The mysterious Anna – Luke 2:36-39

Posted: July 17, 2012 by J in Bible, Luke Commentary

A survey of commentaries reveals that few have anything much to say about Anna. It’s hard to find a picture of her! She seems like a less interesting female version of Simeon. Though she is ‘a prophet’ she gets no dialogue, sings no song. Coming after Simeon, she seems to duplicate his role without adding much value.

The commentators are generally not good at asking the question ‘why?’ – and with Luke this is so often the key question. Anna’s scene is a  bit mystery. What is she doing here? Why is this woman introduced so briefly into the story, only to fade back into obscurity, never to be mentioned again? Why are we given so many details about her background, and so few about her foreground, her actions in this scene?  How does she contribute to the story? The principle to keep in mind is that Luke very rarely if ever gives details without a reason.

It is worth noting that the name Anna is the same as Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel. There are many parallels between the story of Jesus’ infancy and that of Samuel (e.g. Mary’s song based on Hannah’s song), and this name once again recalls that story to mind. Hannah is the woman who was barren but longed for a child, and fasted and prayed earnestly before the Lord. Anna’s story is similar: she serves before the Lord with prayer and fasting day and night. Clearly Anna, like her namesake Hannah, is seeking something – but what? It is not until the end of the scene that we will learn what it is Anna has longed for and sought all these years.

Most notable here is the lengthy (and ambiguous) explanation about Anna’s age and marriage status, including two numbers. When Luke gives a number it is generally of symbolic importance (see above): here he gives two together. This should be enough to focus our attention. What do these numbers mean, and how do they contribute to the story?

The two numbers given, seven and eighty four, are related by a factor of twelve, giving us the equation 84 = 7 x 12. These are two of Luke’s favourite numbers. Seven is the number of completion or fulfilment in Hebrew Scripture (cf. Genesis 2:2; Exodus 21:2; 2 Kings 5:10; Daniel 4:16). Twelve is of course the number of Israel (the twelve tribes). These numbers suggest some sort of completion or fulfilment for Israel.

Tomorrow: Anna and Lamentations

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