The second primary tradition in the Gospels related to Jesus’ family and relatives is the episode at Nazareth, recorded in all three of the Synoptic Gospels—Mark 6:1-6a, Matthew 13:53-58, and Luke 4:16-30. There are a number of unique elements in Luke’s account, and it occurs in a different location—at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. These differences have led some traditional-conservative commentators to posit two separate events—that is, two visits to Nazareth, harmonizing the chronology of Luke with Mark/Matthew. However, there is no real basis in the text for such a harmonization; the Gospel writers each know of only one such visit by Jesus to his home town. The basic similarity of the episode makes it all but certain that the Synoptic accounts derive from a single historical tradition. Even though, at the historical level, Jesus conceivably could have made any number of trips back to Nazareth, the Synoptic Gospels record just one visit. I begin by looking at the core (Synoptic) narrative regarding this episode, as found in the Gospel of Mark.
The episode recorded in Mk 6:1-6a is rather straightforward:
- V. 1—Narrative introduction, with two important details:
(a) “he comes into his father(‘s) land” (i.e. his home territory and village)
(b) “his learners [i.e. disciples] (are) follow(ing) him”
- V. 2a—Jesus begins to teach in the Synagogue, and the people who hear him are amazed (lit. “laid out [flat]”)
- Vv. 2b-3—A summary of the people’s reaction(s), presented as their words, in two parts:
(1) “From where (did) these things (come) to this (man)?”—”these things” are clarified:
—”What (is) th(is) wisdom given to this (man)?”
—”(How is it) these (kind)s of powerful deeds come to be through his hands?”
(2) “Isn’t this the craftsman [i.e. carpenter], the son of Maryam…?”
With the concluding narrative statement, “And they were tripped up in [i.e. by] him”
- V. 4—Saying by Jesus: “A foreteller [i.e. prophet] is not without honor, if not [i.e. except] in his father(‘s) land…”
- Vv. 5-6a—Narrative conclusion emphasizing two points:
(a) Jesus was only able to perform a few healing miracles there, and
(b) “and he wondered through [i.e. at, because of] their lack of trust”
We see referenced here the two main components of Jesus’ ministry—teaching/preaching and performing healing miracles—which are described and narrated throughout the Galilean period in the Synoptic Tradition. This was depicted, in seminal form, in the early episode of Mk 1:21-28 par, which also happens to take place at a local Synagogue (sunagwgh/, lit. a place where people “are brought [or come] together”). These same two aspects are also central to the townspeople’s initial reaction of amazement—the wisdom (i.e. of his teaching, v. 2a) and his powerful deeds (miracles).
The second part of the people’s reaction is significant as it mentions the names of Jesus’ family:
- his mother Maryam (i.e. Mary)—”is this not the son of Maryam?”
- four of his brothers—”the brother of…”—listed by name:
(1) Ya’aqob (Jacob/James), (2) Yoseph (Joseph/Joses), (3) Yehuda (Juda[s]), and (4) Shim’on (Simon)
- his sisters, mentioned generally—”are not his sisters here toward [i.e. with] us?”
Apart from Mary and Jacob/James (to be discussed in an upcoming note), very little is known of Jesus’ family. There has been much (rather idle) speculation and debate regarding whether Jesus’ “brothers” (and sisters) were full blood brothers, half-brothers, or perhaps even cousins. Much of this has been due to traditional doctrine(s) related to the veneration of Mary and a belief in her perpetual virginity (virginitas post partum, after giving birth [to Jesus]). Most Protestants have little problem with the idea that Joseph and Mary had other children together. Joseph himself is not mentioned here, but Jesus is referred to as “the craftsman/carpenter” (some witnesses read “the son of the craftsman/carpenter”, as in Matt 13:55), and, according to early Christian tradition, Joseph was a carpenter. In the Lukan version of this scene (4:22, cf. the next note), Jesus is called son of Joseph, as also in Jn 6:42. Here, Mk 6:3 (with the Matthean parallel) is the only mention of Mary by name in the Synoptic Gospels outside of the Infancy narratives. It is the people of Nazareth in general, rather than Jesus’ relatives specifically, who exhibit lack of belief/trust in him. We do not know the attitude of his family toward him from this particular account (cp. Mark 3:20-35 par, discussed in an earlier note).
What of the significance of this episode within the narrative context of the Markan Gospel? Its proximity to the subsequent mission of the Twelve (vv. 6b-13) is surely important. The two scenes are juxtaposed with one another, just as the episode(s) in 3:20-35 are with the calling of the Twelve in 3:13-19. The lack of faith/trust exhibited by Jesus’ relatives and hometown acquaintances is contrasted with that of his chosen (and close/faithful) followers. Consider the structure:
- Calling of the Twelve—with authority to proclaim (the coming Kingdom) and work healing (exorcism) miracles (3:13-19)
- Mission of the Twelve—authority to preach and work healing (exorcism) miracles (6:6b-13)
When we turn to the (proverbial) saying of Jesus in verse 4—
“A foreteller [i.e. prophet] is not without honor, if not [i.e. except] in his father(‘s) land and among his relatives [lit. those b(orn) together with (him)] and in his (own) house!”
a significant point to note is that he refers to himself as a prophet. This association, in the context of his ministry activity—as one who proclaims the Kingdom and works miracles—will be developed further in Luke’s version of this scene. Jesus as a prophet, in connection with his identity the Anointed One (Messiah) of God, will feature prominently in two of the scenes (the first and last) which make up the remainder of the Galilean ministry period in Mark’s narrative—Mk 6:14-15ff and 8:27-30.
Matthew’s account follows that of Mark very closely. The differences are slight, and there is no evidence of any “Q” material being included—i.e. no sayings or details shared by Luke but not found in Mark. Overall the narrative is a bit simpler and smoother compared with Mark’s version. Here, then, we have a dual presentation of what I would call the core Synoptic tradition. Luke’s version of the scene, on the other hand, differs considerably at several points, which I will be discussing in the next note.