Luke The Beloved Physician

© 2007 Dr. Barbara Thiering

An earlier generation of critical scholars understood Luke to be a figure from the 2nd century AD, at the time "Early Catholicism" was developing. He was supposed to have been responsible for Acts, possibly also Luke's gospel. He made up all the incredible stories in Acts, such as Peter's miraculous escape from prison, the raising of Dorcas, or Paul raising Eutychus from the dead. Or in the gospel, his lack of information produced the impossible date of the birth of Jesus in 6 AD at the time of the census of Quirinius.

Such conclusions were acceptable in the 19th century because they at least expressed the scepticism of thinking people, and there was no known further information to work on. Albert Schweitzer's conclusion that Jesus "passes us by", as a figure from an entirely alien culture from the 1st century, was taken to be final. There was no chance that there could be any new information. Perhaps it is the "miracle" that now there is.

Luke the Beloved Physician, the term used for him in Colossians 4:14, was the closest friend and associate of Jesus between 43 and 63 AD. With Jesus, he wrote Luke's gospel and Acts. They are exact historical accounts of what happened. Exact, that is, when you know how to read them, after discovering from the Dead Sea Scrolls the way they were intended to be read.

In Josephus' record of the letter of the emperor Claudius, dated June 28, 45 AD, the name Cornelius son of Ceron is first in the list of bearers of the letter, deputed to take it back to Judea Josephus, Antiquities 20:14. It included the implication that Claudius had approved the young prince Agrippa, son of Agrippa I, to be the successor of his assassinated father, against the competing claims of Herod of Chalcis, brother of Agrippa I. Cornelius was, then, a highly placed Roman, entrusted by the emperor with a diplomatic task. As may be seen, he had become an initiate of the ascetic mission in Judea and had taken a new name, as was customary at baptism. It was the Roman name Luke, showing that he was retaining his ethnic identity. He was a "centurion" because he was in charge of 100 initiates using Roman military terminology in their symbolic Holy War of evangelism.

Acts 10 is a long and detailed chapter, with an unusual number of time notes for the pesharist. Its central subject, on the surface, is Cornelius. He is described as "a centurion of the Italian cohort, a devout man who feared God." He is said to have been in Caesarea on the north Mediterranean coast of Judea, the city which the Herods particularly frequented as the port of embarkation for Rome. About the 9th hour of the day, 3 pm- the hour for the worship services of married villagers- he had a vision of an angel of God. He was told to send to Joppa, the city 48 kilometers further down the coast (modern Jaffa), where he would find Simon Peter lodging with Simon the tanner. He was to have Simon Peter brought to Caesarea.

The next day (epaurion), in Joppa, Simon Peter went up on to the rooftop to pray at noon. He, too, had a vision, of heaven opening above him, and a cloth let down. In it were unclean animals. He was told by the voice of Jesus above him to eat, even though Peter objected and said he had never eaten anything common or unclean. This happened three times, then Peter was told that Cornelius' messengers had arrived. The next day (epaurion) he left Joppa with them, and the next day (epaurion) they arrived at Caesarea. Cornelius met Peter, and worshipped him, but Peter insisted that he was only a man. An account of Cornelius' vision was told again, Peter gave a sermon, and as he spoke the Holy Spirit (to pneuma to hagion) fell on Gentiles present. Peter asked for water for baptism, and gave baptisms to the Gentiles in the name of Jesus Christ.

In the previous chapter in Acts 9:3-9, Paul in Damascus had had a similar experience, seeing a vision of Jesus above him at noon, and hearing Jesus speak to him. The pesharist's assumption that every note of time matters, that all events were natural, and that Jesus had survived the crucifixion, gives an obvious solution. There was a three-storey structure, with the middle level called the "roof", and above it a floor for priests, called "Heaven".

Figure 10

Figure 10. The Tower.

Jesus in the role of priest spoke from the highest floor, and let down a tablecloth embroidered with the images of animals defined as "unclean" under Jewish law. The tablecloth was to go on the table for the noon sacred meal, which stood on the middle level. Peter was thus being told that he should admit "unclean" Gentiles to the noon sacred meal formerly reserved for Jewish celibates. When Peter came from Joppa to Caesarea a new kind of baptism took place. The Christian innovation had occurred, Gentiles being given the same privileges as Jews. It would be Peter who would coin the new name "Christian" for the party that had thus arisen.

The episode of Cornelius and Peter corresponds to a story in Josephus, one that gives the identity of Peter and the close connection with the court of the Agrippas (Josephus, Antiquities 19, 332-334). Josephus, an admirer of the Agrippas in spite of their character weaknesses, says that Agrippa I (who died 44 AD) had before that time been attacked by a religiously scrupulous Jew called Simon of Jerusalem. This man had called a public meeting to attack Agrippa's breaches of ritual law. Agrippa in Caesarea, hearing of it, summoned Simon to Caesarea, and personally discussed the matter with him, exercising his charm to the extent that Simon apologized and asked his forgiveness. It accords with this that Simon Peter remained involved in the court of Agrippa I, played a minor role in his assassination when he overreached himself by claiming to be a god, but subsequently remained a member of the court of his son Agrippa II. Peter and Paul, with Jesus advising from his seclusion, gained such control over the timid young man Agrippa II that they made Christianity the established religion of his court.

The series of time notes in Acts 10, taken in the succcession of the chapters, show that the episode took place at Pentecost in 43 AD. Luke-Cornelius was the delegate of Agrippa I from Caesarea, the same Cornelius son of Ceron who came to Rome in June 45, where as an associate of the ascetic mission he would have helped to persuade Claudius to favor Agrippa II rather than the anti-Roman Herod of Chalcis. Cornelius was not the central character in what took place in Acts 10, his movements being a disguise for the presence of Agrippa I, his son, and his tutor Matthew Annas, all appearing as angels or visionary figures.

The central event of Luke's life was when he became the "eunuch" for Jesus in the place of John Mark. The divorce of Jesus from Mary Magdalene, finalised in 45 AD, meant that a new go-between had to be appointed, a celibate who could represent both husband and wife in male and female roles. John Mark had been the Gentile head of the order of Dan, following a Magian monastic type of discipline, whereas Luke was only the lowest in the hierarchy of Dan celibates, not monastic but under an individual discipline. He was "of the Italian band(cohort)", that is he was head of the order of Japheth, the lowest of the three divisions of the Herodian Noah mission. Their current heads were Shem for Arabians (Philip), Ham for Ethiopians (Titus) and Japheth for Greeks and Romans (Luke). The court of Agrippa II was very much Romanised, as Jesus was also, so Luke was the appropriate choice for his new "eunuch", needed when Jesus remarried in AD 50. The remarriage, to Lydia, took place in Philippi in Macedonia, where Luke was "the man of Macedonia" (Acts 16:9-15).

Since the order of Dan was derived from the Therapeuts, Healers, Luke was a physician, a role that was needed for one close to Jesus, who suffered from the physical effects of the crucifixion for the rest of his life. Luke was the Beloved Physician just as John Mark had been the Beloved Disciple, capable of acting as the wife, the Beloved, beside Jesus as a husband. The term "we" in narrative in the later parts of Acts indicated the presence of Jesus with Luke acting for him.

For a pesharist studying closely the concealed history, the personalities of the writers become familiar. Although it is a subjective judgement, it is worth saying that the characteristics of the two, Jesus and Luke, show them as real and attractive people. An inisght can be gained into their two minds working in the closest possible harmony, two compatible personalities in constant contact with each other. Jesus had devised John's gospel, and the time notes he introduced recur in Acts in a way that makes it easy to understand the calendar system and the succession of dates, which accord with the external history. The chronology could not be solved without this help. But for Jesus, Greek was not his first language, whereas for Luke it was a natural language, as it was for all educated people in the Greco-Roman world. Luke widens the range of terms with special meanings, making it read more easily. It also appears that Luke shared Jesus' sense of humor, inventing miracles that only a very naïve person would believe - the example set by Jesus in John with his "walking on water". But the jokes open a door of understanding which would enable at least some of the naïve readers to mature intellectually.

With Luke's help, the genre established by Jesus became more generous and transparent. That was possible in the changed circumstances of the mid 40's AD, when Jesus' Gentile party had the upper hand in the court of Agrippa II.

NOTE. There are two forms of the name Luke. Since change of party affiliation was accompanied by a rebaptism and change of name, it may be seen that they refer to Luke at different stages. The masculine form Lucius, found in Acts 13:1 and Romans 16:21, means Luke while he was still affiliated with Magians. In Acts 13:1 he is described as a Cyrenian, indicating an association with Simon Magus as Simon the Cyrenian (Mark 15:21 and parallels). In Romans 16:21, written by Paul before he went to Rome, Lucius is named together with Jason, who appears in Acts 17: 5-7. A "Jason" was the Magian head of the earlier form of the boat mission to western Gentiles, using pagan imagery from the Jason story, before it was changed to Noah imagery. At the time of writing Romans the "Jason" was Atomus the Cypriot Magian, who belonged to the court of Agrippa II, holding pro-Herodian views against Simon Magus (Josephus, Antiquities 20:142). When Luke arrived in Rome with Paul's party in 61 AD, he broke with Atomus and remained with Paul and Jesus, independently of all Magians. His name was then modified to Lukas (Luke), and is found in that form in three epistles that Paul wrote from Rome after 61 AD, in Philemon 24, Colossians 4:14, and 2 Timothy 4:11.

NOTE. For the more detailed pesher of Acts 10, see its treatment in the narrative of Section 8, From Qumran to Rome, Stage 2, Part A, June AD 43 (Agrippa's overtures to the conspirators, and the decision to reconcile with Agrippa.

NAMES AND PSEUDONYMS. Own name Cornelius. Baptismal name Lucius (of Cyrene) and Lukas. "We" in narrative in later part of Acts, as the spokesman for Jesus who was also present.

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