2.3 Plotinus, the Roman: Life of Jesus.
Plotinus was next, and he evidently had little to add to the discussion. He stated that his counselors saw the Gospels as memoirs of some early Christians, perhaps the Apostles themselves, or as lives of Jesus. He said that he voted on this one with Aponarius.
2.4 Eleazar, the Galilean: Didactic, kerygmatic Biography.
From the notes that remain, Eleazar must have given a substantial presentation to the librarians. Theophilus took detailed notes of Eleazar’s statements and so they took up nearly five pages of the scroll I was privileged to see. Further, from the looks of the notes Eleazar must have spoken rapidly (the notes seem to be scribbled at times) and he may well have asked the librarians to listen as he read to them long portions of the Gospels. At one point Eleazar’s name is glossed with the word euaggelistes, “evangelist.”
2.4.1 Eleazar must have said something about beginning at the beginning and this was, to the surprise of Theophilus, with Abraham, the father of Israel. After Abraham’s name appears Moses, David and the prophets. Thereafter he skips to Joseph and Mary and to a supernatural birth of Jesus. Then the life of Jesus is briefly sketched as a life of teaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God in the synagogues of the Jews, and a ministry of preaching and healing others. There is a note to the effect of teaching the disciples, a quick reference to official opposition by Jewish leaders, particularly the Pharisees, and then Thephilus drew a cross — a Roman one. After the cross, Theophilus adds, “and Eleazar and other Christians think Jesus came back to life.” Theophilus, evidently hearing something about Mark, said that the beginning of the gospel is the life and teachings of Jesus.
2.4.2 A couple of blank lines appear and the word “memory” appears. Here Eleazar must have said something about how well the Galilean Jews can remember what was said and can recall it for years.
First, he says, we who are by nature Jews know that God has vouchsafed to us his Word in written form and so we have, since birth, memorized God’s words. He said he could recite the entire book of our prayers, which we call the Psalms of David. So, when we became convinced that Jesus was God’s prophet and Messiah, we listened to him intently as if we were listening to God. Thus, we memorized much of what he said and did. Someone was always there, he said, and so most everything was remembered. He then evidently quoted some statements of Jesus that were in the Gospels but which they really no longer followed, like the one saying about not going to the Gentiles [which we now know is Matt 10:5-6].
Second, there were many of us who were there and heard what Jesus said. I, for one, heard only some of his sermons in Capernaum and Nazaret (and I heard his first sermon in Nazaret when he said it was all about him) but I remember much of what others have told me Jesus said. And many others heard Jesus and they got together after he died and after his resurrection and ascension and they compared notes and began to fix these things in their mind.
Third, some of the sayings of Jesus became especially important because of our circumstances in the Land of Israel. If you librarians (so it reads in the hand of Theophilus) read these Gospels you will observe, especially in Matthew, my favorite Gospel, that Jesus had a hard time with the Pharisees. So do we today in upper Galilee and Syria and for this reason our Gospel reflects these debates of Jesus with them. We especially remember these because they are like our own experiences every day.
(At this point, Theophilus has the word chreia, meaning a short episode. Evidently, Eleazar made an observation about one of the ways they remembered the events and sayings of Jesus by alluding to a form so well known in the Greco-Roman world. After this is the word “Sabbath.” I have inferred that Eleazar compared a story in the Gospels about Jesus on a Sabbath to the chreia of the Greco-Roman world.)
2.4.3 Eleazar then must have gone ahead to the Gospel writers themselves and said something about each of the Evangelists. What he said I can’t figure out, because Theophilus did not write anything down. But he just wrote down the names, and he did it in this order: Mark, Matthew, Luke. He must have said something about the context of each author. What he said is this: “Mark: Rome and persecution, disciples and suffering; Matthew: Land of Israel and problems with the Pharisees; teachings of Jesus; Luke: [unknown], researched by comparing Mark to other Gospels, and God’s salvation for all.”
2.4.4 Eleazar explained that each Gospel was a story of Jesus that grew from local sayings and events into a church-based Gospel. He said you can go to any church in the Roman Empire and you will hear the same basic story but every local church seems to have its own contributions and special stories and sayings.
Then he concluded with this:
First, these Gospels are indeed lives of Jesus that are written for followers of Jesus to teach them in the ways of Jesus, but at the same time they are proclamations of Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God.
Second, he must have ended with some kind of flourishing summons to each of them to read them and see if maybe they aren’t telling the truth about God.
Tomorrow, a short conclusion: Part 5: The General Discussion and Decision of Theophilus.