Who Wrote Luke?- Luke’s Mind and Art
Last year, Guns n’ Roses was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Would the original line-up perform? The members were not on good terms, and at the awards ceremony, Axl Rose declined to show. In a statement, among other things, Rose called into question the Hall’s purpose. He’s not the only one to have issues with the Hall. Others question the nomination process (an artist becomes eligible 25 years after their first release), wondering why certain artists are inducted while others have never even made the ballot—influential bands like Deep Purple never getting a nod while “lesser” artists like Patti Smith and the Velvet Underground getting enshrined..
Although the nomination process is perhaps flawed, the Hall serves a very important function: it recognizes artists not based on popularity but rather on influence. So although Patti Smith and The Velvet Underground may never have sold millions of concerts, had a string of number one hits, and sold out five nights in a row at Madison Square Garden, a lot of the bands that learned from them did. And for that, they deserve recognition, even if people don’t realize the depth of their influence.
Because of this, I enjoy when a person unearths an influence about which I was unaware. I also appreciate when a person goes beyond identifying this influence and explains the depth of the influence.
Helms kicks off this chapter by examining the opening of Luke’s Gospel, which makes clear that not only was she not an eye witness to the events discussed but she is reviewing the materials in her possession with great detail. But not everything she read proved useful to her—in fact, according to Helms, only half of it was. So if Matthew saw fit to use about 90% of Mark, why did Luke only use half? She felt much of its work was based on “grave incompetence” (79) and that the prior work needed clarification (i.e. revision). The rest of Luke’s gospel is new content.
To fill in her story, she also used the Q Gospel (new to me, and not in my version of the Bible) as well as content exclusive to Luke. What we know of this gospel, then, is (as discussed in his previous chapter), designed to support how women were to be viewed as equals in the eyes of the Church, not as inferior to men, as so much other content suggests.
Given how much of this was detailed in the previous chapter, I wasn’t sure why this warranted a new chapter. This problem is compounded because of his failure—thus far—to deliver on his promise of art’s influence on Luke.
Instead, for all of Helms’ praise of Luke’s diligence, he discusses lapses in her use of Mark uncritically: For example, ten lepers “cured” in area in the midst of Samaria and Galilee (84). Problem: no such area existed. Also, when Jews and Samarians are discussed inhabiting the same area (Luke 17:11-16), according to Helms, they despised each other and therefore would never have been together.
Eventually, Helms does get around to the chapter’s point: the influence of art on Luke. He points out how the author borrowed from The Bacchae play (90-1), in Acts 12:8, 10 and 16:26. This finally justifies the new chapter, and here he presents an intriguing case. But the presence of the influence is not as intriguing as his suggestion of why this Euripides work would have resonated with Luke: “it concerns a young, persecuted and misunderstood deity [Dionysus], the son of Zeus and a mortal woman (Semele), who grants to his female followers redeeming release into religious ecstasy” (91).
Why is this significant? Well, one, it shows how people use art in order to make sense of their world, their beliefs, and their emotions. Two, it also shows how the content people may have never questioned before has multiple sources, some of which is not religious-based. Side note: it also appears to be the earliest form of plagiarism I have encountered.
It turns out, she also pulled from I and II Maccabees (93-95). So with all these influences, it appears that 50% of the new content Helms suggests is not really all that new—or 50% of her creation.
So did a woman really write Luke and Acts? I don’t know. But what is apparent is that Luke’s author did some solid research, pulling from several sources to paint a more complete picture than the ones in the sources to which she had access. And, if Helms is to be believed in this chapter—and he does make a good case—what his work demonstrates is that this gospel—and perhaps the others as well—were not the product of a first-person account; rather, they were the work of people influenced by past material as well as the world around them. What I appreciate most is how art was a part of this world. It’s important to remember that artists in general—and writers specifically—don’t create in a vacuum. They read, listen, observe, and then create. Often, we forget this or don’t even notice it and only pay attention to what they’ve created without appreciation what inspired it.
Next up: Who Wrote Thomas and Q?