Monday, January 09, 2012

Book Review – Sherwin-White. Part Six

In Lecture Six, Sherwin-White enters the Galilean world, stating “The material of the Gospels is not capable of the sort of treatment that historians since [William] Ramsay have given to the Acts. From the Graeco-Roman point of view, this poses a problem.” Pg. 123. Sherwin-White then highlights certain aspects of the Gospels.

I found this the most interesting chapter by far.

First, he notes specific historical references are few, and (with one exception) are concentrated at the beginning and the end. The beginning with King Herod the Great, and the end with Pilate.

But even those references give us issue, as Sherwin-White indicates—the “reference to Herod and Archelaus [Herod’s son] keeps bad company in Mathew, is absent from Mark, and even in Luke is involved with the difficult question of Quirinius and his census.” Pg. 123. Sherwin-White will deal with Quirinius in a latter lecture. The sole exception in the middle is reference to Herod the Tetrarch of Galilee with John the Baptist (Matthew & Mark) and appearance four times in Luke.

Sherwin-White continues, “Not only are there no other precise historical cross-references inside the narrative, but he narrative of all three Gospels is largely devoid of other material references that might tie to the Roman period.” Pg 123. For example, the “centurion” with the palsied servant at Capernaum. (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). He can’t be a Roman centurion, Galilee was not part of Rome until 44 CE. But he is not Jewish either. Sherwin-White concludes (without providing us a reason) he is one of Tetrarch Herod’s soldiers who affected Roman terminology.

He then notes the various coins listed throughout the Gospels. Mark has Roman denarii and Roman quadrans. Matthew has Roman as, Greek didrachma and Greek stater. Luke has denarii, as, Greek drachmae, mina,and lepta. No wonder they needed money-changers in the temple! (Especially, as Sherwin-White notes, the Jewish Temple only took Jewish coins.)

Sherwin-White also discusses taxes, noting the peculiarity of tax-gatherers in Capernaum (Galilee) in Matthew 17:24-27. Curiously the term is ”cesum” (in Greek form) meaning a Roman tax, yet Galilee is not in a Roman province. Other authors have suggested this was a Jewish temple tax, but what is curious is Matthew has Peter obtain a sater--a Greek coin to pay the tax. It is possible the coin could be changed, but if Jesus was performing a miracle, why not get the Jewish coin in the first place?

Sherwin-White does not discuss this anomaly.

He goes on to discuss villages and cities, noting most villages were concern solely with internal affairs. Only a very few cities controlled (by governmental means) areas outside their specific walls. Sherwin-White notes Matthew and Luke “sadly confuse” the terms of city and villages.

By the way, Joesphus notes villages could consist of 15,000 people.

Sherwin-White contrasts the Roman city with the agricultural villages of Galilee in terms of government, topography, and “little kings.” By the end of the First Century (the conquest of Galilee and Judea) the area became more Roman in nature. Thus, Sherwin-White argues, the Galilean parables of Jesus regarding kings, servants and cities reflect a first century Palestine.

Sherwin-White provided interesting information in this chapter, despite Galilee and Jewish history being outside his expertise comfort.

Lecture Seven

Sherwin-White goes over some specifics regarding Roman Citizenship as a whole. Roman citizens obtained a proof of citizenship or registration of birth made before a magistrate and seven (7) witnesses. “Whether Romans carried such certificates about with them…we simply do not know. They were convenient in shape and size, being small wooden diptychs. But it is more likely that they were normally kept in the family archives.” Pg. 148-9. If they were not carried about, Sherwin-White speculates this could be a reason Paul rarely asserted his citizenship rights.

Sherwin-White concludes speculating how and when Paul’s family obtained its citizenship is a fruitless task.

He spends some time, going through Roman nomenclature, and how the various names in Acts do not provide much information as to the status, citizenship or class of individuals, due to lack of specifics. Again, Sherwin-White addresses various scholars’ opinions in this regard. A very dry topic in my opinion, with a great deal of “it is possible” and speculation.

Sherwin-White closes the lecture with a short section on Quirinius. “Luke dates the birth of Christ by connecting it with the census of Judaea taken, as is made abundantly clear in Josephus, when Sulpicius Quirinius was governor of Judaea after the annexation of the province in A.D. 6. This date conflicts with that of Matthew, who connects the nativity with the last years of Herod and the accession of Archelaus, ten years earlier. [4 BCE]. Luke’s date also conflicts with his own setting of the nativity of John in the ‘days of Herod the King of Judea.” PG. 163.

Sherwin-White dispenses with the apologetic Quirinus was governor of Syria twice—finding it lacks plausibility. He finds Luke is explicit with dates—such as Luke 3:1, “in the fifteenth year of Tiberius”—and believes Luke is equally deliberate with the dating of the birth. Sherwin-White says, “The taking of the Roman census in Judaea made a tremendous impact in Jewish history. The author of Luke cannot have been under any doubt or confusion when he selected that date. But its selection was a deliberate rejection of the tradition of Matthew, which connects the nativity with Herod and Archelaus.” Pg. 167.

All would be well and good, but Luke confuses the date with John the Baptist’s birth at the time of Herod.

Sherwin-White gives no solution to this problem, except saying Luke may be trying to “link” the Messiah’s birth to the last Messianic Prophet—John the Baptist. Sherwin-White concludes, “Luke should mean what he wrote.” Pg. 171. It would appear Sherwin-White would place Jesus’ birth in 6 CE, according to Luke, and decide it is beyond his acumen to find a way to explain the problem of Luke referring to John the Baptist being born around the same time, yet in a period 10 years later.

And this is typical Sherwin-White. Say one thing, note the counter argument and then “Harumph. Aren’t we glad that is settled?” leaving you to scratch your head as to what the conclusion is, or how he reached it.