Last night I started reading an interesting book called The Definitiive Guide for Solving Biblical Questions about Mary: Mary Among the Evangelists, by the Rev. Dr. Christiaan Kappes and William Albrecht.
This is a great book for my current interests, because it deals particularly with Gospel information about Jesus, His mom, His foster-father, and the whole situation with His disciples and His extended family. It turns out that the literary structures used by the Evangelists, and the parallel verses and Greek usages in the Septuagint, provide a lot of additional story that is “left out” in most English translations.
Some of it is even present in the original Hebrew of the Old Testament, but still gets ignored, or translated in a non-transparent way. For example, in the story of Jephthah and his daughter, the text doesn’t say “she was a virgin” as it is often translated. The Hebrew says, “she did not know man,” and then the Greek uses “ouk egno andra,” which is the same thing but in the aorist tense. So even though it’s an unusual Hebrew phrase, it does show up in the Bible elsewhere. Even without being native Hebrew or Aramaic speakers, we are supposed to be thinking about Jephthah’s daughter… especially since in the Greek and Hebrew both, Jephthah’s daughter tells her dad, “Let this thing be done to me according to your word.”
Okay, according to your “rhema” in Luke and according to your “logon” in our Septuagint, and according to your “dabar” in Hebrew; but using synonyms is still saying the same thing — especially since Mary’s doing some wordplay, using the same “rhema” that Gabriel just used.
It’s kind of a witty thing for Mary to say, especially to cap the words of an angel — but it comes with a heavy implication that she’s scared as heck. I mean, Jephthah’s daughter was assenting to being killed. And then what does Mary do? She goes up to the hills for a few months and spends time with another woman before coming back home, just like Jephthah’s daughter went to the mountain with her friends for a couple months before reporting home to become a human sacrifice. I mean, yes, Luke is also using Ark of the Covenant language, but the rest of the implications are freaking dark. So the Magnificat is even more amazing in context — Mary is not mourning herself, but is praising God.
The other interesting bit is that, when Gabriel says “rhema,” the primary meaning is “word, thing said,” but the extended sense is “things that happen, factual occurrences.” So he does simultaneously say, “For all things are possible with God” and “For every word will be possible with God.”
So of course, Gabriel is saying “What I’ve just said to you, which comes straight from God, will come true.” But he’s also talking to a girl, who by all tradition and implication of what she just said, is a vowed virgin. Her vow is also a “rhema,” just as Jephthah’s vow was a “logon.” So Gabriel is telling Mary that her spoken vow will not be disregarded; again, God shows His lovingkindness and courtesy. “For with God, every word is not impossible.”
The Bible is deep stuff. You can’t say that too often.
PS – This also makes Jephthah’s daughter the exact female parallel to Abraham’s son Isaac, by making Mary the New Jephthah’s Daughter against Jesus being the New Isaac. She is the ewe lamb who does her part, even though her Son is the True Lamb of God. This time it’s the daughter who is spared and the Son Who dies. Last time, the women mourned Jephthah’s daughter every year; this time, Mary is “blessed among women” and “all generations shall call me blessed.”
Another interesting bit is that Jewish tradition is adamant that Jephthah should have tried harder to get out of his vow, by asking around, and by determining that it was not fitting to sacrifice a human, willing or not. (The Book of Judges is all about people doing “what seemed right in their eyes,” and mostly doing sinful things because of it.) God doesn’t want us to be stubborn and keep bad vows, or abet others in toxic pigheadedness. So if God says through Gabriel that Mary’s vow is good, and that her parents and Joseph letting her keep it was good, that means that Mary as antitype improves on Jephthah’s daughter as type. She offered herself up in a fitting way, which is part of why it was fitting for God to take her up on it, and offer her an even more important depth of offering.
(There’s also a minority interpretation that Jephthah’s daughter remained alive and was sent to serve God at the Tabernacle, having been vowed a virgin by her dad instead of by herself. Which would also be relevant to Mary.)
Either way, Mary is obedient and responsive to God… but she’s also got that dark Jewish sense of humor. Obediently snarky.