Two Annunciations and a Visitation   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Magnificat

Image in the Public Domain




Luke 1:5-46


Consensus among scholars of the New Testament holds that the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke are the that work in miniature.  Luke 1 and 2 introduce themes the rest of that Gospel develops.

Luke 1:5 grounds the audience in time and place.  We read the name of the Roman client king:  Herod (the Great).

Herod the Great (r. 37-48 B.C.E.) married into the Hasmonean Dynasty and founded his own.  The Herodian Dynasty held power (under the Roman aegis) until 70 C.E.  Herod the Great, the Governor of Galilee (47-37 B.C.E.), became the King of the Jews in 37 B.C.E.  He had authority in Judea and Galilee.

Consider calendars, O reader.  Judaism had its calendar.  The Romans had their calendar, which started with the founding of Rome–on the B.C.E./B.C.-C.E./A/D. scale, 753 B.C.E./B.C.  The B.C.E./B.C.-C.E./A.D. scale dates to what we call the 500s C.E./A.D., when St. Dionysius Exiguus introduced it.  I notice that he miscalculated, for St. Dionysius attempted to place the birth of Jesus one week before the beginning of the year 1 Anno Domini (In the Year of Our Lord).  Yet Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.E.  Consider the account of the Massacre of the Innocents (Matthew 2:16-18).  I contend that a tyrant who had been dead for three years could not have ordered that slaughter.  I conclude, therefore, that St. Dionysius miscalculated.

I use “Before the Common Era” (B.C.E.) because I refuse to refer to the birth of Jesus as having occurred “Before Christ.”

Much happens, on the surface and beneath it, in these verses.  Some of these are:

  1. We read the identification of St. John the Baptist with Elijah (verse 17), indicating eschatological expectations regarding Jesus.
  2. St. Elizabeth is reminiscent of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1.
  3. The Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2) is the model for the Magnificat.
  4. We read that St. John the Baptist will go before “him” (verse 17), indicating YHWH, not Jesus.
  5. We are also supposed to think of Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah (Genesis 15 and 17).
  6. Being disturbed or afraid when encountering an angel is a Biblical motif.
  7. The Holy Spirit is a major theme in Luke-Acts.  It makes its Lucan debut in 1:35.
  8. In Hebrew angelology, there are seven archangels.  1 Enoch 19:1-20:8 names them:  Gabriel, Suru’el, Raphael (who features in the Book of Tobit), Raguel, Michael, Uriel (who features in 2 Esdras/4 Ezra), and Sarafa’el.  An alternative text of 1 Enoch mentions another name, Remiel.  Seven, being the number of perfection, may be symbolic.  Or Remiel may be an alternative name for one of the archangels.
  9. The Lucan theme of reversal of fortune is prominent in the Magnificat.
  10. I recommend consulting Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah--Updated Edition (1993), 358-360, for a detailed, line-by-line breakdown of the Magnificat, with citations from the Hebrew Bible, 2 Esdras/4 Ezra, Sirach/Ecclesiasticus, and the Psalms of Solomon.
  11. Childlessness was, in the culture, always the woman’s fault, regardless of biology.
  12. St. John the Baptist was certainly just kicking (1:41).  Unborn children kick.
  13. Verses 5-56 are about what God did and how people responded.

Underneath it all is a celebration of God.  God has taken the initiative–God the Lord, the saviour, the Powerful One, the Holy One, the Merciful One, the Faithful One.  God is the ultimate reason to celebrate.

–N. T. Wright, Advent for Everyone:  Luke–A Daily Devotional (2018), 89

I agree.






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