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Towards Unravelling Luke's Use of the Old Testament: Luke 7.11–17 as an Imitatio of 1 Kings 17.17–24

  • Thomas Louis Brodie


It is widely recognized not only that Luke was a literary artist but that his literary methods involved specifically Hellenistic approaches and techniques. The primary purpose of this article is to indicate that the enigmatic relationship of part of Luke's text (7. 11–17, the raising of the widow's son) to part of the LXX text (1 Kgs 17. 17–24, Elijah's raising of the widow's son) is a literary relationship, a relationship which is the result of a sophisticated and coherent process of dramatization and christianization. The article is also intended to suggest briefly that this literary relationship is to be understood, in considerable part, in light of the Hellenistic literary practice known as imitatio, and that the practice of imitatio may be an important clue in detecting and unravelling other areas of Luke's sources.



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[1] See esp. Cadbury, H. J., The Style and Literary Method of Luke (HTS 6; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1920); Plümacher, E., Lukas als hellenistischer Schriftsteller (SUNT 9; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1972); Van Unnik, W. C., ‘Eléments artistiques dans l'évangile de Luc’, L'Evangile de Luc: Problèmes littéraires et theologiques: Memorial Lucien Cerfaux (BETL 32; ed. Neirynck, F.; Gembloux: Duculot, 1973) 129–40; Talbert, C. H., Literary Patterns, Theological Themes and the Genre of Luke-Acts (SBLMS 20; Missoula: Scholars Press, 1974).

[2] For a brief survey of the place of rhetoric in Greco-Roman education, esp. in the first century AD, and for basic bibliographical references, we Kurz, W. S., ‘Hellenistic Rhetoric in the Christological Proof of Luke-Acts’, CBQ 42 (1980) 170–95, esp. 192–5.

[3] On imitation see Fiske, G. C., Lucilius and Horace. A Study in the Classical Theory of Imitation (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1920; reprinted, Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1971) 2563; McKeon, R.: ‘Literary Criticism and the Concept of Imitation in Antiquity’, Modern Philology, 34 (1936) 135.Clark, D. L., ‘Imitation: Theory and Practice in Roman Rhetoric’, Quarterly Journal of Speech 37 (1951) 1122; Steiner, G., After Babel. Aspects of Language and Translation (New York/London: Oxford University, 1975) 253–5. See also chap 4 of Greene, T. M., The Light in Troy. Imitation and Discovery in Renaissance Poetry (New Haven: Yale University, 1982).Auerbach's, E.Mimesis (Princeton: Princeton University, 1953) is not immediately relevant to this study. For a broad introduction to imitation and to its possible relevance for the study of the gospels, see Brodie, T. L., ‘Greco-Roman Imitation of Texts as a Partial Guide to Luke's Use of Sources’, Luke-Actg. New Perspectives from the Society of Biblical Literature (Talbert, C. H., ed.; New York; Crossroad, 1984) 1746.

[4] Plato spoke of the natural world as a copy or μίμησıς of a superior unchanging world (see esp. Republic 111, 392D–394C: VI 5000–E). Aristotle generally spoke of μίμησıς in a more derived sense: the natural world is imitated in art (see, for example, Physics, 11 2.194a22; 11 8.199a 15–17; Poetics IX 1451b9). See McKeon, ‘Imitation in Antiquity’, 326.

[5] See esp. lsocrates, , Against the Sophists, 1718; on lsocrates' life and influence see, for instance, Lesky, A., A History of Greek Literature (New York: T. Y. Crowell, 1968) 582–92.

[6] Cicero, , De Oratore, 11, xxxi, 90.

[7] Quintilien, , Inst. Orat., x, ii, 1.

[8] ibid. Trans. from Butler, H. E., LCL, Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1960.

[9] On respect for old myths and stories, and on the reluctance to invent new ones, see Fiske, , Lucilius and Horace, 33–5.

[10] Ong, W. J., Rhetoric, Romance and Technology. (Ithaca/London: Cornell University, 1971) 255. For a study of some aspects of the differences between the rhetoric-dominated Greco-Roman period and the romance-dominated modern era, see Ong, 1–22, 255–83.

[11] For a summary of some of the main principles of emulatio we Fiske, , Lucilius and Horace, 43–6.

[12] Cadbury, H. J., The Making of Luke-Acts (New York: Macmillan, 1927; reprinted, London; SPCK, 1958) 158.

[13] Quintilian, , Inst. Orat. X, i, 108.

[14] For a survey of the relationship of some of the leading Roman historians to one another and to their Greek predecessors, we Turner, C., ‘History’, in Greek and Latin Literature. A Comparative Study (ed. Higginbotham, J.; London: Methuen, 1969) 300–41.

[15] For a comparative analysis of Seneca's tragedies and the corresponding Greek dramas, we Miller, F. J., The Tragedies of Seneca (Chicago: University of Chicago, and London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1907) 453–96.

[16] For a thorough analysis of the relationship of Virgil to Homer, see Knauer, G. N., Die Aeneis und Homer. Studien zur poetischen Technik Vergils mit Listen der Homerzitate in der A eneis (Hypomnemata, 7; 2. Auflage; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1979); for briefer studies, see Conway, R. S., ‘Virgil as a Student of Homer’, Martin Classical Lectures 1 (1930) 151–81, esp. 171–5 (pub. Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1931); Conington, J., The Works of Virgil, Vol. 2 (Hildesheim: Georg Ohms, 1963) xix–xliv.

[17] See esp. Higginbotham (ed.), Greek and Latin Literature.

[18] Kennedy, G., The Art of Persuasion in Greece (Princeton: Princeton University, 1963) 332–3.

[19] See Aristotle, , Art of Rhetoric, 111, 5; Ong, , Rhetoric Romance and Technology, 3; Ong, W. J., Interfaces of the Word. Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture (Ithaca/London: Cornell University, 1977) 214–15.

[20] The Descent from Heaven. A Study in Epic Continuity (New Haven/London: Yale University, 1963) 80.

[21] Fiske, , Lucilius and Horace, 38.

[22] The fact that the genre of the gospels is in some significant respects similar to that of Greco-Roman biographies (cf. Talbert, C. H., What is a Gospel? The Genre of the Canonical Gospels, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), does not take away from the fact that in other important respects the genre of the gospels, and particularly of Luke-Acts, is strikingly close to some of the OT his-tories; cf. Brown, R. E., ‘Jesus and Elisha’, Perspective 12 (1971) 85104, esp. 97–9; The Birth of the Messiah (New York: Doubleday, 1977) 561; Brodie, T. L., ‘A New Temple and a New Law. The Unity and Chronicler-based Nature of Luke 1:1–4:22a’, JSNT 5 (1979) 2145; Talbert, C. H., ‘Prophecies of Future Greatness: The Contribution of Greco-Roman Biographies to an understanding of Luke 1:5–4:15’, in The Divine Helmsman, Fest. Lou Silverman (eds. Crenshaw, J. L. and Sandmel, S.; New York: Ktav, 1980) 129–38, esp. 137; Hengel, M., Acts and the History of Earliest Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980) 30–2; Barr, D. L. and Wentling, J. L., both of Wright State University, ‘The Conventions of Classical Biography and the Genre of Luke-Acts: A Preliminary Study’, (unpub. paper delivered at the SBL/CBA Regional Meeting, Duquesne, Pittsburg, April 1980).

[23] See Kun, W. S., ‘Luke-Acts and Historiography in the Greek Bible’, Seminar Papers, SBL 1980 (ed. Achtemeier, P. J.; Chico: Scholars, 1980) 283300, ‘Farewell Addresses in Luke-Acts and the Greek Bible’ (unpub. paper delivered at CBA convention, Duluth, MN, August 1980).

[24] For summaries of the evidence, we for instance, Haenchen, E., The Acts of the Apostles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971) 72–7, and esp. Fitzmyer, J. A., The Gospel According to Luke, I–IX (AB; New York: Doubleday, 1981) 113–18.

[25] Plümacher, , Lukas als hellenistischer Schriftsteller, 3872, esp. 63–4; Horton, F. L., ‘Reflecfions on the Semitisms of Luke-Acts’, in Perspectives on Luke-Acts (ed. Talbert, C. H.; Danville, VA: Association of Baptist Professors of Religion, 1978) 123, esp. 17–18.

[26] See esp. Dabeck, P., ‘Siehe, es erschienen Moses und Elias’, Bib 23 (1942) 175–89, esp. 180–4. Brown, ‘Jesus and Elisha’; Dubois, J. D., ‘La Figure d'Elie dans la Perspective Lucaniénne’, RHPR 53 (1973) 155–76; Fitzmyer, , Luke I–IX, 213–15.

[27] On the programmatic nature of Luke's Nazareth speech we, for instance, Grundmann, W., Das Evangelium nach Lukas (2d ed., THKNT 3; East Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1961; rev. ed. of Hauck, F., 1934), 119; Schürmann, H., Das Lukasevangelium, 1:1–9:50 (HTKNT 3/1; Freiburg: Herder, 1969) 225; Tiede, D. L., Prophecy and History in Luke-Acts (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980) 1955; Johnson, L. T., The Literary Function of Possessions in Luke-Acts (SBLDS 39; Missoula: Scholars, 1977) 91–6.

[28] Possessions in Luke-Acts, 96.

[29] On the meeting at the gate, see Gils, F., Jésus prophète d'après les évangiles synoptiques (Orientalia et biblica lovaniensia 2; Louvain: Publications universitaires, 1957) 26; Schürmann, , Lukasevangelium, 399. On the sentiments of sinfulness and unworthiness, see Dabeck, , ‘Moses und Elias’, 183.

[30] Brodie, T. L., Luke the Literary Interpreter, Luke-Acts as a Systematic Rewriting and Up-dating of the Elijah-Elisha Narrative in 1 and 2 Kings (dissertation, Rome: Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, 1981) 134–53.

[31] See esp. Schürmann, , Lukasevangelium 29 n. 12, 404. Note also Grundmann, , Lukas, 161.

[32] On τί έμοί καί σοί as a ‘refusal of … involvement’ we Brown, R. E., The Gospel According to John I–XII (AB; New York: Doubleday, 1966) 99.

[33] The centurion's mode of addressing Jesus, Κᾳρıε, ‘Sir’ or ‘Lord’, could, if taken in isolation, be translated simply as ‘Sir’. But in the context of a story of surpassing faith, and in the context of Luke's general use of κᾳρıος as meaning ‘Lord’ (cf. Luke 5. 12, 17; 7. 13, 19;9. 54, 61, etc.) - and it is context, above all, which gives meaning - such a translation, though partially valid, is ultimately quite inadequate. Contrast, for instance, NEB with RSV.

[34] The word έγέρθητı, aor. impv. pass. of έγείρω may mean ‘Get up’, ‘Rise up’, or ‘Be raised up’, and, if taken in isolation, may be translated simply as ‘Get up’, a phrase used more of getting out of bed than of rising from the dead. But in the context of a narrative which tells of someone who is ‘dead’ being brought to life by ‘the Lord’ (cf. Luke 7. 12, 13, 15), and in the larger context of Luke's use of the passive of έγείρω to refer to the raising of the dead (cf. 7. 22; 9. 7, 22; 20. 37 24. 6, 34), such a translation is inadequate; it loses the continuity with the general idea of resurrection, and it loses particularly the literary and theological continuity with 7. 22. Contrast, for instance, JB and RSV. Similarly, the word γ⋯γος (Luke 7. 17, ‘This γ⋯γος went forth…’) is capable of several meanings, but in the context of Luke's emphasis on ‘the word’ and ‘the word of God’, it seems better to translate it as ‘word’ (cf. esp. the nearby texts, Luke 7. 7; 8. 11, and the fact that as Haenchen comments [Acts, 98]: ‘the “word of God”… fills the time after Pentecost’).

[35] Cf. LSJ 1: 961, under κλıνάρıον; Fitzmyer, , Luke I–IX, 659.

[36] Lukasevangelium, 402.

[37] Fitzmyer, , Luke I–IX, 524.

[38] ibid., 659; see Schürmann, , Lukasevangelium, 402.

[39] Luke's text may also involve a reference to the raising up of a prophet as described in Deut 18. 18; we Fitzmyer, , Luke I–IX, 660.

[40] Gerhardsson, B., The Origins of the Gospel Traditions (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979) 1422.

[41] Interfaces of the Word, 254.

[42] One might ask why Luke did not use an equally complex method in rewriting Mark. A full study of this question is far beyond the scope of this article, but it may be observed that Mark differs significantly from the Elijah-Elisha narrative: its style is extremely dramatic - sharp and vivid; and of course it tells of Christ. Thus, the basic processes which Luke uses on the Elijah-Elisha narrative, those of dramatization and christianization were, in considerable part, unnecessary in rewriting Mark.

[43] Kurz, ‘Hellenistic Rhetoric’, 195.

[44] ibid. 172–91.

[45] See Fitzmyer, , Luke I–IX, 213–15.

[46] G. Williams, The Nature of Roman Poetry added.

[47] Euripides, , Hippolytus, vi: 1162–64.

[48] Seneca, , Phaedra, iv: 997.

[49] Euripides, , Hippolytus, vi: 1157.

[50] Seneca, , Phaedra, iv: 995.

[51] For further comparative analysis of the scenes see Steiner, , After Babel, 430–3; Brodie, , Luke the Literary Interpreter, 2332, 441–3.

[52] Livy. His Historical Aims and Methods (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1961) 188.

[53] ibid. 190.

[54] For further details concerning Philostratus' account, we Creed, J. M., The Gospel According to St. Luke (London: Macmillan, 1930) 103; Fitzmyer, , Luke I–IX, 656–7.

[55] Cf. Schürmann, , Das Lukasevangelium, 404: ‘…die Zeit der Heiden deutet sich an’.

[56] Eph 1. 15 - chap. 2, like Luke 7. 1–17, contains two basic themes: (1), the union of Gentiles and Jews in love and glory (explicitly in Ephesians 2, esp. w. 11–21; cf. Eph. 1.17–18; implicitly in Luke 7. 2—5, 11–12, 16–17: the love of the centurion and the Jews: the two crowds and the two territories; the ‘all’ who glorify God); (2), the raising of the dead (Eph 1. 20, the raising of Christ from the dead; Eph 2. 1, 5–6, the raising of Gentiles and Jews from the death of sin; Luke 7. 1–17, the saving of the centurion's servant from death, and the raising of the widow's son. Luke's terminology concerning the raising of the widow's son, έγέρθηı, καί άνεκάθıσεν ⋯ νεκρ⋯ς, has less affinity with the OT than with Paul's έγείρας α⋯τ⋯ν έν νεκρ ῗν, καί καθίσας, Eph 1. 20, and νελροὑς…συνήγεıρεν καί συνεκάθıσεν, Eph 2. 5–6).

A part from these thematic links there are also certain linguistic links. Most of the linguistic links concern words which are quite common, and they are sometimes used differently in the two texts, but they seem worth noting - at least as initial data for further work: άκοᾳσας … πίστω Ίησοά … άγάπην/άγαπάω (Eph 1. 15; cf. 2. 4, Luke 7. 3–4, 9); κὑρıος … ΊησοṺς (Eph 1. 15,17; cf. 2. 21; Luke 7. 6); πάντες (Eph 1. 15; 2. 3; cf. 1. 22–23; Luke 7. 16); (δ⋯ξα/δοξάζω Eph 1.17–18; Luke 7. 16); έξονσία … ὑποτάσσω ὑπ⋯ (Eph 1. 21; cf. 2. 3; Luke 7. 8); μήλλοντı/ήμελλεν (Eph 1. 21; Luke 7. 2); πλήρωμα/έπλήρωσεν … πάντα …έκκλησία/λαῷς (Eph 1. 22–23; Luke 7. 1); (δıα) σῷζω (Eph 2. 5, 8; Luke 7. 3); μακράν … έγγἱς/έγγίζω (Eph 2. 13, 17; Luke 7. 6, 12;) (προσ)-ελθῷν (Eph 2. 17; Luke 7. 3, 14); οικείοı, οικοδομέω, οικοδομή, οίκία (cf. Eph 2. 19–22; Luke 7. 5–6); προϕήτης (Eph 2. 20; Luke 7. 16).

For a survey of the question of whether Luke knew Paul's epistles, see Enslin, M. E., ‘Once Again, Luke and Paul’, ZNW 61 (1970) 253–71. Note also Grassi's, J. A. comment (‘The Letter to the Ephesians’, JBC 56. 19): ‘It would seem that the theology of Eph. 2 is expressed in story form in Lk [15:11–3212].’

[57] For instance, the climactic combat between Achilles and Hector (Iliad Bk 22) is adapted in various ways to become the climactic combat between Aeneas and Turnus (Aeneid, Bk 12). For a summary of some of the instances in which Homeric roles are played by totally different characters in the Aeneid, see Knauer, , Die Aeneis und Homer, 342–3. For a summary of some of the ways in which ancient historians transferred descriptions from one character or situation to another, we Turner, ‘History’, 311–21.

[58] See, for instance, Laurentin, R., Structure et Théologie et Luc I–II (EBib; Paris: Gabalda, 1957) 92119; Sanders, J. A., review of Brown's, R. E.The Birth of the Messiah, in USQR 33 (1978) 193–6. Note also the emphasis on the idea of Lukan midrash in Drury, J., Tradition and Design in Luke's Gospel (Atlanta: John Knox, 1976) 43–5; Sanders, J. A., ‘From Isaiah 61 to Luke 4’, in Christianity, Judaism and Other Greco-Roman Cults (ed. Neusner, J.; Leiden: Brill, 1975) 75106; Dumais, M., La langage de l'evangélisation: L'Annonce missionaire en milieu juif (Actes 13. 16–41), (Recherches 16 Théologie; Montreal: Bellarmin, 1976) esp. 67130. In Luke 1–2, as in Luke 7. 11–17, OT events have been adapted to suit totally different NT characters. Thus, for an outline of the way Luke has synthesized and adapted the OT birth announcements, we Brown, , Birth, 156–7. For an outline of the way in which the Chronicler's account of the building of the Temple has been adapted to form a basis for describing the birth of Jesus, and the way in which the account of the reconstruction of Israel (Ezra-Nehemiah) has been adapted to describe the moral ‘reconstruction’ proclaimed by John and Jesus, we Brodie, ‘A New Temple and a New Law’.

[59] For references concerning the interaction of Hellenistic rhetoric and Jewish exegesis and argument, we Kurz, ‘Hellenistic Rhetoric’, 182; Daube, D., ‘Alexandrian Methods of Interpretation and the Rabbis’, Festschrift Hans Lewald (ed. Lewald's friends and colleagues; Basel: Hel-bring and Lichtenhahn, 1953) 2744; Hamerton-Kelly, R. G., ‘Some Techniques of Composition in Philo's Allegorical Commentary with Special Reference to De Agriculture - A Study in the Hellenistic Midrash’, Jews, Greeks and Christians (Festschrift, W. D. Davies; ed. Hamerton-Kelly, R. and Scroggs, R.; Leiden: Brill, 1976) 4556; Fischel, H. A., ‘The Uses of Sorites (Climax, Gradatio) in the Tannaitic Period’, HUCA 44 (1973) 119–51; ‘Story and History. Observations on Greco-Roman Rhetoric and Pharisaism’, Asian Studies Research Institute, Oriental Series, No. 3 (ed. Sinor, D.; Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969) 5988; ‘The Transformation of Wisdom in the World of Midrash’, Aspects of Wisdom in Judaism and Early Christianity (ed. Wilken, R. L.; Notre Dame/London: University of Notre Dame, 1975) 67101.

[60] For a review of the debate concerning the definition of midrash, see Porton, G., ‘Midrash: Palestinian Jews and the Hebrew Bible in the Greco-Roman Period’, Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt, 19, 2 (New York/Berlin: De Gruyter, 1979) 104–38; cf. also Déaut, R. Le, ‘Apropos a Definition of Midrash’, Int 25 (1971) 259–82.

[61] Brown, , Birth, 557–62, esp. 560–1.

[62] Fitzmyer, , Luke I–IX, 309.

[63] ibid., emphasis added. By ‘imitative historiography’ Fitzmyer means that ‘whatever historical matter has been preserved by the… evangelists has been assimilated by them to other literary accounts, either biblical or extrabiblical’.

[64] Luke seems to have adapted Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah to provide a skeletal basis for the early part of his work: cf. Brodie, T. L., ‘A New Temple and a New Law: The Unity and Chronicler-based Nature of Luke 1:1–4:22a’, JSNT 5 (1979) 2145. It may be, however, that Luke's foundational OT model was the Elijah-Elisha narrative: cf. other articles by Brodie: The Accusing and Stoning of Naboth (1 Kgs 21:8–23) as One Component of the Stephen Text (Acts 6:9–14; 7:58a)’, CBQ 45 (1983) 417–32; Luke 7,36–50 as an Internalization of 2 Kings 4,1–37: A Study in Luke's Use of Rhetorical Imitation’, Bib 64 (1983) 457–85; Towards Unraveling the Rhetorical Imitation of Sources in Acts 2 Kings 5 as One Component of Acts 8,9–40’, Bib, forthcoming, 1986.

Towards Unravelling Luke's Use of the Old Testament: Luke 7.11–17 as an Imitatio of 1 Kings 17.17–24

  • Thomas Louis Brodie


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