Eastertide 2012, Volume XXI, Number 2
(A feature article from the journal: The Greco-Roman Savior: Jesus in the Age of Augustus by Peter Scaer)
God speaks Hebrew. Of course, our holy book consists, by and large, of the Hebrew Scriptures. To understand Jesus, you must know him as Yahweh, the Lord of Israel. For good reason, then, Matthew proclaims Jesus to be the promised seed of Abraham, the fulfillment of Israel’s history. But the roots of the Old Testament run deeper. The call of Abraham does not appear until after the Tower of Babel. Previously people and things were not set apart by language. There was no Levitical Law or kosher foods. God created all things and saw that they were good. There was no Holy Land; all the land was a fit for God’s people. Salvation’s story thus requires a new Adam, a truly universal figure for a newly universal outreach. Enter Luke’s Gospel, at once more modern and more ancient, which introduces Christ as the new Adam (Luke 3:23–37) and the whole world as a fit dwelling place for the Lord and his followers.
Luke’s infancy narrative serves as a type of time machine, transporting us back to Jerusalem, where we meet faithful Zechariah. Along the way, we encounter an entire cast of Old Testament characters. But upon closer examination, Luke begins his Gospel not really in Jerusalem at all, but in the same place his second volume ends, in Rome, the heart of the Greco-Roman world. Indeed, the first four verses of Luke’s Gospel are strikingly devoid of Semitisms. Addressing his treatise to the “most excellent Theophilus,” Luke writes as a Greco-Roman historian, in the line of Herodotus and Polybius, composing the finest of periodic sentences.1 As Frederick Danker puts it, the opening sentence is meant to “make a favorable impression on Greco-Romans across a broad cultural front,” and “is intended for the Greco-Roman public square.”2 If we are to enter Luke’s world, we must enroll in the Gymnasium and make it our own.3 The first four verses of Luke’s Gospel proclaim it to be a cosmopolitan gospel for a cosmopolitan people, on the verge of turningthe whole world upside down (Acts 17:28).
Strikingly, both Luke’s Gospel and Acts are marked by pilgrimages, the first such through the Holy Land. Jesus and his parents attended the Jerusalem feasts according to custom (Luke 2:41).4 But what looks like a destination becomes a starting point. Divine necessity mandates that “repentance and forgiveness of sins be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47), and in ever-widening circles from Jerusalem, to Samaria and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Accordingly, Acts moves from rural Palestine to the empire’s major urban centers, from Thessalonica and Athens to Corinth and Ephesus. Along the way, Paul contends with priests of Artemis (Acts 19:23–40) and Zeus (Acts 14:13),5 is hailed as Hermes, a messenger of Zeus (Acts 14:12), and fields questions from Stoics and Epicureans (Acts 17). Culturally, religiously, intellectually, and geographically, Christianity sails towards Rome.
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