces of silver into the sanctuary. The allusion here is the process by which the prophet was executed which was by casting down from a high place in the traditional Jewish stoning of a false prophet.

    So if the prophet wasn’t taken captive in the Garden of Gethsemane, where was he taken? It had to be a place where he would be alone, and where his captors knew where he would be at a particular time. One clue almost certainly comes in the conclusion of the Gospel of Judas.

  2. Many speculative reconstructions are possible, but my comments about allusions to Jewish scriptures as one of the tactics used to advance the claims of one Christian “school” over another derive from specific claims found within the rival literature itself. The Christian documents themselves directly address rivalries and sharp debates between some claiming allegiance to James or Paul or Mary or Thomas or the Twelve etc.

    To establish links between literatures, such as Josephus and the gospel narratives, one needs to demonstrate how those links are derived from agreed criteria. The links I have discussed conform to the criteria one finds discussed for literary allusions in Dale Allison and Dennis MacDonald, for example. Not all will agree with their application of the criteria, but at least such an approach gives a starting point for different minds to debate something more tangible than impressions or speculations. I don’t doubt that there are Josephan allusions in the gospels, but I cannot go beyond those that I can justify by such criteria.

    Other possible echoes, such as the names of Judas, Simon and John are certainly suggestive, but there is not enough evidence that I can see that enables us to come to any definitive conclusions. Several models are possible to explain such similarities.

    But models and hypotheses need hard evidence for any of them to gain traction. I recently had “a discussion” with some fundamentalists on Cadre, and I tried to avoid the fear that I was completely wasting my time for far too long — their method of argument was to support one hypothesis with another. Whenever I demonstrated that there was no evidential or logical support for a particular claim, they would end up replying that I needed to see the “whole far more complex” picture — meaning that if I accepted all of their hypotheses and beliefs then I would see all the evidence their way and concede they were right. Of course, that’s not really a debate at all but an attempt or a claim that I needed to be “converted” to their way of thinking quite apart from the norms of logic and evidence.

    I think that fundamentalist error is often repeated. It used to be found in the works of Von Daniken when he attempted to demonstrate that certain structures of old had to be built by aliens.

    We need direct evidence and criteria to establish links between literatures, not hypotheses upon hypotheses.

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