Can one explain divergences in the Gospels geopolitically? Two Lazeruses? Three Marys?
|I: RUMINATIONS ON SOME GEOPOLITICAL IMPLICATIONS TO BE DRAWN FROM THE FOUR GOSPELS
As some have asserted, the Gospels in the New Testament are four in number for a symbolic reason, there being four seasons and four points of the compass - or, to use a Biblical expression, four corners of the earth.. Thus the fourfold frame governs both the spatial and the temporal aspect of the world. In other words we are talking about geopolitics.
Few subjects have aroused so much controversy as that of the four gospels with regards to when they were written, by whom and with what authority. Two developments should be viewed in conjunction and they are the original composition of the gospels and their selection to form the New Testament. It is generally held that the first process began on the eve of the first Jewish war against Rome and continued through the latter part of the first century. The second was concluded near the end of the second century. The four gospels were evidently held in reverence and deemed admissible for reading in church services before their final endorsement in the canon of the New Testament. From an apologetic point of view the Church could have preferred to endorse Tatian's harmonization of gospel tradition in one work, and maybe saved itself a lot of awkward questions in the course of time.
Both the composition of the gospels and the process of selection making them part of the New Testament reflect equally the tensions and movements towards harmony that attended the history of the early church. Here three main parties contended for supremacy, and these can be named as the traditionally minded Jewish Christians like St. Peter, the followers of St Paul's teachings and the Gnostics.
The four gospels present different perspectives on the story of Christ's ministry death and resurrection and cannot always be easily reconciled if taken to be historical accounts. It is a widely held opinion among scholars of the New Testament that Saint Mark's Gospel preceded the others and was written around the year 65 AD or slightly later. They assume that material in this gospel was incorporated by Saint Matthew and Saint Luke into their gospels, which were supplemented by material derived from a source presumably recorded in a lost document referred to as Q ( from the German word Quelle). The Lord's Prayer, according to this analysis was a part of Q. In St Mark's gospel we find at most an echo of the prayer in the saying of Jesus that one can only expect forgiveness if one forgives others. The gospels of Matthew and Luke contain material that is peculiar to each. These three accounts are termed the synoptic gospels to distinguish them from the Gospel according to St John, which differs from them chiefly in its emphasis on the more theological and philosophical aspects of the Christian view. This notwithstanding, certain parallels and affinities linking St John's Gospel with the others cut across the distinction between the synoptic and non-synoptic division. In one respect St Luke's gospel is the odd man out, as it alone among the four excludes any reference to Christ's encounter with the Disciples in Galilee after the Resurrection. St Mark's Gospel, like St John's, gives no account of Christ's birth.
Before entering into the question of variant representations in the gospels one should emphasize their overriding unity, which comprehends this list of salient points on which they agree.
Jesus Christ, as the Son of God (also Son of Man, Messiah, and Son of David), supersedes the prophets and holy men of the Old Testament. This is not to say that all subtleties of doctrines concerning the Trinity had become fully clarified.
John the Baptist was the immediate precursor of Jesus, whose baptism in the river Jordan marks the beginning of Jesus' ministry.
The Holy Spirit is a person rather than attribute of God the Father, as previously understood.
Jesus aroused the hostility of the Jewish religious authorities, particularly in Jerusalem.
Jesus employed parables as a means of making profound truths intelligible to all segments of the Jewish population ( in synoptic gospels).
Jesus had twelve disciples, one of whom, Judas, proved a traitor.
Times of tribulation and divine intervention were at hand.
Jesus was crucified on a Friday during or (in John's gospel probably) just prior to the Passover festival. His death was ordained by God the Father as a sacrifice offering salvation to believers.
Joseph of Arimathaea asked for Jesus' corpse and had it taken to a tomb hewn out of rock.
Jesus rose from the dead before or at daybreak on the first Sunday morning after the Crucifixion, and news to this effect was communicated to devout women who wished to anoint Jesus' body and later his disciples, though on when and where no obvious unanimity emerges. At the end of Mark's gospel the final 12 verses of the gospel are considered by some to be additions to the origin text of this gospel. If these verses are left out of account, the gospel would end with the discovery that the body of Jesus was no longer in the tomb where it had been laid. A youth told the women to go on to Galilee where they would meet Jesus in person, but they told no one because they were afraid.
The divergences between the gospels are most apparent in their accounts of the Nativity in Matthew and Luke and in the precise details of events that attended and followed the Resurrection. Irrespective of the question as to whether these variations involve discrepancies and contradictions, they imply different points of emphasis that could have been influenced by the attitudes of the Evangelists to the wider world in which they lived and strove to spread the Gospel - in large measure, therefore, their attitudes to the Roman Empire. This is my thesis, at least, which I hope to defend in due course.
In this question Mark seems to be the most neutral. His gospel contains what some have taken to be dismissive words spoken by Jesus to Mary and his siblings (or cousins) when saying that anyone who follows him is his mother, brother or sister. Apparently, there were to be no privileges for being Jesus' blood relations or, in a wider context, for being Jewish. Mark's inclusion of this passage might indicate a desire to emancipate the churches outside Judea and Galilee from being unduly influenced by the Jewish founders of the early church in Jerusalem.
Matthew was evidently incensed by the oppression enforced by the Hasmonean/Herodian and Sadducee-run establishment that controlled the religious, if not the political, order in Jerusalem. Matthew's nativity account incorporated references to Judea's near neighbours, Parthia (Persia) to the east and Egypt to the south west.The Old Testament presents a far from hostile picture of Persia, at least for the most part. In Persia a fair-minded emperor allowed Jews the right to defend themselves against Haman's conspiracy to annihilate them according to the book of Esther. Though Darius placed Daniel in a lions' den, he was evidently much relieved when Daniel left it unscathed. In the prophecy of Isaiah Cyrus is termed 'the Lord's anointed' for proving instrumental in granting the Jews permission to return to Jerusalem. Furthermore, there is a strange parallel between the role attributed to the Magi in Matthew's account of Herod's plot to murder Jesus and that told by Herodotus, the world's first great historian, concerning the infant Cyrus. According to this story the Magi interpreted a dream that the Persian king Astyages had experienced and was deeply troubled by. They told the king that his daughter Mandane would give birth to a great king who would be a conqueror of Asia. Upon hearing this Astyages plotted to have his grandson murdered. Here is Herodotus' account in translation:
Before Mandane and Cambyses had been married a year, Astyages had another dream. This time it was that a vine grew from his daughter's private parts and spread all over Asia. As before, he told the interpreters about his dreams, and then sent for his daughter, who was now pregnant.When she arrived, he kept her under watch, intending to make away with her child; for the fact was that the Magi had interpreted the dream to mean that his daughters son would usurp his throne. To guard against this Astyages , when Cyrus was born, sent for his kinsman Harpagus, the steward of his property. whom he trusted more than anyone, and said to him: I have some instructions for you, Harpagus, and mind that you pay attention to them, whatever they may be.My safety depends upon you. If you neglect it and serve others, the day will come when you will be caught in your own trap. Get hold of Mandane's child, take it home and kill it. Then bury it how you please.
Herodotus, The Histories, in: Penguin Classics, Translated by Aubrey de Selincourt, 1974, P.87.
Clearly Matthew's inclusion of a story showing that wise men from a land hostile to Rome recognized Christ's kingship could antagonize the Roman authorities, and for this reason, so argues a New Testament commentator with a strongly conservative point of view, Luke avoided any mention of the Magi in his version of the nativity story. James Kiefer argues:
Luke had urgent and compelling reasons for carefully avoiding the whole subject of Herod and the Magi. The Magi were Parthians. Now the Romans had made repeated but unsuccessful efforts to conquer Parthia (Persia), and the Parthians fought back aggressively (capturing Jerusalem in the fifth century AD). Even when the two empires were not fighting, they were constantly manoeuvring, seeking allies and buffer states and spheres of influence, and trying to put rulers favorable to themselves on the thrones of the various minor principalities of the Middle East. In the closing years of Nero's reign, the Parthians put a pro-Parthian king, Tiridates, on the throne of Armenia, thereby causing an international crisis, which was finally resolved by allowing Tiridates to keep his throne on condition that he come to Rome and do homage to Nero for it. Now Luke, who may have been writing his gospel at the very time of the Tiridates affair, was not ignorant of Imperial politics. He had accompanied Paul when Paul went to Rome to be tried before Nero, and he knew that Christianity was in danger of being declared treasonable. That its founder had been executed by a Roman governor on a charge of claiming to be King of the Jews was, to put it mildly, awkward. But the story of the Magi would have been understood to mean that when he was born a group of Parthians had acknowledged his claim to be King of the Jews, and had supported that claim against the rival claim of Herod, the pro-Roman king. It was bad enough to have Christians suspected of being part of a Jewish National Liberation Front. To have them suspected of Parthian connections would have been ten times worse. Luke was no fool. Whatever he knew about the Magi he kept to himself.
I might add that Herod the Great was once chased away from Jerusalem by powerful Parthian incursions. An anti-Roman implication in Matthew's stress on the triumphal and defiant aspect of the Resurrection, which could well be understood as a complete refutation of the Sadducees' disbelief in the possibility of a general resurrection of the dead, which the Pharisees affirmed, and, to boot, the Sadduccees were closely allied to Herod, and Herod to the Romans.. Matthew's vehemence seems to indicate that the memory of the Sadducees was very vivid in his mind, though the target for his anger might also have been Nero, who also entertained a group of Magi at the imperial court.
The Jewish historian Josephus was no less hostile to the Herodians but he became reconciled with the Roman establishment eventually. It was precisely these elements that had formed a close coalition with the emperors of Rome.
St. Luke like St. Paul, who repudiated the Hebrew name Saul in favour of his Roman name, appealed to the custodians of Roman law and authority claiming his rights as a Roman citizen, showed no bitterness towards Rome. One might even commend Luke for his farsighted vision when recognizing that the Roman empire would offer an ideal basis for spreading the gospel message. At the same time the political fusion of Christianity and the Roman empire eventually led to the impression that Christianity condoned Roman imperialism and a suppression of Jewish and Semitic culture, which may have later provoked the rise of Islam. Mohammed came into contact with those still influenced by the beliefs of Judeo-Christians, the 'Nazarines' (Arab. nazrani refers to 'Christian'), who had adhered to many Mosaic laws and practices. Luke, however, proved conciliatory to Jewish sentiments in emphasizing Mary's punctilious observance of Jewish laws concerning postnatal purity and the circumcision of a boy eight days after birth. In all, he couches Jesus' ancestry in terms of the religious rather than temporal or royal history of Israel. David is the last king listed in Luke's genealogy, which some apologists believe to be the line of Mary's ancestry (so as to obviate the need to reconcile this with the genealogy given by Matthew), Luke traced Jesus' lineage back to Adam, the first man, (not just to Abraham, the first forbear mentioned in Matthew's gospel) and thus emphasises universal aspect of Christ's purpose. As Luke himself stated that many accounts of Jesus' life had already been written, it is reasonable to assume that his gospel and its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, arrived quite late on the scene, late enough even to betray the influence of Josephus's history of the recent past, a case argued by the noted freethinker Richard Carrier. By such a stage it was becoming clear that the conflict between Jewish traditionalists and upholders of the Pauline position was approaching its conclusion - in favour of the latter. In Luke's gospel and its sequel, The Acts of the Apostles, the Disciples were admonished not to leave Jerusalem but wait until coming of Holy Spirit. This occurred on the Jewish festival of Weeks (Pentecost). Luke, consciously or not, reinforced the foundation of what became the Christian liturgical year based on two of Jewish pilgrim festivals. As the Festival of Weeks (shavuot) fifty days after Passover, commemorated the giving of the Law (Torah) according to Jewish belief, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit meant to Christians that the old Law had been superseded by the ministry of the Spirit. Only one of the Three Pilgrim Festivals (shalosh regalim) remains left out of the church year, Succoth or the Festival of Tabernacles. Luke's gospel also provides long-term devotional material with the Magnificat based on Hannah's song of rejoicing in the Hebrew Bible and the words that gave rise to the blessings of Ave Maria. All this seems to indicate that the Church was well advised to prepare itself for a long haul through history, despite early Christian expectations of the rapture and the imminent return of Christ.
The Gospel of John's great emphasis on the divinity of Christ as co-equal and co-eternal with the Father does not allow much room for the temporal and political concerns. He noted without a commentary the widespread notion among Jews that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem without stating that this opinion was relevant to the birth of Jesus. He also noted that Jesus was present at a public baptism without stressing, or even stating unequivocally, that John had baptized him. Even at the Last Supper the only mention of any symbolic act was that of Christ's washing the disciples' feet, not the inauguration of the Eucharistic rite. Only according to his gospel were Andrew and Peter disciples of John the Baptist before following Jesus. For reasons that are no longer quite obvious John sets the scourging of the Temple near the beginning of his gospel though it is a late incident in the synoptic accounts, and places an early incident, the miraculous draught of fishes, near the gospel's end, when Jesus appears to the disciples in Galilee after the Resurrection. In his gospel also there is relatively little emphasis on Christ's struggle against the tribulations and vexations of the physical world, skipping references to the temptations in the wilderness and the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Also, according to his gospel the Crucifixion began at noon, and there is perhaps less emphasis on the aspect of physical suffering than in the synoptic gospels. When we consider all the events packed in between late evening on Thursday and Christ's (last) appearance before Pilate, John's time scheme seems in some way more plausible than that established by the synoptic writers.
A particular feature of St John gospel is the importance it gives to private meetings with individuals, the Samaritan woman, Nicodemus and Mary Magdalene. The reasons for certain features such as the circumlocutionary expressions 'the mother of Jesus' and 'the disciple Jesus loved' and an element of numerology indicated by the catch of 153 fishes would problably have been clearer to John's immediate circle of readers/listeners than they are now.
If John wrote, or posed a strong influence on, the Apocalypse that bears his name, one can hardly deny his strong opposition to pagan Rome identified as the Whore of Babylon. By the same token his ambit of action and commitment would have been the one the most Hellenized parts of the Roman Empire, Asia Minor and domain of the seven churches addressed in the Book of Revelation. The Book Revelation was possibly the most disputed work in the final canon (hence its late acceptance therein), doubtless because of its denunciation of pagan Rome. Perhaps in this light one should understand Constantine's decision to found the city that bears his name as a more appropriate seat of the newly established Christian empire than Rome itself.
The background of the times when the gospels were written was one of contention and dispute between the Jewish traditionalists, the Pauline school of Christianity with its insistence that the Law of Moses was redundant in the new dispensation of grace and the Gnostics, who doubted that the Resurrection was a physical event. The gospels were not the first documents that were to be included in the New Testament canon. This distinction goes to Paul's Epistle to the Thessalonians and other epistles he wrote. In these, references to the birth, life and death of Jesus are sparse, and those that are made concern basic Christian practices such as the rite of Communion, which Paul stated had been inaugurated on the night of Jesus' betrayal, the eve of the Crucifixion. Paul and later Luke attested to the critical dissension between Paul and the Peter concerning the validity or otherwise of Jewish dietary laws in Christian belief, particularly as this concerned the question whether Jewish and Gentile Christians should share a common table. Thus it appears that the period beginning with the formation of the Church after the death of Jesus and completed by the time the last gospel was written saw a considerable process of evolution, which continued during the years over which the gospels themselves were written. During the same period a clear and final division between Jews and Christians had not come about, as Jewish Christians shared the use of traditional institutions such as synagogues and the Temple itself with other Jews. From the Acts we gather that the commemoration of Christ's death by partaking of bread and wine followed the end of the Sabbath at nightfall (hence Saturday night in our terms), and as such constituted a special Christian extension of Sabbath festivities. Gamaliel's advice (recorded in The Acts) to fellow Jews that they should wait to see if the Christian movement would prosper and thus demonstrate that it followed God's will and purposes suggests that initially the Christian movement was not thoroughly condemned as heretical by the entire Jewish religious establishment. The final rift between Jews who maintained the Law of Moses and Jewish Christians seems to have taken place in the aftermath of the first Jewish revolt and gave rise to an insertion in the eighteen blessings of daily prayer condemning heretics (minim) and ‘slanderers'. Whatever common ground might have remained after 90 AD, this was completely lost in the course of Bar Kochbar's war against Rome as Jewish Christians rejected his messianic claims and refused to fight for his cause.
Without going into the vexed question concerning the timing of the emergence of the gospels as recognized holy and authoritative writings, one can state with certainty that the groups of Jewish Christians who upheld the dietary laws derived from interpretations of Torah passages and faith in a specifically Jewish Messiah, regarded St Matthew's writings as the gospel truth while a denigrator of the Old Testament, Marcion at the other end of the spectrum, took St. Luke's gospel or major parts of it (without the introductory section telling of the Nativity) as the basis of his claims. In fact the inclusion of four gospels was a token of the need to reconcile possible centrifugal forces in Christianity that might threaten its essential unity. The fixation of the four gospels in the NT canon was arguably in part a countermeasure against heretical, largely gnostic-influenced, or otherwise dubious gospels (e.g. The Gospel of Peter) that arose in the second century.
The learned elders who decided on the canon of the New Testament were in varying degrees aware of the difficulties of reconciling the gospel accounts, yet, to their credit, they retained all four. The main currents of early Christianity represented by the Evangelists did blend into what emerged as the early Catholic church that united the western and eastern churches until the Great Schism of 1054, despite the challenges of Arianism and the monophysite crises, or this is what I will argue later. However, not all tensions were resolved, as would become very clear at the time of the Reformation. Again, another story.
II: LAZARUS, 'THE THREE MARYS' AND BETHANY
Within the New Testament the name Lazarus occurs only in the gospels of St. John and St. Luke. In St. John’s gospel Lazarus has a place of honour, for according to this evangelist he was raised from the dead by Jesus a matter of weeks before Passover and the Crucifixion. In fact the Lazarus incident galvanized the Jewish religious establishment into seeking ways to destroy Jesus. He lived near Jerusalem in the village of Bethany, also the home of his sisters Martha and Mary. Jesus evidently felt a strong affection for Lazarus and wept on his account when his friend lay dead in his tomb. In the much disputed 'Secret Mark' version of gospel events Jesus, on passing through Bethany, raises a young man from the grave at the behest of the latter's distraught mother, who is not named and appears not to belong to the circle of Jesus' friends and disciples. If - and it's a big 'if' - one assigns an early, even first-century, date to 'Secret Mark' ,the question is open as to whether its author was influenced by the account in John's gospel of the raising of Lazarus or whether he drew on an independent source.
The story of the raising of Lazarus poses the culmination of the seven miraculous ‘signs’ witnessing to Jesus’ divinity, the first of which took place in Cana when Jesus changed water into wine for the benefit of those attending a wedding celebration.
According to St. Luke’s gospel Jesus told a parable, though hardly a typical one, about the interconnected and contrasting fates of Lazarus, a pauper, and Dives, a man of great wealth. Lazarus lived and died beside the portal of Dives’ villa in such a state of destitution that dogs would habitually lick the sores on his limbs. When both of them died, their condition in eternity posed the diametric opposite of their situations when alive, for Dives was sent to Hades and the fire of eternal damnation whereas Lazarus was taken to Abraham’s bosom and eternal bliss. Dives requested that Lazarus be permitted to place a drop of water on his tongue to assuage his suffering but this plea was rejected. When he requested that Lazarus be permitted to return to earth and warn the brothers of Dives about the tortures of Hades so that they might mend their ways to avoid an eternity of woe, this request was also turned down on the grounds that even though one return from the dead to warn them, those who ignore the teachings of Moses and the prophets will not repent from their evil ways.
Most readers of the New Testament assume that the Lazarus in Luke has nothing to do with the Lazarus in John. Not all scholars are convinced of this, for they detect a certain affinity, tenuous though it may seem, between the Lazarus figures in the gospels. Both die, and though only the Lazarus in St. John’s gospel returns to life physically, the idea that Luke’s Lazarus could return to earth, albeit in the form of a spirit, is accorded an honourable mention. In a sense the Lazarus in Luke and the Lazarus in John present opposite notions about the psychological effect that the return of a dead person to earth in whatever guise would exert on the minds of those who encounter him.
The argument that the figures of Lazarus are connected by more than the association of a common name should not be considered in a vacuum, that is to say, without reference to other questions relating to the identity of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha. Scholars have wondered why such a dramatic event as the raising of Lazarus from the dead was not recorded in the so-called synoptic gospels ascribed to the saints Matthew, Mark and Luke. In the gospel according to Saint John the twin events in Bethany, the raising of Lazarus and the anointing of Jesus by Mary, foreshadow. and even set in motion, the events leading to the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. It has even been posited that the writers of the synoptic gospels certainly did know about the raising of Lazarus from the dead but decided not to mention this event for fear of exposing Lazarus to insult and violence at the hands of the Jewish enemies of Christianity. By the time John wrote his gospel, it is argued, Lazarus was either dead or had moved to a safe location.
The gospel of Luke’s omission of any reference to the events in Bethany is all the more surprising for the fact that it is the sole synoptic gospel to contain a passage about the sisters Mary and Martha, though without any reference to a brother named Lazarus. In this Martha chided her sister for not helping with the household chores but was herself mildly reproved by Jesus for fussing too much about unnecessary tasks while her sister rightly dedicated her time to devotion and spiritual concerns. A reference to Mary’s placing herself at Jesus’ feet calls to mind the posture of the woman, Mary herself according to St. John’s gospel, who anointed Jesus in Bethany just before his final entry into Jerusalem. (The gospels of Mark and Matthew record only that ‘a woman’ anointed Jesus in the house of one Simon the Leper in Bethany ‘two days before Passover`. Those who seek to harmonize gospel narratives must assume that Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, performed the anointing act in Simon the Leper’s house but the discrepancy between the setting of the event six days and two days before Passover remains).
The writer of St. Luke’s gospel records that Jesus passed through Bethany on his way to Jerusalem a week before the Crucifixion and that Jesus rested the night at Olivet a day before Passover but he does not refer to the anointing act in Bethany. However, the gospel of St. Luke recounts an incident that strikes one as very similar to that of Mary’s or ‘a woman’s) act of anointing Jesus. The incident in Luke’s gospel runs as follows: once when Jesus was a guest at the table of a Pharisee a woman came to Jesus and anointed his feet with a precious ointment. Like Mary at Bethany she dried Jesus’ skin with her hair. When Jesus did not reprove her act, some present cast doubt on Jesus’ claim to be a prophet on the grounds that he should have recognized that the woman was a ‘sinner’ in the sense of one who had incurred the opprobrium of sexual misconduct. Jesus asked Peter which of two people would show greater gratitude for being released from debt, the one who owed a small amount or the one who owed a great amount. On the basis of Peter’s answer Jesus pronounced that the woman loved much because she had been forgiven much. In this case the woman’s deed occasioned reproof from some of those present, though not against herself, as in the case of Mary in Bethany, but against Jesus.
Conservative scholars hold that the gospels must have recorded two incidents in which a woman anointed Jesus. This being so, the writer of St. Luke’s gospel could have obliged later commentators of the New Testament by recording the anointing of Jesus at Bethany in line with the other gospel writers. The absence of any such record leaves a gap in the narration of events that we arguably detect from the fact that in Luke’s gospel there is no indication as to what initially prompted Judas to desert and betray Jesus. In St. John’s gospel Judas’ betrayal had an explicitly monetary basis. Judas resented the fact that the ointment lavished on Jesus was very costly and could have been sold to provide charity to the poor. Judas’ underlying obsession with money rather than any concern about social justice soon came to light when he agreed to betray Jesus for monetary gain. In Mark and Matthew the disciples or certain of those present are reported to object to the extravagance of the woman’s gesture with no particular reference to Judas. However, in these gospels an account of Judas’ resolve to betray Jesus immediately follows the passage telling of the disgruntlement about the cost of the ointment used to anoint Jesus. This juxtaposition is unlikely to be coincidental.
As the writer of Luke’s gospel was well versed in the gospel of Mark and probably that of Matthew, his omission of any mention of the anointing of Jesus in Bethany two days before Passover was surely intentional. I conjecture that the reason might have lain in the writer’s desire to elevate Mary the mother of Jesus as the consummate manifestation of womanhood to be ever blessed through all generations with no rival to share her honour. (In Mark’s gospel, by contrast, Mary is little mentioned, and only then in a somewhat dismissive tone). The woman who anointed Jesus in Bethany received a comparable honour to that accorded to the Virgin Mary in Luke’s gospel, and so might detract from the unique glory of the Virgin. Also the subliminal eroticism adhering to a woman’s act of wiping a man’s body with her hair was hardly in keeping with Paul’s ruling that women in acts of prayer and devotion should keep their heads covered and the writer of Luke’s gospel had much to write about Paul in his second treatise. True, the woman who, according to Luke’s gospel, anointed Jesus in the house of a Pharisee did the same, but the moment was less auspicious than that of the anointing in Bethany and one could not necessarily expect a woman ‘sinner’ to have a fully developed sense of decorum. Here we should consider the temporal setting of Luke’s gospel. The writer of Luke’s gospel, possibly a physician by that name, was evidently very sympathetic to Saint Paul and his doctrinal and moral teachings. Paul was averse to granting women positions of pre-eminence in church affairs. In his list (in the first epistle to the Corinthians) of those who witnessed the Resurrection there is no mention of Mary Magdalene, the first of all to witness the event according to the gospel writers. By the time the gospel of Luke was being written, Mary Magdalene’s standing and reputation were probably viewed with envy and suspicion by those in the ranks of the church that had the male supremacist leanings. Eventually her status as the anointer of Jesus was accepted and promulgated in a sermon delivered by Pope Gregory 1 but that would be half a millenium later. Pope Gregory conflated the ‘three Marys’ the Virgin Mary, Mary of Bethany and the penitent sinner identified with Mary Magdalene, into one icon of ideal Christian womanhood. The Orhodox churches of the east have never accepted the notion of the unity of the three Marys and modern scholarship in general rejects this too. However, St. Gregory's conflation fits the theory of the anima set forth by Carl Jung and anticipated in the final scene of Goethe’s drama of Faust Part II..
THE GOSPEL OF PETER AND THE NT CANON
The Early Church Fathers rejected the gospel of Peter on grounds that it expressed heretical attitudes which reflected Docetic and Gnostic influences. The basis of this inference lay in the fact that the gospel did not unequivocally assert the physical death and bodily resurrection of Jesus. One result of this rejection was the century-lomg loss and disappearance of the gospel, but after a fragment of the gospel was discovered in Egypt in 1884 the scholars have engaged in heated controveries over it.
Those who have recently discussed the gospel in books and articles, notably Raymond Brown,Ron Cameron, J. D. Crossan, Helmut Koestler and F. F. Bruce, differ significantly and widely on the question of whether the writer of the gospel influenced, or was influenced by, the canonical gospels. Estimates of the time of the gospel's composition range from the second half of the first century to the second half of the second. In Ron Cameron's opinion useful criteria for assessing when the gospel was written include measuring the stress the evangelists placed on OT sources and prophecies, the greater this stress the earlier the time of the gospel's composition, and verbal clues provided by certain words such as kyrie ,"the Lord," which at some later stage replaced the name of Jesus. Peter's gospel would then include both early and late elements according to such indications. The reference to "the Lord's Day" points to a development that emerged in the second century as a token of the demotion of the Jewish Sabbath and its replacement by Sunday as the day of the Resurrection. We encounter this term in the Book of Revelation where it does not appear to evince the same polemical force.The exoneratation of Pllate as the one responsible for the death of Jesus points to a desire to place the sole guilt for the execution on Herod Antipas and "the Jews," which seems to indicate that the gospel was composed when hostility between Jewish and Gentile Christians was reaching its height, that is to say, during and after the revolt led by Bar Kochbar. The gospel might still echo tendencies that arose in the first century when there had been disputes between various schools of belief among the followers of Jesus. Perhaps the most fruitful approach to understand the relationship between the gospel of Peter and the canonical gospels is to admit its essentially dialogic nature.
The gospel of Peter contains an account of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus that shares something in common with the accounts of the canonical gospels but diverges from them quite radically. As in the Gospel of Luke, the King Herod Antipas portrayed in Peter's gospel played a role in the proceedings against Jesus that led to the Crucifixion. However, according to the gospel of Peter Herod led these proceedings while Pilate took little or no part in them.
The gospel of Peter echoes Matthew and Mark in quoting the final words of Jesus dying on the Cross with the words "My Power, you have forsaken me." In the gospels of Matthew and Mark the dying Jesus alludes to the opening verse of Psalm 22 in line with the trend within the early Christian fellowship to base its claims on the authority of the Hebrew scriptures, and the term "my power" is one place removed from such original terms of reference. The gospel agrees with Matthew that the Jewish and Roman authorites placed guards at the tomb of Jesus, and with Mark, that Mary Magdalene and other women came to the tomb, found it empty and were told by an angelic youth that Jesus had risen from the tomb, after which the women were so petrified that they were unable to recount this even. While Mark's angel told the women that Jesus would await the disciples in Galilee, Peter's angel reported that Jesus would return "whence he had come." Did the angel mean Galilee or Heaven? This statement may well be deliberately ambiguous.
In Peter's gospel there is no reference to the appearances of Jesus on Easter Sunday and the following Sunday and therefore it does not correspond to accounts in the gospels of Luke, John and Mark (after chapter 16, verse 8 until verse 20, that is to say, in the passage suspected of being inserted by an editor so as to accord with Luke's or John's version of events), for the author claiming to be Peter reports that the disciples kept themselves hidden in Jerusalem until the seven-day Passover festival was over. It breaks off at the point where Peter and some fellow disciples decide to go fishing, which seems to indicate some connection to the end of John's Gospel
The parallels between accounts given by Matthew , Mark (up to chapter 16, verse 8) and that of Peter are close enough for us to assume that "Peter" was acquainted with the text or the drift of the text of Matthew's and Mark's gospels, or, less probably, vice versa. In the gospel of Peter the risen Jesus and two angels appear to the guards posted to keep watch at the tomb but not simultaneously to the women who came to anoint the body of Jesus. In Matthew's gospel the guards and the women at the tomb witness the descent of an angel who opens the tomb and declares that Jesus has risen. In the same gospel the women meet Jesus on their way from the tomb to the place where the disciples were located. In Peter's gospel Mary Magdalen and her female companions encounter an angelic youth seated in the tomb and he announces to them that Jesus has risen, which seems to accord with the account in Mark's gospel.
Let us consider certain anomies we discover in the message of the gospelof Peter. The writer of the gospel claims to be Peter, the leader of those early Christians who maintained close contact with their Jewish roots and culture, yet the Peter we meet as the author of the gospel bearing his name adopts a decidedly antagonistic attitude to the Jews as the people solely responsible for the death of Christ. "Peter" and Luke accord Herod Agrippa a leading or significant role in the trial of Jesus but if "Peter" was familiar with Luke's gospel, why should he make no room for reporting the appearances of Jesus to his disciples on Easter Sunday? There are two explanations to consider. Either "Peter" did not know of Luke's account of events after the Resurrection or he chose to ignore it because of its emphasis on the physical nature of the body of Christ after the Resurrection, an emphasis what was not in keeping with an alternative understanding of Christ's crucificion, death and resurrection. If, on the other hand, Luke knew of the teachings presented in the gospel of Peter or by antecedant sources, it is possible that the accounts of events on Easter Sunday and the following Sunday in the gospels of Luke and John constitute a reaction to claims that Jesus only appeared to die on the Cross and did not return to life in a physical body. Incidently this is the view presented in the Koran.
On the basis of my observations I venture to draw certain conclusions. The gospel of Peter was written at some time in the first half of the second century but it captures something of the mood that must have prevailed in the early years of Christianity, its sense of rapture and the immanent return and vindication of Christ and the shaming of his Jewish adversaries, even those living at the time of the Cruciifixion. The feeling I mean is palpable in the image of Christ's ascent to Heaven at the moment of Resurrection as a towering figure accompanied at either side by two giant angels. Even his enemies and persecutors must acknowledge his victory. One could argue that the description of the Resurrection in the gospel of Peter is in some ways more logical and plausible than the descriptions in the canonical gospels. According to the gospel of Peter those who were present at the tomb at the exact point in time when Jesus rose from the dead saw Jesus himself. The fear of the women who came to anoint Jesus is adequately explained.
According to the Acts of the Apostles Jesus remained on the earth for forty days after the Resurrection and so it took only ten more days of waiting before the Holy Spirit was given to the followers of Jesus at the festival of Pentecost. Thus the Church secured two further days in the emergant Church year based on the traditional Jewish annual calendar. The expection of the imminent Rapture of believers and the return of Christ was giving way to the needs of an established church order for which certain aspects of the Jewish tradition provided a useful model, meaning that the extreme anti-Judaism of the Gnostics and Marcion with their rejection of the OT canon and with their concept of a cruel and fierce Jewish deity had to be thrown overboard. The questions surrounding Marcion's version of Luke's gospel reveal a similarity with those surrounding the relationship between the canonical gospels and the gospel of Peter. In Marcion's version of Luke there is no account of the nativity of Jesus and hence of the punctilious observance by Joseph by Mary of the Jewish rites of purification and circumcision. Did he banish the nativity story from his version of the gospel or was the nativity story added to the original gospel in order to refute the position adopted by Marcion?
Thus the debate continues. At least we should eschew simplistic arguments of the kind that on the one hand suggest that the writers of the canonical gospels copied parts of the gospel of Peter or, on the other, that the unity of NT canon had been firmly established and recognized despite the difficulty of reconciling and harmonizing the four gospels before the writer of the gospel of Peter manipulated material found in them to meet his own ends. The mystery of the emergence of the gospels whether canonical or not and will probably remain even if the rest of the gospel of Peter should be in discovered in a remote cave in a desert area somewhere in the Middle East.
Concerning the Gospel of James
According to a tradition Pope Gelasius 1 issued a decree in the last decade of the fifth century which finally settled the composition of the canon of books that made up the New Testament. At the same time the decree, known as Decretum Gelasianum, listed gospels and other writings that were deemed heretical, among them the Gospel of James. Unlike the Gnostic gospels of Peter, Thomas and Mary Magdalene and Marcion's version of Luke without the story of Christ's birth, the Gospel of James asserted the the humanity and the Jewish affiliation of Jesus. The Gospel of James, which tells readers more about Mary than it does about Jesus, laid foundation for tenets upheld by the Roman Catholic Church averring her perpetual virginity and for the dependent assertion that Jesus had stepbrothers and sisters but no siblings. Why then did the Church, possibly with the reinforcement of Galesius himself, reject the book as heretical? Let us return to this question in due course.
In the Gospel of James no mention is made of the dedication of the Infant Jesus in the Temple, its focus being rather on Mary. Her parents Anna and Joachim regarded their child as a special gift from God and dedicated her to a life of service and devotion in the Temple in Jerusalem. where she remains until the age of twelve when the Mosaic laws of purity required that she leave the Temple precincts. It was considered appropriate that she should find a husband who could provide for her. Joseph, a widower with children, agreed to assume this responsibility.
When Mary became pregnant, suspicion fell on both Joseph and Mary as it seemed that they had indulged in premarital relations They had to submit to the ordeal prescribed in the Torah in such matters but their innocence was clearly established. In Matthew's gospel Joseph at first assumed that Mary had become pregnant in the ordinary way and as an honorable person he sought to shield her and put her away discreetly. Herod learned from wise men from the east that a holy child destined to be the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem. He ordered the mass execution of infants and young children in Behlehem. Zacharias the father of John the Baptist was put to death in the course of this operation. Mary fled to a cave near Jerusalem and survived the massacre.
We note that story told in the Gospel of James conjoins events reported in Matthew and Luke, leading mainly conservative scholars to assume that the gospel poses a deliberate fusion of elements derived from the gospels of Matthew and Luke. The question as to which author owed source material to which is complicated and involves comparisons between the canonical gospels and those which were later rejected by the Church as heretical or otherwise unacceptable.
There are interesting parallels to drawn between the gospels of James and Peter. Both claim the authority vested in their being written by a leading apostle. Both share elements found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. The author of the Gospel of Peter reports that King Herod Antipas conducted the trial of Jesus while Pilate, on the sidelines, was effectively exonerated from any part in the execution of Jesus. The gospel also tells of the stationing of guards at the tomb of Jesus and these guards witness the moment of Christ's ascent to heaven much in line with Matthew's account of the Resurrection.
According the main stream of scholarly opinion the gospels of Peter and James were composed in the first half of the second century, possibly during the second Jewish-Roman war and its aftermath. In their various ways they reveal a positive or perhaps realistic, new attitude to Rome. as the dominant power in the known world. Rome could not be conquered by the sword but only by the truth and spirit of Christianity. At the same time the author of James, like Luke, did not wish to offend Jewish sentitivities, as Jews constituted a major part of the Christian population and would probably swell its number in future after being isolated and disheartened by the failure of the Jewish bid to achieve independence.
In this context we may view the great stress that the author of the Gospel of James laid on the value of virginity. in the previous Jewish tradition virginity per se had no value comparable to the state of marriage, for which it provided the preparation. This was not so in the world of ancient Rome and Greece as we can tell from the institution of the Vestal Virgins and the reverence paid to Diana, Queen of Heaven. Indeed, Rhea Silvia, so central to the foundation myth of Rome, was a Vestal Virgin until she was waylaid by Mars and thus became the mother of Romulus and Remus. Theodosius managed to abolish the cult of the Vestal Virgins in but it took another century before Gelasius terminated the celebration of the Lupercalia . Gelasius installed a new festival in February, the Purification of the Virgin Mary, so deeply entrenched it was in the Roman psyche. This festival took place in February when devotees assembled at the reputed cave in which a she-wolf nurtured the infants Romulus and Remus. It marked period of cleansing and purification at the end of the Roman year, which originally began in March. Gelasius installed a new festival in February, the Purification of the Virgin Mary. Was this meant to replace the Lupercalia on the basis of both celebrations' common concern with purification? Arguably Gelasius continued a process inaugurated by Gospel of James but did not wish to justify this by referring to a work in which a conscious amalgamation of Jewish and Roman tradition was all too transparent. According to Catholic apologetics Mary had no need to submit to Jewish laws requiring circumcision for her son and her own purification forty-one days after the birth of Jesus but did so as an act of humility and submission. Originally her submission to the Law of Moses was understood as a gesture to bruised Jewish sentiments. Of course, one could cite other examples of correspondences between Roman, later Celtic or Germanic, celebrations and events in Christian calendar, between the Saturnalia and Christmas, between Haloween and All Saints Day, and, if we return to the subject of Mary, between the festival of Diana in August and the festival of the Dormition or Mary's Assumption. Need the church be so senstive about these acts of replacement? Paul referred to the God the Greeks ignorantly worshipped, and few religions can be so corrupt as not to contain some element of sanctity which would come to fuller light in the Christian age.