Saturday, October 22, 2011

Try looking at the biblical puzzles from the perspective of PTSD

The Apostle Paul and Post-Traumatic Stress,
From Woundedness to Wholeness

We did not start out to write a biblical study but simply to illustrate an understanding of post-traumatic stress using a classical personality, one that could be a role model. It’s been fun, though, to find bits and pieces for long standing biblical puzzles and have a new notion of what was happening.

Recently I had been reading the story of Paul from the perspective of a French priest, Murphy-O’Connor, who teaches in a seminary in Jerusalem. Interestingly, he wrote about Paul (like other current scholars he does not speculate about the significance in the change from Saul to Paul) and wondered if Post-Traumatic Stress was involved, whether Paul had married and tragically lost a wife and child. I can appreciate why a person living in the strife torn society of Israel might have a good grasp of the effects of PTSD.

This author cited the early Jewish historian, Josephus, who wrote that Saul was from Galilee. There had been an uprising in about 4 or 5 B.C. and several thousand Jews were brought into Tarsus for resale as slaves. He speculated Saul would have been born soon after and with his birth in Tarsus Saul would have become a Roman citizen. I find it difficult to believe that a child born to a slave would have automatically been accorded Roman citizenship; maybe a Jewish family bought and freed a woman from slavery who later became Saul’s mother. Perhaps…

What caught my attention was rather it would be about the time of Jesus’ birth. With such an uprising a carpenter might take his young pregnant wife and seek safety in the south – a place like Bethlehem, where there might be family roots. It has always puzzled biblical scholars, however, to account for Luke telling about Joseph going to Bethlehem for an empire-wide census and to pay taxes. No such census and tax is recorded elsewhere. There is another possibility. Under Nero, Christians were suspect. It would have been pragmatic of Luke, in writing his account, to create a scenario of Jesus’ birth in which his father was an obedient resident of the Empire and ready to comply with its dictates. If he had not, we might likely not be reading this…

It did not work out too smoothly for Joseph, however it was. Three students of the stars from an eastern country had “foreseen” a new king of the Jews was soon to be born. Swinging down the Fertile Crescent, they would pass through Galilee, making inquiries as they went. Following their star they kept moving south. In Jerusalem they asked where the baby-born-to-be-king could be located. They went on to Bethlehem and found a new born – and right on their tracks came a death squad from Herod. Joseph must have recognized that with the arrival of these visitors their security was blown. He abruptly left for the Egyptian border with mother and child; the Wise Men, doubtless realized their own peril furtively left in another direction. In due time Joseph wanted to return home; Jerusalem was not an option with the king’s all-suspicious network. There must have still been family in Nazareth; all would be quiet in Galilee – for a time.  

Soon it will be Christmas. Little wonder that they – and we, having seen so much violence, too – should confer on that Child the longing that he will prove to be the Prince of Peace, bringing good will among: both men and women. Even between their kids.

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