Thursday, March 16, 2006

Story or History?

Have you noticed how in stories, the characters can “pop in” at convenient times, and convenient places, at the will of the author? If they need Aunt Maude to appear at Sunday dinner, in order to propel the story along, she is written in. We don’t question as to how she got there, or why, as we understand that this character is necessary to the story and therefore at this moment, she will appear.

In fact, we chuckle a bit at Star Trek fans (such as myself) who argue over incongruous events in differing installments. “In Episode #27 they turned left from the Captain’s office to go to the engine room, but in Episode #83 they turned right. Which is it?” The reason we laugh, is that we know it is just a story. These aren’t factual events. These are television shows, penned by Hollywood writers who have no intention of keeping the facts congruent, as they aren’t facts—they are stories. To argue over the validity of the “facts” of these fictions would be silly.

One of the questions that continually perpetuates throughout discussions of the events of the First Century in Palestine, as recorded in the Bible, is how much is fact, and how much is fiction. Now, one may take the position that if it is recorded, it is absolutely positively, no questions asked a historical event. But is this argument convincing? If someone was coming across the events, as written, for the first time, would they be persuaded that it is a story, or that it actually happened that way?

One of the events that has all the elements of a story and not an actual happening, is the moving of all eleven disciples, and Jesus’ entire family from Galilee to Jerusalem overnight. It was done to make the story convenient, out of a desire to move the story along, rather than out of any historical basis.

First of all, it is to be noted that Jesus’ base of operations was in Galilee. (Mr. 1:28) It was here that he did miracles, preached, traveled and talked to crowds. But most importantly, it was from here that he chose his Disciples.

Every disciple was from Galilee. (Acts 2:7) They had wives (Mr. 1:30), jobs (Mr. 1:18), families (Mr. 1:19) and even homes (Mr. 2:15). In a word—roots. This is where, if things went wrong, they would go first.

For a year or three, they travel with Jesus, both in Galilee, and out, and we can fast forward to the night of the Last Supper. After eating, all but Judas (off betraying), go to the Mount of Olives. Jesus explains that he is about to die, and says that after He is resurrected, he will “Go before you to Galilee.” Mt. 26:32. This is most natural. Jesus recognizes that they are about to be scattered, and their most natural retreat would be home—Galilee.

Jesus’ mother and two of the Disciples mother still live in Galilee at this time, because it is noted they came from there to see Jesus die. Mr. 15:41. When the women go to visit the tomb, they find a young man there, who again confirms exactly what we expect, exactly what was said, “Go tell the disciples Jesus will meet you in Galilee.” (Mr. 16:8)

Exactly as they were told, exactly as suspected, Jesus meets the disciples in Galilee. Mt. 28:16. According to John, the Disciples hung around the room for eight days (John 20:26) but after that, met Jesus right where we expected—Galilee. (John 21:1) (Yes, I am aware of the added ending of John 21. So which one is the inspired version? Chap. 20, where we leave the disciples 8 days post resurrection in Jerusalem, or Chap 21, where Jesus rehabilitates Peter? If one wants them in Jerusalem, the only way to do so, is place Chap. 21 chronologically before Chap. 20. Why, then, are they reversed? Good study.)

At this point we see what we would humanly, naturally expect. Jesus and his Disciples’ base is in Galilee. The crowd is unfriendly in Jerusalem. The obvious point of retreat is Galilee. Or look at it this way. Assuming the Jesus movement is dead. Kaput. Jesus died and wasn’t resurrected, where do the disciples go? Back to their jobs. Back to their families and homes. Back to the lives they had before. Sure, one or two may continue the farce, but not all eleven. They would go home.

Or, if they are convinced by seeing a resurrected Jesus, both in Jerusalem, but later in Galilee, what better place to start the movement than at home? These are the people that saw Jesus’ miracles, heard his preaching, know the disciples personally. Even today, when people are converted, who are the first they attempt to win over? Their friends and family! The most natural place in the world for the disciples to start this church movement is in Galilee. Home.

Up until now, everything seems fine. There is only one catch. Luke wants to be a historian. And what Luke knows about the history of the church is that it started in Jerusalem. (Acts 2:1-7) Peter was from Jerusalem. (Gal. 1:18) Jesus’ brother is from Jerusalem. (Gal. 1:19) In fact, all of the apostles were staying in Jerusalem. (Acts 1:13)

The Church grows in Jerusalem. (Acts 6:7). Every indication Luke has before him is that the church’s earliest leaders are from Jerusalem. How in the blue blazes can he rectify the problem that the legends say these were people from Galilee, yet the church clearly began in Jerusalem?

Just like any storyteller, Luke moves the entire group to a place he wants them without necessity of providing a reason. All eleven disciples and Jesus family (Acts 1:14), move, en masse to Jerusalem, in less than a month, with nary a thought of Galilee again. But does it make sense?

To give an idea of the complete abandonment of Galilee, the word “Galilee” or “Galilean” is mentioned 60 times in the four Gospels. True, some are descriptions of persons, such as Herod being tetrarch of Galilee (Lk. 31:1), but most of these are mentions of people from Galilee, or persons active in Galilee. In the whole rest of the New Testament, “Galilee” or “Galilean” is only mentioned another 9 times. It is as if it dropped off the face of the earth!

Or, perhaps another way of looking at it. Luke has the initial preaching, and growth of the Church in Jerusalem. (Acts 6:7) One of the most obvious initial outreaches would be Galilee, for all of the reasons stated—friends, family and familiarity. So is this where they go? Nope, instead, as the persecution began they start sending Christians out to Judea and Samaria. The apostles stay in Jerusalem. Acts 8:1. Not a single apostle is concerned about his family back home in Galilee? No one says, “Hey, why don’t I go back to Galilee and ride this thing out?”

They send Christians everywhere but Galilee! In fact, when Samaria gets the Word, the disciples are more than happy to send Paul and John to them. (Acts 8:14) Peter and John have no problem preaching throughout Samaria, but somehow their own region is completely missed. (Acts 8:25)

Finally, Paul becomes a Christian, and begins contending with Hellenists. It is only after Paul is converted, and begins his missionary work, that we finally learn of churches in Galilee. (Acts 9:31) Paul is more interested in converting the disciples’ family than the disciples were!

Paul, in his writing, has no notion of a Galilee, or teaching there. He talks of meeting the church the church leaders in Jerusalem, and ministering to the saints in Jerusalem. (Romans 15). Mark, writing the first Gospel, leaves us hanging with Jesus intending to be in Galilee, but the disciples never getting the word. Matthew, following Mark, leaves the disciples in Galilee. As well as John.

Luke is conflicted by the legend that places everyone from Galilee, and the history (as he knows it) that they were from Jerusalem. Simple solution—have them move. But why? Shouldn’t there be some continuity for the move? And Luke creates one.

As John did, after the death of Jesus, Luke leaves the disciples in the city of Jerusalem. (Lk. 24:33) When Jesus makes his starling appearance, he adds a phrase that isn’t found in the other gospels: “Stay in the city of Jerusalem until you receive the power from on high.” (Lk 24:29) There. He did it. Like a masterful weaving of tales, Luke has forced the move from Galilee to Jerusalem. Luke assumes Jesus family will only naturally follow the disciples.

In a story, this works very, very well. In reality, this raises questions. How easy would it be for Eleven men, as well as Mary and her other sons to ALL move. Not most. Not some. But every single one. First Century Palestine was primarily an agricultural society, with the farmers making only enough to live on. They were taxed/tithed at about a third. This would include wages, produce, spices, everything.

The cities lived off of these lands, the wealthy landowners being absentee landlords, having what excess was provided shipped to the city. A situation where the cities were parasitically living off the country. Any disciples that were fisherman would be out of a job. At best, they could hope to find labor work, but such work was primarily in farms—back in the country. How could they manage to obtain food to eat? Or rent a room for shelter?

Did they institute offerings as payment for their services? There are subtle hints to that effect at Acts 4:37 and Acts 6:3-4. This opens Pandora’s box, though, as it could remove the motivation factor of “Did they die for a lie?” No, they died because they needed the income, and were too much competition for the temple cult.

And how does Luke’s phrase “stay in the city” work in connection with the other gospels? It was said, while they were still startled to see Jesus. So, presumably, it was done before they saw him again (and again) in Galilee. Jesus says, “I will see you in Galilee” so, according to Luke, they stay in Jerusalem. Jesus says, “Stay in the city” so they go running off to Galilee. Jesus says, “You will be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria” so they stay in Jerusalem, sending everyone else to Judea and Samaria. It is like it is opposite world—whatever Jesus says, they do the exact opposite!

There is no reason for the church to begin in Jerusalem. Jesus drew crowds out to Galilee. There is no temple requirement in Jesus’ religion. (Although curiously enough, they continued to go to the temple.) It was intended to be a missionary work, and its base of operations could be anywhere. In fact, where better than Jesus’ childhood home?

Jesus’ tomb was not venerated. The location of his death not visited. There was nothing keeping the disciples in Jerusalem. Just the pesky fact that Luke had to work with—that the church started with people in Jerusalem, and Luke had to move ‘em there.

Do Christians just shrug this off, saying, “If the Bible says it happened, it happened” or do they think this through, saying, “This does seem a bit odd”?


  1. I don't know what most Christians think of the varacity of historical facts in the Old or New Testaments. As far as I'm concerned, it does'nt really matter. I know that the accounts of historical significance or chronological order are dubious at best. Why? They were written down by men. Men like us. We, as human beings, are not infallible in our ability to gather and record facts even now with today's technologically advanced resources. Imagine how it was back then when the "spoken" word was just about the only source of news.
    The inconsistencies are understandable and not surprising if God is consistent in the promise of Free Will and therefore a policy of non-interference.

  2. roman, a friend of mine stated this, and I can't improve upon it:

    I have to ask this. What are we doing preaching Christ if it's all a myth or mostly a myth? What are we doing? We lead people to Christ the myth?

    Aren't we sort of sliding around in this "pseudo-well maybe there's some truth in here" lingo & we lead people to an elusive Christianity & belief, because well, it's okay, we don't understand or believe it all anyway, thinking or at least feeling we've chosen the better way, because well the whole "Golden Rule" & such, (which exists in antiquity outside the Christian faith & we all know one doesn't have to be a Christian to do unto others as you would have them do unto you)...(stops to catch her breath) much integrity to we have in this kind of Christianity?

    If Christianity is more myth then reality, what the blazes are we doing acting like it's real?