February 20, 2005

The (Un)Faith of Jesus' Brothers

A whole mess of stuff in this short exchange between Jesus and "his brothers".

Firstly, brothers. I deliberately chose the New Jerusalem version -- a Catholic version BTW. The only other Catholic version I could locate on my computer search was Douay-Rheims 1899 (!) and it has the courage to translate it as brethren. It of course implies that there were brothers of Jesus and they were not numbered amongst his disciples. The synoptics record incidents of similar import.
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." (Mark 3:31-32 -- they did not want to enter the house where his followers were gathered--though Luke is kinder and says it was because the crowd was too thick)

When his family heard it, (the gathering of the Twelve and the size of crowds following Jesus and his teachings) they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, "He has gone out of his mind." (Mark 3:21)

Recall also that James is referred to by Paul as the Lord's brother (Gal 1:19).

The traditional interpretation here is these brothers are kinsmen and not necessarily brothers per se. This may actually work--kinship ties and extended family had a strong role to play in ancient life and an obligation to a cousin was as strong as an obligation to a member of the nuclear family. Yet the word is brothers (plural) and the brothers are clearly set at odds with the disciples.

Family interprets Jesus' reluctance to go to Jerusalem for the Feast of Shelters as fear of arrest -- and by implication -- possibly a test of his commitment to the faith he preached. John is quite harsh with Jesus' poor brethren: Not even his brothers had faith in him.

Let's look again at Paul's reference to James the Lord's brother. Scholars date Galatians someplace between the late 40s CE and the mid 50s CE depending on the opine of the academic in question. Our gospel gets dated someplace in the 80s or 90s (with possible additions later). So we have two models of early church leadership, one based on kinship with Jesus and the other based upon discipleship of the Twelve. And in the course of 30-40 years the power shifts from family to discipleship. With hints of strong resentment of family amongst the disciples and vice versa along the way.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.


At 1:04 p.m., Blogger crystal said...

Hi David. If you ever want to check another Catholic version of the bible, The New American Bible is online - it's the one they usually use at Creighton U and the one I was given when I saddled up with the papists :-).

Anyway, my version also says "brothers" ans refers the reader to another place in the NT where they are named ... Is he not the carpenter, 3 the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.


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