Every year, around Christmas time, we hear a lot about the fact that Jesus was "born in a manger." There are even songs about it!
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Every year, around Christmas time, we hear a lot about the fact that Jesus was "born in a manger." There are even songs about it!
The phrase come from the angel's announcement of Jesus' birth to the shepherds in the field. Let's look at in its full context:
"The angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; 11 for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12). swaddling clothes will be part of the "sign" to them of his true identity as the Savior (Luke 2:12). Why is that?
To fully understand the importance of Jesus' swaddling clothes we need a little background.
In Luke's Gospel it is abundantly clear that Jesus is the "Messiah," which means the "anointed one", in Greek the christos--he is the Christ, the Son of David. Of course, the Davidic association with Jesus' role is obvious if you know the Old Testament. In recounting his last words, 2 Samuel 23 calls David, "the anointed of the God of Jacob, the sweet psalmist of Israel" (2 Sam 23:1).
Jesus' role as the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of David, is emphasized throughout the beginning of Luke's Gospel. At the annunciation, the angel Gabriel tells Mary that her son
"... will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:32-33).
The Davidic themes continue in the story of Jesus' birth. He is born in Bethlehem, the city David had come from (cf. 1 Sam 16). In fact, Luke makes the Davidic association with Bethlehem explicit. "And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David" (Luke 2:4).
As mentioned above, the angels also allude to Jesus' role as the Son of David in their announcement to the shepherds: "for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11).
So what's the significance of Jesus' appearance? Why is it a sign that the royal son of David is born in such a humble setting rather than into extravagance?
I would submit that it is because Solomon, the first son of David, was also known for such humility (until, of course, he turned away from the Lord). In Wisdom of Solomon 7, Solomon recounts how asked not for wealth or power, but only Wisdom. The son of David goes on to describe how, even though he is the greatest of all the kings of the earth, he was born like all others:
Jesus' humble birth is a sign that he really is the true Son of David. Like Solomon (before he fell away from the Lord), he is not about power, might or glory. Indeed, it would seem that along these lines the fact that he has even more humble birth might suggest that he is somehow even more worthy of glory. And, of course, he too is wrapped in swaddling clothes.And when I was born, I began to breathe the common air, and fell upon the kindred earth, and my first sound was a cry, like that of all. 4 I was nursed with care in swaddling cloths. 5 For no king has had a different beginning of existence; 6 there is for all mankind one entrance into life, and a common departure. 7 Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. 8 I preferred her to scepters and thrones, and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her. 9 Neither did I liken to her any priceless gem, because all gold is but a little sand in her sight, and silver will be accounted as clay before her. 10 I loved her more than health and beauty, and I chose to have her rather than light...
The Son of David, the Messiah is born. Glory to God!
Friday, December 19, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
This is a story I've been closely following for some time now, but have held off posting on out of caution. However, it seems as though the evidence is beginning to look pretty solid. In sum, an archaeological dig at Khirbet Qeiyafa, which was reported on a few months ago by the New York Times, is turning out finds that are rocking the scholarly community. And, while at the time, the New York Times reported that only a small piece of the site had been excavated, information is pouring out that even more striking evidence has been uncovered.
This may very well go down as the "21st century Dead Sea Scrolls". However, while the DSS helped illuminate the New Testament, Khirbet Qeiyafa is shedding incredible light on a much, much earlier period, apparently corroborating the historicity of the Old Testament.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me give some background here.
Many scholars dispute the historical reliability of the Old Testament, particularly the parts prior to Ezra and Nehemiah: e.g., David, Solomon, the kingdom, etc. Why?
According to many scholars the stories about the glorious reign of David and Solomon are myths--of little more value than the stories about King Arthur and the Roundtable. All of it was made up. When Israel returned from their Babylonian exile the past history of Israel was "invented". In fact, for some historians there never even were twelve tribes in Israel. The Israelites "idealized" their past. The story of the apostasy of Solomon and the sinfulness of the Israelites were created for two purposes. First, it gave the Jews a claim on the land. Second, it gave the Jews a reason to remain obedient to the priestly leaders.
In sum, the Old Testament narratives about David, Solomon--not too mention that of Abraham and the Patriarchs--were nothing more than political propoganda. Some scholars believed Israelite writing didn't even exist at that point.
Perhaps, such scholars might concede, there were some tribal leagues and small villages, but a kingdom of David? Such scholars--often called "minimalists"--would laugh and say, no way.
Evidence at Khirbet Qeiyafa suggests that in fact there was a massive political force in the land of Israel in the 10th century. Aside from artifacts, and pottery, writing has even been found, shattering just about everything many scholars thought they knew about the development and spread of literacy. Carbon-14 dating is really making this a discovery hard to dismiss as significant. Here is the homepage of the excavation team, where you will find some photos.
The discovery involves the excavation of what apparently was a heavily fortified structure. Though some think it may be the fortress of David himself, I think we're far beyond the ability to make any such identification. Much, much more work and examination will need to be done. But even if it can be shown that the site is not an Israelite compound, the evidence is highly suggestive: clearly there was a powerful force in the area that had to be reckoned with by outsiders. Yosef Garfinkel from Hebrew University is leading the dig. The New York Times article quotes him as saying:
“There were 500 people inside. This was the main road to Jerusalem, the key strategic site to protect the kingdom of Jerusalem. If they built a fortification here, it was a real kingdom, pointing to urban cities and a centralized authority in Judah in the 10th century B.C.”Indeed, the article goes on to explain that the evidence being collected is clearly dissimilar from Philistine culture.
The scholarly world is all a-buzz with the find. Even skeptical scholars--who have staked their reputation on minimalistic claims--are now making some very telling admissions. Apparently, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Much more is coming out, as someone close to the dig explained on Jim West's blog. John Hobbins at the blog Ancient Hebrew Poetry has even called it the "end of minimalism as we've known it". He writes, "Minimalism will go down in the annals of scholarship as a classic example of over-reach." I think he's absolutely right.
Again, caution is always necessary. I've been sitting on this for 2 months now. However, the evidence is really striking. I think the likelihood that we have here a significant find--one involving a seismic shift--is very high.
In fact, what we are witnessing here to assumptions made in Old Testament scholarship may be quite similiar to what happened in the 20th century in New Testament studies. Many scholars at that time believed the Fourth Gospel, for example, was a late creation--a second century document with no historical value. Then of course a fragment of it was found in Egypt dating to the turn of the second century. As a result, a lot of the books that were hot items in libraries got put back on the shelf. They are collecting dust to this day.
Given that minimalists are now making some key admissions about this find, I think it is safe to say that something similar is going to happen to a lot of the books now being checked-out by students on the history of Israel. But again we'll have to wait and see what else comes out of this discovery.
In the comment box I received the following from Barnea Levi Selavan, the codirector of the organization behind the excavation, to whom I am very grateful for the following information.
Michael,There is also a funny clip from Saturday Night Live where the excavation is mentioned--be sure to check it out at their website.
I am Codirector of the Foundation Stone organization. We are developing the Elah Fortress/Qeiyafa site, and are responsible for the excavation of Prof Garfinkel of Hebrew U. I appreciate your words. I invite you to see the promo movie and articles on our website www.elahfortress.com, and must share with you there is even more.
The massive fortified city, the unprecedented 10 ton stones, in the unprecedented second gate of an Iron Age city -which may identify it as Sha'arayim, "Two-Gates", mentioned three times in the Bible in this area, twice related to King David before he became king, which would fit its early dating-the clear destruction layer context, an opportunity to examine the workings of the architecture of the casemate wall and houses(21,400 pieces of pottery pulled from 600 square meters), the absence of pig bones, the seemingly destroyed and reused cultic stone, the location at the gateway between the Judean Foothills and the Philistine Coastal Plain, the consensus of scholars that it the pottery typology is early 10th century, the consensus of all the major Philistine excavators that the pottery "is not a coastal ssmeblage"-Sy Gitin- so it is not Philistine, the early proto-Canaanite Hebrew writing with its implications of how and when this writing spread to the Greeks and others, the interesting words and the potential historical value of its actual text, the range of hi-tech imaging methods used to see the letters not visible to the naked eye, the over 100 jug handles with finger impressions until now found only a couple at a time and not valued as a feature, the short Hellenistic-Ptolemaic period reuse of the fortifications, and their strategic approach to fortifications, the short term use of the city - as there is no remodeling, the carbon-14 dating range of burnt olive pits, the potential revising of the transition or even structure of dating Iron Age I and Iron Age II, the surety of more discoveries because of the layout of the casemate walls, the elephant in the room- the historical implications for the accuracy of events and characters reported in the bible, as the urban society of 300o years ago (dating based on science alone-the pottery typology and carbon-14 dating; the ostracon found in the same destruction layer context in a tightly-controlled provenanced excavation) was using writing, not only oral traditions, and this means a higher degree of accuracy is expected in transmission of acts and events, even if passed down to several hundred years later, even as academics currently claim (contrary to ancient Jewish traditions of literacy accuracy and writing throughout, and when the books were written) .... I may have missed something.
Barnea Levi Selavan
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Suffering and diminishment are not the greatest of evils but are normal ingredients in life, especially in old age. They are to be accepted as elements of a full human existence. Well into my ninetieth year I have been able to work productively. As I become increasingly paralyzed and unable to speak, I can identify with the many paralytics and mute persons in the Gospels, grateful for the loving and skillful care I receive and for the hope of everlasting life in Christ. If the Lord now calls me to a period of weakness, I know well that his power can be made perfect in infirmity. “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”Dulles was a rarity in many ways. In 2001, John Paul II created him a Cardinal, making him the first American born theologian who was not a Bishop to receive such an honor. When Pope Benedict came to America this year he made a special request to visit Cardinal Dulles (see above).
Upon hearing of his death, Pope Benedict put out the following statement:
HAVING LEARNED WITH SADNESS OF THE DEATH OF CARDINAL AVERY DULLES, I OFFER YOU MY HEARTFELT CONDOLENCES, WHICH I ASK YOU KINDLY TO CONVEY TO HIS FAMILY, HIS CONFRERES IN THE SOCIETY OF JESUS AND THE ACADEMIC COMMUNITY OF FORDHAM UNIVERSITY. I JOIN YOU IN COMMENDING THE LATE CARDINAL’S NOBLE SOUL TO GOD, THE FATHER OF MERCIES, WITH IMMENSE GRATITUDE FOR THE DEEP LEARNING, SERENE JUDGMENT AND UNFAILING LOVE OF THE LORD AND HIS CHURCH WHICH MARKED HIS ENTIRE PRIESTLY MINISTRY AND HIS LONG YEARS OF TEACHING AND THEOLOGICAL RESEARCH. AT THE SAME TIME I PRAY THAT HIS CONVINCING PERSONAL TESTIMONY TO THE HARMONY OF FAITH AND REASON WILL CONTINUE TO BEAR FRUIT FOR THE CONVERSION OF MINDS AND HEARTS AND THE PROGRESS OF THE GOSPEL FOR MANY YEARS TO COME. TO ALL WHO MOURN HIM IN THE HOPE OF THE RESURRECTION I CORDIALLY IMPART MY APOSTOLIC BLESSING AS A PLEDGE OF CONSOLATION AND PEACE IN OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.Whenever a cardinal dies, the Vatican news always carries word of it. However, this Sunday, in addition to the usual coverage of a cardinal's death, the L'Osservatore Romano will run a piece highlighting his contribution to Theology--something which is unusual for the paper. All this just underscores his unique significance.
--BENEDICTUS PP. XVI
One of Dulles' last pieces, "The Church and the Kingdom: A Study of their Relationship in Scripture, Tradition, and Evangelization," appeared in last year's Letter and Spirit, the academic journal put out by the St. Paul Center (purchase here). It is my favorite of his articles.
Of course, there are many others that could be mentioned. For the sake of highlighting at least one, I thought I'd mention his, "The Death of Jesus as Sacrifice," which first appeared in Josephinum Journal of Theology [Vol. 3, No. 2 (Summer/Fall 1996)]. It is now available on-line via the St. Paul Center's website. The article tackles the question of the meaning of Jesus' death. In particular, Dulles argues for a theory of "personalist" approach to "atonement". He takes on other models, such as the theory of "penal substition", i.e., the idea that Jesus' death should be understood in terms of a legal exchange in which Jesus in effect takes the place of sinners. Sinners receive Christ's sonship, Jesus receives the punishment they deserve.
Here's an excerpt:
Read the whole thing here:
A personalist framework of thinking calls for a radical transformation of this concept of atonement... In primitive mythological thinking, as I have said, guilt is understood in crassly material or objective terms, and consequently atonement is depicted as the mere substitution of one thing for another, as would be the case when an old tire is replaced by a new one, which will itself eventually be replaced. But in a personalized framework, there is no way in which one person can simply replace another. One person may represent another, but cannot substitute for that other except in a merely functional way. As Dorothee Sölle has brilliantly explained, substitution is the definitive exchange of reified objects, whereas representation is the provisional intervention of persons on behalf of other persons. To retain this distinction, it seems preferable to avoid speaking of "substitutionary atonement" in the case of Jesus Christ. Sölle herself proposes to speak rather of Christ the Representative... Christ's redemptive act, unlike the merely mechanical substitution of the scapegoat, is the loving identification of the innocent sufferer with the guilty on behalf of whom he suffers. However, it cannot be understood in merely moral or psychological terms, as the vocabulary of "loving identification" might seem to imply. Even when personalistically interpreted, "substitution" does not do justice to the reality, since a substitute could not do for us any more than we could do for ourselves. In view of his theandric constitution as incarnate Son of God, Christ is able to do far more for us than any human person could do. He stands before the Father as the representative head of the new, reborn humanity. He is the Second Adam, the progenitor in the order of grace, the firstborn of the dead (1 Cor 15:45; Rom 8:29; Col 1:18). Alone among human beings, he is qualified to remove the guilt of human sin and to communicate divine life.
Because there is no mechanical substitution of one person for another, the representative death of Christ does not automatically remit the guilt of sinners. The merits of Christ are not simply imputed to us by some kind of juridical fiction; rather we are truly and inwardly healed through the infusion of the grace that flows from him. We have to allow ourselves to be taken over by Christ as he stands in for us. This we do by appropriating Christ's action on our behalf through free and personal acts of faith, hope, and loving obedience...
Does the vicarious nature of redemption mean that Jesus is punished in our place? Some authors, indulging in very powerful rhetoric, describe in lurid terms the way in which the wrath of the eternal Father was visited upon the guiltless Son, so that he felt rejected and even hated by God... Some go so far as to suppose that Jesus suffered a loss of faith, fell into despair, and underwent the pains of the damned. His cry on the Cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou abandoned me?" (Matt 27:46 & parallels) is considered to confirm this interpretation.
Against these views, I would insist that Jesus remained at all times the well-beloved Son, living in close communion with the Father through the incomparable grace that flooded his soul. Far from despairing, he continued to trust in the Father, whom he loved. Since the cry from the Cross is a quotation from the first verse of Psalm 22, the interpretation remains somewhat uncertain. It seems probable that Jesus (or the Evangelists who ascribe these words to him) had in mind the whole of the psalm, which Jesus is, so to speak, intoning. As Walter Kasper points out, "According to the practice of the time, saying the opening verse of a psalm implied the whole psalm."20 The Psalm, beginning as a lament, turns into a song of thanksgiving to the God who saves from death:
"I will tell of thy name to my brethren; In the midst of the congregation I will praise thee... All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord.(Ps 22:22, 27; cf. Heb 2:12)."
It would be a mistake, therefore, to interpret the words quoted by Jesus as though he were describing his psychological state of feeling rather than referring to the religious message of the Psalm.
The fact remains, however, that Jesus did suffer terrible afflictions, and did so because it was the Father's will that he should do so. He was abandoned in the sense that God did not come miraculously to his aid, as presumably God could have done. Would it not have been far better, some ask, for the Father simply to forgive the guilt of the human family without exacting any retribution? For all we know, it might have been possible for God to grant this free forgiveness. But would it have been better? How, if he had done so, would the right order have been established? What kind of healing would have been effected? How would we have learned the full gravity of sin? What motivation would we be given for avoiding sin in the future? What consolation would be given to persons burdened with exorbitant and unjust sorrows? All things considered, it appears that God has exercised greater mercy toward us by giving his innocent Son to suffer and die on our behalf than if he had simply canceled out the debt of sin...
The Theories Compared
The advantages of the representational sacrifice theory, and the answers to the objections raised against it, may be clarified by a review of the alternative theories described at the opening of this paper. In some ways the sacrificial interpretation, as I have proposed it, resembles the first theory, that of penal substitution, but the differences are important. Both theories maintain that Jesus suffered terrible ordeals and thereby won for sinners a release from the pains they deserve. But the penal substitution theory makes it appear that God punishes the innocent in place of the guilty, thereby suggesting that God is unjust. The theory of representative headship, by contrast, looks upon Jesus as one who offered satisfaction, rather than endured punishment. These are true alternatives. As Anselm insisted, sin requires either punishment or satisfaction; satisfaction takes the place of punishment... Satisfaction is voluntarily given, whereas punishment must be coercively endured. Satisfaction, unlike punishment, can be offered by the innocent as well as by the guilty.
Punishment, as an act of justice, must be strictly proportioned to the offense, but satisfaction, as a work of love, may be superabundant. According to Thomas Aquinas, Christ "offered to God more than was required to compensate for the sin of all humanity."
May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so menThe Pope lists many of the ways the Beatitudes can be seen as fulfilled in the life of Jesus.
persecuted the prophets who were before you."
In sum, the Beatitudes point us to Jesus: He is the merciful Son of God, the true peacemaker, who suffers for righteousness sake.
"Blessed are the poor"... Jesus is poor, having "no place to lay his head" (Matt 8:20)
"Blessed are the meek"... Jesus says, “Come to me. . . for I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matt 11:28-29)
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God"... Jesus says, “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (John 1:18)
But more than that, there's another way to see this passage as describing the "Messiah". Scholars point out numerous similarities between the Beatitudes and Isaiah 61.
Isaiah 61 begins:
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted" (Isa 61:1-2).
A few things can be noted here. The word here for "anointed" is, of course, מָשַׁח, mā∙šǎḥ, or "messiah". That the "anointed" one here was understood by first-century Jews as not only an anointed one, but as the Messiah is clear from the Dead Sea Scrolls (4Q521), which uses this passage in connection with a description of the coming of the Messiah.
Also familiar should be the fact that this "messiah" comes "to bring good tidings". The Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) uses a verb here euangelizō (εὐαγγελίσασθαι). The word is where we get the English, "Evangelist". The noun form of this Greek word is euangelion (εὐαγγέλιον)--and it is translated "Gospel" in the New Testament.
In other words, Isaiah 61 describes a "messiah" who brings the "Gospel".
Right before Matthew 5, which begins with the Beatitudes, Matthew 4 closes by telling us how Jesus went through all Galilee "preaching the gospel of the kingdom" (Matt 4:23).
It is striking then that the Beatitudes closely resemble Isaiah 61:
"Blessed are the poor [πτωχοὶ] in spirit" (Matt 5:3) is echoed in Isaiah 61:1: "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the poor [πτωχοῖς]".
"Blessed are those who mourn [πενθοῦντες], for they shall be comforted [παρακληθήσονται]" (Matt 5:4) evokes, Isaiah 61:2, "‘to comfort all who mourn’ [παρακαλέσαι πάντας τοὺς πενθοῦντας]"
"Blessed are the meek [poor; πραεῖς] for they shall inherit the land [or 'earth'; κληρονομήσουσιν τὴν γῆν]" (Matt 5:5) mirrors Isaiah 61:2, "‘to preach good news to the poor [Heb. anawim; Grk. πραεῖς]" and Isa 61:7: “in your land you shall possess a double portion”. Of course, the language of "double portion" is closely tied to inheritance in the Old Testament (cf. Duet 21:27).
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt 5:6). The word translated "satisfied" is literally "to eat one's fill" (χορτάζομαι; chortazomai; cf. Matt 15:33; John 6:26). Righteousness’ occurs three times in Isaiah 61 (v. 3. 8, 11). Strikingly in Isaiah 61:6: God promises that his people will "eat the wealth of nations".
"Blessed are the pure of heart (οἱ καθαροὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ), for they shall see God" (Matt 5:8) echoes Isaiah 61:2, which explains that the Messiah is sent to "to heal the brokenhearted" (συντετριμμένους τῇ καρδίᾳ).
"Blessed are those that have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (5:10) can be said to mirror the entire point of Isaiah 61--the Messiah is coming to announce that the "good news" that Zion's persecution has ended. The Kingdom is coming.
Finally, "Blessed are you when men revile you… rejoice and be glad (ἀγαλλιᾶσθε) (Matt 5:11-12) has a parallel in the language of Isaiah 61:10: "Let my soul be glad (ἀγαλλιάσθω) in the Lord".
In sum, for first-century Jews Isaiah 61 could be read as describing the coming of the Messiah. The Beatitudes draw heavily on this description of the Messiah and what he would do for God's people--he will make his people a messianic people. Jesus in the Beatitudes then is calling His disciples to be that people by imitating Him. He is the Messiah come to bring the "good news". He calls us to be a truly messianic people.
Singing in the Reign has been ranked as #21, up from #31. It is an honor to be right behind our good friend, the eminent Chris Tilling at #21.
I believe there is only one other blog written by a Roman Catholic on the list put together by N. T. Wrong.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
On his stimulating blog, A New Testament Student, Josh McManaway talks a little bit about the discussion at the Society of Biblical Literature on "Secret Mark". In short, "Secret Mark" is supposedly a non-canonical version of Mark's Gospel that was "discovered" in a previously unknown letter of Clement of Alexandria. It was "found" by a scholar named Morton Smith.
At the time it was released some people saw the discovery as a major breakthrough. Smith used it to argue that Jesus had been a homosexual magician.
Today scholars have largely come to believe Smith fabricated the entire thing. For one thing, no one but Smith ever even saw the document, which conveniently disappeared. (A systematic and devastating critique of Secret Mark can be found in Stephen Carlson's recent book.)
One scholar who has been forthright about his suspicions about the "find" is one Smith's former students, Jacob Neusner (pictured on the right). Neusner, of course, is one of the world's top rabbinic scholars. Time has called him "the Pope's favorite rabbi" due to the fact that Benedict XVI interacts with him quite a bit in his recent book, Jesus of Nazareth. Neusner has also spoke several times of his high regard for Benedict's scholarship.
But back to Smith...
Neusner writes about Smith in the republished edition Birger Gerhardsson's, Memory and Manuscript: Oral Tradition and Written Transmission in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity [1961; repri., Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1998]. Neusner explains that Smith was not only a master at misrepresenting archaeological "discoveries". While we may never know exactly what Smith discovered (if anything at all). Smith was also excellent at misrepresenting works we actually can go back and read, such as Gerhardsson's.
Previously Neusner had been highly dismissive of Gerhardsson's scholarship. In fact, in the past many scholars rejected Gerhardsson's work. But, as Neusner explains, this was in large part due to the fact that Gerhardsson's arguments were unfairly misrepresented by his critics. Indeed, Neusner explains that Gerhardsson was wrongly blackballed by the academic community. In particular, he singles out Smith as a major culprit in all of this. Neusner's words are about as stinging as they come.
It astonishes me to find people in the field of biblical studies who still are influenced by the inaccurate portrait of Gerhardsson's work. I often direct them to this piece of Neusner's. The words are biting. To be honest, it's a bit uncomfortable to read.
I think Neusner is trying to shock readers back into reading Gerhardsson. When they do, I think Neusner believes people will see how wrongly he was treated and will appreciate the anger he directs toward Smith, who helped ensure he wouldn't get a fair hearing.
Whether that justifies his harsh tone is another matter. Perhaps Neusner is attempting to treat Smith with some of Smith's own medicine. I don't direct people to read this because it's the tone I would take. What it does, however, is underline how passionate Neusner is about exposing the wrongful treatment Gerhardsson received. And that is a sentiment that I certainly share.
The following is taken from Neusner's Foreword.
"[R]eaders [of Gerhardsson's work] missed his careful qualifications, his thoughtful word-choices. In giving the work a negative reading on grounds of an uncritical retrojection of techniques attested only much later on into the age of the Evangelists, I followed the lead of my then-teacher, Morton Smith, with whom I wrote my dissertation just before Gerhardsson's book appeared, and whom I extravagantly admired, but not without solid reason, for his powers of penetrating criticism. To understand Smith's influence we have to identify the particular traits that he cultivated. And to place in perspective Smith's reading of Gerhardsson, we have to take a second look at his principal critic, Morton Smith himself.
Like Arthur Darby Nock, but lacking his perspicacity and cultivation, Smith made his career as a ferocious critic of others. Smith thereby surrounded himself with a protective wall of violent invective; what he wished to hide, and for a while succeeded in hiding, was the intellectual vacuum within. Of his entire legacy one book survives today, quite lacking influence but still a model of argument, and a handful of suggestive but insufficient articles. In all Smith wrote three important contributions to scholarship, one a model of argument and analysis though broadly ignored in the field to which it was devoted, another a pseudo-critical but in fact intellectually slovenly and exploitative monograph, and the third an outright fraud [=the Secret Gospel of Mark]. But in the early 1960's, when Gerhardsson's book became a target of opportunity to demonstrate his capacity to seize the jugular, no one could have known the reality. I took as my model his sharp pen and his analytical wit, not understanding that Smith had no constructive capacities and would never on his own write an honest and important book....
As to the scholarly fraud [=the Secret Gospel of Mark], who speaks of it any more, or imagines that the work pertains to the study of the New Testament at all? I need not remind readers of this reprint of the scandal of Smith's 'sensational discovery' of the Clement fragment, the original of which no one but Smith was permitted to examine. Purporting, in Smith's report, to demonstrate that the historical Jesus was 'really' a homosexual magician, the work has not outlived its perpetrator. In the end many were silenced--who wanted to get sued?--but few were gulled.
Beyond [his] three major scholarly projects--as I said, a self-certified Ph.D. dissertation that no one in the degree-granting university could evaluate, an exemplary work done under the tutelage of a great scholar but lacking all consquence in scholarly discourse, and a forgery and a fraud, beyond occasional articles of uneven quality but occasional brilliance, Smith produced a few potboilers, on the one side, and a corpus of book reviews of a supercilious and misleading character. And one of these--alas!--dismissed and denied a hearing to Memory and Manuscript, as Gerhardsson says with complete justification, 'in a caricuatured and misleading way.' And let me plead guilty to Gerhardsson's indictment: 'This misprepresentation, and Smith's rather simplistic courter-arguments, were repeated, in even more simplified forms, by countless critics.' I was one of these, and I apologize in word and, here, in deed."
--Jacob Neusner, "Foreword," in Birger Gerhardsson, Memory and Manuscript. Oral Tradition and Written Transmission in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity with Tradition and Transmission in Early Christianity (1961; repri., Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1998), xxvi-xxvii.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
“From Saul to Paul: Called or Converted?”
“What is the Gospel According to Paul?”
“St. Paul and the Mystery of the Church”
“St. Paul and the Mystery of the Angels”
“Justification: Faith and Works of the Law”
“The Resurrection of the Body”
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Old and New Friends: Michael and I caught up with a number of old friends, such as Brian Gregg, my best friend from my Notre Dame doctoral days (and author of Jesus and the Final Judgment Traditions in Q), and Joel Willitts and Michael Bird of Euangelion fame. We also bumped briefly into James Crossley, who was staying in our hotel. I also got to meet Danny Zacharias, who was also kind enough to come to my paper. On the other hand, as James pointed out over at Earliest Christian History, the mood of the conference was somewhat serious and subdued: I am convinced that this was because the absence of certain jovial British blogger. (Chris Tilling, you were sorely missed!)
Historical Jesus Session: Finally, on Monday morning, I was pleased to be able to present a paper on "Jesus and the Messianic Priesthood" in the Historical Jesus section. In the paper, I argued that Jesus saw himself as a priestly Messiah (according to the order of Melchizedek) and that he deliberately organized his circles of disciples to parallel the pre-Levitical priesthood and the Sanhedrin. I also pointed out that in Jewish eschatology, the priestly Messiah was expected to suffer, die, and atone for sin. Although I went too long and didn't have time for questions, I think it went over well--although the contrast between the skeptical conclusions of the vast majority of the papers and my own approach was marked, to say the least. Along these lines, I did notice that I was one of the few scholars to actually cite and discuss ancient Jewish sources... The more skeptical papers seemed to ignore this context. (Echoes of the Jesus seminar.)
Monday, November 17, 2008
Those of you familiar with the standard introductions to the New Testament will be aware that it is common fare for modern scholarship to treat the Pastoral Epistles (1-2 Timothy, Titus) as a distinct grouping of letters within the Pauline corpus that is regarded as pseudonymous: i.e., falsely ascribed to Paul.
From this perspective, these three letters--which are clearly written around the same time to address similar issues--are commonly attributed to an unknown "disciple of Paul" who wrote them up in his name, sometime in the 80s-90s of the first century. Indeed, some scholars would even go so far as to date them to the late 2nd century A.D.
Although there are a number of reasons given in support of this claim of pseudonymity, one of the most common is that Paul's opponents in the Pastoral Epistles are supposedly different from his opponents in his "authentic" letters. Specifically, supporters of pseudonymity often identify the opponents in the Pastorals as early Christian gnostics. Because gnosticism is often held not to have developed in the early Church until the late first or early second century A.D., this fact is held out as proof that Paul could not have written the Pastorals.
But is this correct? Are Paul's opponents in the Pastorals really the gnostics? True, Paul does give a fleeting warning at the end of 1 Timothy to avoid "what is falsely called knowledge" (Gk gnosis) (1 Tim 6:20), but this hardly constitutes an uneqivocal reference to early Gnosticisism. Indeed, even a supporter of pseudonymity such as Raymond Brown admits that, even when one accepts the gnostic hypothesis, "the exact nature of what is being criticized in the Pastorals is hard to discern" (Intro. to the New Testament 665)?
But is it really? Are the opponents of Paul really that difficult to identify? To the contrary, I would submit that he explicitly names them, and that they are the same opponents Paul refers to in the Epistle to the Galatians. Compare the following texts:
For before certain men came from James, [Peter] ate with the Gentiles, but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. (Galatians 2:12)
For a bishop, as God's steward... must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it. For there are many insubordinate men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially the circumcision party; they must be silenced... (Titus 1:9-10)
Notice here that Paul's injunction to the bishop to teach sound doctrine is not some kind of abstract 'church rule', but is specifically ordered toward refuting and silencing the circumcision party. Indeed, in the Pastoral epistles, the various references to dissidents identify them as those who claim to be "teachers of the Law" but are not (1 Tim 1:7), and those who foster "quarrels over the Law" (Titus 3:9).
Does this sound like the kind of controversies with Gnosticism that the Church was wrestling with in the second century A.D.? Not to me. To me it sounds like the Pastoral epistles reflect the final stage of Paul's life, say, in the mid-60s, after his imprisonment in Rome, when the Circumcision faction that had plagued his early missionary efforts in Galatia continued to spread and cause division within the Churches he had planted.
When the references to the circumcision party and controversy over the Jewish law are given due weight, it seems to me that the situation addressed by the Pastoral epistles gives good reason for thinking them early first-century and authentic.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
We put this video up on youtube last night. It now has over 8,400 hits and is rated, as of this writing, the #1 "Favorited" video of the day. Special credit must go to Matt Connors, a very talented JP Catholic sophmore, who filmed the intro, recorded the audio and edited it all together in less than a day. Please help us spread it around. For more on this issue see this important article.
UPDATE: As of 10pm, the video has over 13,000 hits and has received a number of honors. In its category, Nonprofit and Activism, it is the #1 Most viewed video and the #1 Rated video. It also tops categories for other countries: e.g., #2 Most viewed in Mexico, Japan and South Korea, #3 Most viewed in Israel!
Thursday, November 06, 2008
First, the SPC has radically revamped its website. All I can say is, wow, what a transformation!
I especially like the running blog from Scott Hahn and Mike Aquilina. Go check it here.
Of course of the most impressive things the St. Paul Center is responsible for is its academic journal, Letter and Spirit. The latest edition, Temple and Contemplation: God’s Presence in the Cosmos, Church, and Human Heart is now available.
I just ordered a copy--I couldn't wait any longer!--and I'll be talking more about it after I've received it. In particular, I'm excited about the article written by SITR co-blogger, Brant Pitre: "Jesus, the New Temple, and the New Priesthood". His article focuses on the same themes I'm treating in my dissertation, which is entitled, "The Historical Jesus and Cultic Restoration Eschatology: The New Temple, the New Priesthood and the New Cult in the Synoptic Gospels."
Here's the full Table of Contents. I can honestly say that I'm excited about reading this cover to cover:
Towards a Theology of the Tabernacle and its Furniture--Gary A. Anderson
Jesus, the New Temple, and the New Priesthood--Brant Pitre
Living Stones in the House of God: The Temple and the Renewal of Church Architecture--Denis R. McNamara
“The Mystery of His Will”: Contemplating the Divine Plan in Ephesians--William A. Bales
“You Are Gods, Sons of the Most High”: Deification and Divine Filiation in St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Early Fathers--Daniel A. Keating
The Sign of the Temple: A Meditation--Jean Cardinal Daniélou
Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative
Monday, November 03, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Some of you may know this already, but there is an ancient Rabbinic tradition regarding sacrifice in the the Messianic Age. Although I've read it dozens of times, I'm still stunned every time I see it.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Friday, October 10, 2008
As anyone who has studied the New Testament or the Gospel of John knows, modern Biblical scholars love to quote the early Church Father Clement of Alexandria's comment that the Gospel of John is a "spiritual Gospel." It is interesting that you never see the similar comments of the great biblicist, Origen, who had this to say:
"No one can grasp the meaning of the Gospel (of John) unless he has rested on the breast of Jesus, and unless he has received from Him Mary, who becomes his mother also." (Origen, Commentary on John, 1:6)
Saturday, October 04, 2008
First, Proposition 4, or Sarah's Law, would require parental notification for abortion. Right now, a high school can't give an asprin to a student without notifying parents--but a child can get an abortion and the parents don't have to know a thing about it. This, of course, enables child predators, as our students highlight in this ad. This ad aired in California on television immediately after the Vice Presidential debate last Thursday.
Second, Propoisition 8 would ammend the state constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Yes, we already voted on this a few years ago and such a definition won a majority of the vote (61%). But the California Supreme Court ruled (4-3) that the vote didn't matter and legalized gay marriage despite the vote. The students have been making ads for that as well.
Their ads have become an internet sensation--the LA Times even reported their efforts in a recent story.
Last night the local Fox affiliate ran the story about them below (sorry for the 15 second ad which runs before it!). [See it here.]
For the record, Steve Marshall is right on about the impact these ads can have. While a TV spot reaches far more homes--no doubt about that!--one should remember that TV ads are often simply blocked out. During the commercials you run to the kitchen to get a soda, you fast forward through them if you're watching them on DVR, etc. An internet ad is clicked on by the viewer--the audience is FAR more likely to actually watch the ad. They also reach a different audience than say the people who watch Dancing with the Stars.
And... internet ads can get so big they end up on television. The spot done by the students that ran on broadcast TV after the debate on Thursday started out as an internet ad. Here's another look at it. By the way, the young man playing the pervert is actually a really wonderful guy...
For more about JP Catholic, go to the website.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
The criterion of coherence, as it is traditionally understood, judges as authentic those elements which fit well with what has been established about Jesus by the other criteria. Yet, such a task will inevitably involve subjective analysis: what exactly constitutes coherence? Morna Hooker writes:
“Subjectivity is still a danger when we turn to the principle of coherence or consistency… We may be able to sort out what seems coherent (or incoherent) to us―but we are living in a completely different world, and what seems incoherent to us may have seemed coherent in first-century Palestine―and vice versa. Moreover, some of Jesus’ sayings―if they are genuine―are paradoxical, and that alone should perhaps warn us against looking for what seems to be consistent.”In fact, many have pointed out that the criteria are not typically consistent in the use of these criteria.
For example, there appear to be inconsistencies within John Meier’s analysis. Despite his call for objectivity, at points Meier denies the authenticity of various traditions despite recognizing that they meet the standards of his criteria. For example, Meier states that Matthew has to “strain” to explain how Jesus came to be associated with Nazareth. According to Matthew, Joseph went there because Archelaus, the son of Herod, was ruling Judea. Meier thinks this is a poor explanation since by moving to Nazareth Joseph was relocating to the territory of another son of Herod, Herod Antipas, who killed John the Baptist. Yet, as Dennis Ingolfsland points out, what Meier fails to mention is that Herod Antipas had yet to behead John. Moreover, fear of Archelaus was probably justified since Josephus reports that he killed three thousand Jews in Jerusalem after Herod’s death (cf. Ant. 17:218). 
Moreover, since the criterion is largely deeependent on the findings of the other criteria it is very likely that it will perpetuate and even magnify the problems created by them. Thus Ben Meyer wrote: “Any errors in the results obtained by the ‘dissimilarity’ principle are liable to be magnified by the principle of ‘coherence.’”
Furthermore, the criterion begs a fundamental question: why must we assume Jesus’ teaching never included elements that were on some level contradictory?
(In an upcoming post, I will discuss how Brant Pitre has redefined this criterion).
 Perrin’s definition is often-cited. See Perrin, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus, 43: “Material from the earliest strata of the tradition may be accepted as authentic if it can be shown to cohere with material established as authentic by means of the criterion of dissimilarity.” In particular, the criterion was developed by those doing parable research. See Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom, 1; Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, 11; Perrin, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus, 20-22.
 See Hooker, “On Using the Wrong Tool,” 577.
 Dennis Ingolfsland [“The Historical Jesus According to John Meier and N. T. Wright,” in Bibliotheca sacra 155 (20) 460-73] points out a couple of examples in the work of John P. Meier.  Meyer, Critical Realism, 137. See also Hooker, “On Using the Wrong Tool,” 577: “If the core material upon which we build our reconstruction of the teaching of Jesus is inaccurate, then the addition of material which seems to be consistent with that core is likely to reflect those same inaccuracies.” Similarly, see Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” 251.
 This point is emphasized by Jack T. Sanders, “The Criterion of Coherence and the Randomness of Charisma: Poring Through Some Aporias in the Jesus Tradition,” 1-25, who concludes that Jesus must have in some way have taught things that were at some level contradictory: “Understanding that Jesus was a charismatic leader of [a New Religious Movement] and seeing that, as such, he apparently employed randomness to increase his charisma, we must now give up the academic criterion of coherence… and recognize that Jesus said contradictory things” (24).
Our students at JP Catholic (John Paul the Great Catholic University) have worked on a new ad which supports Prop. 8 in California, which would ammend the state constitution and rein in the activist judicial branch here.
I love it that Catholic students are learning how to use the media like this. Just wait a few more years--I'm sure they will have really perfected their skills by then.
If you're looking for a college that is more than just a school but a place where you become part of a mission, check out www.jpcatholic.com.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
READ THIS BEFORE YOU PUSH PLAY!!!
I can't believe this is on-line! This song is hilarious. It draws from the imagery of "bowls" of judgment being poured out in Revelation 16.
It is performed by a Christian Punk Band that made huge waves in the 90's. And I mean, they were big--Johnny Cash loved them and even became closely associated with them. He even performed with them! What started out as a lark between some youth ministers became a phenomenon--a hilarious Christian punk band. I don't get the skateboard stuff in the video and the studio version is much better, but this is still worth it.
Here are the lyrics... they're hilarious.
BOWL OF WRATH by One Bad Pig
I´m sure you´ve heard the story Gomorrah and of Sodom
If hell is not an endless pit I´m sure they´re at the bottom
Of all of their abilities the greatest one was math
Their multiples of curses equaled a bowl of wrath
Bowl of wrath
Breakfast on the crooked path
Bowl of wrath
Bowl of wrath
Breakfast on the crooked path
If you choose to laugh
You can have a bowl of wrath
Moses came down from the mount a dark an gloomy morn´
His eyes and heart fell in distress when he saw the golden form
A ghastly frown fell to his face, "You like this golden calf?"
"Well, get your knifes and slay it and have a bowl of wrath"
Bowl of wrath
Breakfast on the crooked path
Bowl of wrath
Bowl of wrath
Breakfast on the crooked path
If you choose to laugh
You can have a bowl of wrath
You who were
You are just
You who are
You are just
We´ve spilled Your Blood, and killed You saints
And wrath´s what we deserve
You are just in these judgements
The Holy One
Seven bowls before me, served up with all God´s rage
I would´ve had to eat i´, ´til Jesus paid sin´s wage
I´ll take my cross up daily, in You I´ll take a bath
Please cloth me in Your righteousness, not in a bowl of wrath
Bowl of wrath
Breakfast on the crooked path
Bowl of wrath
Bowl of wrath
Breakfast on the crooked path
If you choose to laugh
You can have a bowl of wrath
Bowl of wrath
Bowl of wrath
If you need to laugh, have a bowl of wrath
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Yet, this criterion is not without its limitations. For one thing, it cannot exclude the possibility that a Christian belief was created early on and gained wide acceptance. Craig Evans writes: “The criterion really only proves that a multiply attested tradition is early and widespread, and not necessarily authentic.”
Furthermore, that some elements are found multiply attested and others not may be little more than historical accident. N. T. Wright explains: “…the number of times a saying happens to turn up in the records is a very haphazard index of its likely historicity or otherwise.” Thus, that something is multiply attested does not therefore make it historical.
Moreover, the criterion is largely dependent on the two-source theory (Mark and Q),  to which a growing number of scholars have offered serious challenges. After an exhaustive analysis of the various solutions to the Synoptic Problem, Sanders concludes with Davies. Mark Goodacre, professor of New Testament at Duke Univesity and editor of one of the most presitigious monograph series has leveled one of the most devastating critiques against Q in his The Case Against Q.
 Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1:174. Meier here combines what are sometimes seen as two criteria, that of multiple attestation and multiple forms, first suggested by C. H. Dodd, History and the Gospel (New York: Scribner’s, 1937), 91-101; idem., The Parables of the Kingdom, 26-29; Holmén, “Authenticity Criteria,” 49; C. H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom (London: Nisbet, 1935), 20.
 See Evans, “Authenticity Criteria in Life of Jesus Research,” 9. The point is made by many others, e.g., Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1:175; Fredricksen, From Jesus to Christ, 6. Furthermore, see the discussion in Allison, Jesus of Nazareth, 2-10.
 On the difficulty of ruling out a priori singularly attested elements, see C.F. D. Moule, The Phenomenon of the New Testament (Naperville: Allenson, 1967), 71; Warren Kelber, “Jesus and Tradition: Words in Time, Words in Space,” Semeia 65 (1995): 147 [139-67].
 Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 51.
 Likewise, see Ensor, Jesus and His “Works”, 41: “…the usefulness of this criterion is limited by the fact that the Synoptic problem has not yet been finally resolved. No one theory commands universal consent, and it is not always clear from which source a saying may have come.” This weakness is recognized by others, e.g., see Craig A. Evans, The Historical Jesus: Critical Concepts in Religious Studies (New York: Routledge, 2004), 9; Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” 230-31; Achtemeier, Green and Thompson, Introducing the New Testament, 60. E. P. Sanders and Margaret Davies, Studying the Synoptic Gospels (London: SCM Press, 1989), 51-119.
 E. P. Sanders and Margaret Davies, Studying the Synoptic Gospels (London: SCM Press, 1989), 117 [51-119]. Elsewhere, in an analysis applicable to many contemporary scholars, Sanders has critiqued Bultmann’s method as essentially circular, since the two-source theory is established on “laws of development,” which are in turn derived from the two-source theory. See. E. P. Sanders, Tendencies of the Synoptic Tradition (New York:Cambridge University Press, 1969), 25-26.
 Mark Goodacre, The Case Against Q: Studies in Markan Priority and the Synoptic Problem (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press 2002). See also the various contributions in Mark Goodacre and Nicholas Perin, eds, Questioning Q: A Multidimensional Critique (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005).