Category Archives: New Testament


2015-04-20

The Memory Mavens, Part 6: How Did Paul Remember Jesus?

by Tim Widowfield

We have covered the subject of the apostle Paul’s silence on Jesus’ life many times on Vridar. But for quite a while now, I’ve been thinking we keep asking the same, misdirected questions. NT scholars have kept us focused on the narrow confines of the debate they want to have. But there are other questions that we need to ask.

Last Judgment panel Diest 001

Last Judgment panel Diest 001 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pretty apocalyptic prophets, all in a row

For example, Bart Ehrman, defending his claim that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, has habitually argued that we can draw a sort of “line of succession” from John the Baptist, through Jesus, to Paul. In Did Jesus Exist? he explains it all in an apocalyptic nutshell:

At the beginning of Jesus’s ministry he associated with an apocalyptic prophet, John; in the aftermath of his ministry there sprang up apocalyptic communities. What connects this beginning and this end? Or put otherwise, what is the link between John the Baptist and Paul? It is the historical Jesus. Jesus’s public ministry occurs between the beginning and the end. Now if the beginning is apocalyptic and the end is apocalyptic, what about the middle? It almost certainly had to be apocalyptic as well. To explain this beginning and this end, we have to think that Jesus himself was an apocalypticist. (Ehrman, 2012, p. 304, emphasis mine)

Dr. Ehrman sees the evidence at the ends as “keys to the middle.” For him, it’s a decisive argument.

The only plausible explanation for the connection between an apocalyptic beginning and an apocalyptic end is an apocalyptic middle. Jesus, during his public ministry, must have proclaimed an apocalyptic message.

I think this is a powerful argument for Jesus being an apocalypticist. It is especially persuasive in combination with the fact, which we have already seen, that apocalyptic teachings of Jesus are found throughout our earliest sources, multiply attested by independent witnesses. (Ehrman, 2012, p. 304, emphasis mine)

You’ve probably heard Ehrman make this argument elsewhere. He’s nothing if not a conscientious recycler. Here, he follows up by summarizing Jesus’ supposed apocalyptic proclamation. Jesus heralds the coming kingdom of God; he refers to himself as the Son of Man; he warns of the imminent day of judgment. And how should people prepare for the wrath that is to come?

We saw in Jesus’s earliest recorded words that his followers were to “repent” in light of the coming kingdom. This meant that, in particular, they were to change their ways and begin doing what God wanted them to do. As a good Jewish teacher, Jesus was completely unambiguous about how one knows what God wants people to do. It is spelled out in the Torah. (Ehrman, 2012, p. 309)

Unasked questions

However, Ehrman’s argument works only if we continue to read the texts with appropriate tunnel vision and maintain discipline by not asking uncomfortable questions. Ehrman wants us to ask, “Was Paul an apocalypticist?” To which we must answer, “Yes,” and be done with it.

But I have more questions. read more »


2015-04-05

Curious Contacts Between John’s Gospel and the Asclepius Myth

by Tim Widowfield

I’ve been trying to think of something worthy of posting on this Easter Sunday, 2015. All I can come up with at the moment is a subject I’ve had on the back burner for some time, namely the handful of references in the Fourth Gospel (FG) that remind us of Asclepius. Longtime readers may recall Neil’s description from his review of Jesus Potter Harry Christ.

Asclepius the gentle and personally accessible deity, lover of children, gentle, exorcist and healer, and one whose cult was considered at certain times the greatest threat to Christianity.

Several scholars have remarked upon the parallels in terminology and legends that surround both Jesus and Asclepius. Of course, the most obvious things that come to mind would include the designations of savior (sōtēr | σωτήρ) and healer or physician (iatros | ἰατρός). But I’m more interested for now in the specific events or ideas presented in the Gospel of John.

Rod of Asclepius

Rod of Asclepius (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Bronze Serpent and the Rod of Asclepius

I’ll start with the most obvious connections and proceed to the more tenuous. The most prominent correlation between Asclepius and the FG has to be the brazen serpent.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. (John 3:14-15, KJV)

In the United States, especially, we tend to confuse the caduceus and the Rod of Asclepius. We should associate the caduceus with the god Hermes; hence, it’s a symbol for traders, heralds, or ambassadors. The Rod (or Staff) of Asclepius, on the other hand, is a symbol of healing.

The bronze serpent or Nehushtan in the Hebrew Bible also had specific healing properties.

And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived. (Numbers 21:9, NASB)

Oddly enough, we read that during Hezekiah’s reign, the bronze serpent was destroyed as a part of his reform movement. read more »


2015-03-29

Why Is the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament?

by Neil Godfrey
Lion of St Mark by Vittore Carpaccio

Lion of St Mark by Vittore Carpaccio

I recently completed Michael J. Kok’s exploration of why the Gospel of Mark came to be associated with the apostle Peter and included in our canon despite appearing at first glance to be little more than a synopsis of the other gospels and little used by the early church according to the extant records, and despite having a “questionable past” among the “heretics”. His book, The Gospel on the Margins: the Reception of Mark in the Second Century, is a published version of his PhD thesis.

When I first read the Gospel of Mark I was stunned. I was a devout young Christian attending the local Methodist church and had decided to read the four gospels in sequence for the first time. I had a nifty paperback new English translation of them that made the project appealing for a young teenager. The Gospel of Matthew was pretty much as I had expected. But the Gospel of Mark left me confused. It was not light. It was dark. Foreboding. Nothing like Matthew at all and nothing in my Sunday school classes had prepared me for it. Lucky Luke came next and restored my image of an approachable and compassionate Jesus with a loyal following with whom I could identify.

Fast forward many years and I am no longer a Christian but I have chosen to follow through my earlier interest in the Bible and now enjoy learning what I can about its origins from a historical perspective. One thing I have learned is that the Gospel of Mark appears to have been cited very rarely in the early literature of the Church Fathers. The Gospel of Matthew appears most frequently. However, most scholars have concluded that Mark was the earliest gospel that was written. Matthew and Luke repeat — generally with subtle but significant modifications — large portions of it; many scholars also believe the Gospel of John was composed in some sort of dialogue with Mark and a little digging quickly shows us why they have come to this conclusion.

So if the Gospel of Mark does so easily disturb one immersed in orthodoxy and if it was so little used among the earliest Fathers then why was it copied with revisions by later evangelists and even incorporated into our New Testament canon?

Recall some of its “strange” features:  read more »


2015-02-24

Did Jesus’ Mother and Brothers Lose Faith in Jesus?

by Tim Widowfield
Max Zerwick

Max Zerwick

He said, she said, they said

Sometimes I like to lull myself to sleep at night by reading obscure books about Biblical Greek. I recently picked up a real snore-fest by Maximilian Zerwick called Biblical Greek: Illustrated Examples. Early in the book Zerwick talks about a phenomenon in Greek, which also exists in English, in which the third person plural refers to some general, anonymous group, usually best translated as “they say” or “people say.”

In German and French, there’s a singular form (“man sagt” and “on dit“), but in English we have the same sort of thing as in Greek. For example:

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it’s not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance. –Terry Pratchett (Equal Rites, emphasis mine)

As Zerwick rightly points out, we usually see the indefinite plural with verbs of telling, hence in Latin: “dicunt, ferunt, tradunt.” It’s possible that indefinite plurals were common in Aramaic, which Zerwick suggests may have influenced Mark. He writes:

This is perhaps why it occurs with especial frequency in Mk, often, in parallel passages, corrected by Mt, and still oftener by Lk. . . . [I]n Mk (3,21) we read a text which seems offensive to the honour of the Mother of God: ἀκούσαντες οἱ παρ’ αὐτοῦ ἐξῆλθον κρατῆσαι αὐτόν, ἔλεγον γὰρ ὅτι ἐξέστη [akousntes hoi par' autou exēlthon kratēsai auton, elegon gar hoti exestē]. These παρ’ αὐτοῦ [par' autou] are later (v. 31) said to be “His mother and his brethren.” Were they necessarily the ones who thought Jesus was deranged? (Zerwick, 2011, p. 2)

In most English translations, the meaning seems to be that Mary and Jesus’ brothers thought he had come unhinged.

And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21, ESV)

His family heard” . . . “they went out” . . . “they were saying.” Simple, right?  read more »


2015-02-23

Mary’s Strange Question (and stranger anatomy!)

by Neil Godfrey
By John Collier - From Bible-Library.com.

By John Collier – From Bible-Library.com.

Familiarity with the stories of Jesus’ birth can blind us to recognizing just how bizarre are some of their details. Okay, maybe the virgin birth itself is bizarre but I recently read one reasonably well-known scholar opining that even that may not be so bizarre when we stop and recollect the ability of certain animals such as Komodo Dragons to reproduce by parthenogenesis. The scholar stopped short of speculating how it was that Mary came to be born human-like yet presumably with reptilian internal organs or the nature of the children she later bore to Joseph.

The Gospel of Luke opens with the angel Gabriel dropping in on two earthlings without the courtesy of advance notice. The first was the very elderly priest, Zechariah. Gabriel interrupted him during work hours in the Temple causing a religious ceremony to be unceremoniously held up in midstream, told Zechariah that he and his equally elderly wife were going to have a child and then cursed him with the inability to speak for daring to ask how any couple well beyond menopause could possibly bear children.

Six months later the same Gabriel dropped in on Mary. Now Mary, Luke tells us, was a virgin engaged to be married to Joseph. We are not told when they were planning to marry but no doubt Mary spent a lot of time thinking about that day and what married life with Joseph would be like.

There Be DragonsGabriel told Mary that she was going to have a baby boy and that she was to name him Jesus.

Mary immediately forgot she was engaged to be married and so asked Gabriel how that was possible since she was, well, not married. Mary’s question was as dumb as Zechariah’s was smart.

Mary’s question is very puzzling: why should a woman about to marry wonder at the notion that she will soon conceive? (Randel Helms, Gospel Fictions, p. 51)

So what’s going on here? Why does Luke make Mary look so absurdly naive?  read more »


2015-02-19

Reading Wrede Again for the First Time (11)

by Tim Widowfield

William Wrede’s The Messianic Secret

Part 11: Luke Abandons the Secrecy Motif

While we may have had to wait until the end of Mark’s story for the denouement of the secrecy gospel, Luke removes all suspense early on with the scene in the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:16-30). In The Messianic Secret, William Wrede writes:

Here Jesus reads out the words of Isaiah 61.1f. regarding the anointing for messianic vocation and then goes on to say, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. But this is nothing other than a messianic self-proclamation, and if Luke in all probability made up this scene himself in so far as it is at variance with Mark, and certainly thought of it as an introduction determining the character of the presentation of the story which follows, yet one gains the impression that here he is doing something which Mark would hardly have done. However many contradictions may be found in Mark along with the idea of secret messiahship, this is on a different footing. It looks like a denial of the idea itself. (Wrede, 1901/1971, p. 178, emphasis mine)

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

The Sermon on the Mount (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is the Sermon on the Mount private instruction?

Luke’s Jesus does not hide his light under a bushel. He lets everyone know who he is. We can see the extent to which Luke has embraced this public, openly messianic Jesus even in the way he teaches the crowd.

Wrede makes the point that in Matthew, much of the instruction Jesus imparts to his disciples remains private. The Transfiguration, the prophecy of the passion, the meaning of parables, the “question about the last things,” etc. happen away from the crowds and sometimes away from the majority of the disciples. But that’s not all.

We may also mention that even the Sermon on the Mount is regarded as instruction of the disciples. For according to 5.1, when Jesus sees the crowds, he goes up the mountain and then the disciples approach him[*] in order to receive his teaching. This, of course, is again forgotten at the end of the sermon in 7.28.

[*] prosēlthan autō hoi mathētai, Matthew is very willing to say, even although they were already together with Jesus. Proserchesthai [coming near to, approaching] is generally used by him more often than in all the other New Testament writings put together. (Wrede, 1901/1971, p. 178)

In other words, Jesus is moving away from the crowd and up the mountain where he will give private (secret?) instruction. Apologetic and traditional commentators haven’t seen it that way, of course. Instead of retreating, they imagine that Jesus is simply getting a better vantage point from which to address the crowd. But the text is quite clear. read more »


2015-02-17

Jesus the Seed of David: One More Case for Interpolation

by Neil Godfrey

Romans 1:1-7 (YLT)

1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, a called apostle,

having been separated to the good news of God –

2 which He announced before through His prophets in holy writings –

3 concerning His Son,

(who is come of the seed of David according to the flesh,

4 who is marked out Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of sanctification [=Holy Spirit], by the rising again from the dead,)

Jesus Christ our Lord;

5 through whom we did receive grace and apostleship, for obedience of faith among all the nations,

in behalf of his name;

6 among whom are also ye, the called of Jesus Christ;

7 to all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called saints; Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and [from] the Lord Jesus Christ!

Interpolation is a four letter word for some scholars: it can only be justified under extreme provocation such as when all the earliest witnesses leave not a shadow of doubt.

Such a standard flies in the face of what we know about the transmission of ancient manuscripts, especially the canonical ones. See Forgery in the ancient world and List of scholars believing Paul’s letters were interpolated. Nonetheless I can understand why some authors play it safe by being very reluctant to treat any passage in Paul’s letters as an interpolation unless supported by widely acknowledged arguments. I’m not so conservative. If only one scholar produces very sound arguments that his or her peers fail to address then I’m willing to take the possibility of interpolation seriously.

So much for the preamble.

Sparks have flown between Christ Myth advocates and their opponents over the opening passage in Paul’s epistle to the Romans that declares Jesus Christ to be “of the seed of David according to the flesh” but these verses may have another significance for our understanding of how early Christian ideas evolved. So forget the mythicist debate for a moment.

Many of us are aware of Hermann Detering’s arguments for Romans 1:2-6 being an interpolation laden with anti-Marcionite innuendo. I won’t repeat those here. Consider this a related post.

I have also posted the 1942 argument of A. D. Howell-Smith for Romans 1:3 (who is come of the seed of David) being an interpolation. Again, consider this post related.

Alfred Loisy (1935) makes a passing reference to Romans 1:3-4 (see the bolded passage in the side box) being a likely interpolation in Remarques sur la littérature épistolaire du Nouveau Testament, p. 9. These lines are anomalous padding within a standard introduction.

J. C. O’Neill in Paul’s Letter to the Romans (1975) published a detailed argument for why we should consider all of verses 1b to 5a as an interpolation. (See the indented lines in the side-box. He also found the words I have italicized intrusive.) It is O’Neill’s discussion pages 25 to 28 that I set out below.

Normal Letter Introductions

Normal introductions were as simple as possible. Example:

Demophon to Ptolemaeus, greeting.

Affectionate and official letters could be elaborated a little:

Apion to Epimarchus his father and Lord, heartiest greetings. 

Polycrates to his father, greeting.

Claudius Lysias to his Excellency the governor Felix, greeting. (Acts 23:26)

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion, greeting. (James 1:1)

Paul’s Introductions

read more »


2015-02-02

Why Luke Changed a Jesus Miracle Story

by Neil Godfrey

centurion-kneeling-at-the-feet of JesusIn Luke 7 we read about Jesus being urged by his fellow Jews to have special sympathy for a Roman centurion whose beloved servant was at the point of death “because he (the centurion) loved” the Jewish people and had built them a synagogue.

The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them. (Luke 7:3-6, NIV)

A story so similar it is generally believed to be of the same event is found in Matthew 8. (Now if you do not believe the author of the Gospel of Luke knew the Gospel of Matthew then mentally re-adjust what follows to apply to the way Luke changed a tradition known to Matthew or to the way a tradition known Matthew’s spawned a mutation that eventually found its way to Luke.)

Matthew’s tale reveals a very different centurion. Not a word about his affinity with Jews. Rather, in Matthew’s account it is the centurion’s distance from Jews that establishes the whole point of the story. read more »


2015-01-18

Drowning the Gerasene Swine: A Mock Sacrifice?

by Tim Widowfield
Portrait of the king of Pontus Mithridates VI ...

Portrait of the king of Pontus Mithridates VI as Heracles. Marble, Roman imperial period (1 st century). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Appian of Alexandria’s The Mithridatic Wars, we read that in preparation for the third war against Rome, Mithridates VI of Pontus performed sacrifices to Zeus Stratius “in the usual manner.” Then he propitiated the god of the sea by sacrificing “to Poseidon by plunging a chariot with white horses into the sea.”

Adrienne Mayor, author of The Poison King, embellishes upon Appian’s laconic narrative. [Note: Both spellings, Mithradates and Mithridates, are commonly found in the literature. The first is more common in Greek inscriptions, while the Romans preferred the latter.]

Four snow-white horses pulled the golden chariot, encrusted with gems flashing in the sun’s first rays. There was no driver. The beautiful horses galloped at full speed across the windswept cliff and plunged into the sparkling sea below.

Mayor, Adrienne (2009-09-28). The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy (Kindle Locations 4605-4607). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Mayor recounts how this startling image captivated peoples’ imaginations over the centuries.

Some five hundred years later, for example, the early Christian writer Sidonis Apollinaris described a splendid castle in Gaul adorned by a dramatic painting of Mithradates’ sacrifice. In 1678, the English playwright Nathaniel Lee pictured Mithradates sending “a chariot, all with emeralds set, and filled with coral tridents, [and] a hundred horses, wild as wind” over the precipice.

Mayor, Adrienne (2009-09-28). The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy (Kindle Locations 4610-4612). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

While reading Mayor’s book over two years ago, I immediately began to wonder whether this act of Mithridates might have been on Mark’s mind when he wrote the story of the Gerasene demoniac. Off and on since then, I’ve half-heartedly searched for scholarly articles that might link the two stories, but so far to no avail.  read more »


2014-12-27

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 15:  Simon/Paul and the Law of Moses (continued)

by Roger Parvus

For all posts in this series: Roger Parvus: A Simonian Origin for Christianity

Previous post in this series:  A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 14: Simon/Paul and the Law of Moses (continued)

.

The Apostle, in Gal. 3:7, asserted that “It is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham.”

In Galatians the Apostle apparently viewed the Mosaic covenant as ordained by enslaving angels. If so, Israel was never God’s chosen people.

What, then, ought we make of the contrary claim in Romans 9-11?

And we have seen in the two previous posts that, according to one respectable reading of Galatians, the Apostle viewed the Mosaic covenant as being ordained not by God but by enslaving angels. That would seem to mean that of the “two covenants” (Gal. 4:24) allegorically represented by Sarah and Hagar, God was a party to only one.

It is “you, brothers, like Isaac” who “are children of the promise” (Gal. 4:28). Israel, represented by the child of Hagar the slave woman, was promised nothing. In this scenario it is incorrect to say that Israel was no longer God’s chosen people, for it was never that in the first place.

But even if this interpretation is correct, there are many scholars who think that Paul, for one reason or another, went overboard in Galatians. It is often said that from Romans one can get a better idea of what Paul really thought about the Law.

In Romans, Paul takes the time to explain his views more clearly (or perhaps to state his altered views), and in doing so he backs away from the more negative things he said about the law in Galatians. (Dale B. Martin, New Testament History and Literature, p. 241)

So in this post I will go to Romans and consider what is said there about Israel’s status. The most pertinent section is Romans 9-11. As we have come to expect, it is yet another passage that zigzags.

.

Two voices

The voice in much of Romans 9-11 is recognizably the same one that in Galatians is critical of the Law. It insists that justification is by faith apart from works of the Law and, as in Gal. 3:28, it says that applies to both Jew and Gentile:

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. (Rom. 10:12)

But at other times we seem to hear a different voice, one that says there are important distinctions after all. It tells us in Rom. 9:4-5 that God gave seven gifts to the Jews. Those gifts they still retain, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). And we learn that God keeps for himself a “remnant” (Rom. 9:27; 11:5) of Israel, and that at some point in the future he will see to it that “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26). No similar guarantee is extended to the Gentiles. In fact, they are warned to watch their step.

One voice says that “not all who are of Israel are Israel” (9:6). It redefines elect Israel to mean all those called by God whether from the Gentiles or the Jews (9:24). But the other voice still considers Israel “according to the flesh” to be God’s people.

quote_begin Instead of the Apostle trying “to have it both ways,” it may be that an interpolator had his way with the Apostle’s letter!   quote_end
chdodd

C.H. Dodd: “Paul tries to have it both ways.”

So what is going on here? Is Paul letting his emotional attachment to his kinsmen cloud his thinking?

From our standpoint, with a far longer historical retrospect than Paul could have dreamt of, the special importance here assigned to the Jews and their conversion in the forecast of the destiny of mankind appears artificial. It is doubtful whether it is really justified on Paul’s own premisses. The fact is that he has argued from the promise to Abraham on two divergent and perhaps inconsistent lines. If the promise means ultimate blessedness for ‘Israel,’ then either the historical nation of Israel may be regarded as the heir of the promise, and Paul is justified in saying that “all Israel will be saved,” or its place may be taken by the New Israel, the Body of Christ in which there is neither Jew nor Greek; but in that case there is no ground for assigning any special place in the future to the Jewish nation as such. Paul tries to have it both ways. We can well understand that his emotional interest in his own people, rather than strict logic, has determined his forecast. (C.H. Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, pp. 182-183, my bolding)

Perhaps, but in line with my Simonian hypothesis, I would like to consider another possibility. Instead of the Apostle trying “to have it both ways,” it may be that an interpolator had his way with the Apostle’s letter!  If the original author of Romans was Simon of Samaria, he did not view Israel’s failure to believe in Christ as in any way bringing into question God’s fidelity to his promises. The Jews may have thought they entered a covenant with God at Sinai, but Moses mediated that arrangement not on behalf of God, but of the angels who made the world. The proto-orthodox, however, held that God had instituted the Mosaic covenant, and so it reflected badly on him that his chosen people had failed to embrace the gospel. Much of Rom. 9-11 could be the work of a proto-orthodox interpolator dealing with that theological problem.

Let’s see if these chapters can be plausibly untangled along the lines of this hypothesis. read more »


2014-12-20

Paul the Persecutor: The Case for Interpolation

by Neil Godfrey
the Conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus...

the Conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus as painted by Michelangelo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently I posted Paul the persecutor? in which I suggested that Paul’s confession in his epistle to the Galatians to having persecuted the Church did not necessarily imply that he literally jailed, beat and killed Christians before his journey to Damascus.

J. C. O’Neill would have thought I was far too soft. Those passages in which Paul is confessing to have persecuted the church are late interpolations, he argued back in 1972 in The Recovery of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.

Here is his confession in the first chapter of Galatians:

13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; 14 and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. . . . 

22 And I was still not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea; 23 they only heard it said, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

O’Neill believes a strong case that those verses were interpolated by a second century editor wanting to glorify Paul (my bolding, formatting and added translations, pp 24-27):

read more »


2014-12-15

Paul the persecutor?

by Neil Godfrey

the-stoning-of-stephen-by-rembrandt-1625I’m taking a light diversion by challenging somebody on earlywritings.com over his assertion that Christians were persecuted like crazy (as per the popular notion derived from the Acts and Eusebian tales). The posts have since met a bit stiffer challenge from more reasonable and knowledgeable participants — so the discussion has become even more rewarding.

Reasons I am questioning the assumption that Paul before his conversion persecuted the church in the sense of haling people off to prison, engaging them with enhanced interrogation techniques, beating them, sometimes too severely so they died:

  • The word for “persecution” is διωγμός — one could “pursue” [δίωκε] righteousness; Paul wrote that Ishmael “persecuted” [ἐδίωκεν] Isaac. The word can have very unpleasant associations when used negatively but does not necessarily mean to beat up and kill.
  • The notion that Paul did beat and kill Christians before his conversion is derived from Acts. I argue elsewhere (following several scholars) that this is theologically motivated fabrication. I am arguing from the evidence of Paul’s letters alone. read more »

2014-11-15

How John Used Mark: Investigating the Methods of the Fourth Evangelist (Part 3)

by Tim Widowfield
Cleansing the Temple (Quarter from Augustinian...

Cleansing the Temple (Quarter from Augustinian polyptych). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Part 3: John Displaces and Rewrites the Cleansing of the Temple

All four evangelists recount Jesus’ cleansing of the temple at Jerusalem. The Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) place the event during the week before the crucifixion, while John sets it near the very start of Jesus’ ministry. In the ancient church, many, if not most, commentators assumed these accounts of disturbances at the temple described two different events. In fact, you can find apologists today who claim Jesus did it every time he went to Jerusalem, which — if we harmonize John with the other three — suggests that it happened three times or more.

At this point, we’re not going to cover all the detailed reasons that most scholars now believe the pericopae in John and the Synoptics refer to the same event. Nor will we dwell for long on the arguments concerning whether John knew Mark or a pre-Markan oral tradition. As I’ve said many times before, I maintain that John knew the written gospel of Mark. In this case, he used Mark’s account of the cleansing, but he moved it in time and changed it in form and substance for theological reasons.

Background

John agrees with the Synoptics on several basic elements. Jesus arrives in Jerusalem during the time of the Passover, enters the temple’s outer courtyard, and begins to make a scene. We have similar vocabulary in both versions, including the words for “tables” [τράπεζα (trapeza)] and “money changers” [κολλυβιστῶν (kollybistōn)].

In the Johannine and Markan versions, Jesus is wholly successful. John says he drove them “all” [πάντας (pantas)] out, while Mark claims that nobody could carry a vessel through the temple. Both evangelists concur that for a period of time, just before Passover, Jesus single-handedly blocked all temple trade. On the other hand, parts of John’s story diverge from the Markan source. For example, in John’s version we have not just birds and money changers, but large, domesticated animals: sheep and oxen. Did you ever wonder whether they really had livestock pens in the temple courtyard? Andrew Lincoln, in his commentary on the Gospel of John notes:

John’s addition of animals as large as cows has produced some questions about its verisimilitude. Jewish sources fail to mention such animals in the temple precincts and their excrement would have caused problems of pollution of the sacred site. (Lincoln, 2005, p. 137, emphasis mine)

For scholars who think John contains actual eyewitness material, these sorts of puzzles usually elicit a shrug and a “Why not?” However, those of us who are unencumbered by the anxiety of historicity may rightly ask: “Why did John embellish upon the legend? What is the significance behind Jesus’ driving out the sacrificial animals? Is it a portent of the passing of the age of sacrifice (post 70 CE) or is it something else?”

read more »


2014-11-10

How the Gospel of Mark Portrays Jesus as High Priest

by Neil Godfrey
Crispin Fletcher-Louis

Crispin Fletcher-Louis (CrispinFL Blog) See the previous post for the bibliographic details of the article this post is exploring.

Continuing from Jesus as the High Priestly Messiah in the Gospel of Mark . . . .

The Holy One of God

In the first dramatic miracle performed by Jesus, the expelling of the demon from a man in a Capernaum synagogue, Jesus is addressed as “the holy one of God”.

Mark 1:

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God (ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ)!

Who or what is “the holy one of God”? It’s not a title of a king. Nor of a prophet, although in 2 Kgs 49 and Judg 16.7 we read of Elisha and Samson respectively being called “a holy one”. Crispin Fletcher-Louis:

God is Israel’s Holy One. And angels are often called holy ones. But the only precedent for a singular ‘the Holy One of God’ is Aaron (Ps. 106.16; Num. 16.7 ‘the holy one (of the LORD’), who dramatically wins the right to the title in the battle with Korah and his rebellious company in Numbers 16. (p. 63)

It might prove interesting to study this exorcism in Mark in comparison with the Korah-Aaron contest. That’s an aside, however.

Three Forms of Impurity; Three Healings

Numbers 5 lists together three forms of impurity that require anyone becoming defiled to be removed from the Israelite camp:

The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has a defiling skin disease or a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body. 3 Send away male and female alike; send them outside the camp so they will not defile their camp, where I dwell among them.” 4 The Israelites did so; they sent them outside the camp. They did just as the Lord had instructed Moses.

In the same sequence Jesus read more »