Friday, December 25, 2015

Blogging the West's sources: Matthew 1 and 2

A few weeks ago, my fatheads will remember, we decided to start a project called "blogging the source of Western civilization." No kidding. To get started we accepted the premise that the West is in free fall, that for a variety of reasons it resembles -- once again to mix up images and invent new ones -- a (wealthy) car crash victim whose unconscious (not yet dead) body is being fought over by two entirely malicious and predatory witnesses, namely Islam and the progressive, jackbooted, nanny-state left. What these two would do to each other should the crash victim really die, and all his wealth monetary and otherwise die with him, is a different question.

(We know full well that the jackbooted, nanny-state left is itself a Western phenomenon. But we think it's fair to say, that the phenomenon has come so far from its putative origins in utopian compassion and outrage at injustice, has become so drunk with power and yet so smug with complacency, that it belongs to the West in the same way cancer belongs to the human body. As I write I am listening to a Christmas concert whose conductors introduced it by purring about "Christmas themes" of peace in the face of "gun violence," and of being "at peace with the earth.")

So we wanted to explore the roots of the West's achievements and liberties. How it got to that car on that road. We decided that this means tracing the achievements and liberties back to "natural law" and the Bible, and ultimately especially to the Gospels. This is because we're struck by Charles Murray's contention that it has largely been Christian exaltation of the individual that has stoked Western advancement, and because the Gospels must be almost the only bedrock Western text still working in many people's lives. I think more people are still going to church than are reading Plato or Shakespeare. If the West is hanging by a thread, it seems to be this one. Let us see what the thread is made of, and what a tugging and a pulling on it seem to prompt people attached to it to do.

Opening the Gospels means opening a book I have not looked at it twenty-five years, so as I said at the outset of the project, despite some deep messing about with religion and folkways in the past, I will be approaching it practically as an ignoramus. Perhaps that's whom it was meant for.


The Gospel of Matthew. We'll approach this as an exercise in note-taking.

Chapters 1 and 2 --

Does the opening genealogy, "fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile," etc., indicate that Matthew regards Jesus as already so well known that, of course, people will want to know his place in world history? And, look how vital Matthew expects the Babylonian exile to be in people's, in the Jews', historical sense. It was as far removed from them in time as Joan of Arc is from us. On the other hand, we are aware of her ....

I seem to remember being taught that the genealogy was also intended to show Jesus as of royal descent. But if so, doesn't it rather defeat the purpose to trace this genealogy down to the Messiah's foster father?

I don't like my translation's clumsy "became the father of" to replace the good old King James Version's begat. In fact I read the two side by side, a paper copy of the New American Bible on the table, and an internet tab open to the King James, so that the seventeenth century edition may possibly correct the twentieth-century one. I feel sure the progressive, jackbooted left has long since infiltrated Bible translation, with an intent to administer and shape response to a dangerous book carefully in their image, as determinedly as the King James translators, in a much more Christian age, ever desired to get the word of God accurate from a Hebrew or Greek book into English for salvation's sake. Regarding especially the good old feminist complaints about all the man talk in the Bible, Father and sons and brotherhood and brethren and so forth, and how exclusionary and unkind to women it all is, the New American's translators say "the primary concern in this revision is fidelity to what the text says." Good. Also,
Discriminatory language should be eliminated insofar as possible whenever it is unfaithful to the meaning of the New Testament, but the text should not be altered in order to adjust it to contemporary concerns. 
Good. But if that has been so then why the need to avow it? Those kinds of vows lead to questions about curious discrepancies, when it turns out that the older version from a benighted, unfeminist age seems to be more inclusive in its language. For example today's translation of Matthew 2:16 says, of the Massacre of the Infants/Innocents, that upon being duped of his chance to kill the newborn Jesus, Herod ordered all the boys in Bethlehem slaughtered. The King James translation says he ordered all the children killed. There is a difference in English between boys and children. Did Herod kill the girls too? Dramatically it makes sense -- terrified mothers might have tried to pretend their babies were all girls and Herod might have foreseen that. And what of the difference between infant and innocent? Any animal species breeds infants. 'Innocent' carries additional connotations. What is the Greek word? I trust the Jacobeans to tell me, more than I trust moderns.      

Now. What of all the dreams? I count five. Four came to Joseph to instruct him what to do concerning marrying Mary, taking the family to Egypt to escape Herod, returning to the land of Israel after the monster's death, and then settling specifically in Galilee, outside the jurisdiction of Herod's son Archelaus. The fifth dream came to the Magi, warning them not to report to Herod on the newborn Jesus' location. That sounds like silly spy game stuff, but it is what the book says. "They returned to their country by another way" (Matthew 2:12). I always liked the fairy-tale simplicity of that.

And one more thing about the Massacre of the Innocents. Right away, in the next chapter, we will leap into Jesus' adult life and the beginning of, well, everything. Was Jesus aware of this holocaust in his toddlerhood, and will he ever mention it?      

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