Monday, September 17, 2012, was “Constitution Day”—the Day in 1787 the Constitutional Convention Closed and the Constitution was Signed by the Members—but Wednesday, September 19, 2012, is international “Talk Like a Pirate Day”—Saint Matthew’s Day and the Autumnal Equinox Coming up….

I confess I did nothing particularly appropriate to celebrate Constitution Day and I really should have, except that even thinking about the Constitution these days is kind of discouraging (nobody in the Government’s Executive, Judicial or Legislative branches seems to—so why should I?).   I cannot even think of anything particularly appropriate to do for International Talk Like a Pirate Day except I talked to my friend Daria in Trzcianka, Poland and she indicated a desire to be Pirate Queen in a sea of shoes…. but also commented that she’s afraid of storms so she might not have done so well in the Hurricane ridden Caribbean…. On the whole, thinking about the lives of Pirate Lassies such as Anne Bonny and Mary Read, I don’t think they really had such glamorous lives.   There was a 16th Century Irish Piratess Gráinne Ní Mháille who was Queen of Umaill, chieftain of the Ó Máille clan and a pirate in 16th century Ireland. She is an important figure in Irish folklore, and a historical figure in 16th century Irish history, and is sometimes known as “The Sea Queen Of Connaught”.  Gráinne lived an unusually long and legendary life for a piratess, as did her Islamic contemporary Moroccan Sayyida al Hurra who married the King of Morocco…. But as for me I’ll live and die a Pirate King in the spirit of W.S. Gilbert’s & Arthur Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance…. Back in High School in Hollywood I sang the role of the Modern Major General Stanley, and in College I played Frederick—who was bound by a poorly drafted contract of apprenticeship to serve the eponymous pirates of Penzance not until his 21st year but until his 21st BIRTHDAY, and since he was born on February 29, this meant (in his case) that his 21st birthday would not take place until 1940….meaning he must have been born I think in 1856….“Oh is there not one maiden breast, that does not feel the moral beauty, of making worldly interest, subordinate to sense of duty…..”  Pirates of Penzance, of course, is famous for many things, not least of which was the Pirates’ March which I never got to sing screaming on stage although my grandfather apparently did: “WITH CAT-LIKE TREAT, UPON OUR PRAY WE STEAL, IN SILENCE DREAD OUR CAUTIOUS WAY WE FEEL, NO SOUND AT ALL, WE NEVER SPEAK A WORD, A FLIES FOOT-FALL WOULD BE DISTINCTLY HEARD—COME FRIENDS WHO PLOUGH THE SEA, TRUCE TO NAVIGATION, TAKE ANOTHER STATION, LET’s VARY PIRACY, with a little BURGLARY.”

It might be appropriate to note that the Autumnal Equinox is coming on Saturday and that September 21 is Saint Matthew’s Day.  Since Saint Matthew is somehow (I really don’t know how) the Patron Saint of Bankers (possibly because he was originally a tax collector in Capernaum), this week should be designated, as a whole, to commemorate “the piratical boarding, capture and take-over of the US Constitution of 1787 by International Bankers, the most successful pirates of all times.”  

I must thank Barbaratzin for reminding me of International “Talk Like a Pirate Day”, which Tracy DeMerc., a/k/a “Peachy Ashy Passion” of Stafford, Virginia used to always celebrate…. 

The Autumnal Equinox doesn’t mean much in California—although the weather is cooling off a tiny little bit from a normally warm summer in LA, which ended with a bang of several really hot days last weekend….

But, especially since it comes a mere six weeks, “40 days and 40 nights” before All Saints’ Day, Saint Matthews’ day ought to mean something to us, in that his Gospel was given the honor of going first at the Council of Nicea, so a few thoughts about the old reformed tax-collector (“Publicans” ranked in the Bible slightly lower than Harlots, who at least fulfilled some necessary and pleasant social functions in the Bible) are surely in order here….

Saint Matthew (מַתִּתְיָהוּ Mattityahu or מתי Mattay “Gift of YHWH”; Greek: Ματθαῖος, Matthaios) was one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus and one of the four Evangelists.   Saint Matthew was the (named, but hardly authenticated) author of the first Canonical Gospel in the order for accepted scripture adopted in the Highly Politicized Convocation called by Emperor Constantine and his mother Helen at Nicea. This has been the constant tradition of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (of which even such Schismatics as us Anglicans/Episcopalians claim to be part of in our slightly hypocritical recitation of the “Nicene” Creed) and is confirmed by the Gospel text itself.   “Matthew” was the son of Alpheus and was called to be an Apostle while sitting in the tax collectors (“Publicans”, often and predictably but not appropriately confused with “Republicans”) place at Capernaum.  Before Matthews’ conversion he was a publican, i.e., a tax collector by profession (in other words, everyone hated him so there was nothing left to him to do but to become a Christian).   Matthew is sometimes thought to be identified with the “Levi” of the Gospels of Mark and Luke.  The “Levites” of course were originally supposed to be the Judaic descendants of Aaron and the only legitimate “Priesthood” of Ancient Israel….

Matthews’ actually documented apostolic activity was restricted to the communities of Palestine. Nothing definite is known about his later life. There are mythic traditions that point him towards Ethiopia as his field of labor, although Egypt and Ethiopia seem to claim “Saint Mark”; other traditions mention of Parthia and Persia.  Nothing is even known nor even documented as a good mythology regarding whether Matthew “Levi” died a natural death or received a crown of martyrdom.  For all we really know he might have just written his Gospel, added the impossibly long series of quasi-historical “Begats” at the beginning, and then and consequently croaked.

St. Matthew’s Gospel was written to fill a “market niche demand” from his fellow countrymen, both believers and unbelievers. For the Jews, especially those in the process of evolving into Christians, Matthew’s Gospel served as a token of his regard and as an encouragement in the trial to come, especially the danger of falling back to the evils of Pharisaic Judaism; for the unbelieving Jew and the Gentiles, Matthews’ introductory text, with a fuller description than any other of Christ’s ancestry, the role of his Mother Mary, and his childhood, and was designed to convince them that the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus, as Lord of all, in Whom all the promises of the Messianic Kingdom embracing all people had been fulfilled in a spiritual as well as a physical or carnal way: “My Kingdom is not of this world.” His Gospel, then, answered the question put by the disciples of St. John the Baptist, “Are You He Who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

Writing for his countrymen of Palestine (these definitely to be confused with modern “Palestinians” as well as the inhabitants of Palestine in East Texas), St. Matthew composed his Gospel in his native Aramaic, the “Hebrew tongue” mentioned in the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, although no text exists of this original rescension. Soon after Christ’s death, about the time of the persecution of Herod Agrippa I in 42 AD, Matthew made his departure for other lands, or perhaps for another and better world entirely.

One tradition places the composition of the Gospel of Matthew either between the time of this departure and the Council of Jerusalem, i.e., between 42 AD and 50 AD or even later. Definitely, however, Matthew’s Gospel, depicting Jerusalem with its altar and temple as still standing, without any reference to the fulfillment of the Biblical prophecy of a second destruction, shows that it was written before the destruction of the city by the Romans in 70 AD, and this internal evidence confirms the early traditions.

Stained glass depiction of St. Matthew at St. Matthew’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Biblical Documentation:

Among the early followers and apostles of Jesus, Matthew is mentioned in Mt 9:9 and Mt 10:3 as a former tax collector from Capernaum who was called into the circle of the Twelve by Jesus. Matthew is also named among the number of the Twelve, but without identification of his background, in Mk 3:18, Lk 6:15 and Acts 1:13. He (apparently) is called Levi, son of Alpheus, in Mk 2:14 and Lk 5:27. He may have collected taxes from the Hebrew people for Herod Antipas.  Matthew was “called” by Jesus of Nazareth to be one of the Twelve Disciples.  In all relevant texts which mention him, Matthew was one of the witnesses of Jesus final trial before Pontius Pilate, His Resurrection and Ascension.

Early life

Matthew was a first century Galilean (presumably born in Galilee, which was not part of Judea or the Roman Iudaea province) and the son of Alpheus. During the Roman occupation (which began in 63 BC with the conquest of Pompey), Matthew collected taxes from the Hebrew people for Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee. His tax office was located in Capernaum. Jews who became rich in such a fashion were despised and considered outcasts. However, as a tax collector he would have been literate in Aramaic and Greek, and possibly even in Latin.

It was in this setting, near what is today Almagor, that Jesus called Matthew to be one of the Twelve Disciples. After his call, Matthew invited Jesus home for a feast. On seeing this, the Scribes and the Pharisees criticized Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners. This prompted Jesus to answer, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17)

Matthew’s Ministry

When Matthew is mentioned in the New Testament, he is sometimes found paired with Thomas. The New Testament records that as a disciple, he followed Jesus, and was one of the witnesses of the Resurrection and the Ascension. Afterwards, the disciples withdrew to an upper room (Acts 1:10-14) (traditionally the Cenacle) in Jerusalem.  The disciples remained in and about Jerusalem and proclaimed that Jesus was the promised Messiah.

Matthew may also be mentioned in the Talmud.

Later Church fathers such as Ireneaus and Clement of Alexandria claim that Matthew, for 15 years, preached the Gospel in Hebrew to the Jewish community in Judea, before going to other countries. Ancient writers are not agreed as to what these other countries are.  The Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church each hold the tradition that Matthew died as a martyr, but as noted above, no substantial stories exist, either as history or even as mythology.

Matthew’s Gospel

St. Matthew and the Angel by Rembrandt

Although the first of the Synoptic Gospels is technically anonymous, traditionally the Gospel of Matthew was held to be written by the apostle.  As a government official in Capernaum, in “Galilee of the Gentiles”, a tax-collector would probably have been literate in both Greek and Aramaic.  Greek was the language used in the market-place.  As noted above, no Aramaic text of “Matthew” exists, though some early church fathers recorded that Matthew originally wrote in “Hebrew”, but still regarded the Greek text as canonical.

Many scholars today, such as Raymond E. Brown, believe that “canonical Matt[hew] was originally written in Greek by a non-eyewitness whose name is unknown to us and who depended on sources like Mark and Q”, a theory known as Markan priority. However some scholars, notably Craig Blomberg, disagree variously on these points.  The more traditional interpretation of theSynoptic Gospels posits a Matthean priority, most notably in the Augustinian hypothesis after one of the earliest and most notable proponents Saint Augustine of Hippo. This position once held with veritable consensus in the Medieval church has since waned, but still has several proponents.

Non-canonical or Apocryphal Gospels

In the third century Jewish-Christian Gospels attributed to Matthew were used by Jewish-Christian groups such as the Nazarenes and Ebionites. Fragments of these gospels survive in quotations by Jerome, Epiphanius and others. Most academic study follows the distinction of Gospel of the Nazarenes (26 fragments), Gospel of the Ebionites (7 fragments), and Gospel of the Hebrews (7 fragments) found in Schneemelcher’s New Testament Apocrypha. Critical commentators generally regard these texts as having been composed in Greek and related to Greek Matthew.   A minority of commentators consider them to be fragments of a lost Aramaic or Hebrew language original.

The Infancy Gospel of Matthew is a seventh century compilation of three other texts: the Protevangelium of James, the Flight into Egypt and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.

Origen said the first Gospel was written by Matthew.   This Gospel was composed in Hebrew near Jerusalem for Hebrew Christians and translated into Greek, but the Greek copy was lost. The Hebrew original was kept at the Library of Caesarea. The Nazarene Community transcribed a copy for Jerome which he used in his work. Matthew’s Gospel was called the Gospel according to the Hebrews or sometimes the Gospel of the Apostles and it was once believed that it was the original to the Greek Matthew found in the Bible. However this has been challenged by modern biblical scholars such as Bart Ehrman and James R. Edwards.

Jerome relates that Matthew was supposed by the Nazarenes to have composed their Gospel of the Hebrews though Irenaeus and Epiphanius of Salamis consider this simply a revised version canonical Gospel. This Gospel has been partially preserved in the writings of the Church Fathers, said to have been written by Matthew.  Epiphanius does not make his own the claim about a Gospel of the Hebrews written by Matthew, a claim that he merely attributes to the heretical Ebionites.

In Islam

St. Matthew writing the Gospel with an angel holding the volume, anIslamic miniature by Kesu Das for the Mughal

The Quran speaks of Jesus’s disciples but does not mention their names, instead referring to them as “helpers to the work of God”.  Muslim exegesis and Qur’an commentary, however, names them and includes Matthew amongst the disciples. Muslim exegesis preserves the tradition that Matthew, with Andrew, were the two disciples who went to Ethiopia to preach the message of God.


Medieval relief of Saint Matthew in the Church of Ják, Hungary (XIII century).

Matthew is recognized as a saint in the Roman Catholic,Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran and Anglican churches. (See Saint Matthew’s Church.) His feast day is celebrated on 21 September in the West and 16 November in the East. (For those churches which follow the traditional Julian Calendar, 16 November currently falls on 29 November of the modern Gregorian Calendar). He is also commemorated by the Orthodox, together with the other Apostles, on 30 June (13 July), the Synaxis of the Holy Apostles. His relics are preserved in the Salerno Cathedral in Italy.

Like the other evangelists, Matthew is often depicted in Christian art with one of the four living creatures of Revelation 4:7. The one that accompanies him is in the form of a winged man. The three paintings of Matthew by Caravaggio in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, where he is depicted as called by Christ from his profession as gatherer, are among the landmarks of Western art.

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