The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE ASCENT: FROM THE RIVER JORDAN TO THE MOUNT OF
THE RAISING OF THE YOUNG MAN OF NAIN
THE MEETING OF LIFE AND DEATH.
(St. Luke 7:11-17.)
THAT early spring-tide in Galilee was surely the truest
realisation of the picture in the Song of Solomon, when earth clad herself in
garments of beauty, and the air was melodious with songs of new life.1
It seemed as if each day marked a widening circle of deepest sympathy and
largest power on the part of Jesus; as if each day also brought fresh surprise,
new gladness; opened hitherto unthought-of possibilities, and pointed Israel
far beyond the horizon of their narrow expectancy. Yesterday it was the sorrow
of the heathen Centurion which woke an echo in the heart of the Supreme
Commander of life and death; faith called out, owned, and placed on the high
platform of Israel's worthies. To-day it is the same sorrow of a Jewish mother,
which touches the heart of the Son of Mary, and appeals to where denial is
unthinkable. In that Presence grief and death cannot continue. As the
defilement of a heathen house could not attach to Him, Whose contact changed
the Gentile stranger into a true Israelite, so could the touch of death not
render unclean Him, Whose Presence vanquished and changed it into life. Jesus
could not enter Nain, and its people pass Him to carry one dead to the burying.
1. Cant. ii. 11-13.
For our present purpose it matters little, whether it was the
very 'day after' the healing of the Centurion's servant, or 'shortly
that Jesus left Capernaum for Nain. Probably it was the morrow of that miracle,
and the fact that 'much people,' or rather 'a great multitude,' followed Him,
seems confirmatory of it. The way was long - as we reckon, more than
twenty-five miles; but, even if it was all taken on foot, there could be no
difficulty in reaching Nain ere the evening, when so often funerals took place.
Various roads lead to, and from Nain;3
that which stretches to the Lake of Galilee and up to Capernaum is quite
distinctly marked. It is difficult to understand, how most of those who have
visited the spot could imagine the place, where Christ met the funeral
procession, to have been the rock-hewn tombs to the west of Nain and towards
Nazareth.4 For, from
Capernaum the Lord would not have come that way, but approach it from the
north-east by Endor. Hence there can be little doubt, that Canon Tristram
correctly identifies the now unfenced burying-ground, about ten minutes' walk
to the east of Nain, as that whither, on that spring afternoon, they were
carrying the widow's son.5
On the path leading to it the Lord of Life for the first time burst open the
gates of death.
2. This depends on whether we adopt the reading en
th or en tw exhV.
3. I cannot understand what Dean Stanley means, when he says (Sinai and Palest. p. 352): 'One entrance alone it could have had.' I have counted not fewer than six roads leading to Nain.
4. So Dean Stanley, and even Captain Conder. Canon Farrar regards this as one of 'the certain sites.' But, even according to his own description of the route taken from Capernaum, it is difficult to understand how Jesus could have issued upon the rock-hewn tombs.
5. 'Land of Israel,' pp. 129, 130.
It is all desolate now. A few houses of mud and stone with low
doorways, scattered among heaps of stones and traces of walls, is all that
remains of what even these ruins show to have been once a city, with walls and
gates.6 The rich
gardens are no more, the fruit trees cut down, 'and there is a painful sense of
desolation' about the place, as if the breath of judgment had swept over it.
And yet even so we can understand its ancient name of Nain, 'the pleasant,'7
which the Rabbis regarded as fulfilling that part of the promise to Issachar:
'he saw the land that it was pleasant.'8
From the elevation on which the city stood we look northwards, across the wide
plain, to wooded Tabor, and in the far distance to snow-capped Hermon. On the
left (in the west) rise the hills beyond which Nazareth lies embosomed; to the
right is Endor; southwards Shunem, and beyond it the Plain of Jezreel. By this
path, from Endor, comes Jesus with His disciples and the great following
multitude. Here, near by the city gate, on the road that leads eastwards to the
old burying-ground, has this procession of the 'great multitude,' which
accompanied the Prince of Life, met that other 'great multitude' that followed
the dead to his burying. Which of the two shall give way to the other? We know
what ancient Jewish usage would have demanded. For, of all the duties enjoined,
none more strictly enforced by every consideration of humanity and piety, even
by the example of God Himself, than that of comforting the mourners and showing
respect to the dead by accompanying him to the burying.910
The popular idea, that the spirit of the dead hovered about the unburied
remains, must have given intensity to such feelings.
6. Captain Conder (Tent-Work in Pal. i. pp. 121, 122) has failed to discover traces of a wall. But see the description of Canon Tristram (Land of Isr. p.
129) which I have followed in my account.
7. I cannot accept the rendering of Nain by 'pascuum.'
8. Ber. R. 98, ed. Warsh. p. 175 b: yk Cr)h t)w My(n wz hm(n.
Putting aside later superstitions, so little has changed in the
Jewish rites and observances about the dead,11
that from Talmudic and even earlier sources,12
we can form a vivid conception of what had taken place in Nain. The watchful
anxiety; the vain use of such means as were known, or within reach of the
widow; the deepening care, the passionate longing of the mother to retain her
one treasure, her sole earthly hope and stay; then the gradual fading out of
the light, the farewell, the terrible burst of sorrow: all these would be common
features in any such picture. But here we have, besides, the Jewish thoughts of
death and after death; knowledge just sufficient to make afraid, but not to
give firm consolation, which would make even the most pious Rabbi uncertain of
and then the desolate thoughts connected in the Jewish mind with childlessness.
We can realise it all: how Jewish ingenuity and wisdom would resort to remedies
real or magical; how the neighbours would come in with reverent step, feeling
as if the very Shekhinah were unseen at the head of the pallet in that
how they would whisper sayings about submission, which, when realisation of
God's love is wanting, seem only to stir the heart to rebellion against
absolute power; and how they would resort to the prayers of those who were
deemed pious in Nain.15
11. Haneberg (Relig. Alterth. pp. 502, 503) gives the apt reasons for this.
12. The Tractate Ebhel Rabbathi ('Great Mourning') euphemistically called Massekheth Semachoth, 'Tractate of Joys,' It is already quoted in the Talmud: comp Zunz,
Gottesd. Vortr. p. 90, note d. It is inserted in vol. ix. of the Bab. Talmud, pp. 28 a to 31 b.
13. Ber. 28 b.
14. Nedar. 40 a, lines 6 and 7 from bottom.
15. Ber. v. 5.
But all was in vain. And now the well-known blast of the horn
has carried tidings, that once more the Angel of Death has done his dire
passionate grief the mother has rent her upper garment.17
The last sad offices have been rendered to the dead. The body has been laid on
the ground; hair and nails have been cut,18
and the body washed, anointed, and wrapped in the best the widow could procure;
for, the ordinance which directed that the dead should be buried in 'wrappings'
(Takhrikhin), or as they significantly called it, the 'provision for the
of the most inexpensive, linen, is of later date than our period. It is
impossible to say, whether the later practice already prevailed, of covering
the body with metal, glass, or salt, and laying it either upon earth or salt.20
16. Moed K. 27 b.
17. Jer. Moed. K. 83 d.
18. Moed K. 8 b.
19. Rosh haSh 17 a and other wise.
20. Shabb. 151 b; Semach. I.
And now the mother was left Oneneth (moaning, lamenting)
- a term which distinguished the mourning before from that after burial.21
She would sit on the floor, neither eat meat, nor drink wine. What scanty meal
she would take, must be without prayer, in the house of a neighbour, or in
another room, or at least with her back to the dead.22
Pious friends would render neighbourly offices, or busy themselves about the near
funeral. If it was deemed duty for the poorest Jew, on the death of his wife,
to provide at least two flutes and one mourning woman,23
we may feel sure that the widowed mother had not neglected what, however
incongruous or difficult to procure, might be regarded as the last tokens of
affection. In all likelihood the custom obtained even then, though in modified
form, to have funeral orations at the grave. For, even if charity provided for
an unknown wayfarer the simplest funeral, mourning-women would be hired to
chaunt in weird strains the lament: 'Alas, the lion! alas. the hero!' or
while great Rabbis were 'wont to bespeak for themselves a warm funeral
oration' (Hesped, or Hespeda).25
For, from the funeral oration a man's fate in the other world might be
indeed, 'the honour of a sage was in his funeral oration.'27
and in this sense the Talmud answers the question, whether a funeral oration is
intended to honour the survivors or the dead.28
21. The mourning up to the time of burial or during the first day was termed Aninah (widowed-mourning, moaning) Jer. Horay. 48 a. The following three, seven, or thirty days (as the case might be) were those of Ebhel, 'mourning.' Other forms of the same word need not be mentioned.
22. Jer. Ber. 5 d.
23. Kethub. iv. 4.
24. Mass. Semach. i. 9.
25. Of these a number of instances are given in the Talmud - though probably only of the prologue, or epilogue, or of the most striking thoughts.
26. Shabb. 153 a.
27. Moed K. 25 a.
28. Sanh. 46 b.
But in all this painful pageantry there was nothing for the
heart of the widow, bereft of her only child. We can follow in spirit the
mournful procession, as it started from the desolate home. As it issued, chairs
and couches were reversed, and laid low. Outside, the funeral orator, if such was
employed, preceded the bier, proclaiming the good deeds of the dead.29
Immediately before the dead came the women, this being peculiar to Galilee,30
the Midrash giving this reason of it, that woman had introduced death into the
world.31 The body
was not, as afterwards in preference,32
carried in an ordinary coffin of wood (Aron), if possible, cedarwood -
on one occassion, at least, made with holes beneath;33
but laid on a bier, or in an open coffin (Mittah). In former times a
distinction had been made in these biers between rich and poor. The former were
carried on the so-called Dargash - as it were, in state - while the poor
were conveyed in a receptacle made of wickerwork (Kelibha or Kelikhah),
having sometimes at the foot what was termed 'a horn,' to which the body was
made fast.34 But this
distinction between rich and poor was abolished by Rabbinic ordinance, and both
alike, if carried on a bier, were laid in that made of wickerwork.35
Commonly, though not in later practice, the face of the dead body was uncovered.36
The body lay with its face turned up, and his hands folded on the breast. We
may add, that when a person had died unmarried or childless, it was customary
to put into the coffin something distinctive of them, such as pen and ink, or a
key. Over the coffins of bride or bridegroom a baldachino was carried.
Sometimes the coffin was garlanded with myrtle.37
In exceptional cases we read of the use of incense,38
and even of a kind of libation.39
29. Shabb. 153 a.
30. Shabb. 153 a.
31. Ber. R. 17 end.
32. Ber. 19 a.
33. Jer. Kil 32 b; Ber. R. 100.
34. Par. xii. 9.
35. Moed K. 27 a and b.
36. Semach. c. 8.
37. Bez. 6 a Nidd. 37 a.
38. Moed K. 27 b; Ber. 53 a.
39. Jer. Sheq. ii. 7.
We cannot, then, be mistaken in supposing that the body of the widow's
son was laid on the 'bed' (Mittah), or in the 'willow basket,' already
described (Kelibha, from Kelubh).40
Nor can we doubt that the ends of handles were borne by friends and neighbours,
different parties of bearers, all of them unshod, at frequent intervals
relieving each other, so that as many as possible might share in the good work.41
During these pauses there was loud lamentation; but this custom was not
observed in the burial of women. Behind the bier walked the relatives, friends,
and then the sympathising 'multitude.' For it was deemed like mocking one's
Creator not to follow the dead to his last resting-place, and to all such want
of reverence Prov. xvii. 5 was applied.42
If one were absolutely prevented from joining the procession, although for its
sake all work, even study, should be interrupted, reverence should at least be
shown by rising up before the dead.43
And so they would go on to what the Hebrews beautifully designated as the
'house of assembly' or 'meeting,' the 'hostelry,' the 'place of rest,' or 'of
freedom,' the 'field of weepers,' the 'house of eternity,' or 'of life.'
40. It is evident the young man could not have been 'coffined,' or it would have been impossible for him to sit up at Christ's bidding. I must differ from the learned Delitzsch, who uses the word Nwr) in translating soroV. Very remarkable also it seems to me, that those who advocate wicker-basket interments are without knowing it, resorting to the old Jewish practice.
41. Ber. iii. 1.
42. Ber. 18 a.
43. Jer. Sot. 17 b, end.
We can now transport ourselves into that scene. Up from the
city close by came this 'great multitude' that followed the dead, with
lamentations, wild chaunts of mourning women,44
accompanied by flutes and the melancholy tinkle of cymbals, perhaps by
amidst expressions of general sympathy. Along the road from Endor streamed the
great multitude which followed the 'Prince of Life.' Here they met: Life and Death.
The connecting link between them was the deep sorrow of the widowed mother. He
recognised her as she went before the bier, leading him to the grave whom she
had brought into life. He recognised her, but she recognised Him not, had not
even seen Him. She was still weeping; even after He had hastened a step or two
in advance of His followers, quite close to her, she did not heed Him, and was
still weeping. But, 'beholding her,' the Lord47
'had compassion on her.' Those bitter, silent tears which blinded her eyes were
strongest language of despair and utmost need, which never in vain appeals to
His heart, Who has borne our sorrows. We remember, by way of contrast, the
common formula used at funerals in Palestine, 'Weep with them, all ye who are
bitter of heart!'48
It was not so that Jesus spoke to those around, nor to her, but
characteristically: 'Be not weeping.'49
And what He said, that He wrought. He touched the bier - perhaps the very
wicker basket in which the dead youth lay. He dreaded not the greatest of all
defilements - that of contact with the dead,50
which Rabbinism, in its elaboration of the letter of the Law, had surrounded
with endless terrors. His was other separation than of the Pharisees: not that
of submission to ordinances, but of conquest of what made them necessary.
44. Sometimes the lament was chaunted simply in chorus, at others one woman began and then the rest joined in chorus. The latter was distinctively termed the Qinah,
see Moed K. iii. 9.
45. Keth. 17 a; Moed K. 27 b.
46. Apparently sometimes torches were used at funerals (Ber. 53 a).
47. The term kurioV for 'the Lord' is
peculiar to St. Luke and St. John - a significant conjunction. It occurs only once in St. Mark (xvi. 19).
48. Moed K. 8 a, lines 7 and 8 from bottom.
49. So literally. We here recall the unfeeling threats by R. Huna of further bereavements to a mother who wept very much, and their fulfilment (Moed. K. 27 b).
50. Kei. i.
And as He touched the bier, they who bore it stood still. They
could not have anticipated what would follow. But the awe of the coming wonder
- as it were, the shadow of the opening gates of life, had fallen on them. One
word of sovereign command, 'and he that was dead sat up, and began to speak.'
Not of that world of which he had had brief glimpse. For, as one who suddenly
passes from dream-vision to waking, in the abruptness of the transition, loses
what he had seen, so he, who from that dazzling brightness was hurried back to
the dim light to which his vision had been accustomed. It must have seemed to
him, as if he woke from long sleep. Where was he now? who those around him?
what this strange assemblage? and Who He, Whose Light and Life seemed to fall
And still was Jesus the link between the mother and the son,
who had again found each other. And so, in the truest sense, 'He gave him51
to his mother.' Can any one doubt that mother and son henceforth owned, loved,
and trusted Him as the true Messiah? If there was no moral motive for this
miracle, outside Christ's sympathy with intense suffering and the bereavement
of death, was there no moral result as the outcome of it? If mother and son had
not called upon Him before the miracle, would they not henceforth and for ever
call upon Him? And if there was, so to speak, inward necessity, that Life
Incarnate should conquer death - symbolic and typic necessity of it also - was
not everything here congruous to the central fact in this history? The
simplicity and absence of all extravagant details; the Divine calmness and
majesty on the part of the Christ, so different from the manner in which legend
would have coloured the scene, even from the intense agitation which characterised
the conduct of an Elijah, an Elisha, or a Peter, in somewhat similar
circumstances; and, lastly, the beauteous harmony where all is in accord, from
the first touch of compassion till when, forgetful of the bystanders, heedless
of 'effect,' He gives the son back to his mother - are not all these worthy of
the event, and evidential of the truth of the narrative?
51. So literally - and very significantly.
But, after all, may we regard this history as real - and, if
so, what are its lessons?52
On one point, at least, all serious critics are now agreed. It is impossible to
ascribe it to exaggeration, or to explain it on natural grounds. The only
alternative is to regard it either as true, or as designedly false. Be
it, moreover, remembered, that not only one Gospel, but all, relate some
story of raising the dead - whether that of this youth, of Jairus' daughter, or
of Lazarus. They also all relate the Resurrection of the Christ, which really
underlies those other miracles. But if this history of the raising of the young
man is false, what motive can be suggested for its invention, for motive there
must have been for it? Assuredly, it was no part of Jewish expectancy
concerning the Messiah, that He would perform such a miracle. And negative
criticism has admitted,53
that the differences between this history and the raising of the dead by Elijah or Elisha are so numerous and great, that these narratives cannot be
regarded as suggesting that of the raising of the young man of Nain. We ask
again: Whence, then, this history, if it was not true? It is an ingenious
historical suggestion - rather an admission by negative criticism54
- that so insignificant, and otherwise unknown, a place as Nain would not have
been fixed upon as the site of this miracle, if some great event had not
occurred there which made lasting impression on the mind of the Church. What
was that event, and does not the reading of this record carry conviction of its
truth? Legends have not been so written. Once more, the miracle is described as
having taken place, not in the seclusion of a chamber, nor before a few
interested witnesses, but in sight of the great multitude which had followed
Jesus, and of that other great multitude which came from Cana. In this twofold
great multitude was there none, from whom the enemies of Christianity could have
wrung contradiction, if the narrative was false? Still further, the history is
told with such circumstantiality of details, as to be inconsistent with the
theory of a later invention. Lastly, no one will question, that belief in the
reality of such 'raising from the dead' was a primal article in the faith of
the primitive Church, for which - as a fact, not a possibility - all were ready
to offer up their lives. Nor should we forget that, in one of the earliest
apologies addressed to the Roman Emperor, Quadratus appealed to the
fact, that, of those who had been healed or raised from the dead by Christ,
some were still alive, and all were well known.55
On the other hand, the only real ground for rejecting this narrative is
disbelief in the Miraculous, including, of course, rejection of the Christ as
the Miracle of Miracles. But is it not vicious reasoning in a circle, as well
as begging the question, to reject the Miraculous because we discredit the
Miraculous? and does not such rejection involve much more of the incredible
than faith itself?
52. Minor difficulties may be readily dismissed. Such is the question, why this miracle has not been recorded by St. Matthew. Possibly St. Matthew may have remained a day behind in Capernaum. In any case, the omission cannot be of real importance as regards the question of the credibility of such a miracle, since similar miracles are related in all the four Gospels.
53. So Keim, who finally arrives at the conclusion that the event is fictitious His account seems to me painfully unfair, as well as unsatisfactory in the extreme.
54. This is the admission of Keim.
55. Euseb. Hist. Eccl. iv. 3.
And so, with all Christendom, we gladly take it, in simplicity
of faith, as a true record by true men - all the more, that they who told it
knew it to be so incredible, as not only to provoke scorn,56
but to expose them to the charge of cunningly devising fables.57
But they who believe, see in this history, how the Divine Conqueror, in His
accidental meeting with Death, with mighty arm rolled back the tide, and how
through the portals of heaven which He opened stole in upon our world the first
beam of the new day. Yet another - in some sense lower, in another, practically
higher - lesson do we learn. For, this meeting of the two processions outside
the gate of Nain was accidental, yet not in the conventional sense.
Neither the arrival of Jesus at that place and time, nor that of the funeral
procession from Nain, nor their meeting, was either designed or else
miraculous. Both happened in the natural course of natural events, but their
(sugkuria) was designed,
and directly God-caused. In this God-caused, designed concurrence of events, in
themselves ordinary and natural, lies the mystery of special Providences,
which, to whomsoever they happen, he may and should regard them as miracles and
answer to prayer. And this principle extends much farther: to the prayer for,
and provision of, daily bread, nay, to mostly all things, so that, to those who
have ears to hear, all things around speak in parables of the kingdom of
56. Acts xvii. 32; xxvi. 8; 1 Cor. xv. 12-19.
57. 2 Pet. i. 16.
58. The term sugkuria rendered in
the A.V. 'chance' (St. Luke x. 31), means literally, the coming together, the meeting, A.V. 'chance' (St. Luke x. 31), means literally, the coming together, the meeting, or concurrence of events.
But on those who saw this miracle at Nain fell the fear59
of the felt Divine Presence, and over their souls swept the hymn of Divine
praise: fear, because60
God had visited61
His people. And further and wider spread the wave - over Jud�a, and beyond it,
until it washed, and broke in faint murmur against the prison-walls, within
which the Baptist awaited his martyrdom. Was He then the 'Coming One?' and, if
so, why did, or how could, those walls keep His messenger within grasp of the
59. Lit. 'fear took all.'
61. Significantly, the same expression as in St. Luke i. 68.
62. The embassy of the Baptist will be described in connection with the account of his martyrdom.