Saturday, November 30

Christian Rites and Baptismal Developments

Most religions, cults, clubs, gangs or communities have a form of welcoming or initiating new members into their community. The Christian community is no different, and the earliest Christians tended to use baptism and communion (the Eucharist) to initiate their newest members into the faith. Over time, these initiation rites developed and evolved, and Christians developed ways to initiate the faithful. Early on, this initiation was referred to as the catechumenate (from the Greek meaning “to let re-echo”), and the individual who was being initiated was called the catechumen. You were required to have a sponsor, and at the time the process could last about three years. You would learn about Jesus and the disciples, what Jesus taught, Christian theology, prayer life, Christian heroes and Christians who had died for the faith. Since Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire for the first three centuries, the catechumenate process took so long in order to transpire safely (Note: This article is based on Ray Noll's chapter on Christian initiation rites, "Baptism/Confirmation/Eucharist").

Once the individual was finally ready, the forty days leading up to Easter and thereby their baptism were spent in preparation – in prayer and in fasting. One the night before Easter during the vigil, the “elect” (as they were called at the time) would remove their garments and descend into the baptismal pool, where they were dunked into the water three times. The new initiates would then be anointed by the bishop with oil (later considered one of the seven sacraments) and would then greet the believers and have their first Eucharist. This process was placed on the eve of Easter for symbolic purposes: the plunging into the watery tomb of sorts and coming out of the water to new life represented the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. This entire process was carried out by the early Christians until the 300s during the time of Emperor Theodosius. Although Emperor Constantine had declared Christianity legal in the early 300s, Emperor Theodosius had declared Christianity to be the religion of the Roman Empire and that his subjects had to convert to Christianity. This mass amount of people forced the catechumenate process to become significantly shorter, and was reduced to the six weeks prior to Easter (this is now called Lent). With this mass of new converts, the ability to administer these initiation rites could no longer feasibly be held only by the bishops – thus, it was also given to the local pastors.

The Eastern and Western churches took different approaches, however. The Latin West churches would allows their deacons or pastors to baptize the believer, but in order to maintain a unity with The Church as a whole, waited until the bishop would come to have the final anointing of baptism – they called this confirmation. The term first came into usage from the Council of Riez and the Council of Orange in the AD 400s. Infant baptism came to be accepted rather quickly by both the Eastern and Western churches, however, the church had to deal with the fact that it is always adult baptism seen in the New Testament. At Vatican II in the 1960s, the bishops decided to attempt to restore the catechumenate and change other rites such as infant and adult baptism as well as confirmation. There were three key documents to come out of this: the Rite of Baptism for Children, revised Rite of Confirmation, and the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), which also has a section on the RCIC (rite of Christian initiation for children).

The RCIA is used to usher adults into the Catholic church, and it has been shown before to best reflect and represent the catechumenate from the second century. Bishops around the world were given these liturgical rites and it is understood that the entire community is to be involved in these rites, not simply pastors or bishops. There are four periods in the RCIA: that of inquiry and stories, that of prayer and studies, that of internal reflection and purification, and finally a period celebrating the initiation which takes place during Easter-time. Much like the catechumenate from the early church, there are also three major events that the initiate goes through: being accepted into the RCIA, the rite of election and finally, the ceremony at the Easter Vigil (the evening prior to Easter), just as in the early church. Following this, the new initiates meet with their sponsors and participate in the celebrations.

As aforementioned, however, Vatican II also sought to revise and reform infant baptism, and the documents on initiation certainly addressed the matter. In a post-Vatican II world, there were various theological views that came out of this, but there are four major viewpoints to be considered. The first is the “Mature Adulthood” viewpoint held that baptism is for committed Christians and believed that infants did not fall under this category, the second is the “Environmentalist” viewpoint which held that infant baptism is allowed as long as the family intends to raise the child in the church, the third viewpoint supports the initiation rites as is in the RCIA, and the fourth held that the diverse views should remain as they currently are – both infant and adult baptism would be accepted. There have been several arguments put forth for infant baptism as well.

For example, in ancient Israel, infants would be initiated into the religion via circumcision; this is compared to baptism by St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians. It has also been a practice utilized consistently by the Eastern and Orthodox churches, which are as old (if not older than) the Roman church. Along with this, St. Augustine’s concept of original sin as well as the infant mortality rate led to individuals in the Latin church desiring to have their newborns baptized immediately – a practice that has been carried down to the present day. Significantly, infant baptism is also mentioned by Hippolytus in the early 200s, so it was a practice of the church at least by that point. The major point that is often made by supporters of infant baptism is conveyed by quoting Mark 10:15, which declares that one must receive the Kingdom of God “as a little child” (or “like a little child,” the rendering of which is not as strong as “as” for the argument).

On the other side of the argument, there are various reasons to stick with believer’s baptism as opposed to infant baptism. For example, some liturgical theologians point out that the infant who goes through baptism will later partake in reconciliation and the Eucharist when they are older and later confirmation, yet they are being reconciled into a church with they have not been fully initiated into, which creates a conundrum. Another point made by supporters of believer’s baptism (as an adult, freely choosing to be baptized) is that the Biblical texts used by St. Augustine for his concept of original sin are not looked at in the same light by most Christians today, and thus infant baptism would lack the scriptural support. Along with this, although the New Testament refers to entire families being baptized and infants were likely sometimes a part of this, the normal baptismal rite in New Testament times was to be baptized as an older individual who chooses to commit themselves to the faith – something of which an infant cannot do.

As a result of these various arguments, Catholicism in today’s world has a mix of both infant baptism and believer’s baptism. Many Catholic parents still bring their newborn babies to be baptized, and many adults in the RCIA still become baptized as adults. There are also children who are learning the rites of initiation in order to be baptized during the Easter vigil as well. Along with this, there are also a number of teenagers or young adults who have been baptized and have already received their first Eucharist, yet they are waiting for their confirmation from the local bishop. Believers continue to be divided today in the Catholic Church and also in the Anglican, Orthodox and other churches. The Catholic response is simply to allow for both options and not prefer one or the other, allowing the individual believer to choose. This lets the believer choose to be baptized as an adult, but also allows young parents to choose whether or not they wish their infant to be baptized. Finally, as for confirmation, there is not much debate about whether or not there ought to be a time at which the individual publicly declares their faith and confirms their belief and commitment to the faith. This certainly has support in the New Testament and in church tradition and history. There are different understandings of confirmation and how and when a person should be confirmed, but the idea of confirmation itself is seen as biblical. Once confirmation has occurred, the next major commitment for an individual would be that of marriage, which is also considered a sacrament in the Catholic Church (the sacrament of intimate friendship). It seems, then, that the catechumenate used in the early church has returned to practice today, albeit mainly in the Catholic church.

Friday, November 29

Who was Francis of Assisi?

The life of John Bernardone, better known as St. Francis of Assisi, was a short but full life of 44 years filled with twists and turns. Born around 1181/1182, Francis was not particularly religious, although he was given lessons based on the Psalms in his youth. He was a wild and carousing youth who reveled in partying and indulged himself in various things of the flesh, which he regretted later in life. Around the age of 19/20, Francis decided to join the fight against Perugia, and taking on armor he went to battle where he was captured and held in prison for a year. It was here that he was cut off from the life he had always known, and began to feel what it was to be lonely, isolated from society and dejected. Upon his release and return to Assisi, he began working for his father Peter, a cloth-maker (much as St. Paul was a tent-maker). Given a task, Francis occupied his time but the frivolous activities that once gave him value and meaning in life no longer held any significance or happiness for him. Instead, Francis was a depressed young man who could not find his purpose. 

Around the year 1205, this all began to change, and his life would never be the same again. Francis decided to join a battle to finally earn his knighthood, and before he left Assisi, he had a dream that a man brought him into a palace filled with battle items, and Francis interpreted this dream or vision as a sign of divine permission and acceptance of his plans for knighthood. But fate had other plans - a few miles south of Assisi, he contracted an illness and had to rest. It was then that Francis heard a voice asking him of his plans, and instructing him to return home to await instruction, in order to understand the vision he had in a different manner. Francis eventually returned to Assisi and worked for his father until he one day entered into the small church of San Damiano. Much as Moses spoke to God from the burning bush, God then spoke to Francis from the cross at San Damiano and told him to rebuild his church. Francis interpreted this literally and began work on San Damiano itself. God brought Francis out of the depression he had been in, and this was simply the beginning of Francis’ life-long conversion. He wanted to keep an open dialogue with God.

Francis continued his life with his parents until various circumstances led him to flee home, and he eventually publicly renounced his earthly father – yet by doing so, also cut himself off from the only financial source and source of earthly stability he had ever truly known. This led Francis to becoming more dependent on God and more dependent upon the Church. He initiated this process by displaying himself naked, a sign not only recalling Christ crucified but also stripping himself of his family, his material possessions and his former ways of life. Shortly after this, lepers began to play a role in the life of St. Francis. Lepers lived outside of Assisi as did the beggars, and Francis was familiar with them. Around spring of 1206, however, when Francis was in contact with Bishop Guido he was sent to Rome. When in Rome, Francis encountered a community of lepers. He had no food or money to give, but Francis instead gave the lepers an embrace and words of comfort. When Francis finally returned home, he not only returned to his task of rebuilding San Damiano, but also began to care for lepers. He would beg for food for their sake and also carry them into streams to wash them. This was a big step for Francis, particularly because he was not simply associating with the outcasts, he was becoming one of them himself and in doing so, caring for those who others would not care for.

Poverty, money and the accumulation of things were on Francis’ mind at the time. These things were viewed in light of Jesus’ attitudes toward material possessions. Jesus once said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and Francis chose to be one who was poor in spirit in order to be rich in Christ, and to become poor in wealth and material possessions of this world in order to attain richness in God in the next life. By shaking off mortal possessions and setting his thoughts and heart on things above and not on things below, Francis believed that this allowed him to become closer to God and also emulate Christ in his earthly life. This became a key concept when the image of the crucified savior truly took center stage for Francis, which came after his experiences in Egypt in 1219.

Between this time and 1219, however, several things happened. Francis began to realize that his ultimate purpose was not to literally rebuild churches, but to rebuild its foundation as a brotherhood and familial tie. Francis preached the need for peace to many, and others began to follow his teachings. It was not until later that these men became a formalized Order, as Francis simply wanted companions who shared the same views. All the while, the image of the crucified Jesus enraptured and haunted the mind of St. Francis. Around 1209, however, Bishop Guido began to urge the Franciscans to get official approval from Rome, and Francis’ mind was then elsewhere. Through various circumstances, the 26-year old Francis was given permission to preach. Francis made it clear that he did not wish to be ordained, however – he was also well-known for preaching a strikingly different message of peace as opposed to the message of wrath and judgment conveyed by other preachers.

Francis is also well-known through various accounts of his relationship with animals and nature to have been a sort of early ecologist. He had a bond with God’s creation, and cared for his “brother birds” and “sister swallows.” This was an appreciation that would continue to grow and develop throughout the rest of his life, and is reflected in his later Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon. Francis cared also for his fraternity of brothers, and this care led to continued steps in his lifelong conversion. One night a brother became extremely ill, which led Francis to reconsider and revise how food and drink should be used by the Franciscans. It was around this time that St. Clare came into the picture. Clare showed a side of Francis that had not come out previously – the side that cared for the sisters. The bond and friendship formed between Clare and Francis was one that lasted the rest of their days, and the Franciscans began to care more for the women, which also led to further changes internally with Francis.

Around 1213, Francis preached to a crowd at Count Orlando di Chiusi’s castle, where Orlando offered the Franciscans an abandoned and solitary area: Mount La Verna. This mountain became used by the Franciscans as a retreat for prayer, contemplation and peace. Meanwhile, the cross continued to play an important and continued role in the mind of St. Francis. He began to believe that those who suffer and “take up their cross” participate in the poor and oppressed in this world, in likewise have a deep relation to Christ. Now, the message of peace was also a message that Francis continued to preach and when there were rumblings about a new Crusade, he tried multiple times to join as a preacher but to no avail.

However, around 1219 - what Donald Spoto (author of Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi) believes is the most important year in the conversion of St. Francis – Francis was able to go to Egypt with several of the brothers. After numerous attempts to change the mind of the Christian general in charge of negotiations, Francis took the mission of peace upon himself and went to the camp of the Muslim leader al-Malik al-Kamil himself. Francis was not given the martyrdom he so strongly desired (as it was honorable in that time period), but instead Francis and his brothers were honored by al-Kamil for their faith and their courage; through it all, however, the Muslims did not convert. After several days, the brothers eventually left and finally returned home. Francis was utterly dejected and despondent, as he not only failed to attain martyrdom but also he was unable to convert the supposed “Christian” Crusaders or the Muslims, and he was completely unable to make peace in the Fifth Crusades.

Changes to the Franciscans in regard to leadership, a Franciscan Rule approved by Rome, the beliefs of other followers who disagreed with Francis and a variety of other problems plagued him at this time. After Francis turned over the head of the order to someone else, he began to become more introspective and focused on Jesus. At this time, as his failing health began to continue, his focus was on the crucified Christ. Various legends claim that Francis had a vision at La Verna of a seraph and subsequently had the marks of Christ (the stigmata), but this can hardly be verified by early sources. What is known is that Francis’ body had been ravished in his short years and his body did indeed bear marks and scars. In his final months, Francis composed the Canticle of Brother Sun, which marks to ultimate conversion point. In his canticle, Francis recognized and acknowledged God’s creation – the sun, the moon, the stars, nature – as his brother and sister. He acknowledged and accepted the unity of the Divine Creator in all of His Creation, and this was the culmination of his life’s work. When Francis started his conversion, he saw people as separate through the beggars in the lepers, but now, he accepted and was awestruck by the beauty and unity of God in His creation. Many reports say that on the day of his death, birds flew above: a sign that not only had Francis accepted creation as his brother and sister, but they had accepted him.

On a personal level, I feel that I can relate to Francis. Although I was raised a non-denominational Christian and I have wavered in and out of my faith – and thus, I was not the son of a cloth-maker and known as master of the revels –I went through a phase of partying. Much like Francis, it was within the year or two following those activities when God made His presence known to me. He then reminded me of who I was and who it seemed He wanted me to be, and I was on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. My future and my current goals are extremely different than that of my younger self.

The Franciscan ideas of brotherhood and helping others are not only honorable but I have also striven to attain these things myself in my life. After the death of Abel, God asks Cain where his brother is. Cain replies, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” or in other words, “how should I know? Is it my responsibility to look after my brother?” God’s silence in the matter seems to imply that yes indeed - we are to take care of our fellow brother and sister. In fact, if we treated each other as brothers and sisters and did the same to God’s creation of which we were given dominion over, I believe the majority of the problems we have in the world today would either be solved or a lot less of a problem. We do not take care of ourselves, of others or of God’s creatures and nature as we should. We ought to care for one another as brother and sister and help each other to live life together. 

Finally, a point that has been continually driving itself home in my life of late is the difference between knowledge of religion and religious knowledge. The knowledge of religion comes through learning, reading, researching and observing, whereas religious knowledge comes through the experience of participating. For example, I could devote five years to researching the Eucharist and how it is utilized at a typical Sunday Mass (knowledge of religion) but unless I actually experience and participate in the act itself, it will never truly become personal or experiential to me (religious knowledge). I recall that Stephen Hawking once said something along the lines of, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” Indeed, we may think we know something but until we truly experience it or attempt to participate in it ourselves we will never truly be able to understand or grasp it. This is what appeals to me in the life and teachings of St. Francis. He did not deny the usefulness of academics, but did not believe it was as necessary or completely relevant to his cause. The experiential nature of Franciscan life – of climbing the ladder in order to grasp at the heels of the divine – is one that later Franciscan St. Bonaventure taught could come through knowledge that is refined and explored through faith in order to reach a mystical union with God. St. Francis lived out his life in search of these truths, and found in the end the relational and experiential nature of the divine.

Tuesday, November 26

The Search for Meaning and Value

St. Bonaventure’s About Meditating on God’s Most Blessed Trinity by using God’s Name ‘the Good’, St. Clare’s The Testament, Don DeLillo’s excerpt, Waves and Radiation, from his breakout 1985 work White Noise and Homer’s The Iliad offer us a glimpse into the ultimate search for value and meaning. In the first reading, St. Bonaventure attempts to clarify and elucidate various aspects of God as a Trinity. The concept of the Trinity is a rather complicated Christian teaching, and has been discussed for centuries. It can often be a difficult concept to grasp for Christian and non-Christian alike. The only real avenue to understand something existing as three yet one is through analogy. For example, God exist as the lover, the loved and love itself. God IS Love. He also LOVES, and IS LOVED, i.e., lover, loved and love. This is essentially Bonaventure’s point concerning God as a Trinity (Note: this article was written in response to various selected readings and assumes the reader’s familiarity with said works).

However, human experience may help clarify as well. In The Testament, St. Clare wrote about her time with St. Francis of Assisi, noting that Francis pointed the way to Jesus. St. Francis modeled his life and his actions after Jesus, and followers of Francis “strive always to imitate by way of holy simplicity, humility, and poverty, as well as [maintain] the nobility of our holy way of life, as we were taught by Christ and by our most blessed Father Francis from the beginning of our conversion” (290). Francis, then, modeled his life after Christ, who is Himself God the Son.

Through the process of imitation (mimesis) in human experience, God gives us a way to understand how He works and exists. God knew that mankind had (and has) a very difficult time understanding how He can exist as three in one. Although God left hints of Himself as three in one from the earliest account (Genesis1:26, “Let us make man…”) as well as various other  references, God slowly revealed things about Himself over time, much like two lovers learn about each other as they grow. So gradually, the Holy Spirit came to be mentioned (Genesis 1:2), and then finally, God the Son took on flesh and through experiencing what we do as Humans, God not only found Himself more able to relate to us – but by humanizing Himself, we find ways to relate to God. For Bonaventure and Clare, the search for meaning and value yielded results in the person of Jesus Christ – it is through God that we find meaning and value. Others, however, find meaning elsewhere.

When considering DeLillo’s excerpt, the word “death” itself carries various positive and negative connotations. The character of Jack Gladney possesses a certain fascination and fear for death. The concept itself appears in various forms within the reading – to “die,” to “kill,” to “murder,” among others. Gladney is a professor of Hitler studies in which he studies the life and works of Adolph Hitler. The mere mention of Hitler brings to mind the horrors of the Holocaust and brutal death. Gladney is entirely preoccupied by the concept, but the idea becomes much more solidified in later chapters when he seeks to alleviate his fear of death by killing of another man, which does not work out. Gladney’s obsession over death also leads him to wonder whether it will be his wife or himself who will die first.

Perhaps the most relevant question to this excerpt in regard to the search for meaning is: what is the meaning of death? For some, death is just another path, one that we all must take, as Gandalf notes in The Lord of the Rings. Yet “death” is not the end – it is simply the entering of the soul into the next plane of existence.When we consider near-death experiences, supernatural encounters, paranormal activity and various other religious and mystical teachings, we see that these experiences and practices provide people with meaning in death. For these individuals, your death is necessary for the transition of the soul that currently inhabits your body. In this, the meaning of death is the ability to finally reach happiness that we could never have had in this earthly form.

Homer’s The Iliad has captured imagination since its composition. There are several prominent themes in the Homeric works – most prominently, that of hospitality (Greek xenia) as well as the concept of honor. Value and meaning are here seen through a scene between two mortal enemies. Book 24 is the final book of The Iliad, and it is worth noting that Homer ends it simply with a heart-to-heart between Priam, king of Troy and Achilles the demi-god. Prior to this conversation, Achilles is well-known for being selfish, prideful, quick to anger and extremely impulsive. Before this Achilles does not think of others, yet thinking on the death of Patroclus in Book 24, “he burst into tears” (313). Achilles returns the desecrated body of Hector to Priam, and Achilles shows honor to his enemy. Even in the face of the horrors of war, there is tenderness, there is compassion and there is honor. Now, in Greco-Roman times there was a guest-host relationship in which you would serve the guest. When a guest came to your house you would offer wine, good food, and sometimes gifts to him or her, and they would show you kindness in return and sometimes offer their own gifts.

Although the Greek concept of xenia (hospitality) is more heavily featured in the sequel, The Odyssey, where Odysseus and his men visit numerous locations, it is still seen in this work. In antiquity, there was a guest-host relationship that was to be expected when you travelled. In this relationship, if a guest came to your house you would generally offer wine, good food, and sometimes gifts to him or her, and they would show you kindness in return and sometimes offer their own gifts. The Norsemen also had a similar concept of hospitality as displayed in the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda. . In The Iliad, however, there is not much room for hospitality as the main narrative concerns the war being waged between the Greeks and the Trojans. During his lifetime, Hector prince of Troy “never failed to offer precious gifts... [especially] of wine and the aroma of burnt meat” (315). Also, when Priam comes to Achilles, he offers him food and rest before Priam eventually makes his way back to Troy. In an act of kindness, compassion, hospitality and honor, Achilles has Greece declare a halt to battle while the Trojan people mourn their prince and honor Hector.

The concepts of honor, compassion and hospitality are noticeably seen throughout the epic. For the ancient Greeks of Homer’s time, meaning and value in life was seen through these lenses. The afterlife was not something they longed for, because Hades (and the lower level, Tartarus) was a shadowy existence, a dim echo of their former lives. Very few were able to enter into the Elysium Fields (the Greek view of heaven), and Hades was the norm. As such, the Greeks sought value and meaning in this present state of life – and so, they believed in hospitality, in compassion but above all, in honoring yourself and others. You could not enter into a war without carrying honor with you, although you could leave out hospitality and kindness. Honor is the highest virtue in the Greek ethic, and we the virtues of honor, hospitality and kindness even in the Christian ethic. St. Paul declares that the three core theological virtues are faith, hope and love. People living in the 1st century at the time of Jesus were taught to be hospitable to guests as well as kind and compassionate.

It is at this point which we will reiterate the idea that as humans we will always search for value and meaning in life. C.S. Lewis once said, “If I have a desire for something which nothing in this world can satisfy, it therefore means I was created for another world.” King Solomon, as recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes, tried to solve this very dilemma. Solomon tried to fulfill his search for meaning and value with women – he had one thousand wives, but it did not make him happy. He tried vineyards, intellectual and academic pursuits, entertainment – and none of this made him happy; none of his attempts for meaning and value actually provided him with such. Solomon concluded that everything “under the sun” does not give us meaning. Instead, he notes, God has placed eternity in the human heart – hence the burning, insatiable desire that nothing in this world can satisfy. Therefore, we can conclude with Solomon, as Christians in our search for meaning and value we find that although nothing “under the sun” truly satisfies, it is what lies beyond the sun: God the Creator who provides us with meaning and value.

Works Cited
Bonaventure. (2013). about meditating on god’s most blessed trinity by using god’s name ‘the good’. In The Intellectual Journey (3rd ed., pp. 276-278). Acton, MA: XanEdu.

DeLillo, Don. (2013). waves and radiation. In The Intellectual Journey (3rd ed., pp. 292-308). Acton, MA: XanEdu.

Homer. (2013). the iliad. In The Intellectual Journey (3rd ed., pp. 313-332). Acton, MA: XanEdu.

St. Clare of Assisi. (2013). the testament. In The Intellectual Journey (3rd ed., pp.288-291). Acton, MA: XanEdu.

Tuesday, November 12

The Role of Water in Scripture

The importance of water symbolism in a purely literary or textual sense in the Bible cannot be stressed enough. Water plays a significant role in Scripture and history. According to Genesis 1:2, God the Spirit "hovered over the waters," and "long ago by God's word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged [the global flood] and destroyed" (2nd Peter 3:5-6). Evidently, the Spirit hovered over the primordial waters just as he hovers over the baptismal waters at Jesus' baptism, and the waters that God used to form the Earth are also the waters used to flood the earth during the time of Noah (Genesis 6-9). In this context, we understand that water can bring life, sustain life and end life.

The early Hebraic nomads knew well that water was precious in the deserts of the Near East, and as water was a precious commodity, it was a valuable treasure. Moses' experience in the wilderness during his forty years away from Egypt provided Him with an advantage when the exodus occurred and the Israelites journeyed in the wilderness for forty years (the second set of forty years in the wilderness for Moses), so that Moses knew well the geography of the land. Interestingly, Moses strikes a rock on two different occasions – in order to provide water to the people. One of the plagues brought upon Egypt is the turning of the Nile river (water) into blood.1

There are a number of other miracles associated with water. For example, God parted the Red Sea so that the Israelites could safely cross from one side to the other while escaping the Egyptians (Exodus 14:16-31). Around forty years later, at the time of Joshua a similar miracle occurs, in which the Israelites cross the parted Jordan river (Joshua 3-4). Around 400-500 years later, the prophet Elijah also parted the Jordan river directly before his assumption into heaven, and when his fellow prophet Elisha came back through afterward, he also struck the water and parted the Jordan (2nd Kings 2:8, 14).

In line with water-related miracle, we see in the canonical gospels that Jesus  walked on water, calmed the water and after His crucifixion, blood and water flowed from His side (John 19:34; likely due to the rupturing of the heart or puncturing of the pericardial sac), which may possibly also be referenced in 1st John 5:6. Jesus is also well known for performing his first miracle at a wedding feast in Cana, where he turned the water into wine (John 2).2 Out of the water came the wine, which the master of the banquet considered to be "the best wine." Perhaps more important, though, is the account recorded in John 4:7-26. Here, Jesus speaks with a Samaritan woman about drawing up water from the well.3 Jesus claims to be the water of life, the “living water.” Why? Jesus is the sustainer and giver of life, and as St. Paul says in the New Testament, “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

It is worth noting that according to Ezekiel and Revelation 22:1-2, there is a river that flows from God’s Throne room within his Holy Temple in the New Jerusalem. This may be an interesting callback to the four rivers that flowed forth from the Garden of Eden. In fact, the river of the waters of life (Revelation 22:1-2) is described in such Edenic terms that we receive mention of the “tree of life” that brings life to the nations, and grows alongside this river that flows from God’s Throne.

Water is also used in baptism, as noted in the New Testament documents and early church writings such as The Didache (AD 50-120). Baptism in the early church was not something that would have been out of place. Jews were used to ritual washing and purification, and John the Baptist (mentioned in the Gospels and by Josephus) was a pre-Christian baptizer. John also baptized Jesus, at which point the Spirit of God descended (hovering much as it did during Creation) and the Father speaks from heaven. After the resurrection of Jesus, He commanded His disciples to baptize “in the name of the Son, and of the father, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).4 Baptism is used as one of the seven sacraments5 of the Catholic Church, where it is used to cleanse you of Original Sin. Other denominations claim that you cannot be saved unless you are baptized, whereas for other Christians, the only thing you need for salvation is trust (faith) in God. In this view, baptism is a sign of commitment: an external sign of an internal faith.

Perhaps a final – and very important – consideration in light of Scripture’s use of water is also its use of fish imagery. Fish play a very prominent role in the canonical and deuterocanonical works. Fish, of course, live, play and dwell in water. Jonah is swallowed while in the watery Mediterranean Sea by a large fish, and a fish in the deuterocanonical book of Tobit enables the demon Asmodeus to be fended off and the healing of Tobiah’s father Tobit.6 Jesus fed people with fish, the apostles were fisherman, and Jesus told people to be “fishers of men.” Water is clearly used in a variety of different contexts within Scripture, and will continue to be used as an element used to understand God’s activity within human experience.

1. While Moses turned the Nile River in Egypt from water into blood, Jesus turned the water into wine, a sort of antithesis. 
2. In sociological terms, wine was drunk more often than not as a result of water contamination. A reference to this is found even within the New Testament, in a letter from St. Paul to Timothy, "Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illness" (1st Timothy 5:23). In these days, water was not very clean. The water was generally filled with contaminants, and individuals drank wine as a result of the unclean water. Sometimes the water was mixed with a bit of wine, or sometimes it was simply a moderate portion of wine. 
3. This is claimed to be Jacob’s well. This also ties the water symbolism into the repeated Biblical motif (or type-scene) of the well. For example, 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. It seems as though the well is a center or focus, and it is worth noting that the well itself contains the primary element: water.
4. Early Christians used a variety of baptismal formulas when baptizing. They would sometimes use “the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit” (as Matthew and the Didache show), but as Acts shows, they usually used “in the name of Jesus,” “in the name of our Lord,” or “in the name of our Lord Jesus.”
5. The basic seven sacraments of the Catholic Church are Baptism, Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist, Repentance/Reconciliation (Penance), Holy Order, Matrimony (Marriage), and the Anointing of the Sick. The Council of Trent helped to define (but did not originate) these sacraments, and at Vatican II, the idea that Jesus is the “primordial sacrament” came about.
6. Both tales have an Assyrian background, dealing with the city of Nineveh – a fish swallows Jonah to make him go to Nineveh, and a fish tries to bit Tobiah as he tries to leave Nineveh. Scholars believe that Tobit takes partial influence from Jonah, and in fact, some early manuscripts of Tobit actually mention the prophet Jonah.

Monday, November 4

Bonaventure: The Benefits of Christ's Act

Throughout early Christian writings from the earliest followers to the leaders of the church even into modern times, the believers have written about why Jesus as the Godman came to die and rise again, the consequences of that action and the benefits of it. In the Christian worldview, the implication is that God as the Creator has left fingerprints on His creation, that the Great Painter has left his signature upon his Paintings. Just as many famous artists leave their own "signature" on their work, so too has God left his mark upon us. By looking inward we ought to be able to see the signature of God, but as St. Bonaventure points out in On Seeing God in His Image Reformed by the Gifts of Grace, "the human mind is distracted by many concerns, and hence does not enter into itself... it is drawn away by base desires, and therefore a desire for internal sweetness and spiritual joy is unable to turn the mind back to itself. Thus totally immersed in matters of the senses, the mind is unable to re-enter itself as the image of God" (176).

However, although it is much easier to see God's fingerprints in his outward creation (nature) than his inward (the human mind), we also realize that as fallen humans we need to rise up again. When Adam disobeyed a direct command of the Creator and therefore corrupted His perfect Creation, the ladder between God and Man was broken. Man did not have access to the spiritual realm, angels no longer came back and forth between heavzen and Eden, and God did not walk among us any longer. Indeed, Jacob saw the "ladder" between heaven and earth where the angels were ascending and descending and God was at the top of this ladder or stairway - but He did not Himself descend that ladder. Two thousand years ago, however, when the conditions were finally ready, the Creator descended that ladder and became a part of His own creation, taking on the form of a man - the Godman. It was with the death of God that this ladder has been repaired. St. Bonaventure claims that we may be filled with abundant knowledge and learning, but without the doorway that has now been opened by the act of Christ, we would not be able to come to the light through the darkness.

Finally, St. Bonaventure concludes, we then consider that God has given us faith, hope and love. It is with faith - which is trust - that we trust in Him and trust that He will bring us to Him after we leave this life. It is with hope that we look ahead to this coming day where we leave the present body and enter into a higher state of life (the so-called afterlife) and this hope provides a means by which we can cope with our present condition. Finally, it is with love that we realize God's sacrifice on the cross was an act of love. As he reveals in the gospels, He could at any moment call down over 70,000 angels to aid him and He could simply come off the cross, healed. But as He looked forward and saw the faces and lives of His creation - us - He stayed, and the Creator sacrificed Himself for His Creation. Thus, because of what God did, we can now come out of darkness into marvelous light.

Sunday, November 3

Examining Honi the Circle-Drawer: History and Legends

Every generation has its stories. Some of these stories are myth, some are legends, some are folklore, and some are true stories. In Scripture, we have the true stories of men and women throughout history, the things they have done and accomplished, the good and the bad (and the ugly), as well as the recorded plan by which God saved mankind. God had chosen the Israelites to be His people, but in both the Old and New Testament, it is made abundantly clear that God also intended to include the Gentiles (from the Latin word gentilis), also known as a non-Jew, in His plan. Past articles have contended that the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) and the New Testament comprise the written revelation of God.

There are, however, various traditions and legends that can help us to gain more understanding or elicit deeper thinking into particular things. Some of these traditions are simply interesting, if for no other reason than the tale they tell. For example, in Jubilees 4:31 says, "At the close of this jubilee Cain was killed after [Adam] in the same year; because his house fell on him and he died in the middle of his house, and he was killed by its stones. With a stone he had killed Abel, and by a stone he was killed in righteous judgment." This work is usually dated to about 160-150 BC, and this excerpt illustrates the concept of “eye for an eye” or the concept of reaping what you sow. Another fascinating tale comes from the Jewish Talmud, which conveys the account of Honi ha-M'agel from the 1st century BC.

The Legend of Honi
Honi (חוני המעגל, also known as Khoni or Choni) ha-M'agel (meaning "the circle-drawer") was an actual historical figure. The phrase ha-M'agel is usually taken to be a reference to the miracle for which he is well known, although some scholars claim that ha-M'agel (or ha-Me'aggel) is the name of the place where Honi was from, and yet others contend that he was called by this name as he was often called to repair roofs or ovens, using a ma'gillah (a "roller").1-2 To be sure, he is not mentioned in the canonical Bible, however, the story recounted in the Jewish Talmud is one which enables us to take away several admirable traits and Biblical principles - it teaches us several lessons. Honi was a Jewish scholar, as noted, in the 1st century BC. During this time, the Talmud conveys the notion that several figures emerged who claimed to be in the spirit and tradition of prophets much like Elijah and Elisha. The Talmud itself, it should be recognized, has two components. The first is the Mishnah (meaning "repetition" or "secondary") which dates from approximately AD 200, and the second is the Gemara (meaning "to study" or "learning by tradition"), which dates from approximately AD 500. With this is mind, it may be easier to proceed. The following is the text we will utilize in this article:

"Once there was a terrible drought in the land of Israel. It was already the month of Adar, which usually marks the end of the rainy season and the beginning of spring, but no rains had fallen all winter long. So the people sent for Honi the Circle-Maker. He prayed, but still no rains came. Then he drew a circle in the dust and stood in the middle of it. Raising his hands to heaven, he vowed, 'God, I will not move from this circle until You send rain!' Immediately a few drops fell, hissing as they struck the hot white stones. But the people complained to Honi, 'This is but a poor excuse for rain, only enough to release you from your vow.' So Honi turned back to heaven and cried, 'Not for this trifling drizzle did I ask, but for enough rain to fill wells, cisterns, and ditches!' Then the heavens opened up and poured down rain in buckets, each drop big enough to fill a soup ladle. The wells and the cisterns overflowed, and the wadis flooded the desert. The people of Jerusalem ran for safety to the Temple Mount. ‘Honi!’ they cried. ‘Save us! Or we will all be destroyed like the generation of the Flood! Stop the rains!’” Honi prayed for the rains to stop, and the land was once again bountiful thanks to his fervent faith in God and his persistence.

There is another Jewish text that may further elucidate the story. According to Mishnah Taanit 3:8, "They sound the shofar because of any public distress -- may it never befall! -- but not because of too great an abundance of rain. Once they said to Honi the Circle-Drawer, 'Pray that rain may fall.' He answered, 'Go out and bring in the Passover ovens [made of clay] that they be not softened.' He prayed, but the rain did not fall. What did he do? He drew a circle and stood within it and said before God, 'O Lord of the world, your children have turned their faces to me, for I am like a son of the house before you. I swear by your great name that I will not stir from here until you have pity on your children.' Rain began falling drop by drop. He said, 'Not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain that will fill the cisterns, pits, and caverns.' It began to rain with violence. He said, 'Not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain of goodwill, blessing, and graciousness.' Then it rained in moderation, until the Israelites had to go up from Jerusalem to the Temple Mount because of the rain. They went to him and said, 'Just as you prayed for the rain to come, so pray that it may go away!' He replied, 'Go and see if the Stone of the Strayers has disappeared.' Simeon ben Shetah sent to him, saying, 'Had you not been Honi I would have pronounced a ban against you! But what shall I do to you? You importune God and he performs your will, like a son that importunes his father he performs his will. Of you the Scripture says, 'Let your father and your mother be glad, and let her that bore you rejoice.'"

Honi prayed time after time for more rain, less rain and no rain to the God of heaven. Honi drew a circle around himself and dared the Creator to make the next move. Many have compared what Honi did to love. Indeed, “"I think this is what any proclamation of love is; clutching the greater half of one's whole, drawing a circle in the dust, and refusing to budge until the heaven[s] above open up and pour. Honi the Circle-Drawer knew rain is always coming. Those in love know rain is always on the way and are brave enough to stand together until it rains on each and everyone of us.”3 The story of Honi has been interpreted a number of ways, but perhaps one way we ought to consider it is in light of the story’s relation to the Hebrew Bible.

Honi and Biblical Motifs
When we examine literature written in between the Testaments (intertestamental literature) as well as writings that come after the New Testament (which itself was written around AD 48-95), it is highly relevant to bear in mind the vast religious and literary traditions behind such things. For example, the book of Judith likely written in the intertestamental period is noted by many scholars as being strikingly similar and likely influenced by the story of Jael and Deborah in Judges 4-5. The intertestamental story of Tobit is also likely influenced by the story of Jonah – both involve fish, divine intervention, judgment on Assyrians and the presence of Nineveh.

We also find a variety of motifs (recurring story elements) between Scriptural books. An example of this is the “well type-scene” or “well motif.” 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. With this in mind, we can then examine the story of Honi in relation to other Jewish understandings and traditions.

Honi reminds us of the stories of Gideon and Joshua. Gideon challenges God to give him a sign and prove himself (Judges 6:17, 39-40), and prove himself to Gideon he does. Similarly, Honi draws the circle around himself and puts God to the test. We find that this is not the only time a mortal has commanded the nature of the world. As God’s creation is indeed controlled by God himself, by attempting to command nature we are in a sense trying to command God. Yet in the book of Joshua, when Joshua and the Israelites were fighting the Amorites in an attempt to protect the Gibeonites, “Joshua said to the LORD in the presence of Israel, ‘Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.’ So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day” (Joshua 10:12-13).

In this example, Joshua commanded the sun to “stand still over Gibeon” while they fought, just as Honi commanded the rain to come down. The author of Joshua uses this example to show God’s favor of Israel, and noted that this was “a day when the LORD listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!” (10:14). When we consider times in the Hebrew Bible when God gave human beings creative control or access to weather changes, we are reminded of the prophet Elijah who lived in the 800s BC. According to 1st Kings 17:7, “there had been no rain in the land,” just as in the time of Honi in the 1st century. As a result of the evil that was being done by the king of that time, God gave Elijah the power to shut up the sky, so to speak – “As the Lord, the God Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word” (1st Kings 1:1). The book of James in the New Testament lays out this point: “Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops” (James 5:17-18). The motif is also carried over into the book of Revelation, where the two witnesses have the “power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying” (11:6).

There is also another Biblical consideration to make when we think on the story of Honi, as well as a non-Biblical consideration. The usage of a circle drawn in the sand is not only a motif but was something that would have been somewhat familiar at the time. In fact, only a few decades before Honi (around 168 BC) there lived a Roman Consul named Gaius Popillius Laenas. This individual drew a circular line in the sand around the king of the Sleucid Empire at the time, Antiochus IV. After he did this, Gaius said, “Before you cross this circle I want you to give me a reply for the Roman Senate." His implication was that if the king stepped outside of the circle without agreeing to leave Egypt, Rome was going to declare war. Antiochus agreed, and shook hands with Popillius.4 This is an example of drawing a circle and expecting your opponent or the person you are challenging to make the next move, and either you or the other individual cannot or will not step outside of the circle unless change occurs.

Subsequently, it is also entirely possible that the story of Jesus and the adulterer shows signs of the circle-drawing. It is well-known (and noted in most modern Bible translations) that the story of Jesus and the adulterer recorded in John 7:53-8:11 is not found in the earliest manuscripts and other ancient writings, and is seen as an addition (interpolation) to the text. In fact, some manuscripts actually have this story in Dr. Luke’s gospel. Regardless, even if this story is indeed a later addition, could it include circle-drawing? The only two possible references in the text are in 8:6, “But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger,” and 8:8, “Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.” This passage does not specify exactly what it was that Jesus drew on the ground. Perhaps he drew a circle around himself and as the Jewish audience could have been familiar with the idea, simply heard Jesus’ words and left, but it is actually more likely that this passage (or event) was influenced by Jeremiah 17:13, “…People who quit following the Lord will be like a name written in the dust…”

A final consideration is the Flood. When there is too much rain coming down the people beg Honi to pray for the rain to stop, or they will “all be destroyed like the generation of the Flood!” This flood, of course, is the flood found in Genesis 6-9, which is well-known for being the event that wiped out most of the world while Noah and his family (along with several animals) survived on an ark built of wood. Thus, through various traditions and Biblical references we see that there is a precedence for challenging God, for humans being granted some control over weather (specifically rain) and also for either writing in the sand or drawing a circle – so when the story of Honi is told to Jewish audiences, the audiences likely understood a lot of this in light of their background.

Josephus and Honi
Although Honi is seen in the aforementioned passages from later Rabbinic literature, we do have one highly probable reference to him in the work of Josephus. Josephus was a 1st century AD historian (therefore living a little over one hundred years after Honi) who wrote extensively on the history of the Jewish people. He was highly skeptical about supposed “miracle-workers” of his time, and went so far as to call them deceivers (apateônes) and enchanters (goêtes). Interestingly enough, however, Josephus does call one man a "righteous man" (dikaios aner) as well as the "beloved of God" (theophilis). The miracle-worker that he details in his historical work is named Onias, who seemingly has a special relationship with God and has the ability to call down rain. The date Josephus is describing is around April of 65 BC:

“After Hyrcanus made these promises to Aretas [the King of Arabia]…Aretas made an assault upon the Temple with his entire army and besieged Aristobulus within. The people joined Hyrcanus and assisted him in the siege, while none but the priests continued to support Aristobulus. So Aretas united the forces of the Arabs and the Jews and pressed the siege vigorously. As this happened at the time when the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which we call Passover, was celebrated, the most reputable men among the Jews left the country and fled into Egypt. Now there was one named Onias, a righteous man and beloved of God, who, in a certain drought, had once prayed to God to put an end to the intense heat, and God had heard his prayer and sent rain. Now seeing that this civil war would last a great while, he had hidden himself, but they took him to the Jewish camp and desired that just as by his prayers he had once put an end to the drought, so he might in like manner call curses down on Aristobulus and his supporters. And when, having refused and made excuses, he was nonetheless compelled by the mob to supplicate, he said, ‘O God, king of the whole world! Since those that stand now with me are your people, and those that are besieged are also your priests, I beseech you, that you will neither hear the prayers of those others against these men, nor to bring about what is asked by these men against those others.’ Whereupon the wicked Jews that stood about him, as soon as he had made this prayer, stoned him to death. But God punished them immediately for their barbarity, and took vengeance on them for the murder of Onias…He did not delay their punishment, but sent a mighty and vehement storm of wind that destroyed the crops of the entire country, until a modius of wheat at that time cost eleven drachmae.”5

Some scholars note the interesting fact that Onias (Greek form of “Honi”), like Jesus, had the ability to perform a miracle, promoted peace and was also supposedly killed in Jerusalem at the Passover.6 About a hundred years after Josephus wrote, we find the Rabbinic traditions quoted earlier, which detail a man named Honi who called down rain – just like this Onias. There is also a parallel worth mentioning in Josephus and the Mishnah. According to Josephus, "Just as by his prayers he had once put an end to the drought, so he might in like manner call curses down on Aristobulus" – the Mishnah says, " 'Just as you prayed for the rain to come, so pray that it may go away!'” This parallel expression in both works (Josephus came first, toward the end of the 1st century) seems to illustrate the faith and prayer that Honi was well-known for. Therefore, from a quick glimpse at the historian’s work, Josephus establishes the existence of a man named Onias/Honi, a man who is known for promoting peace, a man who is known for a rain miracle, and most interestingly: a man is known for his special relationship with God.  

Honi the Son of God
In the New Testament, we often find Jesus called the “Son of God.” The 1st century audience living at the time understood that this was not the literal offspring of a god – as in the case of the demigod Heracles/Hercules or with other figures such as Dionysus – but as a sort of dig at the Roman Emperor. Emperors of the time claimed divinity and were heralded as the “son of” such and such a god, just as the ancient Egyptian pharaohs often claimed that they were either incarnate gods or the offspring of a god like Ra, the sun god. Christian and non-Christian historians alike also recognize that there were individuals living shortly before, during and after the life of Jesus of Nazareth who were thought to be a miracle-working son of God, but not necessarily in the same sense that we consider Jesus to be the Son of God.

As scholar Bart D. Ehrman points out, Jesus’ "two most famous peers were probably Honi the 'circle-drawer' and Hanina ben Dosa, both of whom are known through the writings of later Jewish rabbis. Honi was a Galilean teacher who died about one hundred years before Jesus… Later sources indicate that Honi was a revered teacher and a miracle worker, who called himself the son of God. Like Jesus, he was martyred outside of the walls of Jerusalem around the time of Passover. To punish the Jews who had brought about his death, God sent a powerful windstorm that devastated their crops. Hanina ben Dosa ( = son of Dosa) was a rabbi in Galilee in the middle of the first century C.E., just after the time of Jesus. He was famous as a righteous and powerful worker of miracles, who (like Honi) could intervene with God to make the rain fall, who had the power to heal the sick, and who could confront demons and force them to do his biding. Both of these miracle-working sons of God are portrayed somewhat differently from Jesus, of course (most of their miracles, for example, were achieved through prayer, rather than through their own power); but they are also different in significant ways from each other (Jesus and Hanina, for example, are both portrayed as exorcists, whereas Honi is not). What is most interesting, however, is that anyone who called Jesus a miracle-working Jewish rabbi, the Son of God, would have been easily understood: other righteous Jews, both before Jesus and afterward, were portrayed similarly."7

The idea that a mere human was called a “son of God” is not as ridiculous or anti-Christian as it may sound. The idea is actually rather ancient. In fact, in the Hebrew Bible, the king of Israel “was thought to mediate between God and humans and so stand in a special relationship with God as a child does to a parent. Even kings with dubious public records were sometimes called 'the son of God' (e.g., 2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7-9). And others receive the title as well: occasionally the entire nation of Israel, through whom God worked his will on earth (Hos 11:1), and sometimes God's heavenly servants, beings that we might call angels (Job 1:6; 2:1). In all of these instances in Jewish circles, 'the son of God' referred to someone who had a particularly intimate relationship with God, who was chosen by God to perform as task, and who thereby mediated God's will to people on earth. Sometimes these sons of God were associated with the miraculous."8

When Honi the circle-drawer is called a “son of God”– as Shimon puts it to Honi, “You importune God and he performs your will, like a son that importunes his father he performs his will” – and when the Jewish individuals see his miracle of the rain, we have the idea that Honi had a very special relationship with God. When we see Christ call God his own Father on numerous occasions as well as our Father, we often miss just how scandalous this claim was in antiquity. This was why Shimon looked down on Honi for calling upon God as if he were his own son who had the right to call upon him in that way. Calling on God as “the Father,” however, is not actually a New Testament concept as is popularly believed. Indeed, there are actually several references to God as a Father, both by an author calling God "Father," and God calling Himself "Father." Here are a few examples from the Hebrew Bible: "...Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?" (Deuteronomy 32:6), “You are my son today I have become your Father." (Psalm 2:7), "He will call out to me, 'You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.'" (Psalm 89:26), "...And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6), "But you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name." (Isaiah 63:16), "Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." (Isaiah 64:8), "...I am Israel's father..." (Jeremiah 31:9), "'A son honors his father, and slaves honor their master. If I am father, where is the honor due me? If I am master, where is the respect due me?' says the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 1:6), "Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another." (Malachi 2:10)

The fact that there are more than two references to "the Father" ought to be sufficient enough. The idea of God the "the son," may be found not only in Psalm 2, but also in Proverbs 30:4, "Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is the name of his son? Surely you know!" If there is a son, it certainly implies a Father. Luke 1:32 and Matthew 3:17demonstrate that the Son who is being referred to is Christ, with other points of the passage further clarified by John 3:13, Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9-11, and Ephesians 4:9-10. Another passage to consider is Hosea 11:1, "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." This is quoted as a fulfillment of prophecy concerning the young Jesus in Matthew 2:13-15, which also implies that there is a Father. Other references include Exodus 4:22 and 2nd Samuel 7:14. Intertestamental (deuterocanonical/apocryphal) material such as the book of Tobit also shows God as “the Father.” In fact, Tobit 13:5 says, “he is our Father and our God forever.” Therefore, these passages are very important to bear in mind to the 1st century BC Jewish audience of Honi’s miracles and words, so that when he seemed to be calling upon God as a Father, the idea certainly has precedence in the Hebrew Bible.

The legend of Honi the circle-drawer is really quite simple. A man living in the 1st century BC saw how dry the land had become and prayed to God for rain, and God complied. Various other traditions and legends about the man have sprung up and grown since, such as a legend that he did not actually die when he was stoned but was in a deep sleep for 70 years (one of the earliest time travel stories?), among other traditions.9 Concepts and titles found in his short story such as the special Father-Son relationship with God, various Biblical motifs and ideas, and various other considerations help to further elucidate the early understandings and interpretations of this marvelous tale. At its core, perhaps, the message of Honi the circle-drawer is simply one of faith and prayer. By trusting in God, “drawing a circle” around ourselves and engaging in prayerful consideration, we not only further our relationship with God but we also find out what we are made of, and that even when the rain comes and the storms beat against our houses, we are like a man who had built his house upon solid ground rather than on the sand – our foundation is firm, and we are secure in our foundation of God.

1. Zemah Ga'on in Sefer ha-Yuhasin ha-Shalem
2. S. Klein, S.H. Kook in Zion 1. 1929/30.
3. Hove, E.G.. "Meditation on Honi the Circle-Drawer."SMALL, STUPID, AND BEAUTIFUL THINGS. N.p., 15 Oct 2007. Web.
4. Austin. The Hellenistic World from Alexander to Roman Conques. 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, 2006. 374. Print.
5. Antiquities 14.2.1 21. Josephus (Translated by William Whiston, A.M.). Josephus: The Complete Works. Nashville, Tennesse: Thomas Nelson, 1998. 576. Print.
6. It is worth noting that the three main accounts quoted in this article that deal with Onias/Honi all actually post-date the life of Jesus, so that although the historical Honi lived about six-seven decades before the birth of Jesus, the accounts we have on Honi do not come about until over one hundred years after his death. The earliest mentions we have of Jesus, however, if we take into consideration early creedal formulas, christological hymns and poems, we have material related to Jesus within a couple years after his death, while the earliest complete NT document is alleged to be 1st Thessalonians written between AD 48-53. Therefore, if there is any distortion or changing of the Honi legend, the material we have related to Honi post-dates early Christian movements.
7. Ehrman, Bart D. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. 66. Print.
8. Ehrman 69-70.
9. The Talmud (in Taanit 23a) claims that Honi actually fell into a deep sleep and “woke up” 70 years later. However, when no one believed him when he claimed that he was the infamous Honi the Circle-drawer, he prayed to God and God took him from this world, just as God took Enoch (Genesis 5, Enochian literature). Josephus, however, wrote that Honi/Onias was stoned to death. Renowned rabbi and Talmudist Maharsha (1555-1631) explained the inconsistency between the Talmud and Josephus by claiming that Honi/Onias was actually presumed to have been stoned by Hyrcanus II and his men, but what actually happened is that Honi was put into a coma-like state for 70 years, a sort of time-travel idea, and that the idea that he was stoned by Hyrcanus II’s men was actually a cover story.