Wednesday, June 27, 2007


I must explain these shorthand names which I found in the scriptorium affixed to the written records.

Matthew, called Levi, was in the tax office when Jesus called him. He himself recorded the Lord’s sayings as he had heard him. Barnabas and my father assisted Matthew with his first Greek translation. It is my task to translate these texts into Latin. I begin with the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. I render it as Liber generationis Iesu Christi filii David filii Abraham. You will understand that I did not want to call the work Genealogy or liber generationes, so I note the performer's title KATA MATTHEON.

After I have completed Matthew I will move to Dr. Loukas who wrote in Greek. A physician, this Luke was companion to Paul of Tarsus from whom my father and Gaius learned so much. There are many of Paul’s letters also in the scriptorium. Luke writes in a matter of fact way to Theophilus, high priest in the days of the emperor Gaius Caligula, ‘with diligence and in order’. That phrase I will render as Diligenter ex ordine tibi scribere optime Theophile.

He writes in order, but it is not temporal order and it is different from Matthew’s. He wrote two books in the years of Nero while James the brother of Jesus was in Jerusalem. He wanted Theophilus to have accurate information about the way so that all might see how consistent it is with Halakah, a word in Hebrew that itself means ‘to walk’. It is a rich word. If I wrote dictionaries, it would merit pages. Luke's purpose is partly to teach and partly political, to show how acceptable is the Halakah of the Anointed.


– Tertius, attend me in my study. It will be your task to deal with the accounts. We will use your skill in letters for the benefit of the estate.
– Immediately, master.
– The accounts must always be in order, Tertius. You are responsible for them. Your eyes verify them; it is your ministry for the estate. When anyone requires us to justify our way, I will call upon your accuracy to compile an account of the things we have accomplished and to prove the truth of our claims.
– It will be so, master.


Third before the public, but always first in my order, is my great uncle, John Mark. He was with us in Jerusalem just after my birth. At that time, he gave notes to Luke and Matthew privately, and then, last and least in terms of volume, he developed a performance of his announcement from their work removing much and adding little, but unique in structure and focus.

Uncle Mark points directly to the gospel: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus. It is not 'gospel' as if we did not know what he meant, but immediately, his favorite word, 'the gospel' as if we should know what he meant. As do the Romans, I have borrowed the Greek, evangel, the reward of good tidings, to translate gospel. I shall say more of this later. Mark’s performance is brief; the easiest to learn by heart. I have learned it. When I sound the words, everyone in the assembly looks at me. It is a strange feeling. I know what I am saying and I say what I see. I feel my words but I cannot hear them. When I come to the part about the deaf mute, their eyes are wide. Is it because I am deaf but not silent?

Mark by his own account ran away from the soldiers in the garden just before Jesus was killed. He was a man whose eyes opened slowly. A disappointment to Paul on his first mission, he saw very clearly at the end of his life. His mother, Mary, is the sister of Joses called Barnabas (of Cyprus), my mother’s brother.

Paul was a man of forceful argument not without influence on my thought. We will see the same influence on Mark. Cephas, like a father to him, was also his teacher, but the writing is in uncle Mark's own awkward style, a mixture of Latin and Aramaic sentence constructions in Greek, with almost every phrase beginning with 'And': and immediately this, and immediately that.

Finally John gives us the beginning of all things.

The human approaches God by Stoic wisdom as Epictetus teaches, or by the Law as the Jews follow, or by the idea and expression of the Logos, as Philo taught. And some seek hidden wisdom. John begins with a poem showing how God approaches the human. It is a very old poem, at least as old as I am. Tertius used to perform it for us when we were first here on the estate. I watched. The six-strophe structure of the Prologue, like the six days of creation in the first book of Moses, requires a final act to bring it to completion. Something more is still to come. This is something we need to see, and if you have ears, to hear, to touch, to speak to, to be heard by, and to be touched.


– In the beginning.
– In principio erat Verbum.
– Tertius will perform. I will eat his words through my ears. They will become part of my body. Then I will feed Secundus with my hands. He will know the Word by feel and sight.
– In the beginning was the Word.
– Slowly. Not in a hurry. Time for the signs.
– In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.
– You have a nice voice. To whom was the Word present in the beginning? And how? Like me, by the ear? Or like Secundus?
– And the Word was God.
– God was the Word? The same, that Word?
– He was in the beginning with God.
– When was that time?
– Time was not, but there was power. Hear the poet express her knowledge. Hear the words of which we are made that reach into the depths of all things.


The beloved to be loved, gives a name to you, Beloved. The glory is not to be seen alongside of the flesh, or through the flesh as through a window. It is to be visible, and touched in the flesh. I see hearing, but I cannot hear. Yet John wrote of what I can know, a full life, nothing missing. It is sufficient. There is poetry, explanation, laughter, and pleasure. Do not think for a moment that pain alone makes memory.

Like an actor, he moved to the words, laying his two hands to one side to illustrate the creation and life, then to the front to show the witness of others to his light. Then he moved his hands, palms outstretched, to the other side to show the creator coming to his own creation. One-two-three, and he repeated this movement with greater emphasis on us. Four: he became part of creation for us. Five: our place before him who comes late but on time into creation. Six: the gifts he gives.


Verbum caro factus est et habitavit in nobis.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.


The word is the domain of poets. The Lord is a poet, not a philosopher. Some say the human is a philosopher, and poets are exiled. To save a judge, become a poet. There is joy in heaven over the repentance of one philosopher.


No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.
–Father, you don’t have a bosom. Are you finished?
– I have scarcely begun, O my firstborn. Settle down. The best is still to come. Two and a half hours for the recitation. And stop interrupting. Remember so you can teach your brother.


The poem will be invisible for a thousand years if the parsimony of the scribes wins over a prodigality of space. We have begun a journey. It is not short. There are the four beginnings of the gospel.


Beyond Words said...

A brief word of encouragement. Sufficiency is deep and rich and I look forward to reading it every day.

Bob MacDonald said...

I am very grateful for your encouragement. Thank you.