Thursday, November 15, 2012

Arbitrary Apologetics?

Nate of the blog "Finding Truth" had a post a while back, Missing the Point.  In the course of the discussion in the comments-section, the topic of the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke came up.  Many contend that the genealogy in Matthew contradicts the one in Luke, whereas those who are committed to biblical inerrancy tend to maintain that the two genealogies are both factually true.  One conservative Christian solution that has been proposed for the contradictions between the genealogies is that the one in Matthew is Jesus' genealogy through Joseph, whereas the one in Luke is his genealogy through Mary.  The problem with this argument is that Luke's genealogy does not mention Mary, but only Joseph.  Those who believe that Luke's genealogy concerns Jesus' line through Mary, however, respond that Mary is not mentioned because women were usually omitted from Jewish genealogies.  See here for more about this argument.

I do not think that it's an absolute rule that Jewish genealogies omitted women.  Matthew's Gospel is probably a Jewish-Christian Gospel, or at least it's plausible that it emerged in a community that had a strong Jewish-Christian influence, and it refers to women, such as Tamar and Rahab (vv 3, 5).  I Chronicles 2:16 mentions the woman Zeruiah (the mother of Joab), and I Chronicles 4:18 refers to Bithiah, the daughter of Pharaoh.

But I admit that genealogies in the Hebrew Bible tend to focus on men.  Does that explain why Luke does not mention Mary in his genealogy?  Under Nate's post, a commenter, William, offered the following insight:
"I also wonder that if Luke really meant 'Mary' instead of 'Joseph,' as it says, then why didn’t he just write 'Mary?' It would have been that easy to negate this entire problem. Had Luke done that, no one would ever be talking about the discrepancy between Ma[t]thew and Luke, and this issue at least would never enter into the conversation. I have heard the argument that the Jews would not accept a genealogy from a woman, and maybe that is correct, but many of the very same people who use this argument will point to using women like Mary Magdalene as witnesses as some sort of evidence that the bible is from [G]od, because man, at that time, would not have used women as credible witnesses. Maybe that’s true too, but I can’t help but wonder why it’s one way on one instance and another way in separate instance…"

William is arguing that certain Christian apologists are arbitrary when they say that Luke has Mary's genealogy but does not mention Mary because Jews would not accept a genealogy that traced a person's line through a woman, and yet they turn right around and contend that the Gospels' stories of Jesus' resurrection appearances are historical because they present the first witnesses as women, in a Jewish culture that did not accept women's testimony (which, I will note, is only partially true, since there were cases in which women could be witnesses, according to rabbinic writings).  So was Luke trying to support his case by appeasing ancient Jewish misogyny, or by disregarding (if not countering) it?  It appears that Christian apologetics just grab hold of whatever argument might work, even if they employ arguments that end up contradicting one another.

I think of a post that I wrote a while back, Does Boring Mean Historically-Accurate?  In that post, I critique a point that someone made that Numbers 7 is historically accurate because it repeats seemingly boring details over and over, and the person was contending that this makes sense if the biblical author was aiming to convey history.  I argued, however, that there could be a literary reason for such repetition.  And there are conservative Christian apologists who have used the same sort of argument to explain the redundancies in the Pentateuch----in countering the idea that the Pentateuch contains different sources: that redundancy or repetition was a feature of rhetoric in the ancient world.  So does redundancy mean something is historically accurate, or can it be rhetorical, for such a purpose as emphasis?

On some level, what I'm saying is unfair.  I cannot say for certain that everyone who appeals to the women eyewitnesses to Jesus' resurrection argues that Mary was omitted from Jesus' genealogy to appease Jewish standards.  And I cannot say that those who appeal to rhetoric to dispute source criticism of the Bible deny that there is a rhetorical purpose behind the repetition in Numbers 7.  But it does interest me that there are so many arguments out there that aim to uphold the historicity and inerrancy of the Bible, and these arguments contradict each other.  

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