Sunday, 27 December 2015

Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter - Part 4

For the next weeks, my Sunday postings will be a transcript of the book "Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter" by the Jersey historian, the Reverend G.R. Bailleine (1873 – 1966).

Most of Balleine's books are either currently in print - as for example his History of Jersey - or online in the form of PDF versions. This book is not, so this is something different. As well as being a Jersey historian, Balleine was also a priest in the Church of England, and Ministre Deservant at St Brelade's Church for a time.

Here we see the first of Balleine's original ideas coming through - the notion that Jesus was short! And yet he assembles a fair amount of available evidence to show that this might be the case. And this is also confirmed by modern scholars who have given average heights in Biblical times at 5' 1" up to as tall as 5' 5". Around 5' 1" to 5' 2" seems to be the best consensus.

Writer William Harwood comments that “According to Flavius Josephus, a medieval Jewish historian, Jesus was an old-looking [some sources say “odd-looking”] man, balding, stooped, with joined eyebrows and approximately 135 cm (4' 6") tall.” But, says Harwood, this is based on the standard 46-cm-long regular cubit, an ancient unit of measure. Using the 53-cm special cubit, Jesus’ height would have been about 156 cm (5' 1").

It is also interesting to see how Balleine interprets the descent of the dove in a naturalistic way, as a possible event as well as a sign. For myself, I see a trajectory of physicality, with Mark and Matthew both having apparently just Jesus see the Spirit descending "like a dove", Luke having "in bodily form, as a dove", and John actually having John the Baptist witness the heavens opening, and the spirit in the form of a dove as an independent witness.

The Coming of the Carpenter
by G.R. Bailleine

SIMON's boat lay idle on the beach. He must soon resume his fishing or his children would go hungry. But he could not tear himself away from the Jordan, till the future became more clear. For what happened next our authority is the Fourth Gospel.

Early one morning Andrew woke him with the exciting news, `We have found the Messiah!' On the previous afternoon he had been with the Baptist, when a Stranger passed by, and John had exclaimed, `Lookl the Lamb of Godl' `

Lamb of God' became later a technical term among Christians, blending thoughts of a lamb's innocence and the lambs sacrificed in the Temple. `O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world!' But on the Baptist's lips it had quite a different meaning. In apocalpytic circles it meant the Messiah.

In the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (written about 105 BC) Joseph says, `There went forth a lamb, and all the beasts and reptiles rushed against it, and the lamb overcame them and destroyed them, for his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, which shall not pass away.' So, when John said, `Look! the Lamb of God!' he meant, `There is the Messiah.'

If he added, `Who will remove the world's sin,' he was thinking no Pauline thoughts of redemption. He meant, `Who will purge the world of sin by sweeping sinners to Gehenna.' Who was this Stranger, Whom John hailed as Messiah? He will be the most important person in our story. Indeed, without Him there would be no story to tell.

Simon knew nothing about Him. His name was Jeshua, or in Greek Jesus. His home was Nazareth, an inland village twenty miles from Capernaum. By trade He was a carpenter. He was over thirty, but had done nothing hitherto that would have made His name known in Capernaum. His upbringing had been much like Simon's : a cottage home, the synagogue school, the scrupulous Jewish religion; only instead of the fishing-boat there was a carpenter's bench. Carpentry in those days was more laborious than now.

The ancient carpenter bought his tree standing. He had to cut it down with primitive tools, and saw it into planks. It was work that hardened the hands and toughened the muscles. No carpenter was a weakling. Jesus made wooden ploughs and yokes, benches and kneading-troughs for his neighbours. And His trade may have brought Him in touch with wider circles. Sepphoris, the former capital of Galilee, was an easy hour's walk from Nazareth, and, when Jesus was about twenty, Herod Antipas began to rebuild it on a lavish scale. Labourers were gathered from neighbouring villages, and Jesus may have been one of the carpenters.

Only one description has reached us of His personal appearance, and this is so unexpected that it may be true. Pious imagination pictures Him as tall and stately; but early traditions say the opposite. Celsus, the opponent of Christianity, argued in the second century that, if Jesus was divine, His height would have shown this, `whereas men say that He was small'; and Origen, when answering him, did not deny this, but merely pointed to the radiance of the Transfiguration.

The apocryphal Acts of Thomas said, `The smallness of His body our eyes have seen; His greatness we acknowledge by faith.' Ephrem Syrus gives a definite figure, `God assumed human form with a stature of three cubits' (i.e. four feet ten inches); and this figure is also given in the Slavonic Josephus. An independent tradition points in the same direction. It said that Judas's kiss was needed, because James, the son of Alphaeus, was so like Jesus that it was hard to distinguish them apart; and James's nickname was `the Little'.

Indeed the fact that Jesus was short may stare us in the face in Luke, for, when we read that Zacchaeus `could not see Jesus, because he was little of stature', the `he' can grammatically easily refer to Jesus. How smilingly the words would come from someone below average height, `Who by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?'

Weeks before Simon had come to the Jordan, Jesus had made His way there. He had stood, an unknown figure, in the enormous throng; and He had been deeply moved. He said later, `In the whole human race there has never been a greater man than John.'

Yet no two men could be less alike. John was a desert dervish, Jesus a village artisan. John lived alone with the wild beasts. Jesus was one of a large family and loved companionship. John had a tongue like a whip. Jesus was friendly and gentle. But, as He stood and listened, He felt moved to make an act of self-dedication, to identify Himself with those who were consecrating their lives to the service of the Kingdom. He stepped forward and asked for baptism.

That Jesus was baptized by John is certain. This could never have been invented; for to Christians later it became a theological stumbling-block. How could One Whom they considered sinless join in an act of penitence? But this baptism was probably the turning-point in the life of Jesus, the moment when He became clearly conscious that He was called to be the Messiah. As He stood in the water, a Voice spoke to His heart, `Thou art My Son.'

The history of religion is haunted by mysterious `Voices'. Psychology would describe them as thoughts that flash so imperiously from the Unseen that they seem to be audible. A `Voice' in the Temple, `Whom shall I send?', made Isaiah a Prophet. A `Voice' on the Damascus Road revolutionized the life of Paul. A `Voice' in a meadow at Domremy sent Joan to liberate France. Bunyan, a stolid English Nonconformist, tells how a `Voice' sounded behind him, `so loud that I turned my head thinking some man had called me'. But no `Voice' ever had such results as the one that Jesus heard in the Jordan; for `Thou art My Son' meant in apocalyptic language, `Thou art the Messiah.'

The words come from the Second Psalm, the War Song of the Messiah, which told how the Lord's Anointed would smash the Heathen with his iron club and take the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession. Jesus, like every devout Jew, must often have pondered on that psalm. Perhaps He had wondered whether He might Himself be the Deliverer; for there was in His family a tradition of Davidic descent. No one could be more eager than He to see God's Kingdom established. Now, as He stepped out of the river, this hope had become a conviction.

Something else had also happened, as He stood in the water. Mark says that He saw a dove descending on Him. This we might have interpreted as a vision (for in Jewish writings the dove was often a symbol of the Holy Spirit), had not Luke said that the dove came `in bodily form'; and in the Fourth Gospel the Baptist declared, `I myself did not know Him,' till `I saw the Spirit descend as a dove and remain on Him.'

The Jordan Valley swarms with doves, and they were very tame, for, though Levitically clean, they were never eaten by Jews, and in Syria across the river it was a crime to kill one. So, as Jesus stood motionless in the river absorbed in prayer, one may have alighted on His head. If so, this would have seemed to John, and perhaps to Jesus Himself, a sign of supreme significance.

All this had happened weeks before Simon came to the Jordan; but John had had no chance to introduce his followers to Jesus. He had disappeared into the Wilderness immediately after His baptism. Staggered by His new-found destiny, He had fled to the wilds to think. There were many rival theories about what the Messiah would do. He must make up His mind which programme to follow. He rejected as devilish several plans that looked for a moment tempting. He then returned to the Baptist's camp, hoping to find there the right type of helpers.

This digression seems necessary in order to introduce Jesus, for He will now be the central Figure in this book. Apart from Him no one today would have heard of the Capernaum fishermen.

We now return to Simon. Andrew was the first of the-brothers to meet Jesus. He overheard the Baptist's exclamation on the day that Jesus returned; and with a friend, whose name is not given, perhaps because he did not permanently join the disciple group, he followed Jesus, Who turned and asked, `What do you want?' They hardly knew; so they stammered, `Where are you staying?' He answered, `Come and see.' The cliffs of the valley are pitted with caves, and in one He had found shelter. Here they sat and talked till the moon rose, and apparently they stayed the night. And Andrew was firmly convinced. This was the Liberator!

Early next morning he woke Simon, and took him to Jesus. Of what happened at that interview we know nothing, unless it was then that Simon was renamed Peter. On this point our authorities differ. The Fourth Gospel says that it happened now; but Mark and Luke do not mention it till the appointment of the Twelve; while `Matthew' places it months later, when Jesus had been driven out of Galilee; but, remembering that Mark had been Peter's interpreter, and must often have heard him asked, `How did you get your new name?', his date seems the most probable.

So, if we transfer this incident to the next chapter, we are left with no information about Simon's first talk with Jesus. On some points he was strangely reticent. He made no secret of his failings. We know all about his sleeping in Gethsemane and his denial of his Master; but about this important interview he remained as silent as he did about that other interview on Easter morning. We should like to know much about both, but we are told nothing.

One thing, however, is certain. The effect of that first interview was seen when a few weeks later he so promptly obeyed the call, `Follow Me.' His mind was already made up. When the call came, he would follow. Meanwhile he must return to Galilee and get on with his fishing.

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