Nov 162017
 

 

Today is a two-fer in saints’ days. In the eastern Orthodox tradition it is the feast of St Matthew the Apostle (מַתִּתְיָהוּ‎‎ Mattityahu, “Gift of YHVH”; Greek: Ματθαῖος Matthaios; also known as Saint Matthew and as Levi) who was, according to the Greek Bible, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and, according to Christian tradition, one of the four Evangelists. Today is also the feast of St Hugh of Lincoln.  Let’s take them in turn.

Matthew the apostle is a minor character in the gospel story. He’s identified as a tax collector recruited by Jesus precisely because he was classified as a sinner by contemporary Jews:

9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. 10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. (Matthew 9:9-12).

Matthew is identified as an apostle in the other gospels, but only in the gospel according to Matthew is there this kind of detail about him. In passages parallel to Matthew 9:9, both Mark (2:14) and Luke (5:27) describe Jesus’ calling of the tax collector Levi, the son of Alphaeus, but Mark and Luke never explicitly equate this Levi with the Matthew named as one of the twelve. Nor was what we now call the gospel according to Matthew identified as written by Matthew the apostle until the 2nd century. It, like all the other gospels, was originally anonymously written. The specific references to Matthew’s occupation and actions, although brief, were a major reason for early theologians equating the gospel writer with the tax collector/apostle. But there is no good cause to equate the two men, and it is the consensus of modern scholars that the apostle and the gospel writer were different men. Because of lack of detail concerning Matthew the apostle I’ll concentrate on the gospel writer, but return to the apostle for a recipe idea.

Matthew’s gospel, like Luke, was written with Mark as the basic source but with extraneous material added from unknown sources.  Like Luke, Matthew includes a genealogy of Jesus and some details of Jesus’ birth and infancy, but Matthew differs from Luke in major ways in both cases.  Matthew’s genealogy goes only as far as Abraham whereas Luke’s extends back to Adam. Any anthropologist worth his salt will tell you that the starting point of any genealogy is vital. For Luke, a gentile, the point of the genealogy is to stress that Jesus was messiah of all humankind, whereas Matthew stresses only that he was from the line of Abraham – that is, a Jew. That, plus other evidence I won’t go into, tells us that the writer of Matthew was a Jew.

Matthew’s gospel gives a very different version of Jesus’s birth and infancy from Luke’s. Matthew has Jesus born in Bethlehem, but with no mention of the manger, shepherds, and so forth. Instead he focuses on the visit of the Magi from the east bearing gifts. Next, he mentions Herod’s fury that a prophesied king has been born in Judea, and orders the massacre of all Jewish newborn boys. Joseph and Mary escape with Jesus to Egypt and remain there until after Herod’s death. If Christmas were primarily based on Matthew’s account of the nativity rather than Luke’s it would be a markedly different celebration.

For me the most impressive section of Matthew’s gospel is the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7). For my money, if you want a distillation of Christian principles your best bet is the Sermon. Scholars generally agree that the Sermon is pieced together out of sayings of Jesus from traditional sources, rather than something resembling a verbatim account of an actual sermon that Jesus delivered on a mountain or anywhere else, but I don’t care. It crystallizes the Christian life in clear pithy images.  What I do care about is that a great number of people who call themselves Christians don’t follow the principles of the Sermon, or even try.

St Hugh of Lincoln (1135/40 – 16 November 1200), also known as Hugh of Avalon, was a French noble, Benedictine and Carthusian monk and bishop of Lincoln. At the time of the Reformation, he was the best-known English saint after Thomas Becket. Hugh was born at the château of Avalon, the son of Guillaume, seigneur of Avalon. His mother Anne de Theys died when he was eight, and because his father was a soldier, he went to a boarding school for his education. Guillaume retired from the world to the Augustinian monastery of Villard-Benoît, near Grenoble, and took his son Hugh, with him. At the age of fifteen, Hugh became a religious novice and was ordained a deacon at the age of nineteen. Around 1159, he was sent to be prior of the nearby monastery at Saint-Maximin, presumably already a priest. From that community, he left the Benedictine Order and entered the Grande Chartreuse, then at the height of its reputation for the rigid austerity of its rules and the earnest piety of its members. There he rose to become procurator of his new Order, in which office he served until he was sent in 1179 to become prior of the Witham Charterhouse in Somerset, the first Carthusian house in England.

Henry II of England, as part of his penance for the murder of Thomas Becket, in lieu of going on crusade as he had promised in his first remorse, had established a Carthusian charterhouse some time before, which was settled by monks brought from the Grande Chartreuse. There were difficulties in advancing the building works, however, and the first prior was retired and a second soon died. It was by the special request of the English king that Hugh, whose fame had reached him through one of the nobles of Maurienne, was made prior.

Hugh found the monks in great straits, living in log huts and with no plans advanced for the more permanent monastery building. Hugh interceded with the king for royal patronage and at last, probably on 6 January 1182, Henry issued a charter of foundation and endowment for Witham Charterhouse. In May 1186, Henry summoned a council of bishops and barons to Eynsham Abbey to deliberate on the state of the Church and the filling of vacant bishoprics, including Lincoln. On 25 May 1186 the cathedral chapter of Lincoln was ordered to elect a new bishop and Hugh was elected. Hugh insisted on a second, private election by the canons, securely in their chapter house at Lincoln rather than in the king’s chapel. His election was confirmed by the result.

As a bishop, he was exemplary, constantly in residence or traveling within his diocese, generous with his charity, scrupulous in the appointments he made. He raised the quality of education at the cathedral school. Hugh was also prominent in trying to protect Jews in the persecution they suffered at the beginning of Richard I’s reign, and he put down popular violence against them—as later occurred following the death of Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln.

Lincoln Cathedral had been badly damaged by an earthquake in 1185, and Hugh set about rebuilding and greatly enlarging it in the new Gothic style; however, he lived to see only the choir well begun. In 1194, he expanded St Mary Magdalen’s Church in Oxford.

As one of the premier bishops of the Kingdom of England Hugh more than once accepted the role of diplomat to France for Richard and then for King John in 1199, a trip that ruined his health. He consecrated St Giles’ Church, Oxford, in 1200. There is a cross consisting of interlaced circles cut into the western column of the tower that is believed to commemorate this event. Also in commemoration of the consecration, St Giles’ Fair was established and continues to this day each September. While attending a national council in London, a few months later, he was stricken with an unnamed ailment and died two months later on 16 November 1200. He was buried in Lincoln Cathedral. In iconography Hugh is often depicted with a swan because he befriended a swan that followed him everywhere.

According to the passage from Matthew quoted at the beginning of this post, Jesus had dinner with Matthew and a number of other tax collectors following Matthew’s call. Tax collectors made a lot of money, so we can assume it was a better than average meal. The classic ingredients for a feast of the period would be lamb, lake fish, figs, olives, grapes, and bread of some sort, with cheese or curds and honey. I’ve mentioned before plenty of recipes that would fit Greek Bible times. The meals of the rich were probably sumptuous but not necessarily complex. It’s impossible to know, of course. But I would suggest you be a little creative (mainly because right now I’m thinking about creative ideas for a new cookbook).  If you look at attempts at recreating the scene of Jesus at meals they tend to focus on the same ideas: platters of bread, usually unleavened, bowls of fruit, cheese, and some meat or fish – all very simply prepared. These images probably resemble something near the truth, although Renaissance and Baroque paintings tend to look more like the feasts from the contemporary cultures of the artists rather than of the Galilee of the 1st century.

Modern attempts are better in my estimation. Meat of any sort was not very common, even for the well-to-do, but fish would have been normal. It would have been grilled, whole, over an open fire. Unleavened bread was not as common as we tend to envisage. At Passover it was essential of course, but leavened bread was normal. Fresh fruits would vary according to the season, but dried fried would be available all year.

My suggestion is to grill freshwater fish (preferably over coals) and serve it with fruit, bread, and cheese.

 

 

 

Sep 212017
 

Today is the feast of St Matthew the Apostle (מַתִּתְיָהוּ‎‎ Mattityahu or מתי‎ Mattay, “Gift of YHVH”; Ματθαῖος Matthaios) who, according to the Greek Bible, was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and, according to Christian tradition, was one of the four Evangelists. Well, Matthew the Apostle and the person who wrote the gospel that became the Gospel According to Matthew are without a doubt two different people, but they both get celebrated today (as the same person), so I’ll go with the flow even though I’m more interested in the gospel than in the apostle who is a tad one dimensional.

Matthew the apostle is mentioned in Matthew 9:9 and Matthew 10:3 as a publican who, while sitting at the “receipt of custom” in Capernaum, was called to follow Jesus. Those passages suggest that Matthew collected taxes from the Judean people for Herod Antipas. That’s how he’s characterized in Christian tradition. Matthew is also listed among the twelve, but without identification of his background, in Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13. In passages parallel to Matthew 9:9, both Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27 describe Jesus’ calling of the tax collector Levi, the son of Alphaeus, but Mark and Luke never explicitly equate this Levi with the Matthew named as one of the twelve apostles. That’s the sum total of what we know from the gospels.  As such the information is not much of an addition to the gospel story. The gospel attributed to Matthew has much more to offer.

First we must understand that the gospel was originally anonymous and was not attributed to the apostle Matthew until the 2nd century. Scholars usually date it in the period 80 to 90 CE which means it’s highly unlikely to have been written by an eyewitness, let alone an apostle. The gospel itself does not claim to have been written by an eyewitness, and the scholarly consensus is that it, and Luke, were written using Mark as a source book. What is most interesting to me are the parts of Matthew that are not found in the other gospels, and the special spin that Matthew puts on materials it has in common with the other gospels.  I’ll just hint at the complexity here.

That Matthew was written by a Jew is patent from the opening genealogy.  Genealogies were of enormous importance and interest to writers of the Hebrew Bible, and many laypersons tend to skip over the lists of “X begat Y” because they don’t know how to read them.  I am an anthropologist, so I know better.  First question to ask is, “Who begins the genealogy?” This is the person whose identity is critical.  In Matthew the genealogy of Jesus begins with Abraham emphasizing that he was one of God’s chosen people destined to inherit Israel. Matthew wants to make it clear with his genealogy that Jesus was a Jew. (By contrast, Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus to Adam, emphasizing that Jesus was a man). Matthew’s genealogy (and other parts of the gospel) tells us, by inference, that the author was a Jew who was intent on proving that Jesus was the Jewish messiah. The rest of the genealogy cements this point, with stress on the fact that every 14 generations there was a key event in Jewish messianic history, thus: Abraham, king David, Babylonian Exile, Jesus.

The nativity of Jesus in Matthew is unique and quite different from the story in Luke (the only other place in the gospels where the narrative appears). Mark and John launch straight into the baptism and the ministry with no childhood tales. Matthew’s version has no manger, shepherds, angels etc. He mentions the Magi (Wise Men from the east), then gives us the slaughter of the innocents and the flight to Egypt. So we can add gold, frankincense and myrrh, plus the star to our Christmas decorations, and if we pay attention (as I do), we add Epiphany, not to mention the 12 days of Christmas into the equation.

For me the centerpiece of Matthew, and Christianity in general, is the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5 to 7).  All you need to know about Christianity is there. Here you’ll find the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, along with a ton of pithy sayings that sum up discipleship and the Christian life.  It is bedrock for me; the place I return again and again. There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus never delivered the sermon as given in Matthew, but it contains original sayings from lists that must have been widely circulated after Jesus died. It’s possible that it’s like the preaching of Jesus even if it is not an exact copy.  We have scores of examples in ancient Greek and Latin texts of speeches given by key people at critical moments that no one expected to be verbatim transcripts. What was necessary was to convey the essence of a speech, not the precise wording. I imagine that that is what Matthew was aiming for.

Our recipe for the day is easily taken from Matthew 14:

13Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.  

Bread and fish is a great combination.  Of course, if you want to be hyper-New York Jewish you should have lox (smoked salmon) with cream cheese on a bagel (I like mine toasted). When I am in England I eat buttered bread and smoked fish all the time. It’s easy to find smoked halibut, trout, and (especially) whiting. When I was a small boy (preschool) in Eastbourne, on the south coast, my mother sometimes made me poached whole plaice which she served with brown bread.  For reasons I still cannot fathom, she thought the brown bread would prevent the tiny bones from getting stuck in my throat. Sanity and English mothers are rare companions.

Take this day as your opportunity to experiment with the bread and fish of your choice.

Dec 282015
 

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Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents, nowadays a minor holiday within the Christmas season, but at one time of greater significance. The story of the Massacre of the Innocents is found in Matthew 2:16–18, although the preceding verses form the context:

When [the Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Get up, he said, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old or under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.

The massacre is not reported outside of the Gospel of Matthew and other later Christian writings based on that gospel. The Roman Jewish historian, Josephus, does not mention it in his history, Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94 AD), which reports many of Herod’s misdeeds, including murdering his own sons.

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The story’s first appearance in any source other than the Gospel of Matthew is in the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James of c.150, which excludes the Flight into Egypt and switches the attention of the story to the infant John the Baptist:

And when Herod knew that he had been mocked by the Magi, in a rage he sent murderers, saying to them: Slay the children from two years old and under. And Mary, having heard that the children were being killed, was afraid, and took the infant and swaddled Him, and put Him into an ox-stall. And Elizabeth, having heard that they were searching for John, took him and went up into the hill-country, and kept looking where to conceal him. And there was no place of concealment. And Elizabeth, groaning with a loud voice, says: O mountain of God, receive mother and child. And immediately the mountain was cleft, and received her. And a light shone about them, for an angel of the Lord was with them, watching over them.

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The first non-Christian reference to the massacre is recorded four centuries later by Macrobius (c. 395-423), who writes in his Saturnalia:

When he [emperor Augustus] heard that among the boys in Syria under two years old whom Herod, king of the Jews, had ordered killed, his own son was also killed, he said: it is better to be Herod’s pig, than his son.

I have not the slightest doubt that Matthew’s account is pious fiction. To accept it would mean accepting that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which I have already thrown into serious doubt, and that magi journeyed from the east following a star, stopped by Herod’s palace, then went on to Bethlehem where they instantly recognized the messiah. This “event” is not attested in any other historical source. It’s clearly a polemic to buttress prophesy which in this case is not about the messiah at all.

The story assumed an important place in later Christian tradition; Byzantine liturgy estimated 14,000 Holy Innocents while an early Syrian list of saints puts the number at 64,000. Coptic sources raise the number to 144,000 and place the event on 29 December. If you are into this kind of thing – estimating numbers for something that never happened – contemporary archeology sets the number of inhabitants of Bethlehem at the time at around 1,000 meaning that the number of children killed would have been no more than 20.

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While we are on the subject of historicity, why did Mary and Joseph head to Egypt (except to satisfy Matthew’s need for symbolism)? Surely they would have been just as safe in Galilee, returning like others after the census (as Luke recounts in Luke 2:39). Did Jews make a habit of running to Egypt when things looked dodgy in Israel? How did they support themselves? Who took them in? Did anyone in Egypt speak Aramaic or did they have to learn a new language? The whole story is not credible.

The “Coventry Carol” is a Christmas carol dating from the 16th century. The carol was performed in Coventry in England as part of a mystery play called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. The play depicts the Christmas story from chapter two in the Gospel of Matthew. This haunting carol represent a mother’s lament for her doomed child. It is the only carol that has survived from this play. The author is unknown. The oldest known text was written down by Robert Croo in 1534, and the oldest known printing of the melody dates from 1591. Here’s a version that is acceptable, but not great. Best I could find after a considerable search. Although the text is mournful, I find the tempo here too slow, and the setting feeble. It’s impossible, it seems, to find a contemporary musician capable of managing the free flowing measures (or lack of them), and wandering tonality. Short of that, I would prefer it be sung in unison, a capella, as it was in the 16th century. I’ve trained choirs to sing it that way in the past – fighting my music director most of the way.

In the Middle Ages, especially north of the Alps, Holy Innocents was a festival of inversion involving role reversal between children and adults such as teachers and priests, with boy bishops presiding over some church services. In some regions, such as medieval England and France, it was said to be an unlucky day, when no new project should be started.

In Spain, Hispanic America, and the Philippines, El Día de los Santos Inocentes is still a day for pranks, equivalent to April Fool’s Day in other countries. Pranks (bromas) are also known as inocentadas and their victims are called inocentes; alternatively, the pranksters are the “inocentes” and the victims should not be angry at them, since they could not have committed any sin. Media often give fake content or distort news as well. One of the more famous of these traditions is the annual “Els Enfarinats” festival of Ibi in Alacant, where the inocentadas dress up in full military dress and incite a flour and egg fight.

epa03519176 People enjoy the traditional 'Els Enfarinats' battle at Ibi in Alicante, eastern Spain, 28 December 2012. The battle has been held every year for over 200 years on the 28th of December, Holy Innocents' Day (the equivalent of April Fool's day in Spain), and it consists of a group of people, the 'Enfarinats', that take over the 'civil power' in a fight with eggs and flour.  EPA/MORELL

In parts of Spain it is customary to eat huesos de santos (saints’ bones), also commonly eaten on All Saints (Nov. 1). They are not difficult to make, but most people buy them. You can make them completely from scratch by making your own marzipan, but at minimum I buy the marzipan and simply make the filling. As illustrated here, you can dip the huesos in chocolate if you wish.

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Huesos de Santos

Ingredients

½ lb (250 g) marzipan
2 oz (50 gr) granulated sugar
1 oz (25 ml) water
2 egg yolks

Instructions

I find that rolling marzipan works best on a marble board, but you can also use a regular pastry board or counter top. Dust the surface with powdered sugar and roll the marzipan out to about ¼ inch thick. Then cut it into 1 x 1½ inch rectangles. Make long tubes out of the rectangles by rolling them around the handle of a wooden spoon or similar rod that has been liberally dusted with powdered sugar. Press the long sides of the tube together and carefully ease it off the rod. This will take a few trial runs to do it so that you don’t deform the tube. If you mess up, re-roll and try again. Place the finished rolls on a tray and chill.

Beat the egg yolks in a bowl or top of a double boiler. Bring water in the bottom of the double boiler or deep saucepan to a gentle boil. In another pan bring the water and sugar to a boil to form a syrup. While whisking the yolks vigorously, pour the syrup into the eggs. Slow pouring and constant whisking are critical, otherwise you will scramble the eggs. Then, place the egg and syrup mixture over the boiling water and continue to stir it until it thickens substantially.

Let the yolk filling cool a little and, using a pastry bag, fill each marzipan tube from both ends.