‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ Reviewing chapter 11, Luke’s Sophisticated Re-Use of OT Scriptures

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by Neil Godfrey

Previous posts in this series are archived here. Another review of this chapter can be read at Aaron Adair’s blog.

I liked Ingrid Hjelm‘s chapter, “‘Who is my Neighbor?’ Implicit Use of Old Testament Stories and Motifs in Luke’s Gospel”, for several reasons:

  1. it presented the first cogent explanation I have ever encountered for why Luke’s genealogy of Jesus is so different from Matthew’s and why it avoided all mention of David’s son Solomon and the rest of the kings of Israel and Judah;
  2. it explained how a Davidic Messianic figure did not necessarily imply a worldly conqueror (at least not until the last days) but that the OT also contained a nonviolent priestly vision of David who united God’s people as a priestly, Moses-like figure;
  3. it showed how the Gospel of Luke is very much an extension of the same sort of literature that came to make up the Jewish Bible;
  4. it reminded me of the importance of the sacred meaning of numbers among biblical authors, something too easily overlooked today;
  5. it also indirectly prompted possible explanations for why Luke might have adapted and changed the Gospel of Matthew (if he did — but this is really a topic that belongs to another post entirely.)

(But it took some time to grasp what the chapter was about initially. It launches straight into a detailed discussion of details of Matthew’s genealogy and one is immediately wondering, “What the heck is this all about? Was an opening paragraph outlining her argument lost by an editor?” More likely, perhaps, it was cut and paste from other publications by Hjelm yet with insufficient re-editing to clarify the direction of the argument for readers completely new to her views. And there are several passages in the rest of the chapter that leave a reader unfamiliar with the contents of cited references bemused. (Only after tracking down online citations and catching up with some background reading was I able to make sense of some of Hjelm’s statements. Needless to say, some of her claims whose citations are not online remain obscure to me.) Unfortunately this chapter is not the only one in this volume that suffers from this sort of difficulty for those unfamiliar with some of the authors and ideas, — not to mention just a few too many typos. But as you can tell from my positive introduction it was worth making the effort to understand the flow of her argument.)

Ingrid Hjelm

Hjelm shows us that the author of the Gospel of Luke interpreted and reused the Old Testament scriptures as a template for his own Gospel story of Jesus in quite subtle and sophisticated ways that are foreign to the ways most modern readers have come to understand the OT. Luke (we’ll imagine the author’s name was Luke) viewed the David figure embodied in Jesus not through the stained history in the books of Samuel, but through the idealized portrait in the books of Chronicles where a priestly David is portrayed as a second Moses, and as such reunites Samaritanism and Judaism once again into the theological ideal of a new Israel.

(I use the term “Judaism” here instead of “Jews” because it is worth keeping in mind what that word “Jew” actually describes at that time: see Where did the Bible’s Jews come from? Part 1, Part 2. Hjelm even concludes that Luke was not the gentile convert most readers have assumed him to be, but a Hellenized “Jew”.)

What we see in the Gospel are reiteration and paralleling of the motifs and themes of the older Scriptures. If that sounds a lot like the sort of argument we have come to expect from Thomas L. Thompson, we should not be surprised to find Hjelm is also from the University of Copenhagen and Thompson’s name appears frequently in her list of publications.

There is, of course, much more to be written about the Gospel of Luke’s use of the OT — see, for example, Origin of the Emmaus Road Narrative and More on Luke’s Use of Genesis — but this chapter by Hjelm gives readers an excellent insight into the way the author used Scriptures. Hjelm concludes ambiguously on the question of the implications of Luke’s use of Scriptures for the narrative’s historicity. What really matters is that we understand and accept the nature of the Biblical stories and what they meant for their original creators and audiences.

Against Hjelm’s references to Samaritans as the heritage of Moses in this chapter one should be aware that Ingrid Hjelm clearly has a special interest in Samaritan studies (see her list of publications) and last year was awarded The Samaritan Medal for Peace and Humanitarian Achievement by the Samaritan community. At one point she justifies the pivotal reference to Samaritans as well as Jews as an allegorical interpretation (Moses represents the Samaritans and Elijah the Jews) by citing an earlier (2004) publication of hers.

42 = the meaning of life*, David & Jesus

* 42 = the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything — from Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

Ingrid Hjelms begins by demonstrating how the Gospel of Matthew, right from its opening chapter, pushes to the fore the unambiguous link between Jesus and the kingly status of David. (She will contrast the Gospel of Luke’s treatment that downplays, even hides, David’s role as the founder of a line of monarchs.) In Matthew’s genealogy that introduces his Gospel (1:1-17) Jesus is introduced as the culmination of a line of kings and names who had the right to the throne of David.

The most distant ancestor was Abraham, and there were 14 generations from Abraham to David. Another 14 generations marked the line of kings from David to the Babylonian captivity. Then 14 generations to Jesus. Why 14? Hjelm points out that the sum of the numerical value of the letters in David’s name is 14.

דוד (David) = 4+6+4 = 14

The threefold 14 generations pattern totals 42. So Jesus is the 42nd generation from Abraham.

The total number of kings of Israel and Judah was 42. Even in Egyptian mythology the number 42 had mythical meaning: the 42 provinces of Egypt corresponded to the 42 limbs of Osiris whom Seth murdered and whose limbs he scattered throughout Egypt.

“Every year, the parts of the body are brought together from all regions of the land in solemn processions and joined together in one body. In this way the number forty-two is associated with the idea of Egypt as a sacred entity that is constantly being salvaged from fragmentation of history and has to be joined together.” (J. Assmann, Religion and Cultural Memory: Ten Studies, 75)

The fragmentation, death, resurrection and wholeness themes implied in both biblical and Egyptian mythology structure the Gospels as well. (Hjelm, pp. 203-4)

Hjelm appears to be suggesting a possibility rather than arguing a fact of a particular meaning of 14 x 3 = 42 in Matthew. But she locks down her suggestion to something more certain when she compares Matthew’s with Luke’s genealogy.

Luke’s genealogy (3:23-38) is quite different from Matthew’s, tracing Jesus back to Adam and to God himself (“the son of Adam, the son of God”). In this genealogy it is David who placed at number 42.

In Matthew’s Gospel David functions as the very royal template and father of Jesus: whereas Luke simply names David as David, with no title, Matthew pronounces him king: “Jesse was the father of David the king.” (1:6) The first line declares Jesus to be the “the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham“. Jesus’ human surrogate father is addressed as “Joseph, son of David” (Matt. 1:20).

The blind, the foreigners and the crowd several times call Jesus ‘son of David’ (Mt. 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30; 21:9, 15) . . . Matthew’s genealogy . . . places Jesus within an Abrahamic and Davidic cycle, universal and particular reign, that connects the patriarchal tradition with Jerusalem’s tradition through the Book of Ruth (4:18-22) and 1 Chronicles (2:1-15). (p. 204)

Matthew’s Gospel does address the nature of Jesus. Hjelm notes in the context of the question of royal and religious status that the “Son of God” epithet alludes to OT passages that imply an adoptive or analogous relationship rather than a genealogical one. The OT passages speak of the Israelites or the King as being Son(s) of God in a metaphorical sense. The duty of these “sons of God” is to respond to God with the faithfulness and reverence they owe their father. In Matthew, then, Jesus meets the fate one would expect of “a presumptive royal scion”. Jesus’ royal status in relation to David is thus heavily stressed in Matthew’s Gospel.

Contrast Luke’s genealogy

Luke’s genealogy is starkly different. First of all, even Jesus’ link with Joseph is expressed with some uncertainty:

And Jesus himself, when he began to teach , was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed – ἐνομίζετο) of Joseph, the son of Heli . . . (Luke 3:23)

There are from 72 to 77 generations (depending on which manuscript you follow) back from Jesus to the originator of the line, God himself:

. . . who was the son of Seth, who was the son of Adam, who was the son of God. (3:38)

Counting down the linen from Jesus David appears as #42. (Compare #42 in Matthew’s genealogy above.)

So there is a special focus on David in this line, but as most of us know, there are no other kings in Jesus’ ancestry here.

Not only is the line of Judah’s kings missing, but the son of David cited here is not even Solomon. Rather, it is Nathan.

. . . the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David,the son of Jesse, . . . (3:31-32)

And most of us who read this for the first time no doubt wondered the same thing: Who’s he? Where did he come from? What happened to Solomon? Where are the kings descended from David?

This is what the Lord says:
“Record this man [Jehoichin] as if childless . . . for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah.”Jeremiah 22:30

There are 20 kings from Rehoboam to Jehoiachin in 1-2 Kings, and Luke has 20 names to fill this gap from Shealtiel down to David. Shealtiel and Zerubbabel appear in Luke’s genealogy and it may be significant that these names are said in 1 Chronicles 3 to be sons of the last king of Judah, Jeconiah/Jehoiachin, who was declared “childless” as far as having any heirs to the throne was concerned (Jeremiah 22:28-30).

So why are the names of Solomon and all his ensuing kings ignored by Luke? Why Nathan?

And thy house and thy kingdom shall be made sure for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever. According to all these words, and according to all this vision, so did Nathan speak unto David.2 Samuel 7:16-17

The mention of Nathan as David’s son raises suspicion that Luke deliberately avoided mentioning the kings responsible for Judah’s fall. Although Solomon is highly praised in Kings’ narrative, he is also criticized for leading Israel astray by marrying foreign women and worshipping their gods (1 Kgs 11:3-8; 2 Kgs 23:13). In Neh. 13:26, his example is used as a warning against reiterative disaster. So what’s worth remembering about Israel’s kings? Nothing, if we follow the accusations expressed in 2 Kings 23’s narrative about Josiah’s reform. This might be the reason for Nathan, who was not a Judaean king, but namesake of the prophet, who pronounced David’s everlasting kingship (2 Sam. 7:11-17).

Hjelm does not spell it out here, but her following words surely offer reasons to think that this Gospel was written much later than commonly assumed. I’m thinking here of recent scholarly publications suspecting that the final form of this gospel only came together in the mid-second century

And the land shall mourn, . . . the house of David apart, . . . the house of Nathan apart, . . . the house of Levi apart,. . . the family of the Shimeites apart, . . .Zechariah 12:12-14

imSuch is the interpretation by Eusebius in his Questiones Evangelicae ad Stephanum 3.2. Eusebius’ interpretation rests on Jer. 22:24-30‘s curse of Jehoichin, which pronounces that ‘no seed from him should arise to sit on the throne of David’. The conflation of David’s son Nathan and the prophet had begun already in Targumic interpretations of Zech. 12:12-14 and appears also in Julius Africanus’ Letter to Aristides, known by Eusebius.

Hjelm continues:

Luke’s incorporation of Zechariah’s four names — David, Nathan, Levi and Shimei — in his list together with names that usually appear in Levitical and Josephite lists suggests that he was aware of Jewish discussions over the ancestry of the Messiah. (pp. 205-206)

Hjelm suspects that what Luke is doing here is constructing a genealogy that will set Jesus above all earlier inner-Jewish and Jewish-Josephite (Hjelm would equate Josephites or nothern Israelites with Samaritans) rivalries.

Nathan in the list implies. . . .

— a possible royal and political role for Jesus

— a place for him within the guild of the prophets

By incorporating Nathan in his list, Luke fulfills two purposes. He implies a possible royal and political role for Jesus to play and he also places him within the guild of the prophets.

22 and new beginnings

Jesus’ royal genealogy is eponymic rather than genealogical, when the 34 generations before David create a lineage from Adam through Seth to Noah to Shem to Arphachshad to Abraham to Judah to David by use of selected names from genealogies such as are found in 1 Chron. 1:24-27; 2:4-15 and Ruth 4:17-22.

Luke’s enumeration of 22 generations from Adam to Jacob includes Cainan as Arpachshad’s son similar to Jub. 8:1 and LXX Gen. 10:24 (see the note here on the LXX) and 11:13. The list invites speculation on the significance of the 22 generations from Adam to Jacob and the 22 kinds of works of the creation such as found in Jub. 2:23 and 4QJubilees (4Q216).

Later traditions equate the number 22 with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet adn the 22 sacred books, mentioned already in Jos. C. Ap. 1.37-41.

Luke’s entire list indicates a new beginning . . .

Too much of the above is annoying cryptic for one unfamiliar with Hjelm’s allusions. I am left only to speculate on what she sees is the significance of “Cainan” being the son of Arphachshad unlike the Masoretic text that says it was Salah. It has something to do with new beginnings but exactly what is not explained here. Again, I am wondering if there has been a quick cut and paste job from other articles for this chapter and inadequate review before its printing.

Luke’s entire list indicates a new beginning, a fulfillment of patriarchal promises such as expressed both in the Magnificat sung by Mary and the Benedictus recited by Zechariah (Lk. 1:67-79). Both draw heavily upon biblical literature to proclaim the birth of a Davidic saviour to restore Israel’s glory and take away her disgrace and reproach.

Using 1 Samuel 1-4 as his paradigm, Luke implicitly announces that the glory that left Israel with the loss of the Ark (1 Sam. 4:21-22) will be restored by the birth of prophet and saviour; namely John and Jesus in the images of Samuel and David.

Jesus’ royal descent: most eminent in the ‘poor man’s song’

Luke clearly associates Jesus with David as does Matthew. Both Luke and Matthew place Jesus squarely within the line of both Abraham and David (Lk. 3:32-38), and before Luke presents the genealogy he announces through the angel that Mary’s child will be “given his father David’s throne” (1:32). Before that, even, we read that Mary was betrothed to “Joseph, who was of David’s house” (1:27). And he repeats Jesus’ Davidic ancestry several times throughout the Gospel.

But Luke’s use of the Davidic association is most elaborately exalted in ‘the poor man’s song’. In Luke, it is noteworthy that

his most eminent disclosure of Jesus’ royal descent, however, is given in the ‘poor man’s song’ sung and read by Mary (Lk. 1:46-56), Zechariah (Lk. 1:68-80) and Jesus (Lk. 4:18-19). (p. 207)

The ‘poor man’s song’ is a descriptor familiar to anyone who has read Thomas L. Thompson’s books and essays on a trope widespread through the ages of the ancient Middle Eastern civilizations: kings were saviour figures whose job description (at least in royal propaganda) was to deliver the poor man from his plight, to overturn the old order and usher in a new by means of righting old wrongs and reversing the fortunes of the powerful and powerless.

The twist — the king is also the prophet

Jesus’ first public act, however, is not within a palace but in a synagogue. Here he announced himself to be a prophet:

So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. . . . And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” . . . Then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. (Luke 4:16-24)

Jesus here identifies himself as being within the guild of Old Testament prophets, though we later learn people mistook him as one of those prophets resurrected. He transcended those prophets.

So Jesus is in the line of the prophets and also of the king, the lawgiver. Moses was the first lawgiver, Elijah is considered the leader of the prophets. Jesus, Luke points out, surpasses both Moses and Elijah (Luke 9:33-36).

It takes a while and a few readings (for me, at least) to understand Hjelm’s point here about Moses. She implies a lot. I wish she would be more often explicit. (Not unlike some of Thomas Thompson’s passages.) Her point does become clearer later on, but that does not solve the mystery of her reference here to Moses being the lawgiver as if in some sense a king. So I will jump ahead and explain what I think all this means.

As I understand it, Hjelm is saying that Moses was a royal figure, the first lawgiver, but as such, his function was primarily cultic, like that of priests and prophets. (As far as I have noticed, Hjelm does not cite Deuteronomy 33:5 that actually calls Moses a king.)

So when Jesus is said to surpass Moses and Elijah, the lawgiver and prophet, it is to be understood that he is identifying with their roles and exalting them to a new height — an their roles are that of a king whose function is primarily cultic and spiritual, and of a prophet.

That is, he is not continuing in the wake of the political kings of Israel and Judah and the prophets. The kingship Jesus is exalting is one that originated with Moses, was revived by David as per the Book of Chronicles, and that led to Jesus through his son and prophet Nathan.

To continue Hjelm’s discussion here:

God called his kings his “sons” when he chose them: 2 Sam. 7:14; 1 Chron 17:13; 22:10; 28:6; Pss. 2:7; 89:27-28. He likewise called Jesus his “son” at the transfiguration (Luke 9:35).

God thus legitimized Jesus as the successor of the lawgiver Moses and the prophet Elijah.

Another Old Testament person had the same role, being both prophet and king, and that was David as presented in the Books of Chronicles.

Samaritans, from a photo c. 1900 by the Palest...
Samaritans, from a photo c. 1900 by the Palestine Exploration Fund. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hjelm also sees the reference to Moses as an allusion to the Samaritans. (The Samaritans, I understand, used only the Books of Moses as their Scriptures.) Thus the presence of Moses and Elijah on the mountain at the transfiguration is symbolic of the Samaritans and Jews, and the scene represents the surpassing of their religious differences with the new religion of Jesus as both the new Moses and Elijah, lawgiver and prophet. In the view of Hjelm, Luke is aligned with the theology also found in the Gospel of John, that Jesus has come to supersede not only the Jewish religion but also that of the Samaritans, so uniting them in one, along with the gentiles.

My first reaction is to dismiss this Samaritan allusion but I check myself because I know I am doing so because it contradicts the common understanding I have become familiar with. So I can only reserve judgment until I read her more detailed works on Samaritans and “Samaritanism”.

The OT prophetic books also speak of such a union between northern Israel and Judah (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Chronicles).

What has all this to do with David?

Here, the role of the Davidic king is cultic and spiritual rather than political, as played by teh all too mundane kings presented in Samuel and Kings.

Continuing . . .

When I continue this review I will explain in more detail Hjelm’s argument for David being a Moses redivivus, a king quite unlike the king of 2 Samual and 1 Kings. Jesus is from this cultic, priestly, prophetic David, not the bloody and treacherous one who spawned the fall of the old kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

Meanwhile, one of Hjelm’s themes — probably her primary one — is at last becoming clearer to me after writing the above: that the author of this Gospel had a deep knowledge and nuanced understanding of the various themes in the Old Testament books. He was the sort of person, with the requisite background, to know how to weave OT themes into a new work that reiterated and transvalued those themes in new settings. This was an act in a literary class well above Matthew’s targeting of an OT passage and bluntly stating when and how it had been fulfilled.

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4 thoughts on “‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ Reviewing chapter 11, Luke’s Sophisticated Re-Use of OT Scriptures”

  1. “The 77 Generations” [in Luke] by Jona Lendering

    “One of the five parts of 1st Enoch is the so-called ‘Book of the Watchers’, which was written in the 3rd century B.C.E. It describes the fall of the angels and their punishment:

    ‘And the Lord said to [the arch-angel] Raphael: “Bind [the rebel] Azazel hand and foot and throw him into the darkness!” And Raphael made a hole in the desert, which was in Dudael, and cast him there. On top of him, he threw rugged and sharp rocks. And he covered Azazel’s face in order that he may not see light and […] may be sent into the fire on the great day of judgment. […] And to Michael the Lord said: “[…] Bind them for seventy generations underneath the rocks of the ground until the day of their judgment is concluded.”‘ (1 Enoch 10.4-6, 11-12; tr. E. Isaac)

    “In other words, the day of judgment was to take place seventy generations after Enoch. Now this patriarch, ‘Enoch’ was recorded as having lived in ‘the seventh generation from Adam,’ and we may therefore conclude that the author of the Book of the Watchers assumed that the end of history would be in the ‘seventy-seventh generation from Adam,’ or the seventieth generation from Enoch.

    “Back to Luke. By making Jesus of Nazareth the ‘seventy-seventh’ of the list in his genealogies, the author of that Gospel [Luke] is obviously playing with these Enochian thoughts. What he is in fact saying is that… the last judgment is very, very near. After all, when Luke composed his gospel during the persecution by the emperor Domitian, there were only a few survivors of the generation of Jesus.”


    And speaking of Enoch and end times expectations of NT writers. . .

    The Book Of Enoch, The Book of Jude, And An Imminent Final Judgment

    The New Testament book of Jude quotes from 1 Enoch 1:9 (written in the 3rd Century B.C.E.), using that verse from Enoch to buttress a prediction that the final judgment of the world was imminent:

    “It was also about these [meaning the “wicked” in Jude’s own day whom he was complaining had “crept” into the church, viz., Jude 4: “Certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for condemnation…”] that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied saying, ‘See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones to execute judgment on all, to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him’” (Jude 14 = 1 Enoch 1:9).

    In addition, the author of the early Christian text known as The Letter of Barnabas quotes from 1 Enoch three times, in one case referring to it as “scripture” (4:3, 16:5,6).

    MUCH MORE ON END TIMES EXPECTATIONS INCLUDING LUKE’S MINI-APOCALYPSE HERE, The Lowdown on God’s Showdown, http://www.infidels.org/kiosk/article86.html

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