Sunday, September 29

Ten Plagues: Judgment on Ancient Egyptian Gods and Goddesses?

The book of Exodus contains the account of Moses and the Israelites, their hardships in the land of Egypt and their exodus from Egypt, as well as the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. Exodus 7-12 details the ten plagues (or "wonders") placed on the ancient Egyptians by Yahweh. What was the purpose of these ten plagues? To note, in Biblical numerology the number ten represented a fullness of something, or completeness. The ten plagues on Egypt signified that Egypt was fully or completely plagued. There are various ways of considering the purpose of the plagues, but in Exodus 12:12 God says, "I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt." Therefore, one reasonable and feasible way of examining the purpose of each plague is as a sort of polemic or judgment against the Egyptian pantheon.

The water turning into blood was a sort of judgment or polemic against Hapy (or Hapi), the god of the Nile. Some scholars also think that part of the reason Pharaoh's daughter went down to the Nile in Exodus 2 was to pray to Hapi - who is also partly a fertility god - to become fertile, and there she found Moses. The second plague, the frogs coming from the Nile, is a judgment against Heket the goddess of fertility, renewal and water. Lice from the dust of the earth - ironic as the dust that was used in the creation of man is now used to plague him - is a judgment against the god of the earth, Geb. The swarm of flies is a judgment against the god of creation, rebirth, and movement of the sun - Khepri. The death of the cattle and livestock appears to be a judgment against the goddess of love and protection, Hathor. The ashes which turn to boils and sores sees to be a judgment against the goddess of medicine and peace, Isis. The seventh plague, the plague of hail, is evidently a judgment against the sky god Nut. Seth, the god of storms and chaos or disorder is judged in the plague of locusts. The sun god Ra is judged in the plague of darkness, and finally, the final plague - the death of the firstborn - appears to be a judgment on Pharaoh himself, who was thought to be the son of Ra (possibly also a polemic noting that there is only ONE true son of God?).

What effect would this have had on the people living in Egypt? The psychological and religious effects would have been far-reaching, in all likelihood. In fact, we are not left without possible archaeological insight. Although each piece of evidence is controversial, for our purposes we will presume they are artifacts which belong to the period of Moses. An ancient water holder was found in El Arish which displays hieroglyphics that describe a period of darkness similar to the one mentioned in Exodus. The Ipuwer Papyrus, acquired around 1828 and translated in 1909 also describes conditions similar to those referred to in the Biblical account. This papyrus is sometimes dated to the time of the Exodus, and it details a plague that is throughout the land (IP 2:5-6; Exodus 7:21), a river that is as blood (IP 7:20; Exodus 7:20-21), groaning that is heard throughout the area (IP 3:14; Exodus 12:30), fire mixed with hail (IP 9:23; Exodus 9:23-25), darkness in the land (IP 9:11; Exodus 10:22), widespread death (IP 2:13; Exodus 12:29-30), and several other similar instances. If the water trough from El Arish and the Ipuwer Papyrus describe the Egyptian plagues, it evidently had a major effect on the Egyptians to merit a record. It also likely would have been heard by people all major trade routes and word of the Israelite God would have spread quickly. Finally, for my part the miracles or plagues demonstrate the sovereignty of God and the plan and love He has for His people.

Friday, September 27

Exegesis on Early Christian Christology

In the introductory chapter of the book of Hebrews, curious comments are made in reference to Jesus of Nazareth, where he is called “God.” Assuming Pauline authorship of Hebrews simply for the sake of tradition and ease (recognizing issues with Pauline authorship), we find the notion of Jesus as God elsewhere in the New Testament. Popular notions put forth in works such as Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code place the consideration of Jesus as God in the early AD 300s. As a result, public opinion has continued to propagate this idea.

Theologically and philosophically, the notion of Jesus having a divine nature is a separate matter. Whether or not he was actually considered a god by followers prior to the Council of Nicaea is a matter of primary focus, and too often the claim is made that he was not before any actual historical research occurs.

The letter to the Hebrews appears to be primarily written to a Jewish audience. St. Paul assumes that his audience is familiar with many Jewish concepts found within the Hebrew Bible, such as the covenant given to Moses, the figure of Melchizedek, along with many other figures from the Hebrew Bible.

My methodology is a historical approach. Utilizing different Christian, Jewish and Pagan sources, we attempt to determine how early the belief in Jesus as God is. By tracing the belief backward in time, we can gain further elucidation into the issue and allow for a clearer understanding of the topic and provide us with what some may consider a startling conclusion. The question to ask then would be, was Jesus only considered God during the AD 300s, or did this belief arise in the early days of Christianity, possibly even during the life of Jesus himself?

Scripture under consideration: Hebrews 1:8-12
Scripture under scrutiny: Hebrews 1:1-4, 13:8; Philippians 2:6-11; Colossians 1:15-16; 1st Corinthians 8:6
Firm Foundations
Christology is essentially the study of the nature and person of Jesus of Nazareth, generally in relation to the Father, but also regarding Jesus’ nature, whether God or man or both. Before we attempt to understand early Christology of believers, it would be beneficial to examine the Jewish view of God. Indeed, the majority of Jesus’ early followers as well as those converted posthumously were Jewish; hence, the Jewish body of believers was bringing with them their belief in Yahweh. Even in the Pentateuch we find the express statement still upheld by most Jews, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4), known as the Shema Yisreal. There are a myriad of similar references before and after in the Hebrew Bible, many of which are found in Isaiah. This monotheistic belief was carried over into New Testament times.

In fact, we still see the notion of “one God” present throughout the New Testament itself. Jesus also taught that there was one God (Mark 12:29), as did the teachers of his time (12:32). Monotheism is also present in St. Paul’s letters (1st Corinthians. 8:4-6; Galatians 3:20; 1st Timothy 2:5, etc.) as well as St. James’ letter (James 2:19), Jude’s letter (Jude 25) among others. Intertestamental material also demonstrates the Jewish belief in one God (Ecclesiasticus 36:5; 2nd Maccabees 7:37, etc.). To be fair, Jewish mysticism may allow for more than one god, but Orthodox Judaism is monotheistic. With this in mind, we can then examine what the New Testament along with outside sources tells us about early Christology.

Non-Biblical Considerations of Early Christology
When we examine early Christology, there are two things to bear in mind. First, what do we mean by “early?” Second, whose Christology? Gnostic, Ebionite, Orthodox and other early Christian sects held different beliefs about Jesus. Concerning the first, “early” refers to Jesus’ life until the late 2nd century (c.AD 30/33-190). Regarding the second, the primary focus is that of Orthodoxy, as the letters we find within the canonical New Testament are considered Orthodox. Subsequently, it would also be beneficial to examine some of what the other sects were saying, because it would show early belief in the divinity of Jesus. Clearly, early Christians believed that Jesus was a man. The sects differed on the exact nature of his earthly existence, but there was a general consensus that he either was a man in part or had the likeness of a man, but was actually a spirit in a human body or an illusion. In Orthodoxy, Jesus came to be regarded as the “Godman,” both fully God and fully man. But how early did this develop, and can it be clearly seen in non-biblical references along with the book of Hebrews and other canonical Scriptures?

Melito of Sardis, who died about AD 180 – and hence lived prior to the date – wrote one of the most eloquent homilies we have. Sardis is in Asia Minor, giving us another testimony to the notion. For Melito, Jesus was God himself, more than just the “Passover lamb.” He identified Jesus as being “by nature God and man,” and noted that “the almighty God has made his dwelling through Christ Jesus” (On the Passover 8; 45). Melito also wrote that “He who fastened the universe has been fastened to a tree [crucified]; the Sovereign has been insulted; the God has been murdered” (On the Passover 96). On the Passover was written about AD 170.

Athenagoras, in c.AD 178 wrote a work titled Embassy for Christians. In it we find a deeper understanding of Trinitarianism forming, although it should be noted that the term “Trinity” is never used either in the Latin (trinitas – first used by Tertullian c.AD 220) nor the Greek (trias – first used by Theophilus c.AD 168-183). According to Athenagoras, Christians spoke of “God the Father, and of God the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Embassy 10), and noted that there is “one God, uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, illimitable, who is apprehended by the understanding only and the reason… the Son being in the Father and the Father in the Son, in oneness and power of Spirit” (Embassy 10). Embassy 24 also demonstrates intimations of Trinitarian thought, “We say that there is God and the Son, his Word, and the Holy Spirit, united in power yet distinguished in rank…”

Irenaeus, at the close of the second century also referred to Jesus as theos. He taught that “God, then, was made man, and the Lord did Himself save us, giving us the token of the Virgin” (Against Heresies 3.21.1). In response to the Ebionites, Irenaeus writes, “how can they be saved unless it was God who wrought out their salvation upon earth?” (4.33.4). He also taught that “thus God is shown to be one according to the essence of His being in power; but at the same time, as the administrator of the economy of our redemption, He is both Father and Son” (Proof of Apostolic Preaching 47).

Justin Martyr (AD 150s-160s) also refers to Jesus as God. In his Dialogue with Trypho he calls Jesus our “Lord and God” (129). He later conveys to Trypho, “If you had understood what has been written by the prophets, you would not have denied that He was God, the Son of the only, unbegotten, unutterable God” (emphasis mine; 126). Justin uses Logos several times in his work. He also identified Jesus as the “Angel of the Lord” who appeared to Abraham, Moses and others, along with the title “I am that I am” (1st Apology 59; 63; 75). Philo of Alexandria also spoke of the “Logos,” but not in the same context utilized in the Johannine works (John 1; 1st John 1:1; Revelation 19:13) and Justin Martyr’s works (cf. Dialogue 55-56; 60).

Ignatius, who was a student of John the disciple and therefore part of the Johannine community, lived about AD 35-108. While the dates of his birth and death are a bit debatable (some hold that he was born around AD 50 and died about AD 117), three important references from his works are relevant to the topic. Ignatius referred to Jesus as theos on about a dozen occasions. For example, in his letter to the Romans Ignatius writes, “our God Jesus Christ, [who] is in the Father” (8:3). Here, Jesus is called God. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Ignatius called him “God come in the flesh” (7:2), and also referred to the “blood of God” (1:1), by which he meant the blood of Christ. In his letter to Polycarp he writes, “I pray for your happiness forever in our God, Jesus Christ” (Polycarp 8). He elsewhere refers to “Christ our God” (Smyrnaeans 1:1; 10:1). Also, the Gnostic Treatise on the Resurrection refers to Jesus as both Son of God and Son of Man, “possessing both the humanity and the divinity” (44).

One of our earliest non-biblical references is found in a letter written by Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Younger), who was governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor c.AD 112. In this letter addressed to Emperor Trajan (AD 98-112), he writes that that the Christians “were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god” (emphasis mine, Epistle X.96). Evidently by AD 112 the Christians in Asia Minor had been worshiping Jesus as a god, according to Pliny. There are also various other references to Jesus as God in the second century. Polycarp (c.AD 115) referred to “our Lord and God Jesus Christ” (Philippians 12:2). In a Syriac version of the Apology by Aristides written about AD 125 we read, “it is said that God came down from heaven, and from a Hebrew virgin assumed and clothed himself with flesh” (2).In the Sibylline Oracles, book 6 we read, “O blessed tree, on which God was hung!” The Epistle to Diognetus 7 says, “As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so God sent Him (Jesus Christ). He sent Him as God.” Also, the Address to the Greeks from Tatian notes that “God was born in the form of a man” (21). 2nd Clement 1:1 says, “Brothers, we must think about Jesus as we think about God” (written c.AD 150).

Along with many other Gnostic texts, by about AD 100 there appears to be a belief held by at least some members of the church that Jesus was God. The 2nd and 3rd centuries onward are replete with references to Jesus as God or as a god, particularly from the Gnostics. So much so, apparently, that a third-century writer as quoted by Eusebius asserts of a series of teachers in the second-century “in all of whose work Christ is spoken of as God” (Ecclesiastical History 5:28). The Johannine works found in the New Testament - John, 1st-3rd John and Revelation – make several clear references to the divinity and humanity of Jesus, as has been recognized by both Christian and non-Christian scholars. While these works were likely written in the late 1st century, between AD 86-95, this does not negate the notion that Jesus could have been considered God earlier than the 80s. The question remains, then – was Jesus considered God (or a god) prior to the AD 80s?

The Christology of Hebrews
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.”
Hebrews 1:1-4

“But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.’ He also says, ‘In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.’”
Hebrews 1:8-12

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
         Hebrews 13:8

While there may be other relevant passages in the book of Hebrews, these three citations are sufficient to demonstrate the overall Christology of the work. The first verse is sometimes considered an early Christological hymn. Here, Jesus is identified as “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,” and as the one “through whom also he made the universe.” Elsewhere the canonical New Testament writings call Jesus “Christ, who is the image of God” (2nd Corinthians 4:4), as well as “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Hebrews was likely written between AD 60-96, possibly in Italy (Hebrews 13:24), with 2nd Corinthians dated to about AD 55 and Colossians to AD 60. These references do not implicitly call Jesus “God” but rather “the image” or the “exact representation” of God.

This has often been compared to the Wisdom of God. The concept of the Wisdom or “Word” of God is seen in later wisdom literature. Philo of Alexandria, a 1st century Jewish philosopher, is known for discussing the Wisdom/Logos. The process of describing this Logos took on a form of hypostatization, wherein it became a personal entity within God, somewhat like how later Trinitarian doctrine held that the Son and Spirit were one with the Father. This concept can also be seen in the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon (100 BC-40 AD), where we read, “For in wisdom there is a spirit intelligent and holy, unique in its kind yet made up of many parts… Like a fine mist she rises from the power of God, a pure effluence from the glory of the Almighty… She is the brightness that streams from [or is the reflection of] everlasting light, the flawless mirror of the active power of God and the image of his goodness” (Wisdom 7:25-26).

Clearly, the concept of a personal entity within God is not without precedence. Outside of the Johannine works, a high Christology of Jesus is sparse but non non-existent. Some references can be found in the Pauline and Petrine works, along with various instances in the gospels and elsewhere in the New Testament documents. Before considering the second of the Hebrews citations, it is relevant to consider the third, “Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever.” This is often referred to as immutability, and is typically paired with several texts from the Hebrew Bible, such as Malachi 3:6, “I the LORD do not change,” “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind (1st Samuel 15:29).

Next, we consider the second and perhaps most relevant citation, that of Hebrews 1:8-12. Here, Psalm 45:6-7 and Psalm 102:25-27 (traditionally attributed to the sons of Korah and David, respectively) are quoted. F.F. Bruce once replied to the claim that the author of Hebrews did not consider Jesus to be God. However, it is significant that the citation was used in the first place, indicating that the author (presumably St. Paul, Barnabas or Apollos) saw nothing wrong with the usage of this title for Jesus. The title “God” is an old English word that developed from an Indo-European word, which means “that which is invoked.” The Indo-European word is also the linguistic ancestor for the German word “Gott” as well as the Danish “Gud,” which both mean “God.”

Referring to the quotation utilized in Hebrews 1:8, the early church historian Eusebius (AD 263-339) in his Ecclesiastical History commented, “In the first line the passage calls Him God; in the second it honours Him with a royal scepter; then next, after divine and royal power, it goes on in the third place to portray Him as having become Christ, anointed not with oil made of physical substance but with the divine oil of gladness. Furthermore, it signifies the special distinction that makes Him far superior to and quite different from those who in earlier ages had received in imagery a more physical chrism” (3.15). In other words, the author of Hebrews evidently felt that there was nothing wrong with ascribing the title of “God” to Jesus of Nazareth. There is another way of translation this passage, used by Jehovah’s Witnesses for doctrinal purposes, “God is your throne forever and ever” (New World Translation), neglecting to remove the proceeding section that implies the author’s view of Jesus divine nature. This translation is not generally agreed upon by scholars, and it is worth noting that the quotation is from the Hebrew Bible, and the fact remains that the reading of “Your throne, O God…” is found in the Psalms as is.

As a result, it appears as though the Hebraic author considered Jesus to be “God.” From the quotation (which itself derives from the Psalms) alone we can determine that Jesus was considered God (v.8-9), he was considered the creator (v.10), and unchanging (v.11-12; cf. 13:8). While it is also true that Hebrews emphasis the human nature of Jesus in various places, it also places a distinct emphasis on his divine nature. Hebrews 2:9, which is similar to the Philippians 2 Christological hymn which we will come back to shortly, records, “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Setting the author’s words against the view of Jesus as an angel, in the first two chapters of the sermon or homily, he (or she) establishes the notion that Jesus is not an angel, and is in fact superior to angels and men alike. But if Hebrews was written sometime between AD 60-95, do we have any earlier material found in the New Testament?

Other Biblical Considerations of Early Christology
The New Testament refers to Psalm 110:1 over a half dozen times in reference to Jesus. It reads, “The LORD says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” It appears to be one of the most alluded to and quoted verses from the Hebrew Bible found within the New Testament, along with its “twin,” Psalm 8:6. Whether or not modern readers believe that Psalm 110 is a reference to the Trinity or Jesus’ deity is irrelevant. The point is not in modern interpretation, but the way in which the passage was used by early Christians. During the Second Temple age, Christians were about the only group using this passage, supported by the fact that the Jewish literature of the time has nearly no allusions to the passage.

Also, the aforementioned Shema found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 is relevant to this topic. During the time of Jesus and Paul, the Shema was recited thrice a day. It was recited not only as a reminder of God as well as what he had done for Israel in the past, but also as a rejection of the pagan deities. As traditional authorship of Hebrews is given to Paul, it would be pertinent to examine other Pauline writings. It is generally agreed, for example, that Paul wrote 1st Corinthians. From this letter we can see that early Christians (or at least Paul) utilized the Shema and inserted a reference to Jesus. 1st Corinthians 8:6 says, “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.”

In essence, St. Paul is claiming that Jesus is God, the Creator, and also explicitly noting that Christians nevertheless remain monotheistic. Jesus was not a new god, but was a manifestation of the God of Israel. According to scholar Richard Bauckham, “Paul has in fact reproduced all the words about YHWH in the Shema…, but Paul has rearranged the words in such a way as to produce an affirmation of both one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ. It should be quite clear that Paul is including the Lord Jesus Christ in the unique divine identity.” Reflections of this belief are seen elsewhere in Paul’s writings. 1st Corinthians 10:4 implies Jesus’ involvement with the Israelites in the desert, as a pre-existent figure. There are two explicit references where Jesus is called “God” in Pauline writings, but on the basis of textual or interpretative grounds these are sometimes dismissed.

These two passages are Romans 9:5 and Titus 2:13. Some manuscripts of Romans 9:5 say, “…the Messiah, who is God over all” (emphasis mine). Concerning Titus 2:13 we read, “while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (emphasis mine; cf. 2nd Peter 1:1). On textual grounds it is difficult to say whether or not these were the original readings. However, it is significant that if both readings are genuine (with the assumption of Pauline authorship for Titus), the letters were written between AD 57-64, with scholars usually dating Romans to the late 50s. If this reference in Romans is the correct reading, we then have a seeming reference to Jesus as God in the late AD 50s, a rather significant notion.

The Synoptic Gospels are also useful for demonstrating possible early belief. Although scholars tend to date the Synoptics from AD 50-85 (with more conservative scholars giving an earlier dating than the 70s and 80s), various evidences have been put forth elsewhere for the historicity of the writings and the preservation of actual sayings and events. If this is the case, one wonders what the early followers thought of Jesus forgiving sins, something Jews understood only God to be able to do (Mark 2:5-7), teaching on his own authority (Matthew 7:28-29), receiving worship (Matthew 14:31-33; 28:9, 17), changing someone’s name – held to be something in the Hebrew Bible that only God could do (Mark 3:16), among other factors. Surely the early Jewish followers would have at least taken notice of some of the traditions and had to reconcile this with their monotheistic belief.

Perhaps one of the better examples from the Synoptics was pointed out in a work written by Morton Smith titled Jesus the Magician. In the work, Smith details evidences that Jesus was considered a magician, but for our consideration, citing the name of a magician in a spell was thought to be invoking their name as a god. More significantly, according to Mark 9:38, Jesus name was invoked as such during his own lifetime. The passage says, “’Teacher,’ said John, ‘we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us’” (emphasis mine). In magic, using a name in this fashion implied deity. This is also seen in Acts 19:13, “Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon possessed. They would say, ‘In the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out’” (emphasis mine).

Early magical papyri and other related items provide further credence for this understanding. Jesus’ name was used in a myriad of pagan spells and exorcisms, and was usually identified as a god. For example, a lead tablet from the third century found in Carthage says, “… the god having authority over this hour in which I conjure you, Jesus.” It also names Hermes, the Greek god and others. Another ancient pagan papyri says, “I conjure you by the god of the Hebrews, Jesus” (PGM IV, line 3020). Line 2929 of the same papyrus may also contain an anagrammatized mention of Jesus in an invocation of the sexual goddess Aphrodite for a love charm. Given the context, his name appears to be used as a deity. While the magical papyri is after the first century, it evidently reflects a tradition found in the earliest of gospels, seemingly demonstrating that even during Christ’s lifetime, some considered him a god.

While not specifically a Biblical consideration, it follows as an offshoot of the opposition considering Christ a god that archaeology should also be consulted before returning to the Christological hymns. The earliest depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion we have is a graffito scratched on the plaster of a schoolroom at Palatine hill in Rome. The crucified figure has typical features, the most interesting of which is the fact that the figure has a donkey head. It is usually called the Alexamenos depiction. It is dated to about AD 200, although it is also thought to have been created slightly before. But why does Jesus have the head of a donkey? There was a legend that the Jewish god was a donkey, or donkey headed. This probably came from the notion that the donkey was the sacred animal of Seth from the Egyptian pantheon, and was usually thought to be the god of the foreigners. There are various reasons for this identification, but that God was thought to bear the head of a donkey is borne out by accusations recorded by Josephus (Against Apion 2:80), Tacitus (Histories 5.3), Epiphanius (Panarion, Heresy 26:10), and others. Tertullian reported that Jews and Christians were accused of worshipping a god with the head of a donkey (Ad nations 1:11, 14). We also find a depiction from a non-observant Jew prior to AD 197 that shows a similar image with the inscription “The god of the Christians.”

Why is this significant? Usage of Jesus’ name in pagan spells and exorcisms, coupled with the depiction of Jesus as the Jewish God – clear from portraying him with the head of a donkey along with the second image bearing the inscription – demonstrates that some non-Christians thought Jesus to be a god, and used his name as such. As noted, this tradition is seen as early as Mark’s gospel, where Jesus’ name is invoked during an exorcism, which historically, would have been considered the name of a deity as invoked in such a way. While the majority of the evidence comes from the second and third century, the inclusion of the invocation in the New Testament documents lends further credibility to this idea. If Mark was written around AD 50-65, the idea of Jesus as God may not only trace to the early 50s, but also during the life of Jesus himself.

Early Christological Hymns
            The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or authorities: all things have been created through him and for him.
                                                                                                            Colossians 1:15-16

In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
                                                                                                Philippians 2:5-11

Scholars have noted in recent years the apparent usage of hymns and early creeds within the New Testament, the most famous being the 1st Corinthians 15 creed. Assuming that the above two passages are early Christological hymns (with the exception of Philippians 2:5), what can we glean from these texts? Both are a matter of theological debate, particularly among Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. It should also be noted that the reading “in very nature God” can also be translated as “in the form of God.” There are several things we can learn from these passages if taken in a straightforward, historical context. As with the introduction to Hebrews, Jesus is called “the image of the invisible God.” Assuming Pauline authorship of Colossians, we have a date of about AD 60 for the letter, likewise in the case of Philippians. The Colossians hymn also implies that Jesus is considered the Creator, or at least the conduit of the Father’s creation, “all things have been created through him.”

Subsequently, the Philippians hymn certainly appears to call Jesus “God.” The pre-existence of Jesus is assumed, and we are told that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and every tongue [confess] that Jesus Christ is Lord,” which reflects a passage found in another of St. Paul’s letters, Romans 14:11, itself a quote of Isaiah 45:23. Adapting the passage from Isaiah into the hymn lends further credibility that the early Christians considered Jesus to be God, as this activity was to be done in reverence of God only. It is therefore significant that these hymns are dated to the early years of the church, to the mid AD 30s. It is thought that Paul received several traditions, creeds and hymns during his visits to Jerusalem as mentioned in Galatians, and these two hymns are also thought to be included. If the date is correct, this pushes belief in Jesus as God to within a mere two or three years after his crucifixion. Also, if the invocation of his name seen in the gospels was actually used in the typical magical context, then belief in Jesus as God existed even during his lifetime.

The first chapter of Hebrews clearly has a high Christology. That Jesus was considered God (or a god) even during his lifetime is borne out through various evidences, such as textual and archaeological evidences. The invocation of Jesus’ name by early followers and subsequently the early church in a similar manner to magical spells of that time evidently demonstrates that Jesus’ name was invoked as that of a god. The earliest crucifixion graffito also lends to the argument. Along with the Biblical considerations, the non-Biblical considerations further support the notion that Jesus was considered a god early on.

By the time of the council at Nicaea in AD 325, Jesus was considered to be God by many orthodox Christians. As we have seen, this belief did not simply spring up from nowhere, but is also found in third century texts, second century texts, and more significantly, in some early material derived from the first century, parts of which were likely compiled within less than five years of Jesus’ crucifixion – the Christological hymns. What does this mean for the Muslim view that Jesus was not considered a god until much later? What does this mean for Christians as a whole, and what does this mean for further studies of early Christianity? In the words of Jesus, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The Holy Bible, Today’s New International Version. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005. Print.

Hartog, Paul. "Jesus as God in the Second Century." Christian Research Institute. CRI,   2006. Web. 18 April 2012. .

Metzger, Bruce M., and Michael D. Coogan. "Jesus Christ." The Oxford Companion to the Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. Print.

Price, Christopher. "Jesus's Divinity Within Jewish Monotheism." Christian Colligation of Apologetics Debate Research & Evangelism. Christian CADRE, 2003. Web. 18 April 2012. 

Smith, Morton. Jesus the Magician. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1981. Print.

Thursday, September 26

Anagnorisis, Genesis 38 and the Joseph Novella

The question has been asked by critical scholars, "Why insert the story of Genesis 38 in between the story of 37 and 39, which it interrupts?" Indeed, the Joseph novella appears to flow well beside the insertion of the Judah and Tamar narrative. Note that although I hold the Bible to be God's Word, I will be examining the question from a literary angle. Besides Judah, the cast and setting is different than what we find in the Joseph novella. It is important to note that simply because a text appears out of place does not necessitate that it is. Consider the example of King David and the prophet Nathan. Nathan recounts an anecdote to King David in 2nd Samuel 12, but until Nathan makes clear the point of relaying the anecdote, David does not truly understand. Rabbinic literature (such as Genesis Rabbah 85:2) also recognizes the issue yet is dismissive of the included text and determines that it is not a crucial part of the Joseph novella.

However, I would contend that Genesis 38 is an essential part of the Joseph novella, and that it is itself a sort of type-scene. One of the ancient literary devices utilized in the text is called anagnorsis, which refers to the moment when a character's identity becomes aware of the identity of another character. One example of anagnorisis is in the Greek tale of Oedipus, when he finally realizes the identity of his mother and father. Now, the Joseph novella itself contains several type-scenes that would have been familiar to the audience of the time, such as a scene at the well, trouble amongst brothers, preservation of family, and so forth. A type scene (or literary motif) is essentially a scene that is repeated in different forms - Isaac's wife is found by a well, Moses saves the women by the well, Saul is searching by the well, and Jesus talks with the Samaritan woman by the well. In this case, Judah sends Tamar home as a widow and does not intend on ever giving her his third son. Likewise, Joseph's brothers sell him into slavery and never expect to see him again.

Subsequently, Tamar's deception results in the reconciling of family members just as Joseph's deception of his brothers ultimately results in the reconciling of the family. Both the Joseph novella and the Judah/Tamar narrative have scenes of anagnorisis which remind the other character(s) of past mistakes - Judah is reminded of his wrongdoing just as his brothers are later reminded of what they did to Joseph. In fact, we could say that Genesis 38 is a sort of type-scene setting up the Joseph novella. It can be used as a sort of lens that will better enable us to view the much larger story. It can also be seen as a sort of payback for what Judah did to his brother Joseph in the prior chapter, as well as a sort of "meanwhile, back at the Batcave" inclusion before returning to Joseph's predicament.

The Importance of Writing: To Write or Not to Write

Were it not for writing, you would not be reading this article at the moment in time which you have chosen to read it. The earliest writings of man date back a mere few thousand years ago. For example, the Epic of Gilgamesh, parts of which are based in history though much is mythological, is one of the earliest known works of literature. Writing is useful in many respects. This includes the preservation of historical events and of fictional accounts that have continually captivated the imagination of the human mind, the furtherance of science and its different fields, the development of philosophy and religious ideas, among other things. To illustrate this, the articles, “On The Pleasure Of Taking Up One’s Pen” by Hilaire Belloc, “The Writing Life” by Stephen King, “Souls on Ice” by Mark Doty, “Anonymous, Evasive Prose to Writing With Passion” by Scott Russell Sanders, and “The Pleasure of Writing” by A.A. Milne are used support the notion that writing is important for the conveyance of knowledge and ideas, as well as for the preservation of our history.

According to Belloc, “No man can create anything.” An example of what is meant by this is as follows: a man sits down to write about a land inhabited by mystical creatures and governed by gods. While the publication itself may have arisen within the man’s creative processes, the man has nevertheless employed ideas that were already in existence: some kind of mythical land, inhabited by mystical creatures, and ruled by gods. It ought to be noted that the concept of gods (or a God) is not a new concept, and is therefore not a true creation of the man. Although he may have created a new god-figure, the concept is nonetheless used and not original. Therefore, “it must be admitted that there is no such thing as a man’s ‘creating’” (Belloc). At the same time, when we write, writing does not come without a small price. Belloc argued that “you know that when you have done, something will be added to the world, and little destroyed,” simply meaning that whatever medium you are reading this essay on was formed using physical materials. For example, if a writer used a pen and paper to author a large volume, he or she would not simply be using their knowledge and perhaps other sources, but would also be using the led in the pencil, and would be using quite a bit of paper, which is essentially the consumption of materials. Yet given the usage of the transference of ideas between people, as well as the preservation of our history, it is well worth the cost, though it must be admitted that there are many things in print which ought not to be in print.

However, as put by Sanders, “Any time I opened my mouth to speak, I might be held accountable for what I said.” Whatever one writes and is available for public viewing, is prone to be judged, and therefore the author can be held accountable for what he or she has put into writing. In a society based on information, be it in economics, politics, religion, or whatever aspect of society or individual life it may be, information is a necessary thing. Even our DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), which contains our set of genetic instructions used in our functioning and development, contains information. According to Sean McDowell, educator and popular speaker, "The DNA in one cell in the human body holds the equivalent of roughly 8000 books of information. A typical human body has about 100 trillion cells,” demonstrating that even in our genetic makeup, information is important. While this is a bit of a digression, it is necessary to establish that information is necessary in many regards.

Milne believes that writing can be a “real pleasure.” Indeed, some people, such as poets, write simply for the enjoyment, or for the pleasure. One may write a play out of enjoyment, or perhaps a fictional story, such as an action or adventure novel. While it is true that there are those who write simply to receive revenue to pay the bills and purchase the groceries, it is also true that there are writers who write simply for the pleasure. Sometimes, Milne writes, “I sit at my desk and wonder if there is any possible subject in the whole world upon which I can possibly find anything to say.” At times writing is merely a form of self-expression, and not intended to argue a point, or provide information, but is simply writing with the purpose of the pleasure of the author. “When poets and idiots talk of the pleasure of writing, they mean the pleasure of giving a piece of their minds to the public,” whereas Milne believes that the “pleasure of the artist in seeing beautifully shaped ‘k’s’ and sinuous ‘s’s’ grow beneath his steel” is a reason to enjoy writing.

Also, in like manner, Belloc noted that “Among the sadder and smaller pleasures of this world I count this pleasure: the pleasure of taking up one’s pen.” But what of the means by which the concepts and ideas flow freely from the mind to the paper? By what inspiration do writers write? We are not speaking of the physical material itself, of pens and pencils and other utensils, but of inspiration. King, who is perhaps best known for his numerous works of horror, many of which have been adapted into film and television, stated that “There’s a mystery about creative writing, but it’s a boring mystery unless you’re interested in this one small animal, sometimes quite vicious, that makes its home in the bushes.” King calls this creature his “muse,” which comes from the Greek word musa, meaning song. His muse, he argues, is his inspiration. “There is indeed a half-wild beast that lives in the thickets of each writer’s imagination. It gorges on a half-cooked stew of suppositions, superstitions and half-finished stories” (King).

Inspiration comes in a variety of ways. Some writers find inspiration in their spouses, if they have a spouse, while others find inspiration in nature, or in their faith, political beliefs, or other personal view of things. For example, a Christian may write about the Psalms or Proverbs, understanding that “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (Ecclesiastes 12:11). A Buddhist, then, may write about such things are nirvana, enlightenment, etc. The Buddhist may write something along the lines of, “picture a goose inside of a glass bottle. Now find a way to take the goose out of the bottle without harming the goose or breaking the bottle.” One could ponder ways for many an hour, until finally he or she gave up and asked for the solution, to which the author would reply, “since the goose inside the bottle are merely words in a sentence, all you must do is say, ‘the goose is out of the bottle,’ and he would be free.” Inspiration can arise from several different factors. King believes that it comes from the “semi-domestication f one’s muse.”

Certainly, inspiration can come from anything, in some form. Doty, a poet, conveyed that at a store in Massachusetts, he was “struck by the elegance of the mackerel in the fresh-fish display. They were rowed and stacked, brilliant against the white of the crushed ice; I loved how black and glistening the bands of dark scales were, and the prismed sheen of the patches between, and their shining flat eyes.” Doty goes on to describe how “A poem is always made of experience,” and in this manner, determines throughout the remainder of his essay what he will say in a poem about these fish. The mackerels were his inspiration for the poem he proceeded to write. “There were false starts, wrong turnings that I wound up throwing out when they didn’t seem to lead anywhere. I can’t remember now, because the poem has worked the charm of its craft on my memory; it convinces me that it is an artifact of a process of inquiry” (Doty). After much deliberation, Doty finished his poem, which he titled “A Display of Mackerel.”

Each author has different reasons to write, different inspirations, and different eras. Belloc was writing in 1908, Milne in 1920, Sanders and Doty in 1997, and King in 2006. Each writer also makes mention of historical people, events, or things. Sander alludes to the Civil War and “Sherman’s bloody march,” as well as writers such as Mark Twain. Belloc mentions Charlemagne, whose throne was made of pure gold in the “Song of Roland.” He says that the throne “was borne into Spain across the cold and awful passes of the Pyrenees by no less than a hundred and twenty mules, and all the Western world adored it.” Milne references William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which he says that “One cannot write ‘Scene I. An Open Place. Thunder and Lightning. Enter Three Witches’… in the spur of the moment.” Doty makes a passing reference to AIDS, which is an epidemic still currently at large, and King alludes to Joseph Keller’s novel Cath-22 and its follow-up, Something Happened. The authors each use allusions, yet in each case, certain history is also being preserved. In many works of antiquity, brief references are made to certain historical events, people, or locations, and entire histories are based on these brief references.

One example of this is Julius Caesar’s “crossing the Rubicon,” the start of Caesar’s civil war (49 BC), in which Roman generals were supposed to disband their armies before crossing the Rubicon, and by not disbanding, Caesar was declaring war. Suetonius, a Roman historian, wrote his historical account of Caesar crossing the Rubicon at least 110 years after the event, in approximately 121 AD, and is considered to be generally reliable. There are two ancient sources which mention this event, one of which is quoting the other. Another example involves Hannibal’s invasion of Rome. Hannibal crossed the Alps in 218 BC to attack Rome. Polybius (200-118 BC), a Greek historian, chronicled this invasion, as did Livy (59 BC-17 AD), a Roman historian. These two examples demonstrate that even one or two references, be it long or brief, have shaped how we view history. Without these historical documents, we would not have preserved some of our history. It is also known that when the Library of Alexandria burned, some of our history was lost.

There are different reasons for a writer to write. Some write for pleasure, some write for income, some write to contend about something, others write to philosophize, while yet some write in the field of science, among other related things. Those who write as a source of income, however, face difficulties writing due to time constraints. Writer’s block, as define by King, is “a stretch of months when [your inspiration] doesn't come at all.” This is not necessarily a major issue for the person writing for simple pleasure with no strings attached, but for the writer who has a deadline by which he or she must finish the work, writer’s block can becoming a stumbling block. Sometimes, those who have a short time to write cannot fully express themselves in the way they wish, as they may be rushing a piece to finish it by a fixed date. The same is true of film, as is the case of the first Star Wars film. George Lucas had a vision for the film which could not be fully realized until he was given more time to work on it.

Without writing, we would live in a very different world. Writing is useful for the preservation of our history, from which we can not only learn about our past, but also learn from past mistakes, and attempt to not repeat these mistakes. It is also useful to convey ideas, philosophies, poetry, thoughts, and concepts to others. Without writing, we would not have Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey, or the works of Plato, which include the Socratic Dialogues. We would also not have Shakespeare’s many plays, the books contained within the Bible, the writings of men such as C.S. Lewis and works of fiction such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. While oral tradition also allows for the passing on of ideas, concepts and history, written record is more useful in that it can be copied, shared, examined, reviewed, and in most cases can be kept relatively unchanged whereas oral traditions tend to change now and then. Each writer has a specific purpose behind their work, and behind each writer is a history, a culture, a background. Writing makes up much of our society, and without writing, life could be a lot more problematic.

Wednesday, September 25

Imagery and Symbolism in Ezekiel's Vision

The book of Ezekiel, likely written between 592-570 BC in Babylon, details the visions of the prophet Ezekiel. Saint Jerome in the fourth century called this book “a labyrinth of the mysteries of God.” One of the first chapters describes the vision of God on his throne and the presence of four cherubim. These cherubim have been interpreted a variety of ways, with different symbolism, different views and different meanings. The vision seen by Ezekiel on the bank of the Kebar River does not utilize the bronze serpent, the rod, the burning bush (which for various reasons some scholars think may actually refer to Mt. Sinai and not a bush), nor the parting of water. To note, however, the usage of wheels, eyes, a throne of lapis lazuli and wings are not original to Ezekiel’s work.

These images would have been familiar to a Jewish audience, in some sense. The cherubim are mentioned elsewhere – guarding the Edenic paradise (Genesis 3:24), were modeled for the tabernacle (Exodus 25:17-26:31), and elsewhere. Lucifer is thought to be described in Ezekiel 28:124-24 as the “guardian cherub” of “Eden.” Similar creatures appear in the final work of the New Testament (from the Latin testamentum), where they are described as “four living creatures… covered with eyes, on front and back” (Revelation 4:6). The first creature was “like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, and the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings” (4:7-8a). Interestingly, the cherubim mentioned in Ezekiel 1 are described as having the face of a lion, an ox, a man and an eagle, just as those mentioned in Apocalypse of John.

Why is this significant? Before we tackle that question, one more passage is worth citing for our purposes. According to Exodus 24:9-11, after Moses came down from Sinai, God had asked to have the elders confirm the covenant. So “Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. But God did not raise his hand against the leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank” (cf. Revelation 4). This is important as it establishes an earlier reference to a pavement (Ezekiel calls it a “throne of lapis lazuli” in 1:26). Lapis lazuli has an intense blue color, and in antiquity was used for vases, ornaments, jewelry, carvings and such. It was a prized stone that was often used by Egyptians, Sumerians, Akkadians and others for seals and jewelry. Historically, this commodity was well sought-after.

To phrase this in modern terms, when we see a Renaissance portrait of Jesus wearing purple robes, although he likely did not do so aside from His crucifixion, it provides Jesus with an air of nobility as purple is a royal color. Likewise, the lapis lazuli signifies that God is King – indeed, King of the Universe. The eyes on the wheels (and the wheels themselves) essentially represent God’s omnipresence and omniscience, while the creatures symbolize God’s control over creation and as cherubim are considered a form of angel, it demonstrates the servitude of angelic beings to God. Why not use the other symbols and imagery found in older Scriptures? Ezekiel’s audience needed to understand that despite their upcoming exile to Babylon, God was still there, and God was still watching – even in other nations.

Wednesday, September 18

Reflection on Revelation

Of the twenty-seven canonical books in the New Testament, the book of Revelation (the Apocalypse of St. John) is perhaps one of the most debated and controversial due to its apocalyptic content. The end of time has been a matter of debate since the dawn of man itself, it seems. Since at least the late 2000s BC, men and women have declared the end of the world time after time, perhaps the most recent attempts have been by Harold Camping last year, with the forthcoming date of 12-21-12 frightening many individuals. Comparing different perspectives over the course of history can give us a clearer perspective on how major events can shape our perception of the end of the world. This is not to say that the world will not end, nor is it a negation of the idea that it will end as described in Scripture, but Scripture itself and our understanding and application of it are two radically different things. For example, we consider a 2nd century Palestinian Christian, a Christian under the Nazi regime in World War II during the 1940s, and finally a 21st century Christian contemplating the apocalypse.

By the 2nd century in Palestine, the destruction of Jerusalem has already occurred, the Jewish nation has dispersed more so than before, the Christian community is facing ever-increasing persecution, and bewilderment grows concerning the time of Christ’s return. Persecution directly prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 evidently led some Christians to go underground, as exemplified in the Cappadocian Christians who created underground settlements to hide from the Roman persecution. With heightened persecution during the reign of Nero, followed by the destruction of Jerusalem in the 1st century and the Bar Kocchba rebellion in the first half of the 2nd century, the Christian community was not immune to such events. These would evidently have influenced their understanding of the end times, so much so that early Christians believed they were enduring the actual Tribulation. In the aftermath of the 1st century, Christians began to reconsider whether or not Jesus was actually returning “very soon” (Revelation 22:20) on our time or on His time.

A very real threat was still dominant at the time: Rome. Christians and Jews began to refer to Rome as “Babylon,” more often after AD 70, though the “name-calling” occurred prior to AD 70 as well. In the 2nd century, the Jews and Christians would have been well aware of the parallels to the Babylonian captivity and burning of Jerusalem in 586 BC, hence why Rome was called “Babylon.” In fact, it seems apparent that some early Christian interpreted the Babylon in John’s Revelation as Rome itself. Given the power and influence of Roman rule in Palestine, of course, this is not unexpected. Other Christian sects came to be formulated, such as Gnostics, Ebionites, and others, which brought in further interpretations of the end times. As the perception of 2nd century Christians does not determine the veracity of Scripture, it is not undermining for the Christian, so to note that 2nd century Christians living in Palestine may have taken the 666 (or 616) reference to refer to Nero is not uncalled for. In fact, there was a rumor (called the Nero redivivus myth) that Nero had not actually died in AD 68, and would one day return to lead the Parthian armies from the east. Evidently, coming out of the persecution under Domitian, 2nd century Christians would have still considered Nero to be a possible Antichrist.

In Revelation 16:12 we read, “The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East.” In 2nd century Palestine, the Euphrates river was considered the border that separated the civilized world from the barbarians beyond it, so the Christian would likely have taken this to refer to Barbarian rulers. We then come to Armageddon (16:16), the hill of Megiddo. The site itself has been the location of many major battles in history, and likely would have been understood in this context. It is from the 2nd century that we find many Martyrologies. As such, this increase in Christian persecution very likely would have influenced the apocalyptic view of many believers, and led many to believe that they were living in the end times.

During the 1940s, a Christian under the Nazi regime would have viewed his era as the end of days, and writings survive that indicate that this is so. The apocalyptic imagery vividly portrayed in John’s Revelation came alive before the eyes of the men and women in the 1940s. The death camps like Auschwitz, the inhuman treatment of the Jewish Diaspora, the usage of the atomic bomb, the increase in mechanized warfare and other deadly technological developments also led to a rise in the belief that the final days had come. With the buildup of daily headlines produced during the war, the radio broadcasts and the reports from the front, the apocalypse had apparently arrived. One cannot blame this generation for such a view; never before in human history had such a war occurred and so much been at stake. Surely there had been great wars and battles of antiquity, from the Peloponnesian Wars to the Trojan War, but none quite like World War II. It seemed as though the end had surely come, and many held that Hitler was the Antichrist. 

The 1940s had come and gone, and the end never showed up. In the 21st century, the apocalyptic view is perhaps more widely thought about due to the mass media propagation of ideas such as the 2012 doomsday or the Nostradamus prophecies (which coincidently appear to say that the world would end in the late 1990s). Programs dedicated to the end of the world are constantly seen on channels such as the History Channel, which leads not only to further panic but also further spread of doomsday prophecies and stories. With each passing generation the end of the world is thought to be imminent. To the Christian living in the 21st century, deciding what to believe in light of Scripture is not always easy. For example, for those who believe in a "rapture," such as Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye's wildly popular Left Behind series posits, they find "evidence" for their worldview.

An example of this is the death of the Two Witnesses (possibly Elijah and Enoch or Elijah and Moses), “For three and a half days many from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial” (11:9). Logically, they ask how could so many people view these bodies unless so many are already in Jerusalem? This worldview would argue that this is better understood if the bodies are displayed on television (a public display of the victory of the “Messiah”). Now, due to historical research, some Christians hold that the events detailed in Revelation have already come to pass and have little to no relevance for us today. But for other believers, the board is set, the pieces are moving, and Christ’s return is at any moment though he tarries for more souls. The book of Revelation and its interpretationding has taken on a new meaning as the centuries pass by, but if Scripture is to be taken seriously (as one would contend), the end will (eventually) be nigh, Jesus will return and usher in the New Kingdom. Regardless of the viewpoint, John’s final words echo down through the ages on the mouths and minds of many a believer, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus…”

Wednesday, September 11

Reflection on Paul

Saul of Tarsus, later known as the apostle Paul, wrote the majority of what we now call the Christian New Testament. The life and writings of St. Paul has been the subject of many discussions over the centuries, particularly among scholarly circles in recent decades. One of the major questions revolves around Paul and Jesus. What did Paul know about his miracles, parentage, and life in general? Certainly there are letters written by (or dictated by) Paul that we do not have in the canonical Scriptures (see 1st Corinthians 6:9, etc.), and we are not always privy to what Paul told those whom he converted prior to writing his letters, along with several other variables. But perhaps the question is not necessarily about what Paul did not know, but what he actually did know. Clearly, he knew of Jesus as he is the subject of the Pauline letters. Whether he had ever seen Jesus prior to his crucifixion is a matter of debate, but it is possible that St. Paul glimpsed Jesus briefly in Jerusalem. If he had seen Jesus in person – even if it was briefly – he does not mention it in any of his letters. However, he did have a sort of conversion experience in which he likely saw the resurrected Jesus, and saw him more than once afterward (Acts 18:9; 23:11).

It would therefore be relevant to give a brief background on Paul before determining what he actually knew about Jesus. St. Paul was born to Jewish parents, trained under Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3) and was “circumcised on the eight day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee” (Philippians 3:5). With this in mind, what did Paul actually know about Jesus, aside from a theological standpoint? He is aware of Jesus was born of a woman and born a Jew (Galatians 4:4; some take this to refer to the virgin birth), descended from the Davidic line (Romans 1:3), that Jesus had brothers, naming James as one (1st Corinthians 9:5; Galatians 1:19), that Jesus had twelve disciples (1st Corinthians 15:5) and ministered to Jews (Romans 15:8). Paul is also aware of the last supper that Jesus had with his disciples the night he was betrayed (1st Corinthians 11:23; although the Greek word for “betrayed” can but does not have to mean “handed over”), as well as what Jesus said that fateful evening (11:23-25), and that Jesus died on a cross by crucifixion (1st Corinthians 2:2; Galatians 6:14, etc.).

St. Paul also seemingly betrays knowledge of some of the sayings of Jesus. For example, that Christians should not get divorced (1st Corinthians 7:11; cf. Mark 10:11-12) and that preachers should be paid (1st Corinthians 9:14; cf. Luke 10:7). He also notes that Christians should pay taxes (Romans 13:7; cf. Mark 12:17) and that the Law is fulfilled by loving their neighbors as themselves (Galatians 5:14; cf. Matthew 22:39-40). Also, some of Paul’s vocabulary is similar to that used by Jesus. In one of (if not the) earliest writings in the New Testament, Paul says that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (emphasis mine, 1st Thessalonians 5:2; cf. Matthew 24:42-44) and notes that “destruction will come on them suddenly, “as labor pains on a pregnant woman” (5:3; cf. Matthew 24:8). He also uses the phrase “love one another” (Romans 13:8; cf. John 13:34). We cannot be sure of what Paul did not know, but it is quite possible that he knew more than what is recorded in the canonical New Testament.

Consequently, this leads us to another question – that of St. Paul and Tradition. Along with the aforementioned items, in several places scholars believe that Paul uses early Christian creeds and hymns. He may have learned of these creeds and hymns in a variety of ways, but the prevalent theory is that he heard and learned the majority of these during his trips to Jerusalem as mentioned in Galatians. These creeds and hymns are very important to the study of early Christianity because they are able to give us a window into the earliest beliefs and notions held by the 1st century church prior to the involvement of Paul. Our first example comes from the first Pauline letter listed – Romans. According to Romans 1:3-4, “regarding his Son, who as to his early life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” Some believe that this is an early creed, possibly used during baptism. Romans 10:9, “Jesus is Lord,” is also thought to be an early – if not the earliest – creed. 1st Corinthians 11:23-26 and 15:3-8 record two early church creeds. Paul actually uses the rabbinical technical terms of “received” and “passed on” in these two instances. The form is also creedal, and the second contains the Aramaic name of Peter which some take as a sign of early origin.

According to some scholars, Galatians 3:28 is also an early creed and it is thought to be spoke by converts during baptism (cf. 3:27). Also, Ephesians 5:14 is thought to be an early hymn, “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Another very important hymn can be found in Philippians 2:6-11, where Christ is revered as God. Colossians 1:15-20, though of uncertain Pauline origin, also contains a possible hymn to Christ. 1st Timothy 3:16 is also thought to be another early creed, which declares that “God appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” Lastly, 2nd Timothy 2:8 refers to “Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David,” which appears to be the opening and closing of the Romans 1 creed. Another creed is found in verses 11-13, and begins with “Here is a trustworthy saying.” While debate continues as to whether or not these are actual creeds and/or hymns, if we presuppose an early origin, it demonstrates several things about early Christianity.

First of all, it demonstrates a seemingly early belief in Jesus as God. It implies that the followers may have used a short list of witnesses to the resurrected Jesus (but excluded the women) in creedal formulas, recited creeds during baptism, was thought to be descended from the Davidic line and that the belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ has been present from the very start of Christianity. Both the question of Paul’s knowledge of Jesus and the question of Paul and tradition are truly fascinating and have been discusses by scholars and historians alike, but the implications for each topic will vary depending on the individual’s presuppositions. Certainly, Paul likely knew more than is recorded in his letters, and the creedal statements as well as the hymns were probably spread throughout the early Christian church – or some form of them. It offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of the early believers and allows us to re-examine what we know about early Christianity, pre-Pauline and post-Pauline. 

Saturday, September 7

Variations and Differences in the Gospels

It is safe to say that Jesus of Nazareth has been the most influential individual to ever live. This is a result of many things, one of which is the four canonical gospels in the New Testament, attributed to Matthew, John Mark, Dr. Luke and John. Most scholars posit that Mark’s gospel was written first, around AD 40-65, Matthew second (AD 45-70), Luke third (AD 45-62) and John last (AD 95-100). While these dates are hotly debated among scholarly circles, this response is based upon the premise that the Synoptic gospels were written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70), and that John was written late in the 1st century. Each gospel focuses on a different aspect of Jesus and His ministry. The Synoptic gospels are similar in much of their content, and both Christian and non-Christians generally contend that Mark’s gospel was used as a source for Matthew and Dr. Luke’s gospel.

There are various differences in these gospels, some of which take a bit of effort to reconcile, but are not beyond reconciliation. These are often flaunted as “contradictions,” however; they are rather multiple accounts which provide differing supplementary (and complementary) materials. The four portrayals, taken together, give us a more complete picture of Christ. Deuteronomy 19:15 conveys, “One witness is not enough [to establish a matter]… A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses,” which is good to bear in mind when we consider that we have four canonical gospels. It is also important to note, though, that not every Christian community had access to the four gospels, indeed, some had one, two or three of these gospels, and some chose to use only one. Marcion of Sinope (AD 85-160), for example, accepted only parts of Dr. Luke’s gospel, and took certain liberties with the text itself, adding passages (Tertullian, Adversus Marcionem 4.6.2), a view held by the majority of scholars.

It is, therefore, relevant to examine some of these differences, along with the historical-political context, starting with the prologues. Matthew begins his gospel with the “genealogy,” “historical record,” or “account of the origin” of “Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” For Matthew, Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, the promised seed to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:15), Abraham (Genesis 12, 15, 17) and King David (2nd Samuel 7:12-16; 1st Chronicles 17:11-14; Isaiah 9:7, 11:1-10, etc). He focuses on prophecies throughout his gospel, and as such, it is important to establish the Jewishness of Jesus and the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham and David. Mark begins his gospel with a simple, matter-of-fact statement, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” or “Jesus the Messiah.” The phrase “Son of God” does not appear in all ancient Greek manuscripts, but it was most likely in the original (cf. 1:11, 9:7, 15:39). For Mark, Jesus is also the Messiah, the Son of God (cf. 2nd Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7; Proverbs 30:4, etc). Mark tends emphasize the authority of Jesus, as well as portraying him as the suffering servant.

Dr. Luke, on the other hand, has a very different prologue than Matthew and Mark. His prologue is typical of Greco-Roman literary works. He notes that other narratives have been written before his, and that these were from eyewitnesses. Much like an investigative journalist and careful historian, he writes that “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (1:3), addressing the first of his works (the other being Acts) to “most excellent Theophilus.” There are various theories concerning the identity of this Theophilus, but as explained in the blog on Luke, I hold the position that this was Theophilus ben Annas, the Jewish high priest who reigned from AD 37-41, and that Dr. Luke was writing to Theophilus later (note that this high priest was also a Sadducee). As such, it is interesting to note that the third gospel places emphases on angels, the physical nature of the resurrection (Luke 24), among other things. Evidently, the intention of Luke was to establish the credibility of his narrative.

Next, we come to John’s gospel. Likely written toward the end of the 1st century, the fourth gospel begins with a kind of hymnic narrative about “the Word,” which is identified as Jesus. John begins his gospel by establishing the pre-existence (and divine) nature of Jesus. This is also seen in other Johannine works, such as 1st John 1:1-4 and Revelation 19:13. In summation, Matthew begins with Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, John Mark as Jesus the suffering servant, Dr. Luke with a typical Greco-Roman prologue establishing the orderly nature of his narrative, and John with Jesus as the pre-existent Word, God himself. Each gospel also has an introduction of John the Baptist (whom Luke shows to be Jesus’ cousin) and his declaration of Jesus’ status as Messiah. Matthew introduces John the Baptist as a kind of Elijah in the desert, and one who baptizes. Matthew 3:11 records his declaration, “after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” In Mark’s account, John’s words are similar, where he speaks of Jesus as “one more powerful than I” (1:7). Here, John is introduced in much the same way.

In Dr. Luke’s gospel, however, a different kind of introduction is shown. In fact, Luke begins his narrative not with the introduction of Jesus, but of Zechariah and the angel Gabriel, where Gabriel details how the birth of John the Baptist will come about, and that he would be born to Zechariah and Elizabeth in their old age (reminiscent of the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah). The angel Gabriel tells Zechariah that John “will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous -  to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (cf. Malachi 4:6). John himself comes into play in Luke 3, where “the Word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (3:2-3). As with Matthew and Mark, John makes a similar statement about the one who is more powerful than he.

Subsequently, John 1:6-8 introduces John as, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” When the Jewish leaders ask him, John denies being the Messiah, Elijah, the Prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15-19), and declares himself as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. A statement concerning the Messiah’s sandals is also made, as in the Synoptic gospels, though without the statement “one who is more powerful.” John later gives a testimony concerning Jesus, seemingly describing Jesus’ baptism (1:32-34), and John declares Jesus as “God’s chosen one” (some manuscripts have “the Son of God”) and “the Lamb of God,” names used in the common Jewish expectation of a kingly, militaristic ruler. Matthew, Mark and Luke also contain the baptism of Jesus, but not the passage where John describes the event. In all four accounts, the “Spirit of God” descends from heaven like a dove. The Father then declares the sonship of Jesus, although the exact wording is different in the gospels.

The cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem is a point of contention for some. Mark 11:15-17 has Jesus cleaning the temple during the last week of his life (cf. Matthew 21:12-17; Luke 19:45-46). Matthew’s account is a tad longer, but Luke’s is short. In John 2, however, there is another cleansing. Some have explained this is two cleansings – it is certainly feasible for there to have been two separate cleansings, one at the start and one at the end of Jesus’ ministry. In fact, the context of the cleansings appears to lend itself to the notion that there was two cleansings. Among the gospels, Jesus also mentions his “true family.” Matthew, Mark and Luke record similar statements, where Jesus mentions that those who do God’s will are His true family. Yet in John 15:14 we read, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” Contextually, the statements record in the Synoptic gospels are spoken in public, whereas when Jesus speaks in John, it is in private, the evening before His crucifixion. Could this be an indirect claim to deity?

Another interesting account found in all four gospels is the feeding of the 5000+. This account is where J.J. Blunt derives one of his infamous “undesigned coincidences.” Luke provides the detail that this miracle took place in Bethsaida (Luke 9:10) and that the people sat in groups of about 50 (9:14), Mark provides the detail that people were coming and going (Mark 6:31) and that the grass was green (6:39, the color of the grass, botanically speaking, is generally green in this region during a small window around Passover). Matthew provides the detail that there were not merely 5000 men, but men and women to (Matthew 14:21, placing estimates at 10,000-20,000 people), and John provides the detail that “The Jewish Passover Festival was near (John 6:4), along with Jesus asking Philip where bread could be bought for the people. Interestingly, John’s gospel does not provide the reason why Jesus asks Philip, but John 1:44 does reveal that Philip was from Bethsaida – and Luke 9:10 reveal that this miracle occurred in Bethsaida. Philip was asked because he was a local.

The declaration of Peter concerning the identity of Jesus is also an important point in the gospels. According to Matthew 16:16, when Jesus had asked the disciples who He was, Peter replies, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Matthew includes the words “Son of the living God,” but Mark excludes them. Evidently, Peter made the confession recorded in Matthew’s gospel, and each gospel recorded what was necessary for narrative purposes. As Matthew emphasized Jesus’ divine sonship throughout his gospel, it made sense for him to retain that statement. Mark reserved the confession of the divine sonship of Jesus for the close of his gospel (15:39) so that it was tied more explicitly to the cross. Luke 9:20 records Peter’s words as “God’s Messiah,” and seemingly on a different occasion but similar in nature, Peter declares in John’s gospel that “We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (6:69). Again, this is similar in nature, but given its context, is evidently a different instance.

The triumphal entry of Jesus is another matter of interest. Matthew’s account mentions a donkey and a colt, and the prophecy found in Zechariah 9:9. The beast was a donkey (onos), which is a beast of burden (hupozugion). However, this particular donkey, since it was a colt (polos) or a foal (hulos) had not yet carried a burden, as mentioned in Mark 11:2. Often, some point out Matthew 21:7, “They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.” However, only Matthew’s account mentions a donkey and a colt. Interestingly, the Greek word used here for “and” does not always mean “and,” and in Judaism, a donkey and colt were inseparable. The mother probably accompanied the colt on its first ride to keep it calm. Matthew doubtless understood that only one animal was ridden, though, and Mark as well as Dr. Luke only mentions the colt, whereas John mentions the donkey. Mark and Luke also do not mention the prophecy, whereas it is partially quoted in John. In Luke’s account, as Jesus approaches Jerusalem, he wept over it, and predicted the fall of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44), “because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” Both Luke and John’s account also records the Pharisees as present in the crowd, and John mentions the crowd which was present at the raising of Lazarus was present here as well.

The crucifixion of Jesus is yet another matter. Matthew’s account (27:45-54) has Jesus cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (see also Mark 15:34), harkening back to Psalm 22:1. With Jesus citing this passage, the context of the passage, it is worth noting, seemingly refers to details concerning His crucifixion. This was also likely the moment (theologically) where the Father placed all of the past, present and future sins on Christ and had to turn away, the first time in all of eternity where Jesus was separate from the Father. Also, while Jesus calls the Father “God,” the Father later calls the Son, “God” (Hebrews 1:8-9). Matthew’s account also mentions tombs breaking open and “the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.” 

Tradition connects this event with the Harrowing of Hell, when Christ descended into the underworld for three days (cf. Matthew 12:40; Ephesians 4:8-10; 1st Peter 3:19). Luke’s account mentions that the sun stopped shining (as does Matthew and Mark), and Jesus statement, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (cf. Psalm 31:5). John’s account records Jesus as saying “I am thirsty” and “It is finished.” The most plausible explanation is that Jesus said all of these things during that day. It would have been difficult to speak at all, so the few statements recorded are historically and medically plausible. John mentions that the two rebel’s legs were broken, but when they came to Jesus, He was already dead. Hence, a soldier pierces Jesus’ side, “bringing a sudden flow of blood and water” (John 19:34), probably the result of His heart bursting or rupturing, or perhaps the lungs and heart were pierced.

It is interesting to note that this darkness mentioned in the Synoptic gospels is attested to by other works of antiquity. Thallus, in AD 52, wrote a history of the eastern Mediterranean world since the Trojan War. It was quoted by Julius Africanus in AD 221. In the quote, Thallus references the darkness that day. It was also visible in Rome, Athens, as well as other Mediterranean cities. Tertullian said that it was a “cosmic” or “world event,” and Phlegon, a Greek author, wrote that it occurred in the 202nd Olympiad (AD 33), and mentioned the hour it began, even that the stars appeared in the heavens. Finally, the women who appeared at the tomb are our last point of interest. In the four gospels, the order of events (and individuals noted as being present) at the tomb is slightly different, yet this is a testimony to their independent nature, demonstrating that there was no collusion among the writers. The order of events was likely as follows: a group of women, including Mary Magdalene (whom the New Testament never actually calls a prostitute), discover that the tomb is empty early on Sunday morning (Matthew 28:1-7; Mark 16:1-7; Luke 24:1-9; John 20:1).

Consequently, the women reported the discovery to the other followers, in particular Peter and John (Luke 24:10-11; John 20:2). Sometime after the report to the disciples, Jesus appears to the women (Matthew 28:8-10; John 20:11-18), and Peter and John then investigate the empty tomb for themselves (Luke 24:12; John 20:3-10). There are slight variations when attempting to order these events chronologically, but it is important to note that a non-mention of an individual does not negate their presence at an event. Also, Jesus evidently appeared to Mary Magdalene alone after Peter and John leave (John 20:11-18). The four gospels deliver fascinating treasures when compared.