One thing that makes the Gospel of Luke different from the other NT gospels is the central role it gives to the city of Jerusalem and its temple. Luke -- more than Mark, Matthew and John -- considers the city as much of a protagonist as Jesus himself. This certainly is due to the fact that Luke is writing in the years immediately following the destruction of the city by the Romans in 70 CE and is trying to invest this cataclysmic event with theological meaning. Luke's narrative is punctuated by four apocalyptic oracles of judgement predicting (a posteriori) the future destruction of Jerusalem (13:32-35; 19:41-44; 21:20-24; 23:27-31). The last of these is Jesus' famous utterance to the daughters of Jerusalem ("do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children") commemorated at the 8th Station of the Cross. Only Luke's gospel incorporates certain traditions that take place in the Jerusalem temple, for example: the presentation of Jesus to the Lord (Luke 2:21-38) and twelve year old Jesus teaching the temple elders (2:41-52). Luke is also the only gospel that closes in Jerusalem: "they returned to Jerusalem with great joy and they were continually in the temple blessing God" (24:52).
Most readers don't realize that the heart of Luke's gospel (chapters 9-18) is actually a travel narrative. Many of Jesus' most famous teachings are delivered on the road to Jerusalem. Luke's gospel is the most teleological of the four in the sense that the reader is constantly being reminded that Jesus must die in Jerusalem in order for his earthly ministry to make sense: "it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside Jerusalem" (13:33). Although Jesus does not enter the city until chapter 19, we are given short hints beginning as early as chapter 9 that the journey southwards is underway (Luke 9:51; 13:22; 17:11; 18:31; 19:11, 28). Peter Walker correctly says that for Luke, Jerusalem is the "pivot around which the narrative turns" (Jesus and the Holy City, 58) and S. G. Wilson similarly calls Jerusalem "the central bearings on which the double work swivels" (Gentile Mission in Luke-Acts, 95). What they both mean is that the whole thrust of Luke's first volume (the Gospel of Luke) is to get to Jerusalem; the thrust in his second volume (Acts of the Apostles) is to spread the good news from Jerusalem to "all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
Most New Testament scholars refer to Luke chapters 9-18 as “Luke’s Special Section” because so much of the material in these chapters is not found in the other two synoptic gospels, Matthew and Mark. In these chapters, Luke temporarily stops drawing on material from Mark's gospel and inserts his own material. The most famous examples of this unique Lukan material found in this section are the parables of Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) and the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The formal opening verse of Luke’s special section is Luke 9:51:
The word "solidified" in Greek is ἐστήρισεν (estērisen), an aorist conjugated form of the verb στερεόω (stereoō), “to strengthen”. This in turn derives from the adjective στερεός (stereos), which means “firm” or “stiff”. This Greek word, by the way, is the basis for the modern term stereo for a sound system which uses two or more separate channels to produce a fuller distribution of sound. This sound is regarded as more “solid” than a single-channel sound system. This Greek adjective is also the root of the word stereotype, literally a “firm" (στερεός), preconceived "image” (τύπος) that we have about certain groups of people.
The wonderfully vivid language of “making one’s face solid” used by Luke is meant to illustrate Jesus’ determination, not only to travel the 170 km by foot, but to eventually suffer persecution and death in Jerusalem. Luke is apparently particularly fond of this word because he uses it three times in Acts both to describe Peter's healing of a crippled beggar "made strong" (Acts 3:7, 16) and the "strengthening" of the church (Acts 16:5).
But why does Luke chooses to use word face as opposed to heart or mind? The face is not usually the part of the body we associate with decision-making or resolve. Luke uses the face because he wants to make clear that as a observant Jew, Jesus literally faces Jerusalem when he prays. The Greek πρόσωπον is most likely composed from two words: "on the side of" (πρός) and "eye" (ὢψ). In the following verses Jesus is spurned by the Samaritans “because his face was set towards Jerusalem” (9:53). The Samaritans who sanctify Mt Gerizim in place of Jerusalem were not interested in fraternizing with Jews like Jesus. Long-standing hatred between the two groups had been seriously aggravated by the razing of the Samaritan temple on Mt Gerizim by John Hyrcanus I in 128 BCE.
The first century Jewish historian Josephus tells the story of Samaritans in the village of Gineae (modern-day Jenin) killing Galilean Jews who were on the road to Jerusalem. He writes: "It was the custom of the Galileans, when they came to the holy city at the festivals, to take their journeys through the country of the Samaritans" (Ant. 20.118). Due to this hostility, Jews for the most part avoided entering Samaria, the northern part of Israel’s hill country, even though this was the shortest route (approximately three days). This made Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem much more difficult. Rather than walk along a natural plateau -- the watershed road that runs north-south through the hill country -- Jesus had to descend into the trough-like Jordan Rift Valley. This in turn required walking back up the steep ascent of 1200 meters from the city of Jericho to Jerusalem.
An aerial photograph of the steep cliff rising up abruptly from the Jordan Rift Valley, 20 km east of Bethlehem. The canyon that cuts through the escarpment is called Nahal Darga (Wadi Darajeh). The elevation difference of 1200 meters between the Dead Sea (-400 m) and the Jerusalem hill country (+800 m) covers a mere 20 km.
I am Jonathan Lipnick, tour guide and educator specializing in Christianity and Judaism. In this blog I explore questions (historical, linguistic) that come up in the course of my teaching and reading.