13. PUT IT DOWN IN WRITING .The good news

Created: Monday, 24 June 2013 Last Updated: Saturday, 31 August 2013

The good news

1. The evangels are born writing down Jesus´ paschal experience. It is its oldest part. Although usually it is not taken into account, the pertinent indication was there: “Put it down in writing” (Tb 12, 20). If we read Tobias chapter 12 with attention, we understand better the passages that announce Jesus´ resurrection. Tobias text serve as the basis to the message presented by the evangels. At the beginning, the experience of the disciples is that of a failure (Lk 24, 21), of pain, of confusion: “"They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!" (Jn 20, 2). The experience of resurrection is felt in this context

2. Mathew talks about “the angel of the Lord”, that means “messenger”: “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow” (Mt 28, 2-3). Mark talks about “a youngster dressed with a white tunic” (Mk 16, 5); Luke, of “two men with blazing dresses” (Lk 24, 4), called afterwards “angels” (24, 23); John talks about “two angels in white” (Jn 20, 12). They are divers ways of narrating the same experience, Jesus´ resurrection. In the Acts we see “two men dressed in white” (Acts 1, 11-12; see 23, 7). In the passage of the transfiguration the two men are Moses and Elijah, who talk with Jesus (Mk 9, 4) and they appear “in glory” (Lk 9, 29). In the Bible, the white is the colour of the glorious beings, transfigured, resurrected (Mt 17, 2; Rev 3, 5; 7, 14)

3. But, let us go to the book of Tobias. Two stories are developed in parallel. That of the old Tobit, of the tribe of Neftalí (Tb 1, 1), deported to Nínive in the exile of the kingdom of the North (1, 2; 722 b. C.). Tobit remains a believer in the middle of the general indifference; he gives bread to the hungry, dresses the naked, buries the dead. A Pentecost day, Jewish feast of the Law, he picks up the body of a compatriot, stranded in the square and, when the sun sets, he buries him. That same night he goes out to the courtyard, he leans back on the wall, some bird’s excrements fall in his eyes  and he goes blind. He suffers the incomprehension of his neighbours an of his wife too (2, 1 – 14). Denounced before the king Senaquerib, he has to flee and his goods are confiscated. One of his nephews, who leads the administration in time of Asarjadón, intercedes for him, and he is able to return to Nínive and reunite with his wife Ann and his son Tobias (1, 21- 2,1). Tobit believes in God´s word about the fall of Nínive (Na 3, 7): close to his death, he advises Tobias to move to Media with his family, where there will be more safety (Tb 14, 3 - 4). Before he dies, Tobias contemplates the deportation of ninivitas to Media (14, 15; 612 b. C)

4. The other story is that of the young Sarah, unfortunate in love. A demon (Asmodeo, who makes to die) kills the suitors she successively has. The old and the young, in very distant places, ask God to send them the death (3, 6 and 3, 15). They have not met, but God makes converge their respective destinies in such a way that a happy end takes place. (3, 16 – 17). That day, Tobit remembered a money he could recover in a far away country (4, 1). Before initiating the long journey, Tobias receives some advise from his father (4, 3 – 21). Azarías, a man looking for a job, accompanies him: he knows well the way (5, 5 – 17), he converts the danger of a fish into a remedy (6, 2 – 9), he facilitates the meeting of Tobias and Sarah (6, 10 – 19; 7, 1 – 16; 10, 1 – 14), gives back the sight to Tobit (11, 7 – 14)

5. His father says to Tobias: “It is time to pay the salary of the man who accompanied you” (12, 1). Tobias says: “It would not be too much if I were to give him half of what I have brought back since he has brought me home again safe and sound. He has taken care of my wife and he helped me to get back the money. He has also cured your blindness. What salary can I give him?” The old man said, “That amount would be well justified in his case.” (12, 2 – 4). The man took apart the two and told them: “Bless God, proclaim his glory and render him thanks before all the living for all he has done for you… It is good to praise God and to exalt his Name, by making known in a worthy manner the story of God’s deeds” (12, 6; Acts 2, 11)

6. In Isaac’s wedding not only intervenes Abraham’s servant, but also the angel who goes forward (Gn 24, 2. 7). In a similar manner, in Tobias´ wedding not only intervenes Azarías, but also the Lord’s angel: “I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who are always present and may enter into the Lord’s glory (Tb 12, 15; see Rev 1, 20; 8, 2). In the Bible, angel is the name of a function, it means messenger. Before the angel’s message, father and son fill up in fear: “They threw themselves face downwards on the ground because they were seized with terror. But Raphael said to them, “Do not be afraid; be at peace! (12, 16 – 17). It is what happens to the women before those (angels, men) who announce Jesus´ resurrection: “In fright the women bowed to the ground. But the men said, “Why look for the living among the dead? (Lk 24, 5). And also: Don’t be afraid,… you are looking for Jesus, the Crucified; he is not here, he has resurrected” (Mt 28, 5-6; see Mk 16, 6). Peace signal is the visit card of the of the resurrected: “Peace be with you” (Jn 20, 19. 21. 26; see Lk 24, 37)

7.Raphael claims nothing for himself, but for God. “for I did not come on my own account but because God willed it. Bless him forever. Sing to him. All the time that I was visible to you I neither ate nor drank anything. I only appeared to do so” (Tb 12, 18 – 19). The experience of the disciples transcends the basic passage. In his way, the resurrected also eats. The Emmaus´ walkers acknowledge him in the fraction of the bread: “And it happened that, when he joined with them at the table, he took bread, pronounced the blessing, broke it and give it to them. Then their eyes opened and they acknowledged him, but he disappeared from his side” (Lk 24, 30- 31; 24, 33)

8. To his disciples the presence of the resurrected escapes from their hands. They would like to retain him, but it is impossible. It is Mary of Magdala experience, to whom Jesus says: “Do not touch me” (Jn 20, 17). Jesus has a new way of presence, in God´s way. His life does not end at the depth of death, but in the heights of God: “I go up to that who sent me” (Tb 12, 20). At the end is what Mary Magdala tells to the disciples on behalf of Jesus: “I go up to my father and your father, to my God and your God” (Jn 20, 17). Resurrection is ascension, glory, transfiguration. God has the last word. “And he went up. They rose, but they did not see him anymore” (Tb 12, 21). Something similar says Luke´s  evangel: “And it happened that while he was blessing them, he departed from them and he was risen to Heavens” (Lk 24, 51)

9. Everything ends in thanksgiving: “They made known the great and wonderful works of God and how an angel of the Lord had appeared to them” (Tb 12, 21) Luke´s evangel ends in a similar way: “They returned to Jerusalem full of joy and were continually in the Temple praising God.” (Lk 24, 52 – 53). The experience of the resurrected overflows the faith experience that serves like its basis. The disciples fall in adoration attitude. Even the sceptic Thomas feels satisfied. He had said: If I do not see it, I do not believe it; he retires the conditions he had placed to believe and he confesses with the newly born Church: “My Lord and my God” (Jn 20, 28). The disciples do not forget the recommendation: “Write down all what has happened to you” (Tb 12, 20). The stories of the paschal experience are the oldest part of the evangels. What Jesus said and made was added to it.

10. The evangels, says the Vatican Council II, are of “apostolic origin” (DV 18), “they faithfully tell… what Jesus made and taught”, “choosing oral or written tradition data, reducing them to synthesis, adapting them to the situation of the diverse Churches, maintaining the proclamation style” (DV 19). The other writings of the New Testament “confirm Christ´s fact, they explain his authentic doctrine, they proclaim the saviour strength  of Christ´s divine work, they tell the beginnings and the wonderful spreading of the Church, they predict his glorious consummation” (DV 20)

11. The books of the New Testament are 27 and  they are distributed in this way: Evangels, Acts of the Apostles, letters and Revelation. As we approach them, we find some problems. No first draft of none of these books are kept. The whole copies of the New Testament do not go farther than the second half of the Forth century. Something similar happens with the classical texts. The oldest copies of the philosopher Platoon (428 -347 b. C.) are from the ninth century and the oldest copy of poet Virgil (70 – 19 b. C.)  is from the sixth century. Another problem is that of the diversity: none of the copies coincide totally with another one. Besides, there is the problem of trying to set the various sources used. The school of the history of the forms tries to mark in the sources the underlying tradition. The school of the history of the drafting tries to mark the personal work of each author. Each text, if we are willing to understand it well, it is necessary to place it in its contest. The papyrus P 52. from the first half of the second century, is the oldest testimony of John’s  evangel (18, 31-33 and 37-38) and, for many, the New Testament. Bought in Egypt in 1920, it is published in 1935. It is kept in John Rylands´,  from Manchester, library.

12- Unlike the apocryphal, the Church has recognized the books of the New Testament like canonic. To recognize a book like canonic it is needed that the Church have it as inspired (DV 11). Trent Council  defined, in 1545, the canon or list of inspired books. It made no more that to confirm Church’s tradition, already clear from the councils of Hippo and Carthage in the fourth century.

13. The Old Testament is divided in three parts: the Law, the Prophets and the other writings (Sirac, Prologue, 8 – 10). 46 books in total. “These books, although they contain imperfect and temporary elements, teach us God´s pedagogy” (DV 15). The rabies of the school of Yamnia (near Jope, about year 100 a. D.) only allow those that are read in the Jewish community of Jerusalem before the year 70. Nevertheless, in the synagogues of Alexandria other writings are read too. Jewish and protestants only allow those read in Jerusalem. Catholics also allow the others, that are: Judith, Tobit, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Sirac, Wisdom, Baruc and some chapters drafted in Greek of Esther and Daniel. The Greek translation of the Bible, called of the Seventy (about the second half of the third century b. C. is translated the Pentateuch) is made in Alexandria and includes all the writings.

14. When Christianism spreads, the common language of the Mediterranean world is the Greek. The Christians use the Old Testament (according to the Seventy) and the New Testament in Greek, called koiné, it is to say, common, popular. In the roman Africa, Greek translation to Latin is carried out very quickly. This translation begins about the year 150, named afterwards Vetus Latin  (old Latin). La Editio vulgata (common edition) is carried out under Saint Geronimo’s direction (+ 420)

15. After Diocletian’s´ prosecutions (284 – 305), during which many sacred books are burnt, the Christianism becomes the religion of the Empire (Edict of Milan, year 313 a. D.) Emperor Constantine orders to Eusebius of Cesarea  50 good quality issues of the New Testament. In different regions, the Churches give themselves an “official” text. The copyists work from several manuscripts. So clever they are (oh dear!) they correct, harmonize, eliminate local slang, they produce the “best” text in his opinion. (See DUPONT-MERCIER, The manuscripts of the Bible and the textual critics, Ed. Verbo Divino, Estella, 2000, p. 55). Some observations to this subject. Three types of textual critics are differentiated: The oral critic tries to eliminate what can be signaled like accidental mistakes of the copyists and, more rarely, their deliberated corrections; the oral critic cannot decide alone, it must resort to the external critic (number and quality of the witnesses or previous manuscripts) and to the internal critic (author’s style and vocabulary, passage coherence, doctrinal authenticity)

16. All previously said can be useful, convenient or necessary. Nevertheless, it could happen that the trees do not allow to see the forest. It is convenient to remember that, at the bottom of the New Testament, is the experience of the good news, (that means gospel), the experience of the disciples to have found what they were looking for (Jn 2, 41). To join the experience of the Gospel is to go from the parable to the secrets of the kingdom of God. Jesus announces to the crowd the Gospel by means of parables (Mk 4,2), but he dedicates a special teaching to his disciples (4, 10 – 11), God´s action in the middle of history. To go into the experience of the Gospel, after the Pasch or pass of Jesus (Jn 13, 1), is to recognize that he lives in spite of death, he comes out to our encounter, addresses his word to us, he tells us as to the blind man who asks for him: “You have seen him; the one talking with you, that is” (9, 37).

* Dialogue:
- the appropriate indication: Put it in writing
- the two stories of the book of Tobit
- the experience of resurrection
- some problems: copies, variants, sources
- apocryphal, canonic, inspired
- books of the Old Testament
- 50 good quality, “improved”, copies of the New Testament
- the good news.