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‘Two swords’ in Gethsemane

05 February 2016


Your answers


I’ve always wondered about what it means that the disciples could lay their hands on two swords on the evening of Jesus’s arrest (Luke 22.38). Surely, Rome would strictly control such weapons?


A plausible answer runs as follows.

The story of the ear cut off with a sword when the Lord was arrested is different in all four Gospels, and each Evangelist has his motives.

St Luke knew Mark 14.47-49, and supposing the sword-bearer to be one of Jesus’s followers, was distressed or worried. Throughout Luke’s Gospel and Acts, an important concern is the innocence of Jesus and his disciples in Roman law, and the carrying of deadly weapons was clearly illegal.

Luke’s device is to turn the sword-bearing into a necessity imposed by scripture. One of the central predictions of the Passion is Isaiah 53, where it is predicted (53.12) that the suffering Messiah “was reckoned among criminals”. So, in Luke 22.35-37, Jesus says that he that had no sword should sell his cloak and buy one, “For I say to you that this which is written must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was reckoned among criminals.”’

When the disciples produce two swords, Jesus declares that is enough. Plainly, he does not mean enough for armed defence. But it would be enough to fulfil the plural “criminals” in the prophecy. The point is reinforced when, after the injury done to the High Priest’s servant, Jesus says “Enough of that,” and heals the wounded ear — a story not told in any of the other Gospels. He does not behave criminally, but has law-breakers in his company.

This idea was published by S. G. Hall in “Swords of offence”: Studia evangelica, ed. K. Aland et al., Berlin 1959, 499-502 (TU 73).

(Professor the Revd) Stuart G. Hall
Leven, Fife


We should not overestimate the degree of control that the Romans could exert over their empire. They simply did not have the manpower to enforce the disarming of the civilian population, even had they had the will to do so. In fact, while in Italy carrying arms (except for hunting) was by the imperial period arguably illegal and certainly not normal, it was not general policy to disarm the provinces.

The only case that is even alleged to have happened, Cassius Dio’s statement that the Emperor Claudius disarmed the Britons, is widely doubted by historians, not least because the earlier and more detailed account by Tacitus says that Ostorius Scapula, the second governor of the province, introduced a policy of disarming the less trustworthy Britons (with scant success).

So the possession of a few swords would be in no way remarkable.

Justin Pinkess
Edgbaston, Birmingham


Your questions


How does good poetry become prayers? Any print resources?

D. G. H.


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