The following is an imaginative fictional account of Zechariah’s experience in the temple (Luke 1:5-20). I suggest reading the passage of scripture first, and then my fictional account.
I hurried through the Nicanor Gate and into the Court of the Priests, the sun low in the sky. The smell of smoke, blood, and animal dung drifted on the breeze. I shimmied out of my traveling clothes and immersed in the cool water of the bronze laver. I washed off the hill-country dust, still clinging from the day’s journey, and I thought of Elizabeth. With her tender hip, she couldn’t manage the animals anymore, and the boy from next door knew little about goats; they always looked too scruffy, too dirty when I returned home. If only we’d had a son.
So much for weekly word counts. In any case, still feeling good about my progress. Day by day, staying in the chair. At this rate (~220 words per day) I should have a 350-page draft by the beginning of April!
pelted the windshield of Marcie’s fifteen-year-old sports car as she
turned into the driveway of the subterranean parking lot. Some of the
rain was virtually snow, translucent splatter sticking to the glass
before a wiper blade cast it aside with other unwanted water. As she
descended the steep ramp into darkness, Marcie’s thoughts drifted
back to her annual review meeting that morning. As usual, her numbers
weren’t great, and her supervisor had hounded her about setting a new
round of goals she really didn’t care to meet. She’d spent the
afternoon updating her resume.
Progress on the first draft of my novel is feeling fast and furious. I think I’m around half way there. And the story is so fun right now! Super-exciting. Gonna try to post weekly Friday word counts until she’s done.
Walter returned from the bathroom and struggled to remount his barstool. He gripped the bar with both hands, threw one pudgy leg onto the padded seat, and wriggled and scooted his way up like a seal on the beach. When he had finally resumed his seat, a bead of sweat trickled down his temple, out from under greasy, badly-cut hair. In need of refreshment, he sucked at the straw in his fruity mixed-drink, temporarily lodging the peak of the paper umbrella in his left nostril.
smirked from the next stool over. “Wasn’t sure you were going to
make it,” he said.
up,” said Walter. “Don’t you hate these work functions?”
don’t know,” said Eugene, “they’re all right. Free drinks.”
the boss didn’t treat them like loyalty litmus tests, I’d totally
skip,” said Walter. His eyes drifted to the dance floor as he drew
again on his straw. “Look at Mitch,”
about him?” said Eugene, turning his attention to the man Walter
had fixed on.
threw the first handful on the coffin, and then we all done the same.
Black dirt. Just like the coal. There we were, throwin’ dirt in our
Sunday best, just come from church. After that, the boys from down
the hill started in with the shovels, and by God, Pop was all covered
up in no more than fifteen minutes. Smellin’ that dirt set me
coughin’ and hackin’. Up come some slime and I spit it out, black
too, drippin’ and slimin’ down the grass blades, all thick and slow.
I remember the day I come home and told Pop school wasn’t for me. Too much readin’ and writin’, too much talkin’ and thinkin’. I wasn’t fifteen, but I’d had enough of it to know. What I wanted, I told him, was to work in the mine, to pull out the coal, to do a man’s job. Sittin’ in a chair all day, staring at some woman scribblin’ on a chalkboard, everyone talk, talk, talkin’. No sir, wasn’t for me. I got the fever for that coal, I says to him, standin’ over him, tall and proud, him sittin’ there on the porch, in his rockin’ chair, black dust from the day still in the cracks of his face, under his eyes, between his mouth and his cheeks. Wanna be like my Pop, I told him.
In recent posts (e.g., here and here), I’ve been writing about the authorship of the Gospels, and the degree to which Gospel content may be traced back to eyewitnesses of Jesus.
The point of the work has been to counter Bart Ehrman’s view (in How Jesus Became God, pp. 90-91) that the authors of the Gospels were not eyewitnesses or close disciples of eyewitnesses (as traditionally claimed) but rather were Christians of a later generation, whose writings are thereby less historically reliable. I have resisted Ehrman’s view and claimed that, in fact, there is decent (though perhaps not conclusive) evidence for the traditional view.
Mind the Gap
However, even if I’m right, there is still a problem for the historicity of the Gospels, namely the gap between the time of Jesus’s ministry and the writing of the Gospels.
For example, if we assume that Jesus died around 30 CE, then the time between his ministry (late 20s CE) and the composition of Mark (late 60s or early 70s CE), is at least 40 years. Given the apparent reliance of Matthew and Luke upon Mark (discussed in this post), those two Gospels would entail an even longer gap—maybe 50 years. The Gospel according to John is thought to have been written in the 90s CE, suggesting a still longer gap for that Gospel.
Scholars generally agree that during this in-between period the stories and teachings in the Gospels would have been passed on orally. Ehrman claims that such oral transmission would be unreliable, leading to distortions that further call into question the historicity of the Gospels. Continue reading →
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what, exactly, the message of the gospel is. Of course, the term ‘gospel’ means “good news.” The puzzle for me is that, at least the way it is often presented by Christians, the gospel is not obviously good news.
This typical version of the gospel focuses on Good Friday: Jesus died on the cross, taking upon himself God’s judgment and punishment for human sin, so that we sinful humans could be spared and forgiven by God. According to this “Good Friday gospel,” the good news is that we humans have been given a second chance, that God has forgiven us.
Good News, Bad News
But, while it is clearly good news to escape the judgment of God and be forgiven our sins, to accept this as good news we must first swallow a huge piece of bad news—namely that our sins are such that we deserve death (after all, Jesus died for us) and that we require God’s forgiveness. So, at best, this Good Friday gospel is “mixed news.” Continue reading →
In this post I conclude my case for the traditional view that the author of the Gospel according to Matthew (“Matthew,” or the “first Gospel”) was one of the original Jewish disciples of Jesus, namely “Levi” or “Matthew,” the tax collector, mentioned in Matthew 9:9 and 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, and Acts 1:13.
The aim of my case is to respond to Bart Ehrman’s claim in How Jesus Became God that the Gospels were composed by Christians “of a later generation” who wrote after (or almost after) Jesus’s original disciples had died, thereby casting doubt on the link between the Gospel accounts and the historical Jesus.
In my last post, I laid out internal and external evidence for the traditional view of the authorship of Matthew. In this post, I will respond to some popular objections to that view.
Would Matthew Rely on Mark?
As I recently described in this post, the most widely held view of how the three synoptic Gospels were composed—the Four-Source theory—claims that the author of Matthew used Mark as his most significant source in composing the first Gospel. To some scholars, this fact suggests an objection to the traditional view that Matthew was composed by one of Jesus’s original Jewish disciples.
According to this objection, if the author of the first Gospel were really Jesus’s original disciple, Matthew, it seems he would not have chosen to rely on the Gospel of Mark since, according to the traditional view, the author of Mark was not an eyewitness to Jesus’s ministry while the disciple Matthew was. Wouldn’t Matthew prefer his own eyewitness account to the account of a non-eyewitness? Continue reading →