Thursday, December 06, 2007

Anna of the scattered tribe, Asher

"36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:36-38 )

This theme of the redemption of Israel is naturally related to Simeon's desire expressed a few verses earlier, for the 'consolation of Israel' (2:25). The word used here is the same as that in the Septuagint for 'Comfort, comfort my people' starting Second Isaiah. Of course, Second Isaiah goes on to expresses the prophetic hope for the restoration of the tribes of Israel, the gathering of those scattered among the nations.

The point of this post? The tribe of Asher was one of the 'lost' northern tribes. I wonder if there is any significance in Luke's narrative in the fact that it was Anna of the tribe of Asher who spoke 'about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem'?


At 12/06/2007 11:23 PM, Anonymous Jim said...

Sure. In Christ the scattered are gathered and the lost are found. Cf. Ch 15.

At 12/07/2007 1:09 AM, Anonymous Eric Rowe said...

Oops, I meant p. 330, not 30, in Legends of the Jews, vol. 2.

At 12/07/2007 1:09 AM, Anonymous Eric Rowe said...

Anna isn't the first daughter of Asher of note. When the family of Jacob first descended to Egypt it had a remarkable testosterone imbalance. The initial impression might be that that's dues simply to counting the men only and not the women. But that is clearly not the case, since some women are counted. Out of the 70 in the list in Genesis, there are two, one, Dinah, was a daughter of Jacob, the other Serah, was the daughter of Asher.

Interestingly, the second census of Israel some 400 years later, when enumerating the descendants of the tribe of Asher says, "And the name of the daughter of Asher was Serah." (Num 26:46) This lead rabbinic interpreters to believe that Serah lived all those years (and even that she never died). Part of the same legend revolves around noticing something peculiar in the Exodus narrative. Moses asked God how he could verify to Israel that he really was on a mission from God, to which God told him to say to them that on behalf of God, "I have surely visited you." This is also what Joseph predicted God would do before he died (Gen 50:24). The story goes that, of all the Israelites alive at the time of the Exodus, the one who recognized their deliverer was the old woman Serah, who recalled hearing Joseph say those words centuries before. See Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, 2:30, here:,DVFD:1970--2,DVFD:en&sa=X&oi=print&ct=title&cad=one-book-with-thumbnail#PPA330,M1

Of course, the simple answer to why Luke mentions that Anna was a daughter of Asher is that she, as a simple matter of fact, was. I have no doubt that that's the case. But, since the one who created Anna as a daughter of Asher also inspired Luke to include that detail, may have had something cool in mind inviting readers to connect these two old ladies who recognized their deliverers.

At 12/07/2007 1:26 AM, Anonymous dan (poserorprophet) said...

I'm half-expecting Brant Pitre to jump all over this one...

At 12/07/2007 6:37 AM, Anonymous Scott Bailey said...

My new thesis is that we call him "Second Isaiah" because he says everything twice!!!

At 12/07/2007 9:08 AM, Anonymous Josh McManaway said...

I think all of Luke is geared towards a reconciliation of the ten northern tribes. Consider Lk 15:11-32.

Great question.

At 12/07/2007 2:47 PM, Anonymous Jason Pratt said...

I recall Edersheim adding that, in Jewish tradition, women of the tribe of Asher were the most beautiful and so most fit to be a bride of a High Priest or King.

More interesting is that Anna (or Channa) is the one who spread the public word at that time; there is no indication that Simeon did, and on the contrary strong indication that he expected to die almost immediately after seeing the Messiah.

So we have a specially blessed Simeon, of advanced age in the time of Jesus' birth, who then does not seem to be the one announcing Messiah publicly; that task is given to a woman of a tribe specially marked for what we might call the duty of the first 'nun'. But her witness would have been useless to any traditionalist!--only of value to someone who was willing to honor her.

The upshot is that Channa is _safe_ to be proclaiming this: I mean safe for the culture. The people most likely to make political hay over this, one way or another, would not be likely to believe her.

This leads to the interesting suggestion that had Simeon said something, the results might have been much different. Which in turn leads to the question, so who was Simeon? Do we know of a Simeon whom we might expect to be given advance notice and promise of seeing the Messiah as a death-gift?--one who would be of the correct age at this time?--and one whom, had he said anything to more than a few people secretly, might have been a positive danger to the Babe living out His early life quietly?

Yep, as a matter of fact we do know of such a Simeon! Namely Simeon son of Hillel, and father to Gamaliel 1! (Of whom, despite being the son and father of such vast luminaries, the Talmud says practically nothing.) Moreover, not only was the school of Hillel the branch of Pharisaism that would be most inclined to accept Jesus' teaching eventually, it was also long suspected afterward in succeeding centuries to be in secret sympathy with the Christians.

(One interesting report along this line, for example, comes from Epiphanius near the end of the 4th century, recounting the conversion of one Josephus--not the famous 1st century historian of course--that occurred because his master, a Patriarch known as Hillel, descended from the Gamaliels and so from the Great Hillel, secretly accepted Christ and was baptized and received communion from among his own priest-followers. Per Epiphanius, who had interviewed Josephus about his conversion, this greatly disturbed Josephus when he accidentally saw what was happening, and having inherited some authority within the family, afterward discovered that the sealed treasures kept by the Hillel family were Christian texts translated back from Greek into Aramaic/Hebrew (including GosJohn and Acts). After struggling with this for twentyish years himself, Josephus also converted. This story can be found in the Panarion (Adversus haereses) of Epiphanius, chapter 30, pages 4-12.)

Just some curious trivia, connected (perhaps, maybe) to the story of Anna and Simeon. {g}


At 12/07/2007 11:04 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks for the reference, Eric, and the trivia, Jason!

Jim and Josh, you both point to Luke 15. I always wondered about the role of the Samaritans. They considered themesleves a lost tribe - sometimes I wonder if Jesus agreed. Not according to John, of course, but it is a thought rattling around in there.

Dan, I met Brant in San Diego - together with Michael Barber. A smart couple of blokes with infectious passion for the scriptures.

At 12/12/2007 1:17 AM, Anonymous Craig Downey said...

Interesting thought Chris,

I wonder if the Lukan birth narratives should be read in light of The Emmaus road scene and Acts? Anna's hope, and the hope more generally painted in the birth narratives, looks like its picked up in v. 24.21 "but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel" and taken up again at the beginning of Acts. v1.6 "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” followed by Jesus' response. I wonder if Luke's not using the Emmaus Road scene as a narrative inclusio which points towards Acts to see how that hope is worked out. If that's the case does that point towards a redefined sense of the return of the lost tribes and the restoration of Israel etc?


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