Rough deal for hired hands? Verse of the Month: John 10:12

The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.’

(NRSV)

Ram bearer
The Kriophoros (Ram Bearer), 5th cent B.C.E. Barracco Museum, Rome. Image: reocities.com

John 10: 1-18 contains two of the seven so-called ‘I am’ (εγω ειμι) statements that characterise the teaching of Jesus in John’s Gospel; the gate (v.9) and the shepherd (v.11).* However, unlike the other εγω ειμι statements, this metaphor is developed in a much richer way. For the image to work, it is contrasted with two negative and opposing images – ‘the thief’ (vv. 1 & 8-10) and ‘the hired hand’ (vv. 11-13). Unsurprisingly, attention is generally placed upon the image of the Good Shepherd, the focus of this teaching (παροιμια – proverb/parable), and most commentaries tend to dismiss these figures as little more than a rhetorical device (for example, Carson, 1991).

Nevertheless, the choice of these opposing images, particularly the figure of ‘the hired hand’ (μισθωτος), can tell us about, not only the historical context of this story, but also hint at possible developments of the Jesus tradition within sections of the early church. Continue reading

A nativity wordcloud for the Protevangelium of James

This week’s seminar (Wednesday, 17th December) and wordcloud explore how the story of the nativity developed after Matthew and Luke wrote their accounts. It is within these later writings that we can begin to see the beginning of a merging together (or harmonising) of Matthew and Luke’s stories, an emphasising of certain themes and also the introduction of some of the elements that are so familiar to us from our Christmas cards and nativity plays.

This week’s wordcloud is of a piece of early Christian writing that many may not have heard about: the Protevangelium of James (Prot. Jas.), sometimes called the Infancy Gospel of James.

Prot. of James wordle
Wordcloud for Protevangelium of James 11-22 (click to enlarge)

The text has been taken from Chapter 11 (the Annunciation to Mary) to chapter 22 (the Slaughter of the Innocents). It is 2,476 words long and so is roughly the same length as Luke’s account. The text is based on the Roberts-Donaldson translation which can be found on the Early Christian Writings site.

Luke wordle
Luke’s account of the Nativity (click to enlarge)
Wordle for Matthew
Matthew’s account of the Nativity (click to enlarge)

Cick here to view wordclouds in Worcloud Gallery

EQUAL BILLING

In previous weeks we have explored how both Matthew and Luke use their accounts of Jesus’ birth to provide important narrative and theological/Christological cues for the reader. In other words, they are telling us this story so that we might better understand and be prepared for what is coming next. It is fair to say that the later or apocryphal writings (like the Prot. Jas.) tend to do the reverse. They assume that the reader is familiar with New Testament Gospels and seek to look backward, answering the questions that the earlier accounts raised… and, if our seminars are any reflection on this, are still being raised!

Comparing this week’s wordcloud with those of Matthew and Luke, one of the most immediate features is the prominence given to both Mary and Joseph in the Prot. Jas., underlining the way this text harmonises the New Testament accounts. Although Elizabeth still appears (much smaller) there is no sign of Zechariah whose importance to the story is more concerned with his role as high priest and who is killed by Herod following the birth of Jesus (ch. 23).

A further sign of harmonisation is the appearance of both royal terminology (Matthew) and that of the temple (Luke). The text retains Matthew’s story of Herod, the Magi, the star and the slaughter. However, it is Luke’s account of the annunciation to Mary by Gabriel (who is now also described as an archangel) that is included, rather than Matthew’s version featuring Joseph. In fact, Joseph doesn’t discover Mary’s pregnancy until she is in her sixth month (ch. 13).

There are a couple of words which some readers might be surprised about; Salome, midwife and cave (more about them later!). We can also note the first introduction of the perennial nativity play favourite, the donkey (top left).

Continue reading