Tag Archives: Romans

What a bizarre profession

Romans 13 has been getting a lot of mention lately. Romans 13:1 was the one biblical text that the Communist authorities in Romania consistently knew. “Submit to the authorities” – the Bible says so! — Religion Prof, Nov 14 2016

The Religion Prof tagged those words with this image:

Meanwhile, another “religion prof” has singled out his research into this same passage for special attention with a title that on the basis of a confusing document from an ancient civilization strangely advises modern readers on their contemporary civic responsibilities:

When to Disobey Government – Quick Look at Romans 13

This post is a recycling of appreciation from a “religion master”, again providing instruction for readers today on how they should relate to political authorities:

How Should Christians Relate to Governing Authorities? Michael Bird Clarifies

How strange. Would anyone today turn to the recordings of the Sibyl Oracle for messages of guidance? Or to Hammurabi’s Code for how to treat a purveyors of faulty goods? Or to Plato or the wisdom of Imhotep? Or to the heavenly influences on human affairs according to Porphyry?

I am all for studying ancient documents. I have always loved studying ancient history. But the point has always been to understand how the ancients thought and lived, not how I can learn from them as guiding lights for my own life.

But notice how religion profs and masters take an ancient writing and strain and pull to make it somehow “relevant” as an instruction to readers today:

Consider Stanley Porter’s condition: qualitative superiority. “According to Porter, Paul only expects Christians to obey authorities who are qualitatively superior, that is, authorities who know and practice justice.” (449) The Greek for “governing authorities” (exousiais hyperechousais) seems to suggest this, given that hyperecho carries with it a “qualitative sense of superiority in quality.” (449) Therefore, the only governing powers to which Christians should submit are those that reflect the qualitatively divine justice they’ve been entrusted to bear, enact, and steward.

Woah there! Where to begin?

A raft of scholars have found reason to doubt that the passage in question was even original to the writing addressed to Romans: Pallis (1920); Loisy (1922: 104, 128; 1935: 30-31; 1936: 287); Windisch (1931); cf. Barnikol (1931b); Eggenberger (1945); Barnes (1947: 302, possibly); Kallas (1964-65); Munro (1983: 56f., 65-67); Sahlin (1953); Bultmann (1947). And who was this Paul, anyway? What independent evidence do we have to establish anything for certain? And how does one get from “a qualitative sense of superiority in quality” to modern readers’ concepts of “God” and “divine justice” (whatever “divine” justice is)? What was the original context and provenance of the document — we can only surmise — and what in the name of Mary’s little lamb does it have to do with anything in today’s world?

It would be naïve to suggest this passage is the last word on church/state relations, given that our conception of “state” is conditioned by post-Enlightenment views and the original context for Paul’s instructions came during a time of relatively benevolent and well-behaved authorities.

Amen. But why oh why does it deserve to be introduced into today’s discussion at all? Why not bring in Plato as well?

Bird reasons there are occasions resistance to governing authorities is both required and demanded by Christian discipleship. “Just as we have to submit to governing authorities on the basis of conscience, sometimes we have to rebel against governments because of the same conscience.” (450) When governments misuse their power, sometimes Christians must say, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29)

Bird likes John Stott’s summary of this discussion: “Whenever laws are enacted which contradict God’s Law, civil disobedience becomes a Christian duty.”

Deep. Just what everyone instinctively knows and follows. We all acknowledge the need for some form or organization and cooperation. We are social mammals, after all. And we all live this way for the sake of peace and getting along. But of course those of us who have crises of conscience will very often find themselves resisting or evading those causing them such grief. It’s the stuff of thousands of movies and novels and pages of history books. “Christian discipleship” is no exception to the common experience of humanity and living in organized societies. Just dressing up the same conflict in the verbiage of one’s particular ideology makes no difference. My god, Sophocles’ Antigone has remained a timeless classic because of the way it epitomizes the theme of the individual standing up for right against the state.

This human universal owes precious little to a few words written from a vaguely understood context and provenance in a civilization far removed from ours.

And religion careers and publishing businesses are built on the determination to wrestle with problematic Roman era discourses in the belief that they offer something exceptional for initiates into the arcane mysteries.

 

Is Ehrman’s Pre-Pauline Quotation an Anti-Marcionite Interpolation?

howJesusRecently Bart Ehrman debated Michael Bird the question of how Jesus became God. Just as he had written in his book How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee Erhman argued that

  1. the earliest devotees of Jesus viewed him as a normal man, a human messiah, who had been exalted to become God’s son at the resurrection.
  2. Later, Christians came to think that he was the Son of God prior to the resurrection and reasoned that he had been adopted as God’s son at his baptism, as we read in the Gospel of Mark.
  3. Still later others moved his divine sonship back to the time of his birth in Bethlehem. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke indicate that Jesus only came into existence as God’s son when born to Mary.
  4. Later still Jesus was thought to have been always divine, even before appearing as a man, as we read in the prologue to the Gospel of John.

My first response to this argument was that it ran counter to the pre-gospel evidence, the writings of Paul. But I double checked and saw that Ehrman does find stage #1 above in the writings of Paul. Paul does open his epistle to the Romans with a clear statement of #1 — Romans 1:3-4

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, 

A1 who was descended

  A2 from the seed of David 

    A3 according to the flesh 

B1 and was appointed 

  B2 the Son of God in power

    B3 according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead

Ehrman is well aware that the rest of Paul’s writings inform us that Paul had a much higher view of Jesus than we read in these opening verses of Romans. So I think his larger argument still founders on the reef of Paul. But my interest here is Ehrman’s use of Romans 1:3-4 as the starting point from which he builds his case.

Ehrman informs his readers that many scholars have long considered these verses, 1:3-4, to be pre-Pauline creed that Paul is quoting. Indeed, Ehrman writes (p. 223) that

it could represent early tradition . . . from the early years in Palestine after Jesus’s first followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead. 

Why early?

Part of the reason Ehrman thinks the passage is so early is because of the words translated “spirit of holiness”: such a turn of phrase is an Aramaicism and since Jesus and his first followers spoke Aramaic it follows that they probably formulated the creed. (I will leave the identification of the flaws in this argument up to readers.)

Another reason to judge the passage early appears to be the focus on Jesus as the Davidic Messiah. Ehrman calls upon the much later gospels to support him here. He uses their late testimony (in the belief that true historical data can be gleaned from them via criteria of authenticity) to affirm that the disciples of Jesus believed he was the Davidic messiah in his own lifetime and that they continued to believe this after his death (even though he failed to overthrow Rome as the Davidic messiah was supposed to do) because of the power he attained with his resurrection.

Why think the words are not Paul’s own but a quotation of a well-known creed?

Why does Ehrman (presumably following widespread and long-held scholarly opinion) believe these verses are pre-Pauline words being quoted by Paul? read more »

Even IF “according to the Scriptures” meant “according to what we read in the Scriptures” . . . .

James McGrath appears to have conceded the possibility that Earl Doherty may (perhaps only theoretically) be right when he wrote:

Even if one granted that by “according to the Scriptures” Paul might have meant “according to what I have read in and derived from the Scriptures,” that would still not be incompatible with his understanding the Scriptures in questions as predictions of or applying to a historical Jesus

Not that McGrath believes for a minute that this is what Paul meant, since he later corrects any possible misunderstanding of his position by adding that the dominant view among biblical scholars is something else:

the dominant view, which is that the early Christians had persuaded themselves, wrongly of course, that the death and resurrection of Jesus were foreseen in Scripture, and that that is what Paul is referring to here.

[Since posting the above James McGrath has expressed concern that I misrepresented his stance, so to avoid any suspicion that I was implying McGrath holds a view he does not hold, let me repeat more prominently what I said just now: 

Not that McGrath believes for a minute that this is what Paul meant . . . .  ]

Surprisingly McGrath does not also explain that the first evidence that Christians came to think that Jesus’ death and resurrection were foreseen in the scriptures appears only quite some time after Paul wrote, and that the argument that Paul himself meant this is entirely an extrapolation from the mainstream model of Christian origins.

But anyway, I found Doherty’s response worth a read. What if Paul did mean to say that he learned about Christ from reading the Scriptures? Would this really impact the assumption that Jesus was historical and not entirely a figure understood through Scriptural revelation? read more »

How shall they hear about Jesus unless from a Christian preacher? (2)

We have resumed making comments on this post

/2010/10/03/how-shall-they-hear-about-jesus-unless-from-a-christian-preacher/

but there is a tech problem — WordPress is having a hard time coping with comments nested up to 10 deep and totalling over 100 altogether.

Attempts to post comments there will almost certainly apppear out of order and be lost from context.

Unless someone can suggest a better idea can we resume the discussion at this post site  instead:

/2010/10/03/how-shall-they-hear-about-jesus-unless-from-a-christian-preacher-2/

Or just start adding new comments at the end of this one instead if that’s easier.

Thanks

Neil

How shall they hear about Jesus unless from a Christian preacher?

Space for continuation of comments from previous post of this title: “How shall they hear about Jesus unless from a Christian preacher?”

The number of comments seems to have reached its limit and any further comments made there may appear out of sequence.

 


“According to the flesh” — Doherty’s mythicist argument

But it’s not that Earl advocates lunacy in a manner devoid of learning. He advocates a position that is well argued based on the evidence and even shows substantial knowledge of Greek. But it cannot be true, you say. Why not? Because it simply can’t be and we shouldn’t listen to what can’t be true. No. Not so quick.

[From Crosstalk message 5438 by Professor of Religious Studies, Stevan Davies of Misericordia University, author of Jesus the Healer and The Gospel of Thomas Annotated and Explained (see homepage) ]

It is easy to come across strong, even hostile, responses to some of Earl Doherty’s arguments for Jesus mythicism, though it seems few have actually read them. One of Doherty’s arguments in particular that has met with considerable scorn is his claim that the NT phrase translated “according to the flesh” does not necessarily mean that Jesus was thought have lived a human life on earth.

I add nothing new in this post, or nothing particularly new. This post is only intended to provide another platform for an opportunity to some facts about Doherty’s arguments to be made known. As I have discussed elsewhere, there are some areas where I find myself at odds with Doherty, and my views on the origins of Christianity are always tentative. But that does not prevent me from acknowledging that Doherty often has much stronger arguments than some of his critics (who often have not even read him) would have others believe.

The passage most often cited in connection with Jesus being “according to the flesh” is Romans 1:1-4 read more »

Taking Eddy & Boyd seriously (5)

Eddy and Boyd’s fifth and final point in “the case for the authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16” is to address the theological contradiction that exists between it and Romans 9-11.

Here is the evidence.

Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. (Rom 10:1)

I magnify my ministry if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. (Rom 11:13-14)

And they [Israel, the Jews] also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. (Rom 11:23)

And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:

The Deliverer will come out of Zion,
And he will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
For this is my covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.
(Rom 11:26-27)

These thoughts in Romans do not sit easily with a passage (Thess 2:14-16) that blames the Jews for the death of Jesus and for filling up daily the full quota of all their sins, and proclaims that, for these reasons, God has poured out upon them his wrath with utter finality.

the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us . . . so as always to be filling up the measure of their sins, but wrath as come upon them to the uttermost/utter finality.

As Steven Carr has been pointing out in a comment here and on at least one other forum (FRDB), to describe the sin of crucifying and otherwise murdering Jesus and all the prophets as a condition of “continuing in unbelief” really just does not compute.

The difference between the Romans and 1 Thessalonians passages is as stark as day and night. So how to E&B handle this question? read more »

Borg’s and Crossan’s charlatan interpretation of Paul’s command in Romans 13:1-7 (but hey, it’s only for a public audience)

In a recent post I discussed Borg’s and Crossan’s attempt in The First Paul to demonstrate (through a bit of good old fundamentalist style “proof-texting”) that Paul’s gospel was essentially an anti-imperialist polemic. An obvious question to ask — and thanks to Keith for raising it — is how this sits with Romans 13 where Paul issues his well-known command for all readers to “be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” (Romans 13:1)

In my reply to Keith I had to confess that I am not persuaded that Romans 13:1-7 was original to Paul’s letter (Winsome Munro argues that it is part of a series of interpolations by “the Pastoralist”) but still, I had to check back on what Borg and Crossan say about it.

Here it is. Firstly, they insist that Romans 13:1-7 must not be read in isolation but within the context of Romans 12:14 to 13:10. Fair enough. I’m willing to try that.

But then I discover I’ve been tricked. B and C tell me not only to read the Romans passage in the context of a wider Romans passage, they actually go further, once I start, to tell me to read the Romans passage in the context of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, written some decades after Paul’s letter! Reading Romans in the context of Matthew is NOT reading Romans in context!

I am reminded once again of the jig-saw games fundamentalists play with the scriptures to justify any doctrine that happens to be the core tradition of whatever particular church! “Here a little, there a little. . . “, a passage drawn from Isaiah to justify flagrant decontextualizing of texts to create any-which doctrine one chooses.

Here’s how B’s and C’s argument goes:

1. Romans 12:14 tells readers to bless their persecutors, and Matthew 5:44 says much the same.

2. Skip now to Romans 12:21. “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” If we are reading Romans forwards, B & C ask us to read Matthew backward to make the anachronistic parallel work. We are to compare Romans 12:21 with Matthew 5:39, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.”

What would scholars say about “parallelomania” if any fundies attempted an argument like this!?

3. Then we come to Romans 13:1-7, the passage threatening any reader who disobeys the powers of government with being guilty of rebelling against the decree of God himself! To what is this a parallel in the Sermon on the Mount? Same verse as above, Matthew 5:39. How does that work? By digging out a Greek lexicon and finding meanings to parts of words that can lend support to translating them with a new nuance to do with “violent protest” that you never suspected was there from any traditional translation.

4. B and C find lines in the Liddell & Scott Greek lexicon (“the major Greek lexicon”) that the word for “resist” can be used in reference to a battle where soldiers are commanded to “oppose, withstand”. Their conclusion? “In Matthew 5:39, therefore, it means ‘to resist violently.'”

Only one or two or more problems with that explanation. It runs against the very next sentence in Matthew 5:39 where an example makes it very plain what Jesus meant here. “If anyone slaps you on one cheek, turn to him the other.” Jesus is clearly commanding something more positive than mere “non-violent resistance‘. We know what follows — give more to the one who sues you, go the extra mile for the one who compels you to go one mile. So B and C’s pedantic reliance on selective lines from Liddell and Scott is exposed as a falsehood.

B and C are scholars of the highest rank yet are writing here as charlatans!

Their arguments ring as false as Keller’s in my previous set of posts on his book.

I also checked how else the same word for resist (anti + histemi) is translated in other NT passages. One can consult them: Luke 21:15, Acts 6:10 and 13:8, Galatians 2:11, Ephesians 6:13, 2 Titus 3:8 and 2 Timothy 4:15, James 4:7, 1 Peter 5:9. Those interested can discover how often the word really does mean “violent resistance”.

5. B and C continue: “If anti + histemi is redolent of (military) violence (vridar: we have just seen this is hardly so from the above examples) anti + tasso is even more so.” (page 119).

The word in question here? “One must be subject . . .” (Romans 13:5).

How on earth can B & C possibly take a word that in context means clearly “subjection to an authority” to be “even more” redolent of “violent resistance”?! The Liddell & Scott lexicon to which they turn includes a meaning like “to set opposite to, range in battle against” — I would suggest from the context that here the emphasis is on soldiers submitting to their commanders’ orders to hold fast against the enemy. Those interested can do their own study of this Greek word in the Crosswalk Lexicon here.

6. The final parallelomania, sorry, “parallel” is the word used by B&C, is when we move on in Romans 13 to verses 8-10 and compare these with, no, not still reading backwards in Matthew, but forwards again this time, back to where we started in verse 44: Love your enemies. But this time, we are given even more parallels — Luke somewhere says the same thing! This (comparing Romans 13:8-10 with Matthew and Luke from decades after Paul) is all to help us understand the context of Romans 13:1-7!

Sure enough, Romans 13:8-10 talks about Loving one’s . . . Sorry, no. Start again. . . .

While Matthew 5:44 talks about loving one’s enemies, Romans 13:1-7 talks about loving one’s neighbours! And this is used as a “parallel” that will help us understand that Romans 13:1-7 is really about the same thing as Matthew saying somewhere that we should turn the other cheek and go the extra mile — Woops, sorry, I mean, this is really about the same thing as Matthew saying we should not “resist violently”! — Even though that Greek word clearly does not mean that most other times it is used in the New Testament. Nor does it mean that in Romans 13:1-7.

7. B and C in this way conclude that Paul in Romans 13:1-7 is “most afraid, not that Christians will be killed but that they will kill” to avoid paying taxes! “It is something that appalls him so much that — in rather a rhetorical panic (vridar: did anyone else detect a panicked tone in Rom 13:1-7??) — he makes some very unwise and unqualified statements with which to ward off that possibility.” (p. 120)

Yet B and C have just spent the last page or two trying to argue from parallels with Matthew and Luke and from selected lines in a Greek lexicon (not from other NT contextual uses of the words) that Paul was meaning exactly what he wrote! So which way do B and C mean us to take his words?

If Borg and Crossan excuse themselves for such shoddy and untenable “exegesis” because their book is for the public and not fellow scholars (few of whom would probably ever read it anyway), then I suggest they are treating their public with contempt.

This is clearly dishonest exegesis of Romans 13:1-7 from scholars of such a calibre that they really have no excuse.

Footnote:

There is a YouTube video of Crossan and Borg discussing atheism. Crossan uses a similar pedantic argument to assert that atheists are really fixated on God. His case? The word “a-theist” contains “theist”, meaning God, so if they are “a-theists” then they are fixated on God! Hoo boy! Maybe his best days are over and we should just be reading his earlier stuff?

Remaking God in the Image of Abraham

According to Levenson the central elements of the Christian message derive from a reinterpretation and midrashic reworking of prominent tropes in the Hebrew Scriptures. In particular, the central Christian message and characterization of Jesus can be traced directly to the central motifs that lie at the heart of the old biblical stories and proclamations about the “beloved (and only begotten) son”. Further, these biblical stories have their antecedents in Canaanite mythology. The fundamental theme involves a father (human or divine) who willingly gives up his most beloved son to a bloody sacrifice, either out of love for another, or to save others from death. This is found most prominently in what have come to us as the writings of Paul, as well as in one especially famous gospel verse.

There is another parallel set of “beloved son” narratives that turn on the murderous hostility of the older siblings of that beloved son because of his destiny to inherit what they think should be their due. In this tradition, the father is an unwilling participant until the eventual miraculous return of his most beloved one. At that point the most favoured son assumes the full inheritance. Sometimes, but not always, there is reconciliation with the older siblings. This narrative enters the Christian message through certain plot and character details and another famous parable found in the synoptic gospels.

But at this point, in the series outlining Levenson’s book, ‘The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son, we come to his final chapter where he begins by looking at how the very character of God was transformed by early Christianity through its midrashic reading of the Jewish scripture stories of “the beloved son”. As previous posts in this series demonstrate, the “beloved son” trope, also often accompanied with the notion of “the only begotten” son, is part and parcel with the plot or myth of the father delivering up his most favoured offspring to bloody sacrifice for a greater good.

This ancient Jewish (and earlier Canaanite) story, Levenson proposes, is the underlying source of the Christian message, beginning with the very concept of God as a being who loves humanity so much he will sacrifice his only son to save them. . . .

Note the Hebrew Scripture themes that underly this passage in Romans 8:28-35:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would bethe firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

The complex thoughts expressed in this passage are all surfacing here from Jewish scripture narratives:

The firstborn son

  1. In the context of the narratives in the Jewish scriptures, the firstborn son was the one destined to be given to God as a sacrifice, or through a ritual that substitutes for a literal sacrifice (see beloved and only begotten sons sacrificed, and Jesus displaces Isaac);
  2. Sometimes (e.g. Jacob and Joseph) he is really the last born, and acquires his firstborn status through divine or parental assistance, or through birth to a favoured wife, and must accordingly face the murderous rage of his older brothers.

The image (eikon) of his Son

  1. This metaphor builds on the tradition that God created the individual man Adam in his own image, and that we are all in that image through procreation, the process blessed at creation;
  2. Now the image of God is no longer mediated through Adam, but through Jesus, through supernatural regeneration that was manifested at Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is available only to those called and chosen. Jesus is the new Adam.

The Isaac motifs

The constellation of the first born son, predestination, chosenness, glorification — this combination is at the core of the Isaac story. Anyone familiar with the Jewish scriptures will not have the story of Isaac and other beloved sons catapulted to firstborn status far from mind when reading here of the plot of the firstborn experiencing predestination, being chosen and finally glorified. This pattern is the core of Isaac’s birth, near-sacrifice and ascent to the rank of patriarch. And in later Jewish interpretations, his near-sacrifice became in implied actual sacrifice and resurrection. (See the previous posts for details.)

Abraham maybe

The above passage stresses the love of God, and since in Jewish Scripture and Second Temple interpretations Abraham was the archetypical lover of God, his shadow may well cover the above passage:

Isaiah 41:8 — Abraham is known as the archetypical lover of God. (Below is a translation of the Hebrew; in the LXX the word is from the Greek “agape” for love (agapete), describing God as the lover of Abraham):

— And thou, O Israel, My servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, Seed of Abraham, My lover

Jubilees 17:15-18 While the original Genesis account spoke of Abraham’s fear of God, this passage from Jubilees points to a shift in Jewish interpretation of Abraham where it was his love for God that was stressed, and with everything working out well for him despite afflictions because of his love for God:

there were voices in heaven regarding Abraham, that he was faithful in all that He told him, and that he loved the Lord, and that in every affliction he was faithful. And the prince Mastema came and said before God, ‘Behold, Abraham loves Isaac his son, and he delights in him above all things else; bid him offer him as a burnt-offering on the altar, and Thou wilt see if he will do this command, and Thou wilt know if he is faithful in everything wherein Thou dost try him. And the Lord knew that Abraham was faithful in all his afflictions; for He had tried him through his country and with famine, and had tried him with the wealth of kings, and had tried him again through his wife, when she was torn (from him), and with circumcision; and had tried him through Ishmael and Hagar, his maid-servant, when he sent them away. And in everything wherein He had tried him, he was found faithful, and his soul was not impatient, and he was not slow to act; for he was faithful and a lover of the Lord.

Everything worked out well for Abraham because of his love for God.

Abraham definitely

The shadows of Abraham’s character lurking in the above passage are confirmed as definitely his own when we read of the final test, the real proof, of God’s love:

He who did not spare (pheidomai) His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all

Compare Genesis 22:12, 16:

for now I am certain that the fear of God is in your heart, because you have not kept back (pheidomai) your son, your only son, from me. . . . because you have done this and have not kept back (pheidomai) from me your dearly loved only son

The evidence of God’s love for humanity is the same as was the evidence of Abraham’s love for God. In both cases the supreme test or sign of that love was the giving up of their only sons.

Through this model of Abraham God has established a “new aqedah” (binding of Isaac). Just as Abraham’s aqedah enabled the life of the nation of Israel (see previous posts), so the new aqedah by God, in return, enables the new life of the Christian.

Role of Love in the New Aqedah

For God so loved the world, that He gave (edoken) His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Familiarity makes for an easy sentimentalization of this passage. But the idea of “givine one’s only begotten son” is nothing less than the scriptural idea of God’s requirement that the firstborn son be handed over (given up) for a bloody sacrifice. The way the Son is “given” goes back to Exodus 22:29b:

you shall give me the first-born among your sons

The fathers gift is the bloody slaying of Jesus, in the same sense as the killing of the passover lamb.

The killing of Jesus, like the killing of the passover lamb, enables the life of others who were marked for death. And like the beloved sons in the Hebrew traditions, his death also proves reversible. He is, like them, miraculously restored to life and reunited with those who love him, but who had given up all hope for his return.

Linking the above to a new age and general resurrection

Whence the pivotal historical moment, the turning of the new age interpretation of Jesus’ death and resurrection? That comes from Jewish apocalyptic, not from the midrash of biblical stories of near loss and miraculous return of the beloved son.

But the resurrection idea came with the Pharisees and the rabbis who followed them. It was not part of the earliest biblical narratives. But imagine how the Pharisees and rabbis who believed in a resurrection must have read and thought about the stories of the beloved son. One can imagine the old stories being recast under the impact of that new belief, of the old stories of an averted death being recast as a resurrection. Levenson had earlier discussed the enigmatic appearance of “the ashes of Isaac” in the Second Temple period.

The story of Elisha and the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings 4:8-37 (cf 1 Kings 17:17-24) likely represents a reworking of the beloved son story in a different cultural context, with a belief in resurrection.

Given these resurrection stories in the Elijah-Elisha narratives, it may indeed be significant that the first gospel, the Gospel of Mark, is quite possibly modeled on much of the content and structure of the Elijah-Elishah saga (1 Kings 17 – 2 Kings 13). Levenson cites Roth, and I would add Brodie. Levenson comments:

Even those unpersuaded by the case must conclude theis: if already in a world in which people believed in wonder-working prophets, the death of the only and promised son could be reversed by his bodily resurrection, it is all the more the case that in a world in which the resurrection of the dead is a central tenet, like that of Pharisaic Judaism, the report of the son’s return from death need not be taken for a definitive break with the older pattern. The report of Jesus’ resurrection is the old wine in a bottle that is relatively new but hardly unique. (p. 224, my emphasis)

Both Canaanite and Jewish myths

As discussed in the earlier posts in this series, there was the old Canaanite theme of god, El, who offered his son, his only son, in order to avert disaster. This offered son was said to be the “monogenes“, the “only” son, or the “only begotten” son.

Philo of Byblos translates the name of the son of El, whom El offered, as Ieoud or Iedoud. Behind this Ieoud/Iedoud is the Hebrew word yahid, the favoured one, the same term repeatedly applied to Isaac:

Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac . . .
thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me. . . .
because thou . . . hast not withheld thy son, thine only son . . (Genesis 22:2, 12, 16):

One LXX translation of this word uses the Greek monogenes when it applies to Jephthah’s daughter in Judges 11:34. Another LXX version combines monogenes auto agapete (she was his “only child and beloved” daughter).

So the resonances of Jewish and Canaanite myths lurk beneath the Christian message (outlined in the Romans passage at the beginning of this post) and the Christian God, although the Jewish myth of course dominates. In the Jewish myth the motive for giving up the beloved son was a love greater than that for the son, not fear of calamity, as was the motive in the Canaanite myth.

And when Jesus was the one identified as the son of the God, then God himself was transformed into the image of father Abraham.

I titled this post “remaking god in the image of abraham”, but I am not sure to what extent there was any real “re-make” — or if the remake was really about shifting the image of a godfather god who demands absolute fealty to one who guises that mafia-like godfather image beneath a “love” garment. Rather than a theological innovation, does the new myth represent a Stockholm syndrome — those who saw themselves captive to their godfather have come to love him, since they see themselves as totally dependent on him.

one more post to go ( i think) to finish off this series……

Romans 1:2-6 – An anti-Marcionite Interpolation?

I’m undergoing a long process of bringing myself up to date with blogs and the web 2 world and part of that is trying to bring together one by one bits and pieces I have written notes on over the years. Here is another one, where I present a case for arguing that the whole of Romas 1:2-6 was an interpolation by an anti-Marcionite redactor.

Criteria I’ve used are taken from William O. Walker’s “Interpolation in the Pauline Letters” (2001).

Constructive criticism most welcome of course.

Neil Godfrey


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