Thursday, April 21, 2005

John, Jesus, and Counter-temple Movements

I have been trying to get an idea of what Theophilus would have known, and thus recognized in Luke’s writings. I have organized some queries and assertions below.

Theophilus knew Caiaphas, no doubt, bring his brother-in-law. Is this perhaps why Luke only mentions Annas and Caiaphas as the high priests in Luke 3.2? Would Theophilus have also known Zechariah, John’s father, listed immediately after Annas and Caiaphas in Luke 3.3? Surely Theophilus was very familiar with John the Baptist’s story, his being of the priestly line. John, having been put to death by Herod, would have been a familiar subject to both Theophilus and his granddaughter, Joanna, who married one of Herod’s men, Chuza (cf. Lk8.3).

For some reason, it is a popular position in NT scholarship to assert that John the Baptist was NOT associated with the Qumran sect, not even an Essene. The reasoning generally rests upon the lack of any explicit reference to John's association with Qumran, and any lack of specific location for John's "wilderness" and "Jordan" ventures. But, I am wondering if this reasoning isn't incorrect. We know from the scrolls that Qumran was a counter-temple sect: the people retreated into the wilderness because they thought the priesthood to be corrupt. If Luke were to describe anyone coming from the Qumran and south Jordan region doing and preaching the very things we find in the DSS, then would it have been necessary to explicitly say that individual was from the Qumran sect, especially considering the recipient, Theophilus, was a member of the temple establishment and would have been most familiar with counter-temple movements such as Qumran? Would Theophilus not have recognized John’s behavior and preaching as Qumranic?

In beginning his Gospel with John, an implicit counter-temple movement himself who looks like he once belonged to (or still did?) the Qumran sect, is Luke suggesting that Jesus is interested in counter-temple movements? If John is Jesus' forerunner, and portrayed as a temple-defiant, it seems that Jesus would be colored with John’s agenda. Indeed, Luke cites Isaiah 40.3-5, a favorite Qumran text, to describe John, the one “preparing the way” for Jesus.

Luke 4.1ff. tells of Jesus’ retreat from the Jordan into the wilderness. Is this an indication that Jesus was himself interested in counter-temple movements, by sending him into the wilderness region as a starting point for his ministry? More importantly, is Luke suggesting that it was divinely intended that Jesus become identified with (and eventually assume for himself the role of) a counter-temple movement by having Jesus “led away by the Holy Spirit...into the wilderness”?

I wonder if there is not something behind Jesus’ association with John, counter-temple tendencies, and his own actions regarding the temple establishment that Theophilus would have recognized to be implicating the priesthood.

copyrighted 2005

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