Gospel of Luke

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The Gospel According to Luke (Greek: Τὸ κατὰ Λουκᾶν εὐαγγέλιον, to kata Loukan euangelion), commonly shortened to the Gospel of Luke or simply Luke, is the third of the synoptics and longest of the four Gospels. It relates the story of Jesus of Nazareth from his birth to his Ascension.[1]

Scholars are in broad agreement that Luke and the Acts come from the same author, making a two-volume work called Luke-Acts.[2] The anonymous author (who continues to be called "Luke" for the sake of convenience) used as his sources the Gospel of Mark, the hypothetical collection of sayings called the Q document, and some uniquely Lukan material called the L (for Luke) source.[3] The Luke mentioned in the Pauline epistles as a companion of the Apostle Paul is still occasionally advanced to identify the author, but the "countless contradictions between ... Acts and the authentic Pauline letters" has led to a critical consensus rejecting this idea.[4][Notes 1]

Luke begins with a preface addressed to an unidentified "Theophilus" (meaning "one who loves God"), telling him that the author intends to "investigate everything accurately anew ... so that you may realise the certainty of the teaching you received" (Luke 1:3).[5] Luke's intention is not, however, to write history in the modern sense, but to present the story of Jesus proclaiming the gospel to Israel and his disciples proclaiming it to the world.[5] He divides his "salvation history" (the "history of God with men," as the German scholar Gerhard von Rad famously defined it) into three stages: first the arrival among men of Jesus the Messiah, from his birth to the beginning of his earthly mission in the meeting with John the Baptiser; second the earthly career of Jesus, ending in his passion, death and resurrection (concluding the gospel story per se); and finally the time of the Church from Peter to Paul, from Jerusalem to Rome (the story told in Acts).[6]

Composition and setting[edit]

Luke the Evangelist (detail from the Saint Luke Alterpiece, Andrea Mantegna)

Luke-Acts: authorship and date[edit]

The gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles make up a two-volume work which scholars call Luke-Acts.[1] Together they account for 28% of the New Testament, the largest contribution by a single author.[1] Most scholars date the work to 80-100 CE.[7] The author is not named in either volume.[7] According to a Church tradition dating from the 2nd century, he was the "Luke" named as a companion of the apostle Paul in three of the letters attributed to Paul himself, once as "Luke the beloved physician"; some scholars accept this tradition, while others reject it since nothing in Luke-Acts suggests a knowledge of medicine and Acts does not always agree with what is found in Paul's letters.[7]

Sources and composition history[edit]

Almost all of Mark's content is found in Matthew, and much of Mark is found in Luke. Matthew and Luke have a large amount of additional material in common that is not found in Mark, and each has a smaller amount of unique material.

Luke, Matthew and Mark – the synoptic gospels - include many of the same stories, often in the same sequence, and sometimes in exactly the same words, and the question of how this came to be is the synoptic problem. The most widely held explanation, though not unchallenged, is that Matthew and Luke, writing separately and each without knowledge of the others' work, Mark and a hypothetical sayings collection called Q as their main sources. (Most scholars are reasonably sure that Q existed and that it can be reconstructed).[8] Mark, the first gospel, from around 70 CE, provides the basic shape and character for Matthew and Luke.[9] Luke often quotes Mark word for word, and corrects Mark's poor grammar and syntax.[10] Mark, however, has comparatively little of Jesus' teachings.[9] For these Luke turned to Q, which consisted mostly, although nor exclusively, of teachings ("sayings") of Jesus.[11] Mark and Q account for about 64% of Luke. The remaining material is known as the L source, and is of unknown origin and date.[12] Most Q and L-source material is grouped in two clusters, Luke 6:17-8:3 and 9:51-18:14, although L-source material forms the first two section of the gospel (the preface and infancy and childhood narratives).[13][Notes 2]

Audience and authorial intent[edit]

Luke assumes an educated Greek-speaking audience, but directs his attention to specifically Christian concerns rather than to the Greco-Roman world at large.[14] The author was educated, a man of means, probably urban, and someone who respected manual work, although not a worker himself; this is significant, because more high-brow writers of the time looked down on the artisans and small business-people who made up the early church of Paul: these, presumably, were Luke's audience.[15]

Luke begins his gospel with a preface addressed to "Theophilus": the name means "Lover of God," and could be an individual or simply any Christian.[5] Here he informs Theophilus of his intention, which is to lead his reader to certainty through an orderly account "of the events that have been fulfilled among us."[15] He did not, however, write in order to provide Theophilus with a historical justification of the Christian faith – "did it happen?" – but to encourage faith – "what happened, and what does it all mean?"[16]


The earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke are three extensive papyrus fragments dating from the late 2nd century or early 3rd century. P4 is probably the earliest,[17] dating from the late 2nd century.[18] P75 dates from the late 2nd century/early 3rd century.[19][20] Finally P45 (mid-3rd century) contains an extensive portion of all four Gospels. In addition to these major early papyri there are 6 other papyri (P3, P7, P42, P69, P82 and P97) dating from between the 3rd–8th century which also have small portions of Luke's Gospel.[20][21] The early copies, as well as the earliest copies of Acts, date after the Gospel was separated from Acts.

The Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, 4th-century codices of the Greek bible, are the oldest manuscripts that contain the full text of Luke. Codex Bezae is a 5th- or 6th-century Western text-type manuscript that contains Luke in Greek and Latin versions on facing pages. This text-type appears to have descended from an offshoot of the main manuscript tradition, departing from more familiar readings at many points. Verses 22:19–20 are omitted only in Codex Bezae and a handful of Old Latin manuscripts. Nearly all other manuscripts including Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus and Church Fathers contain the "longer" reading of Luke 22:19 and 20. Verse 22:20, which is very similar to 1 Cor 11:25, provides the only gospel support for the doctrine of the New Covenant. Verses 22:43–44 are found in Western text-type. But they are omitted by a diverse number of ancient witnesses and are generally marked as such in modern translations. See Bruce M. Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament for details.

Disputed verses[edit]

Early Christian scribes introduced numerous accidental and deliberate alterations into New Testament documents.[22] Textual critics have used principles of textual criticism to tentatively identify which variants are original. Bart D. Ehrman cites two cases where proto-orthodox Christians may have altered the text in order to prevent its being used to support heretical beliefs.[23]

When Jesus is baptized, some early witnesses attest that Luke's gospel had God the Father say to Jesus, "This day I have begotten you." In orthodox texts (and thus in most modern Bibles), this text is replaced by the text from Mark. Ehrman concludes that the original text was changed because it had adoptionist overtones.

When Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane, the text refers to his being comforted by an angel and sweating drops like blood (verses 43–44 in Luke 22:40–46). These two verses disrupt the literary structure of the scene (the chiasmus), they are not found in all the early manuscripts, and they are the only place in Luke where Jesus is seen to be in agony. Ehrman concludes that they were inserted in order to counter doceticism, the belief that Jesus, as divine, only seemed to suffer. While probably not original to the text, these verses reflect 1st-century tradition.[22]

Structure and content[edit]

Detailed content of Luke
1. Formal introduction
To Theophilus (1:1–4)
2. Jesus' birth and boyhood
Zacharias (1:5–25)
Annunciation (1:26–45)
Magnificat (1:46–56)
Nativity of St. John the Baptist (1:57–80)
:Benedictus (1:68–79)
Census of Quirinius (2:1–5)
Nativity of Jesus (2:6–7)
Annunciation to the shepherds (2:8–15)
Adoration of the Shepherds (2:16–20)
Circumcision of Jesus (2:21–40)
:Nunc dimittis (2:29–32)
Finding in the Temple (2:41–52)
3. Jesus' baptism and temptation
Ministry of John the Baptist (3:1–20)
Baptism (3:21–22)
Genealogy (3:23–38)
Temptation (4:1–13)
4.Jesus' ministry in Galilee
Good News (4:14–15)
Rejection in Nazareth (4:16–30)
Capernaum (4:31–44)
Miraculous catch of fish (5:1–11)
Leper and Paralytic (5:12–26)
Calling of Matthew (5:27–32)
On fasting (5:33–35)
New Wine into Old Wineskins (5:36–39)
Lord of the Sabbath (6:1–5)
Man with withered hand (6:6–11)
Commissioning the Twelve Apostles (6:12–16)
Sermon on the Plain (6:17–49)
Centurion's servant (7:1–10)
Young man from Nain (7:11–17)
Messengers from John the Baptist (7:18–35)
Anointing (7:36–50)
Women companions of Jesus (8:1–3)
Parable of the Sower (8:4–8,11–15)
Purpose of parables (8:9–10)
The Lamp under a Bushel (8:16–18; 11:33)
Jesus' true relatives (8:19–21)
Calming the storm (8:22–25)
Demon named Legion (8:26–39)
Daughter of Jairus (8:40–56)
Instructions for the Twelve (9:1–6)
Death of John the Baptist (9:7–9)
Feeding of the 5000 (9:10–17)
Peter's confession (9:18–20)
Jesus predicts his death (9:21–27, 44–45; 18:31–34)
Transfiguration (9:28–36)
Possessed boy (9:37–43)
The Little Children (9:46–48)
Those not against are for (9:49–50)
5. Jesus' teaching on the journey to Jerusalem
On the road to Jerusalem (9:51)
Samaritan rejection (9:52–56)
Foxes have holes (9:57–58)
Let the dead bury the dead (9:59–60)
Don't look back (9:61–62)
Commission of the Seventy (10:1–12,10:16–20)
Cursing Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum (10:13–15)
Praising the Father (10:21–24)
Great Commandment (10:25–28)
Parable of the Good Samaritan (10:29–37)
Visiting Martha and Mary (10:38–42)
Lord's Prayer (11:1–4)
The Friend at Night (11:5–13)
Blind-mute man (11:14–19)
Exorcising by the Finger of God (11:20)
Strong man (11:21–22)
Those not with me are against me (11:23)
Return of the unclean spirit (11:24–26)
Those who hear the word and keep it (11:27–28)
Request for a sign (11:29–32)
Eye and Light (11:34–36)
Woes of the Pharisees (11:37–54)
Veiled and Unveiled (12:1–3)
Whom to fear (12:4–7)
Unforgivable sin (12:8–12)
Disputed inheritance (12:13–15)
The Rich Fool and Birds (12:16–32)
Sell your possessions (12:33–34)
Parable of the Faithful Servant (12:35–48)
Not Peace, but a Sword (12:49–53; 14:25–27)
Knowing the times (12:54–56)
Settle with your accuser (12:57–59)
Tower of Siloam (13:1–5)
The Barren Fig Tree (13:6–9)
Infirm woman (13:10–17)
Parables of Mustard seed and Leaven (13:18–21)
The Narrow Gate (13:22–30)
Lament over Jerusalem (13:31–35)
Man with dropsy (14:1–6)
Parable of the Wedding Feast, Great banquet, Counting the cost,
Lost sheep, Lost coin, Lost son, Unjust steward (14:7–16:13)
Not one stroke of a letter (16:14–17)
On divorce (16:18)
Lazarus and Dives (16:19–31)
Curse those who set traps (17:1–6)
The Master and Servant (17:7–10)
Cleansing ten lepers (17:11–19)
The Coming Kingdom of God (17:20–37)
Parables of the Unjust judge, Pharisee and Publican (18:1–14)
The Little Children (18:15–17)
Rich Young Man (18:18–30)
Blind near Jericho (18:35–43)
Zacchaeus (19:1–9)
Son of Man came to save (19:10)
Parable of the Talents (19:11–27)
6. Jesus' Jerusalem conflicts, crucifixion, and resurrection
Entry into Jerusalem (19:28–44)
Temple incident (19:45–48)
Authority questioned (20:1–8)
The Wicked Husbandman (20:9–19)
Render unto Caesar... (20:20–26)
Resurrection of the Dead (20:27–40)
Is the Messiah the son of David? (20:41–44)
Denouncing scribes (20:45–47)
Lesson of the widow's mite (21:1–4)
Olivet discourse (21:5–38)
Plot to kill Jesus (22:1–2)
Bargain of Judas (22:3–6)
Last Supper (22:7–23)
Dispute about Greatness (22:24–30)
Denial of Peter (22:31–34, 55–62)
Sell your cloak and buy a sword (22:35–38)
Agony in the Garden (22:39–46)
Kiss of Judas (22:47–53)
Arrest (22:54)
Guards mock Jesus (22:63–65)
Before the High Priest (22:66–71)
Pilate's court (23:1–7, 13–25)
Jesus at Herod's court (23:8–12)
Simon of Cyrene (23:26)
Crucifixion (23:27–49)
Entombment (23:50–56)
Empty tomb (24:1–12)
Resurrection appearances (24:13–43)
Great Commission (24:44–49)
Ascension of Jesus (24:50–53)

There is no universally accepted analysis of the structure of Luke's gospel. The following is indicative only

  1. A brief preface addressed to Theophilus stating the author's aims;
  2. Birth and infancy narratives for both Jesus and John the Baptist, interpreted as the dawn of the promised era of Israel's salvation;
  3. Preparation for Jesus' messianic mission, concentrating on John's prophetic mission, his baptism of Jesus, and the testing of Jesus' vocation;
  4. The beginning of Jesus' mission in Galilee, and the hostile reception there;
  5. The central section, the journey to Jerusalem, where Jesus knows he must meet his destiny as God's prophet and messiah;
  6. His mission in Jerusalem, culminating in confrontation with the leaders of the Jewish Temple;
  7. His last supper with his most intimate followers, followed by his arrest, interrogation, and crucifixion;
  8. God's validation of Jesus as Christ: events from the first Easter to the Ascension, showing Jesus' death to be divinely ordained, in keeping with both scriptural promise and the nature of messiahship, and anticipating the story of Acts.[24][Notes 3]



Luke refers to Jesus in the same terms as Mark and Matthew, as the Christ, the Son of God, and the Son of Man.[7]




The theology of Luke-Acts is made somewhat difficult due to the contradictions in the text: for example, in Luke 2:11 Jesus was Christ (i.e., Messiah) at his birth, but in Acts 10:37-38 he becomes Christ at the resurrection, while Acts 3:20 it seems his messiah-ship becomes active only at the parousia, the "second coming"; similarly, in Luke 2:11 he is the Saviour from birth, but in Acts 5:31 he is made Saviour only at the resurrection; and he is born the Son of God in Luke 1:32-35, but becomes the Son of God at the resurrection according to Acts 13:33.[25]

Comparison with other writings[edit]

The birth narrative: Luke's "Son of God" title[edit]

Birth narratives are a feature of the gospels of Matthew and Luke, but not of Mark.

Luke's annunciation narrative seems to rely in some manner on Dead Sea scrolls fragment manuscript 4Q246, often called the "Son of God" text. This tells of a person who falls down before a king and predicts that the king will have a son who will "be great upon the earth" and who "shall be hailed son of God"; "his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom." Echoes of this text are found in Luke's infacny narrative, where the angel Gabriel tells Mary that her son "shall be great" and "shall be called Son of God".[26] The parallels are such that "it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Luke is dependent in some way, whether directly or indirectly, on this long lost text from Qumran".[27]

Like Matthew, Luke recounts a royal genealogy and a virgin birth for Jesus. Unlike Matthew, who traces Jesus' birth back through the line of David to Abraham in order to appeal to his Jewish audience,[28] in Luke the evangelist traces Jesus' lineage back to Adam, indicating a universal sense of salvation.[28]

Miracles and parables[edit]

Luke emphasizes Jesus' miracles, recounting 20, four of which are unique. Like Matthew, it includes important sayings from the Q source, such as the Beatitudes. Luke's version of the Beatitudes differs from Matthew's, and Luke's seems closer to the source in Q.[29] More than a dozen of Jesus' most memorable parables are unique to Luke, including the Good Samaritan, the Corrupt Steward and the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Role of women[edit]

More than the other gospels, Luke focuses on women as playing important roles among Jesus' followers, such as Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Mary of Bethany. The Gospel of Luke is the only Gospel which contains the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus to Mary his mother (1:26–38).

Compared to the other canonical gospels, Luke devotes significantly more attention to women. The Gospel of Luke features more female characters, features a female prophet (2:36), and details the experience of pregnancy (1:41–42).

Prominent discussion is given to the lives of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist and of Mary, the mother of Jesus (ch. 2).

Last supper[edit]

Luke is the only gospel that treats the Last Supper the way Paul does, as the institution of a liturgy to be repeated by his followers.[30] According to Geza Vermes, Paul is to be considered the primary source for this interpretation because he says he received this insight from direct revelation rather than from the other apostles.[30] The verses in question are not found in certain older manuscripts,[31] and Bart Ehrman concludes that they were added in order to support the theme of Jesus' atoning death, a theme found in Mark but that the evangelist excluded from the original Luke.[32]

Trials and crucifixion[edit]

Luke emphasizes that Jesus had committed no crime against Rome, as confirmed by Herod, Pilate, and the thief crucified with Jesus. It is possible that the author of Luke was trying to gain the respect of the Roman authorities for the benefit of the church by stressing Jesus' innocence.[33] In addition, it is also noted that Luke downplays Roman involvement in Jesus' execution and places responsibility more on the Jews.[34][35] In Luke's Passion narrative, Jesus prays that God forgive those who crucify him and his assurance to a crucified thief that they will be together in Paradise.

Resurrection appearances[edit]

Luke's accounts differ from those in Mark and Matthew. Luke tells the story of two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and (as in John) Jesus appears to the Eleven and demonstrates that he is "flesh and bones" Luke 24:39, not a spirit. Some scholars suggest that by writing of the "flesh and bones" properties of the resurrected Jesus, the author was making an apologetic response to docetic or gnostic views about Jesus' body, or to views that the disciples had merely seen his ghost.[citation needed] However, scholar Daniel A. Smith writes that the author was probably concerned with those in Christian circles who may have believed that the resurrection as merely "spiritual" and that it could have occurred without the transformation of the natural body.[36] In comparing Luke's account with other narratives of post-mortem apparitions in the Greco-Roman world, scholar Deborah Thompson Prince notes the similarities between them but concludes that Luke is unique in incorporating properties of all of them.[37]

Jesus' commission (the Great Commission), to the disciples to carry his message to all the nations, affirms Christianity as a universal religion. The Book of Acts, also written by Luke to the same Theophilus, declares about Jesus that "he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days..." Acts 2:3 The detailed narration of the Road to Emmaus appearance in Luke 24:13–32 is at times considered one of the best sketches of a biblical scene in the Gospel of Luke.[38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Contrary to [the traditional] view, which is occasionally still put forward today, a critical consensus emphasizes the countless contradictions between the account in Acts and the authentic Pauline letters" - Theissen&Merz, 1996 [tr. 1998], page 32.
  2. ^ The idea that the material in Luke which has no parallel in Mark or Matthew comes from a separate source unique to Luke was introduced by Burnett Hillman Streeter in his The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins (1924). See "THE FOUR GOSPELS-Streeter: Ch9". Katapi.org.uk. Retrieved 18 September 2013.  and Burnett H. Streeter,The Four Gospels. A Study of Origins Treating the Manuscript Tradition, Sources, Authorship, & Dates. London: MacMillan and Co., Ltd., 1924.
  3. ^ For studies of the literary structure of this Gospel, see recent contributions of Bailey, Goulder and Talbert, in particular for their readings of Luke's Central Section. (Almost all scholars believe the section begins at 9.51; strong case, however, can be put for 9.43b.) Then the introductory pieces to the opening and closing parts that frame the teaching of the Central Section would exhibit a significant dualism: compare 9.43b–45 and 18.31–35. The Central Section would then be defined as 9.43b–19.48, 'Jesus Journey to Jerusalem and its Temple'. Between the opening part ('His Setting out', 9.43b–10.24) and the closing part ('His Arriving', 18.31–19.48) lies a chiasm of parts 1–5,C,5'–1', 'His Teachings on the Way': 1, 10.25–42 Inheriting eternal life: law and love; 2, 11.1–13 Prayer: right praying, persistence, Holy Spirit is given; 3, 11.14–12.12 The Kingdom of God: what is internal is important; 4, 12.13–48 Earthly and Heavenly riches; the coming of the Son of Man; 5, 12.49–13.9 Divisions, warning and prudence, repentance; C, 13.10–14.24 a Sabbath healing, kingdom and entry (13.10–30), Jesus is to die in Jerusalem, his lament for it (13.31–35), a Sabbath healing, banqueting in the kingdom (14.1–24); 5', 14.25–15.32 Divisions, warning and prudence, repentance; 4', 16.1–31 Earthly and Heavenly riches: the coming judgement; 3', 17.1–37 The kingdom of God is 'within', not coming with signs; 2', 18.1–17 Prayer: persistence, right praying, receiving the kingdom; 1', 18.18–30 Inheriting eternal life: law and love. (All the parts 1–5 and 5'–1' are constructed of three parts in the style of ABB'.)


  1. ^ a b c Burkett 2002, p. 195.
  2. ^ Thompson 2010, p. 319.
  3. ^ Thompson 2010, p. 333.
  4. ^ Theissen & Merz 1996 [tr. 1998], p. 32.
  5. ^ a b c Tremmel 2011, p. 58.
  6. ^ Tremmel 2011, p. 59-60.
  7. ^ a b c d Burkett 2002, p. 196.
  8. ^ Ehrman 1999, p. 80.
  9. ^ a b Hurtado 2005, p. 284.
  10. ^ Tremmel 2011, p. 56.
  11. ^ Ehrman 1999, p. 82.
  12. ^ Powell 1998, p. 39-40.
  13. ^ Burkett 2002, p. 204.
  14. ^ Green 1995, p. 16-17.
  15. ^ a b Green 1997, p. 35.
  16. ^ Green 1997, p. 36.
  17. ^ Gregory (2003) p.27+30
  18. ^ P4 contains Lk 1:58–59, 62–2:1,6–7; 3:8–4:2, 29–32, 34–35; 5:3–8; 5:30–6:16
  19. ^ P75 contains Lk 3:18–4:2+; 4:34–5:10; 5:37–18:18+; 22:4–24:53 and John 1:1–11:45, 48–57; 12:3–13:10; 14:8–15:10
  20. ^ a b "Complete List of Greek NT Papyri". User.uni-bremen.de. Retrieved 2013-11-09. 
  21. ^ List of New Testament papyri
  22. ^ a b May, Herbert G. and Bruce M. Metzger. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. 1977. p. 1196
  23. ^ Bart D. Ehrman. Misquoting Jesus.
  24. ^ Carroll 2012, p. 15-16.
  25. ^ Ehrman 1993, p. 65.
  26. ^ Fitzmyer 2009, p. 66.
  27. ^ VanderKam & Flint 2002, p. 66.
  28. ^ a b Ehrman, Bart D., The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (Fourth Edition). New York: Oxford. 2008
  29. ^ Funk, Robert W., Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. The five gospels. HarperSanFrancisco. 1993. "Luke" pp. 271–400
  30. ^ a b Vermes, Geza. The authentic gospel of Jesus. London, Penguin Books. 2004. pp. 301–307.
  31. ^ May, Herbert G. and Bruce M. Metzger. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. 1977. p. 1279.
  32. ^ Ehrman, Bart D.. Jesus, Interrupted, HarperCollins, 2009. ISBN 0-06-117393-2
  33. ^ V. George Shillington, An introduction to the study of Luke-Acts, Continuum International Publishing Group, p. 11. ISBN 0-567-03053-9
  34. ^ Leigh Gibson, Shelly Matthews, Violence in the New Testament, Continuum International Publishing Group, pg. 132, 2005. ISBN 0-567-02500-4
  35. ^ Jonathan Knight, Luke's gospel, Psychology Press, pg. 145, 2005. ISBN 0-415-17322-1
  36. ^ Daniel A. Smith (2010) Revisiting the Empty Tomb: The Early History of Easter, Fortress Press, p. 109.
  37. ^ Deborah Thompson Prince, The ‘Ghost’ of Jesus: Luke 24 in Light of Ancient Narratives of Post-Mortem Apparitions, New Testament, March 2007, vol. 29 no. 3 287–301.
  38. ^ Luke for Everyone by Tom Wright, 2004 ISBN 0-664-22784-8 page 292


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