Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Did Paul Really Write Ephesians?

My non-academic readers may find this surprising, but there is a large segment of the scholarly community that questions whether or not Paul actually wrote Ephesians and Colossians.

I found a great quote about this debate from N. T. Wright on one of my favorite blogs - Mark Owen's The New Testament Roundtable. Owens is a ThM student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Make sure you add his blog to your favorites--he is always worth reading.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Best Response to the DVC Movie

Tip of the hat to Mark Shea for discovering the best--and most hilarious--response to the DVC movie on the web. The "Internet Theologian" sets the record straight on a number of issues, such as...

Q: What does all this have to do with Jesus? Or, for that matter, Leonardo Da Vinci?
A: The premise of the book is that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and that the two had children, who passed along Jesus' bloodline through generations of French people. Leonardo was the member of a secret brotherhood of painters who protected this secret by painting pictures of men that look like ladies.

Q: Isn't this more or less a straight rip from the book "Holy
Blood, Holy Grail"?
A: No! Ha ha! How silly of you even to mention that very obscure work! Next question.

Q: Is "The Da Vinci Code" fiction?
A: No. It's what I call "faction": Historically true facts interspersed
with car chases. In the very first page of his masterpiece, Brown writes, "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate."

Q: Well, if it's in a book, it must be true.
A: Exactly.
He moves on to tackle the Gnostics...

Q: In fact, didn't the Gnostics believe the opposite of what Brown imputes to them - that Christ was never even partially human? Didn't the Gnostics, in fact, regard all created matter as evil, which extended to complete disapproval of sexual reproduction?
A: The point is, the Pope hates women.

He then deals with the book's literary merits...

Q: Can you cite an unintentionally hilarious passage from the book?
A: "His captivating presence is punctuated by an unusually low, baritone speaking voice, which his female students describe as 'chocolate for the ears.'"

And then there's this...

Q: Is there anything Harvard professor of religious symbology Robert Langdon isn't good at?
A: "My French stinks, Langdon thought, but
my zodiac iconography is pretty good."

Make sure to read the whole thing...

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Next Secretary of State?

A number of sources are reporting that Pope Benedict is about to name the next Secretary of State. The Vatican's Secretary of State effectively functions as the Pope's Prime Minister and is responsible for directing the Curia. In other words, this office ranks among the two most influential positions in the Church under the Pope--the other, of course, being the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Because of their high profile, those who hold the position of Secretary of State are inevitably seen as "front runners" in later papal conclaves. In fact, only one Cardinal Secretary of State has ever been elected pope: Eugenio Pacelli (Pius XII), served at that post from 1930-1939. Another former holder of the office, Luigi Lambruschini, apparently came very close to being elected after Gregory XVI died in 1846--the conclave went on to select Pius IX.

The present Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, has held the office for fifteen years--which is the longest term since Pietro Cardinal Gasparri, who served in that position for sixteen years (1914-1930). At the age of 78, Sodano is well past retirement age.

According to numerous sources, Benedict has already decided who will replace Sodano: Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Here's a little background on Bertone.

Cardinal Bertone, who is 71, is a Selesian (the Order of Don Bosco). He made his religious profession on December 3, 1950 and was ordained on July 1, 1960. Bertone earned his licentiate in theology and his doctorate in canon law from the Ponifical Salesian Athanaeum. His dissertations dealt with religious freedom and 18th century church government and Pope Benedict XIV. Among other things, he served for a long time as professor of canon law and was intimately involved with the writing of the new Code of Canon Law. In June of 1991, Pope John Paul II made Bertone Archbishop of Vercelli.

However, Bertone resigned from that position four short years later after the Pope appointed him Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. There Bertone served as the present pope's right hand man. He is the co-signer of some of the most significant documents published under Ratzinger (e.g., the document on the ordination of women). He was appointed Archbishop of Genoa in 2002 and was created a Cardinal by John Paul II the following year.

John Paul had such confidence in Bertone that he entrusted to him the task of publishing the third secret of Fatima. It was said that he spent hours with Sister Lucia. Interestingly, it was also Bertone who, as Secretary of the CDF, reiterated the Vatican's official position on Medjugorje: "...official pilgrimages to Medjugorje, understood as a place of authentic Marian apparitions, are not permitted to be organized either on the parish or on the diocesan level..."

Bertone has written a number of articles, which are available on-line.
-- Commentary on the Profession of Faith (1998)
-- The Primacy of the Successor of Peter in the Mystery of the Church (1998)
-- Note on the Expression 'Sister Churches' (2000)
-- Consideration on the Future of Obstetrics and Gynaecology: The Fundamental Human Right to Practice and Be Trained According to Conscience (2001)

In 2004, Bertone made headlines when he established a commision to deal with possible cases of demonic possession in his diocese. The commission included three priests and three doctors--a neurologist, a psychiatrist, and a psychologist. Bertone insisted, "Possession is not a fiction."

Recently, Bertone has been in the news again, leading the assault on The Davinci Code. CBS/AP reported,

"Anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice," [Bertone] said.

"I ask myself if a similar book was written. full of lies about Budda, Muhammed or . . . if a novel came out which manipulated all the history of the Holocaust or of the Shoah, what would have happenend?"

One last thing... Bertone is a huge soccer fan. In Italy he is known for occassionally appearing on the radio, doing the play-by-play for his favorite team, Juventus. He also makes appearances on the popular radio program, Not Only Sports, on Rome's 105 FM. In one of his more controversial interviews Bertone argreed with the concern that too many foreign players are playing on Italian soccer teams: "It's true we're in a world of globalization, but we don't need to go and draw from foreign teams," Bertone agreed. "We need to help our young players. Great champions have been born on our fields."

Cardinal Bertone doesn't pull punches.

Other recent posts: John Paul the Great Catholic University Gaining Steam, Did Paul Really Write Ephesians?, The Best Response to the DVC Movie

Photo: Getty

Friday, May 26, 2006

Daniel and Revelation 4-5

To properly understand the book of Revelation we must read it in light of the Old Testament. One of the main reasons people have such a hard time understanding the Apocalypse is that they fail to recognize the way the book's visions draw from Old Testament passages.

One example of the Apocalypse's use of the Old Testament is found in Revelation chapters 4 and 5. There are striking parallels between Daniel 7 and Revelation 4-5. G. K. Beale points out a few of them:
1. introductory vision phraseology (Dan. 7:9 [cf. Dan. 7:2, 6-7]; Rev. 4:1)
2. a throne(s) set in heaven (Dan. 7:9; Rev. 4:2, 9)
3. God sitting on a throne (Dan. 7:9; Rev. 4:2)
4. God’s appearance on the throne (Dan. 7:9; Rev. 4:3)
5. fire before the throne (Dan. 7:9-10; Rev. 4:5)
6. heavenly servants surrounding the throne (Dan. 7:10; Rev. 4:4; 6-10; 5:8, 11, 14)
7. the image of a sea (Dan. 7:2-3; Rev. 4:6).
8. book(s) before the throne (Dan. 7:10; Rev. 5:1ff)
9. the book(s) opened (Dan. 7:10; Rev. 5:2-5, 9)
10. a divine (messianic) figure approaching God’s throne to receive authority to reign forever over a kingdom (Dan. 7:13-14; Rev. 5:5-7, 9, 12-13)
11. the kingdom’s scope: “all peoples, nations, and tongues” (Dan. 7:14; Rev. 5:9)
12. the seer’s emotional distress on account of the vision (Dan 7:15; Rev. 5:4)
13. the seer’s reception of heavenly counsel concerning the vision from one of the heavenly servants (Dan. 7:16; Rev. 5:5)
14. the saints given divine authority to reign over a kingdom (Dan. 7:18, 22, 27; Rev. 5:10)
15. concluding mention of God’s eternal reign (Dan. 7:27; Rev. 5:13-14).[1]

In all of this, Christ is portrayed as the One who receives the kingdom and gives it to the saints in fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy.

Part of the reason the book of Revelation is so confusing to people is that most people don't recognize the Old Testament passages the book draws upon.

[1] Adapted from G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmanns Publishing, Co., 1999), 314-15.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Not EVEN the Son

I had a long conversation today with my friend Brant Pitre - which reminds me to plug once again his amazing news book, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile (Baker, 2006). One of the things we talked about is Jesus' self-understanding in the Gospels.

Typically it is assumed that Mark's Gospel evidences a "low" Christology - that is, Jesus is not described as divine. Whereas, for example, John makes several statements indicating the divinity and preexistence of Jesus (e.g., John 1:3, "the Word was God... all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made"; John 5:18, "[he] called God his Father, making himself equal with God"; John 8:58, "...before Abraham was, I am"; 10:30, "I and the Father are one", etc.) Mark (it is said) has a much more earthly view of Jesus.

One passage that is typically mentioned in this regard is Mark 13:32, "But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." At first glance this passage seems to play well into the hands of those who argue that Mark has a "low" Christology.

But look at that passage again...

What is fascinating here is that Jesus places himself above the angels. No one knows the hour, not even the Son. This implies that Jesus is greater than the angels.

It is hard to imagine how powerful this statement would have been in a first century Jewish context.

Mark's Christology is a low Christology? Maybe it's time we start to rethink that proposition.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Vatican and Copyrights: The Real Story

When it was reported a few months ago that the Vatican was going to start enforcing copyright protections on papal works many reacted with outrage. Claims were made that the Church was about to restrict access to Church teaching all for the sake of profit.


Everything is still available for free on-line.

In fact, those who led the charge that the Pope was simply being greedy--e.g., the Italian paper La Stampa--were the very same ones who had previously been making a killing on the lack of copyright enforcement.

In January a Vatican correspondent for La Stampa, Marco Tosatti, had received a bill from LEV, demanding payment of 15,000 pounds (at the time, about $18,400) for the use of material by Pope Benedict. Not coincidentally, it was Tosatti who led the editorial charge when La Stampa criticized the Vatican for asserting control of the Pope's intellectual-property rights.

But Tosatti's use of Pope Benedict's written work was a matter of a simple quotation or two. The Italian journalist had published a book entitled The Dictionary of Pope Ratzinger, composed almost entirely of the Pope's spoken and written words. In his preface to the book, Tosatti had assured readers: "Everything you will find here, beyond this introduction, comes from the pen or the voice of Joseph Ratzinger." In short, Tossati had tried to do precisely what he now charged Vatican officials with doing: make a profit by publishing the Pope's work.

In asserting its copyright privileges in this case, LEV explained, it was seeking to protect the Pope's interest, in the same way that any publisher protects its authors. Journalists may still quote the Pope freely, if their objective is to inform readers about what the Pontiff has said. But if their goal is to make a profit from the Pope's work, then the Pope is entitled to a share.

Why is that too much to ask? In fact, the Pope himself makes nothing at all - all the monies received goes directly to the work of the Church. If the Pope writes something, and some people are making money off it, why should they not give some of that to the Church? This is common sense.

The article which originally appeared in Catholic World Report is now available over at Insight Scoop. Of course, Insight Scoop is the blog which appears on Ignatius Press' website - the publisher of the Pope's English books. In the article the president of Ignatius Press is cited as saying the the Vatican made no effort to restrict the Pope's other publishers. On the contrary, he said, it was "very helpful, very accommodating" in recognizing the legal rights of the other parties involved.

Which is good for Ignatius Press - which I believe is still run out of a little house.

Augustine On Interpretation

"Whoever takes another meaning out of Scripture than the writer intended, goes astray, but not through any falsehood in Scripture. Nevertheless, as I was going to say, if his mistaken interpretation tends to build up love, which is the end of the commandment, he goes astray in much the same way as a man who by mistake quits the high road, but yet reaches through the fields the same place to which the road leads. He is to be corrected, however, and to be shown how much better it is not to quit the straight road, lest, if he get into a habit of going astray, he may sometimes take cross roads, or even go in the wrong direction altogether.

For if he takes up rashly a meaning which the author whom he is reading did not intend, he often falls in with other statements which he cannot harmonize with this meaning. And if he admits that these statements are true and certain, then it follows that the meaning he had put upon the former passage cannot be the true one: and so it comes to pass, one can hardly tell how, that, out of love for his own opinion, he begins to feel more angry with Scripture than he is with himself."

-- Saint Augustine, De doctrina Christiana, I. 36-37.41

Sunday, May 21, 2006

JP Catholic Getting Major Exposure

As I've been saying, The Davinci Code movie underscores the need for the presence of faithful Catholics in the Media. John Paul the Great Catholic University comes on the scene just at the right time.

Over the weekend a tidal wave of support for the school has come from the Catholic blogosphere. I want to thank all those bloggers who have picked up this story -- let's continue to spread the word.

Mike Aquilina comments:
That’s a compelling vision. I don’t have to tell visitors to this blog about the papacy’s other two “Greats” — Leo and Gregory — and how those men turned the challenging circumstances of their day to the benefit of the Gospel. I think they, and John Paul, would approve of this “Great” effort.
Curt Jester writes: "You got to love a school that uses 'magisterial teaching' in a promotion video."

The Cafeteria is Closed explains, "A different kind of Catholic University is what John Paul the Great Catholic University sets out to become." Of course, he was on this months ago.

A number of other blogs have joined in the campaign, including:
AmericanPapist, Built on a Rock (Bill Cork), A Catholic Life, For God, For Country and For Yale.

Thanks to all of you who have joined in and to those who have mentioned my site (you'll all be added to my blogroll -- just give me a little time).

I'm hoping to see more bloggers add their voices to this very worthy cause.

Make sure you watch that promotional video everyone is raving about.

The trust Dr. Connolly has put in the Lord by putting everything he has on the on-line for this new school is truly inspiring. JP Catholic really needs all the help it can get - prayers, students and funds.

Here again is my original post.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Yet Another Crucial Appointment

Taking a break for a moment from all the exciting news about John Paul the Great University (I trust by now you have all seen the incredible 8 minute promotional video)...

Pope Benedict has made yet another crucial move as the reshuffling of the Curia continues. Today it was announced that Benedict has made Cardinal Ivan Dias from India the Prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization of Peoples. The former head, Cardinal Sepe, has been sent off to be Archbishop of Naples.

This is the second time Pope Benedict has chosen a bishop from the subcontinent of India for a major appointment. Recently he appointed Sri Lankan Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith as secretary for the Congregation of Divine Worship.

This is an extremely influential post - the head of this Congregation is known in some circles unofficially as the "red pope." One of the chief roles of this office has been overseeing the reunification of Christian denominations with the Catholic Church. Michael Gonsalves reports:
The office of the prefect of the Congregation has also been engaged in uniting the Catholic Church of Rome with independent oriental Christian orthodox churches in Egypt, Greek, Russia and Protestant Churches, including the Lutheran and Calvin ones, and work towards ecumenical unity of the churches.
A little about Cardinal Dias. He is 70 years old. He holds a doctoral degree in canon law from the Lateran University in Rome and is said to be fluent in 18 languages.

He doesn't not like to give interviews. He has said, "If you want pictures of me, I prefer you take them while I'm praying, not while I'm talking. People on their knees are more eloquent. Humanity needs witness of faith, not orators."

He recently made waves in India when he issued a directive regarding appropriate dress at Mass. Christianity Today reports some of what he said,

“[The faithful] must further remember that, while God looks at the heart, human beings look at outward appearances. The Church is a community and, as such, has a social dimension which cannot be ignored,” he continued. “In society at large, there are dress codes and behaviour patterns for different occasions. There are, for instance, those for recreational activities, for moments of leisure at home, for gala dinners; and others for condolence visits, for concerts, for official or informal receptions, etc. Each attire must naturally be worn as the circumstance demands.”

“The dress code and behaviour patterns in the Church require our special attention. One cannot ignore the critical remarks being made by many, even by those of other faiths, with regard
to the attire used by some persons, men and women, when they worship in Church,” the prelate explained. “Whereas in days gone by the “Sunday best” used to become at times a sort of fashion-parade, the modern tendency would seem to go to the other extreme, with people wearing an attire which is considered casual and unbecoming of the sacred dignity of the Church and the members of its Congregation as, respectively, the House and the People of God.”

One of the particular issues he discusses is modesty in wedding dresses. He asked all his priests to wear cassocks in their ministry.

He has also written a wonderful peice on spiritual renewal, in which he focuses four treasures of the Church: the Eucharist, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Papacy (Magisterium), and the unity of the Church. The article is found in this on-line edition of Pentecost Today.

Fr. Richard Neuhaus over at First Things describes him as " astute theologian who has shown the way in protecting Catholic integrity in the engagement with religious pluralism." In fact, Dias was a staunch promoter of the document Dominus Iesus. The CNS reports:

While his own cultural background and his diplomatic experience make him sensitive to the need to respect and value other religions, Cardinal Dias, 68, was one of the most outspoken supporters of the controversial 2000 document by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the uniqueness of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Speaking to reporters in Rome shortly after the
document, "Dominus Iesus," was released, the then-archbishop said, "It is a reaffirmation of what we believe and what we think," namely that "Jesus is the only savior of the world."

"We have a right to say who we are, and others can accept it or not," he said. Giving strength to the suspicion that the document was prompted particularly by the interreligious efforts of Asian theologians, and especially those working in India, he said clarity was needed in countries where the vast majority of people are not Christian.

Trying to find ways to communicate what the Catholic Church believes and to foster dialogue, some Indian theologians have presented the faith in ways that have not always been as clear as "Dominus Iesus" calls them to be, he said.

"The faith of the people is strong and constant," he said. "If a few theologians are making mistakes, that is a problem for the bishops."

Take note of the fact that this man has been appointed to an office which involves ecumenical issues. I think it is clear that Benedict believes that authentic ecumenical dialogue involves being honest about the differences between faith communities - we can learn much from each other and find much common ground but we also should not pretend that they are not real disagreements.

Although he did not name the film specifically, Dias recently condemned The Davinci Code Movie, which makes outrageous claims about Jesus' relationship with Mary Magdalene and Opus Dei. He said it is simply "amazing" that people "with devilish glee, take pride in blaspheming against the sacred person of Christ Jesus, or in smearing the good reputation of persons consecrated in God's service."

Friday, May 19, 2006

10 Clear Errors In The Davinci Code

There has been a great deal of discussion about The Davinci Code and its historical errors. I have been urging people to rally around John Paul the Great Catholic University as a response (also see here). But let's say someone asked you, "How do you know the claims of The Davinci Code are false?" Here's a top ten list of errors for easy reference that you might want to print off, put in your bulletin or give to others who are interested. However you use this list, please credit my site.

Should you believe the claims made by Dan Brown in the book (now turned into a movie) The Davinci Code? At the start of the book the reader discovers a "fact page," which asserts, “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” In fact, the book and it’s wild claims about Christianity are based on total falsehoods. Here are just a few examples:

1. More than 80 Lost Gospels. Brown claims, “More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John among them” (p. 231).

In fact, that is a total lie. Yes, there were other books written later on in the second century which were called “gospels”The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Philip, and The Gospel of Judas are three of the most famous. But there were nowhere near 80 of them! Brown appears to have completely invented that number.[1] Furthermore, none of them were ever considered for inclusion in the New Testament. In fact these gospels were written much later and drew much of their material from the biblical Gospels.

2. Constantine and the Bible. The Davinci Code claims: “The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman Emperor Constantine” (p. 231).

This is utterly false. Constantine died in A. D. 337. Yet, Christians still continued to disagree about which books were Scripture long after he died. This is clearly evident when one reads the lists of the biblical books written by Cyril of Jerusalem (~A. D. 350) and Gregory of Nazianzus (~A. D. 389) which exclude the Book of Revelation. In fact, it seems clear that the question wasn’t fully decided until the list assembled by the Councils of Hippo (A.D. 393) and Carthage (A. D. 397) was finally sent off to be ratified in A. D. 419. Interestingly, the list was not sent off to the Emperor: “Let this be sent to our brother and fellow bishop, Boniface, and to the other bishops of those parts, that they may confirm this canon, for these are the things which we have received from our fathers to be read in church.”

3. Lost Gospels found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. On page 234 Brown writes, "some of the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1950s hidden in a cave near Qumran in the Judean desert. And, of course, the Coptic Scrolls in 1945 at Nag Hammadi. In addition to telling the true Grail story, these documents speak of Christ’s ministry in very human terms.…”

What was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls is no secret—you can order an English translation of the scrolls from any on-line bookseller. Nowhere in any of the Dead Sea Scrolls is anything ever said about Jesus. Furthermore, while apocryphal gospels such as The Gospel of Thomas were found at Nag Hammadi, they depict a much more esoteric Jesus than the biblical gospels—they do not present Jesus’ ministry “in very human terms.”

4. Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ wife. On page 234 we learn that the Gospel of Phillip describes Mary Magdalene as the “companion” to Jesus—we are told that the Aramaic word used here implies a “spousal” relationship. Brown reveals his ignorance here. The Gospel of Philip was written in Coptic, not Aramaic. Moreover, “companion” means just that—there’s no reason to believe it implies a marital relationship.

The book continues with the following passage from the Gospel of Philip: “Christ loved [Mary Magdalene] more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on her mouth.” What Brown never tells us is that this is a questionable reading of the passage. The original document contains holes in key places—it tells us that Jesus “used to kiss her often on” and then there is a blank. Whether the next word is “mouth” is not clear—it might simply be “cheek.”

Regardless, it is clear that the book of Philip uses the image of the “kiss” as a metaphor for spiritual communion. To read this passage as evidence of a sexual relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene misunderstands what the passage is saying.[2]

5. Leonardo’s Painting of the Last Supper. Of course, one of the major claims is that Leonardo’s picture of the Last Supper contains an image of Mary Magdalene—she is supposedly the figure sitting at Jesus’ right. That this figure is depicted as looking “feminine” supposedly supports this view. In fact, this is not Mary Magdalene but the youngest disciple, John, who was called the “beloved disciple.” The Gospel of John tells us that he sat next to Jesus at the Last Supper (cf. John 19:23). Count the number of people there with Jesus in the picture and you will find that there are exactly 12—they are clearly the twelve apostles.

The “feminine” depiction of John is usually attributed to the attempt to portray his youth. Leonardo’s portrait of the young John the Baptist also depicts him rather as rather “feminine.” Moreover, many medieval painters prior to Leonardo depicted John the Apostle this way. If the figure is not John one would have to conclude that Leonardo left one of the prominent apostles out of the Last Supper scene—and that’s outrageous.

6. The Mona Lisa. The book claims that Leonardo hid his belief in the “sacred feminine”—a belief suppressed by the Church—in his painting of the Mona Lisa. That painting’s name is supposedly a combination of the names of two Egyptian gods: Amon and the goddess Isis. We read that Isis’ “ancient pictogram was once called L’ISA. The title Mona Lisa, then, is really ‘an anagram of the divine union of male and female’ (p. 121).

Really? What Brown doesn’t tell us is that the painting was never named by Da Vinci. Da Vinci died in 1519. It wasn’t until 1550 that the painting was first named. In 1550 Giorgio Vasari lists the work in his Lives of the Artists as “Monna Lisa.” It was later shortened in English to “Mona Lisa.” It simply means Madame Lisa, and refers to the person who most scholars believe it depicts: Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo. Brown’s explanation is completely unfounded and is nothing more than a product of his imagination.

7. The Bloodline of Jesus. The book purports that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were not only married, but that they also had children. Brown writes, “The royal bloodline of Jesus Christ has been chronicled in exhaustive detail by scores of historians” (p. 253). Who are these “historians” who have chronicled all of this? He lists four books, written by Margaret Starbird, Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, Henry Lincoln, Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince.

Yet, none of these authors are strictly speaking “historians”—none of them have earned advanced degrees in history. Starbird, for example, has her M.A. in literature. The work Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln co-authored, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, has been thoroughly discredited by scholars—Baigent has even admitted to forging his sources. The last two authors, Picknett and Prince, believe that the ancient pyramids of Egypt were built by aliens from outer space (The Stargate Conspiracy: The Truth About Extraterrestrials and the Mysteries of Egypt [2001])

8. The Priory of Sion. On the “fact page” we read: “The Priory of Sion—a European secret society formed in 1099—is a real organization. In 1975 Paris’s Bibliotheque Nationale discovered parchments known as Les Dossiers Secrets, identifying numerous numbers of the Priory of Sion, including Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo and Leonardo da Vinci” (p. 1).

The Priory of Sion hardly goes back 1099—it was established in 1952 by Pierre Plantard, who was eventually revealed as a hoax and sentenced to prison for Fraud. He admitted so in 1993 in a French Court before Judge Thierry Jean-Pierre. The so-called secret documents that were “discovered” were faked by Plantard and Philippe de Chérisey, who has also admitted his role in the scandal. Full documentation is found at An episode of 60 Minutes which aired on CBS in April of 2006 also exposed the Priory of Sion as nothing but "good old fashioned fraud."

9. Opus Dei. Throughout the book Brown demonstrates his shoddy knowledge of Opus Dei. The murderer in the book is an Opus Dei monk named Silas. Yet, in the real world, there are no monks in Opus Dei. Anyone who knows Opus Dei knows that the organization seeks to help Catholics who live in the world live their faith. Opus Dei is made up of lay people: doctors, teachers, etc. You will never find a monk in Opus Dei. Moreover, while it is true that a very small number of Opus Dei members practice forms of corporeal mortification, the depiction of Silas whipping himself to a bloody pulp is an outrageous misrepresentation.

10. Jesus as a “mortal prophet.” Brown claims that originally, Christians did not think Jesus was God—that belief was invented at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. He writes, “until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet” (p. 233).

Hardly. The New Testament contains many references to the divinity of Jesus. One of the most clear statements is found in the Gospel of John, written in the first century—long before Nicea. In John 21:28, Thomas addresses the resurrected Lord as “My Lord and My God” (John 22:28). At the beginning of his Gospel, Jesus is described as “the Word”. His divinity and pre-existence is especially clear: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”

For more information I recommend you listen to Matthew Arnold's wonderful audio set, The Davinci Code Exposed.

Other resources include:

--Darrel Bock, Breaking the Da Vinci Code. Nashville: Nelson, 2004.
--Carl Olson, et al. The Davinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in the Davinci Code. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004.
--Amy Wellborn, De-Coding Da Vinci: The Facts Behind the Fiction of the Da Vinci Code. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2004.

Although it is not specifically about Dan Brown's Book, I also recommend Mike Aquilina and Christopher Bailey's fine book on the Holy Grail, The Grail Code. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2006.

[1] “Add up everything that was ever called a gospel in the first half-millennium of Christianity (most of which are small compilations of esoteric sayings ascribed to Jesus and not narratives of any portion of his life) and you come up with about two dozen documents.” Craig L. Blomberg, Ph.D., Review of The Da Vinci Code in Denver Journal, An Online Review of Current Biblical and Theological Studies.
[2] Darrel Bock, Breaking the Code (Nashville: Nelson, 2004), 23.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Awesome Video

Make sure you read the post below regarding John Paul the Great Catholic University - this school is amazing! Click here to watch the incredible 8 minute promotional video I mentioned - just click and watch! (It might take a second or two to download but it's well worth the wait!!!!).

Catholic bloggers, please help get the word out!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

John Paul the Great Catholic University

Calling all Catholic bloggers... help!

A brand new Catholic school is opening up on the West Coast. There is really nothing like this school. And it couldn't have come at a better time. Let me explain...

This week The Davinci Code movie is being released. Sadly, it will no doubt do damage to the faith of countless believers. The Telegraph is reporting that two thirds of Britons who have read the book now believe its claims regarding Jesus' relationship to Mary Magdalene. Aside from attacking Catholic beliefs head on, the movie will also validate the virulent anti-Catholicism already present in our culture and advance the marginalization of the faithful in society. Thankfully there are knowledgeable Catholics who are providing materials which deal with the film’s specific claims.

But the movie’s release underscores the immense influence Hollywood has on our culture. In fact, it was only a couple of years ago that a movie moved countless numbers of people across the country to rediscover God’s grace. I will never forget the moving testimonials I saw on evening newscasts from by people who had just watched Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.

These two movies represent Hollywood’s great potential to either foster the faith or undermine it. Yet, despite the great influence of the media, there has been little professional training offered from a faithful Catholic perspective to those young people interested in entering into the field—until now.

Enter John Paul the Great Catholic University. The new college—approved by the state and supported by the local bishop—will offer state of the art training and degrees in Media. Students will learn from those who have succeeded in the field. In addition, the school will also offer degrees in Business, helping to train the young Catholic professionals of tomorrow. In fact, business majors will come together to establish and run a real-world business in their senior year—businesses they may decide to continue working with after graduation.

The high caliber, hands-on-training students will receive in Media and Business is truly remarkable. Yet, for me, the most exciting part of John Paul the Great Catholic University is the rock solid Catholic formation the students will receive. All students will be required to take a number of courses in Scripture, Moral Theology, and Catholic Literature and Art—taught by faculty faithful to the teaching of the Church’s Magisterium. In all of their Catholic formation, students will learn how to live out their faith in the world and apply Catholic principles in their future professions.

Catholic spirituality will be at the center of the school’s campus life. Students will be challenged in every way to grow in their faith and relationship with the Lord. As they plan for their careers in the media and the business worlds, graduates of JP Catholic will be trained to seek ways to use their talents in service for the Church and their communities. In sum, unlike many Catholic schools which have sadly been known to hide their Catholic identity or even promote anti-Catholic figures and propaganda on their campuses, JP Catholic will be a thoroughly Catholic school.

What I have laid out for you here is only a brief overview of the school’s vision. I highly recommend that you check out JP Catholic’s website, There you will find much more detailed descriptions of the school’s vision, programs and curriculum. Make sure you watch the promotional video -- it's amazing.

But the school is still in great need. First and foremost the school needs your prayers. JP Catholic is confident in the words of the angel Gabriel: “With God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37).

Childlike trust in the Lord has motivated the founders and those involved with JP Catholic from the outset. People like Derry Connolly, the Founder and President of the University, have left comfortable positions to pursue this work for the Lord and His Church.

In particular, funds are needed to endow professorships. Since the school has no established income stream from alumni to depend upon, JP Catholic needs to find donors.

I hope all Catholic bloggers will unite and get behind this school - especially this week as the need for Catholics in the world of Media is especially felt. The school needs help getting the word out about itself. Many people aren't aware of it yet -- we can get good people involved the Entertainment industry, but this is going to take a group effort.

I have been asked to help seek out donors for the Theology department, which I hope to be part of myself. Contributors would of course help to name a permanent chair of Theology, which could either be named after a single donor or a donor’s family, or a someone agreed upon by a group of donors (e.g., “The Pope Benedict XVI Chair of Theology”). I urge people out there to take this need to prayer.

JP Catholic offers the unique prospect of thoroughly forming those who will be instrumental in building the world of tomorrow. Imagine the possibilities - then pray the Lord will accomplish them! John Paul the Great spoke of the coming Springtime of Evangelization and I believe JP Catholic will play a pivotal role in it. As John Paul the Great engaged and confronted the culture of death, so will the school named after him. If you can help in any way, be sure to send me an email:

And again, Catholic bloggers, your help is needed!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

D.C. Has A New Bishop

Pope Benedict has just made a very significant move. It has just been announced that Pittsburgh's bishop Donald Wuerl has been appointed to take over for Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in Washington, D.C. This is no minor appointment. Washington, D.C. is arguably the most significant see in the country. Because of this I thought people might be interested in who Bishop Wuerl is.

Wuerl was ordained a priest in 1966 and holds Pontifical degrees from the Gregorian University and the University of St. Thomas (the "Angelicum"). Presently, he is the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Catechesis and serves on the Committee on Education's Subcommittee on "Sapientia Christiana" and as a consultant to the Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Politicians.

Those who are familiar with his work know that Bishop Wuerl is an outstanding teacher. He co-authored a very popular and very solid Catechism, The Teaching of Christ, which was the first authoritative catechism written after Vatican II. It was co-authored by the beloved Fr. Ronald Lawler, a dear friend of the St. Paul Center. Wuerl's most recent book is The Catholic Way (Doubleday, 2001).

Very few bishops teach with the clarity Wuerl does. He is especially skilled at tailoring his message to specific audiences. A good illustration of his great pastoral ability and concern is his pastoral letter Love and Sexuality: A Pastoral Letter to the Young People of the Diocese of Pittsburgh (1992).

One of my favorite peices written by Bishop Wuerl is his 2000 letter, A Millenium Reflection: What It Means To Be Catholic. Here's what he has to say about the relationship between Christ and the Church.

The work of redemption did not end when Jesus returned in glory to his Father but continues until the last day. "Behold I am with you always, to the end of time" (Mt. 28.20). The start of a new millennium makes us all the more conscious of Jesus’ continuing presence in the Church that he established so that his work might go on, the work of bridging the gap between God and mankind. Thus the Church takes on the characteristics of its divine founder and Lord. The Church is his body; Christ is the head and we are the members. Membership in the Church is then membership in Christ drawing life and truth from him. As members of the Church, his body, we come to know Christ, to become one with him, and to attain our salvation through him. Only in and through the Church can we find that continuity with the experience and teaching of the Apostles that verifies and authenticates our own personal faith. In and through the Church we come to encounter the living Lord not just as an historical reality but also as a living person present to us sacramentally as Brother and Savior.

The work of Jesus continues to be the work of his Church. From the beginning, the apostles and their successors, as well as all of the Christian faithful, recognized that the Church enjoyed attributes that in their ultimate manifestation are applicable only to Christ. Hence, we call the Church "holy." God is holy, Jesus as God's Son is holy. The Church is holy because her founder and the animating force of her life – Christ and the Holy Spirit – are holy.

Just as salvation and grace come to us through Jesus, so do they continue to reach us through his Church. That is why Christ founded his Church. We are not just related individually and directly to God but also as God’s family united with Christ. It is in and through Christ present and manifest in his Church that we come to God. The mediatorship of Jesus continues in the visible, sacramental Church that we identify as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic communion of saints.

In this we differ with those who accept personal faith alone as the means of salvation. To be a Catholic is to recognize the role of the Church, not as incidental or secondary to salvation, but as the very means created and given to us by Jesus so that his work, accomplished in his death and resurrection, might be re-presented in our day and applied to us.

Wuerl has also has a no-nonsense reputation for acting swiftly in defrocking priests guilty of child abuse. In fact, when the Vatican ordered Wuerl to reinstate a priest in 1993, Wuerl refused. Instead, Wuerl wrote a letter to John Paul II urging the Pope to defrock the priest; the Holy Father agreed. Here's that story.

In addition, Wuerl has been one of the most outspoken pro-life bishops in the country. In sending him to Washington, D.C. it is clear that Pope Benedict is lobbing a grenade into the hub of America's political discourse.

In his pastoral letter God's Good Gift of Life (1999) he discusses the dire consequences of secular society's attempt to disassociate sexuality from marriage.
It would not be far off the mark to say that our secular society's denial of the intimate connection between sexual activity and the marriage bond is responsible for most of the unraveling of family and, therefore, community life in our time. Once the principle is established that sexual activity and the generation of children is for personal satisfaction alone and carries with it no particular relationship either to a committed bond of partnership or to the education and raising of children, you have what we face today -- an ever growing number of children who cannot identify in any meaningful sense with their parents and parents who are not in any realistic sense participants in sustaining, educating and developing their offspring. More disconcerting is the position of some that the solution to the problem is simply to kill the child before it is born.
He penned another strong pro-life letter in 2000, entitled Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing.

His other pastoral letters include:
-- The Year of the Eucharist (2005)
-- Meditation on the Mysteries [of the Rosary] (2004)
-- To Heal Restore and Renew (2002) [On the child abuse scandal]
-- Reconciliation and the Sacrament of Penance (1999)
-- Right and Wrong: A Pastoral Letter to the Young People of the Diocese of Pittsburgh (1998)
-- To Walk In The Footsetps of Jesus (1998) [On vocations]
-- Speaking the Truth in Love: Christian Discourse Within the Church (1997)
-- Confronting Racism Today (1996)
-- The Great Jubilee (1995)
-- Future Directions (1993)
-- Love and Sexuality: A Pastoral Letter to the Young People of the Diocese of Pittsburgh (1992)
-- Respect for Life (1989)
-- Renew the Face of the Earth (1989)
-- Thy Kingdom Come: New Beginnings In A Long Walk Together (1988)
A wealth of the Bishop's articles and homilies can be found at the Pittsburgh Diocese homepage.

Here is an interview with him regarding Catholic principles for voting. Here is another two-part interview in which he discusses the Catechism and new tools for catechesis (Part 1, Part 2).

Let me tell you my own personal Bishop Wuerl story. A couple of years ago I was boarding a plane and as I was making my way down the aisle I spotted the gold chain of a bishop - it was Bishop Wuerl. I had an extra copy of my book Singing In The Reign: The Psalms and the Liturgy of God's Kingdom (2001) on me and so I handed it to him as a token of my gratitude for his service to the Church. Well, the plane ended up sitting on the runway for about 2 hours before take off while we waited for some mechanical issue to be resolved. I wanted to go up and talk with him but I decided I shouldn't bother him. Besides, he was sitting in the front of the coach section - I was in the last row. Anyway, when we finally arrived at our destination and I got off the plane, the Bishop was waiting for me at the gate. I never expected to see him there. He must have been waiting there a long time. He made some joke about wondering how I got off the plane and then proceeded to ask me questions about the book. He had actually read most of it on the plane. I was so honored. We had a good conversation about the relationship between the Old Testament thanksgiving sacrifice and the Eucharist - a major theme in my book. I was impressed by his ability to read the book so quickly and discuss it as thoroughly as he did.

One final thing. Last year I was invited to speak at Bishop Wuerl's Catholic education conference. It was amazing. The level of scholarship at this conference geared for popular audiences was nothing short of spectacular. Other speaks included Scott Hahn, Mike Aquilina and Ted Sri.

For a complete roundup of the Wuerl coverage see the American Papist's blog.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Pope's Brother Speaks

How would you like to have a private line to the Pope? Georg Ratzinger, the brother of the Pope, apparently has one. I wonder if the phone it's connected to is red like the "bat phone". Although white might be more appropriate, it just seems to lack the necessary flair.

A new interview is out there with the Pope's brother, the English translation of which is found here (you'll need to scroll down a bit). Here's my favorite part...

Q. Does it bother you that you are always asked about your brother?
A. Well, personally I am not so interesting. What is interesting about me is my brother. This does not bother me. Just when people call and want something from my brother, or that I should arrange something with my brother, then I am annoyed. This happens very often.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Philosophical Issues and Methodology in Jesus Research (Part 7)

(Be sure to read the previous parts of this essay: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.)

3.2. Fitting into the Story

N. T. Wright goes on to apply this philosophical method to historical Jesus study. In studying history we must recognize that all attempts at understanding history involves a subjective element. “All history is interpreted history.”[1] Wright applies this to reading the gospels. Yet, just because the evangelists wrote about events from their own perspective, a perspective of faith in no way necessitates the conclusion that the events themselves did not take place.[2]

Moreover, in order to appreciate the aims and intentions of Jesus we must understand the story of which he thought he was a part.[3] Wright goes on therefore to reconstruct the expectations and hopes of second Temple Judaism.[4] Instead of trying to authenticate each and every saying of Jesus, Wright attempts to place what we know about Jesus into the larger worldview and community in which he lived. The best reconstruction of Jesus is the one that can make the best account of the data.[5] In this, Wright takes aim at the methods used by Reimarus, Meier and other historical critics which have to dismiss much of the data in an attempt to make sense out of a smaller amount of the tradition (e.g., Jesus apparent expectation that eschatological events were imminent).[6]

The approach of Wright will no doubt be controversial to those who hold to historical reconstructions such as Reimarus’. Moreover, there are certainly problems with Wright’s understanding of some aspects of Second Temple Judaism.[7] Nonetheless, Wright’s careful attention to philosophical method is significant for Jesus scholarship. Through his Critical-Realist approach Wright allows more of the data regarding who Jesus was and what he taught to be accounted for in a historical scheme. Furthermore, this view provides a place for theological reflection about Jesus’ life, thus enabling Jesus studies to be more than just historical investigations. Jesus studies in this view can truly be “christological” in the theological sense.
[1] Wright, New Testament, 88.
[2] Wright, New Testament, 91.
[3] Wright, New Testament, 109-12.
[4] Wright, New Testament, 147-338.
[5] Wright, New Testament, 109.
[6] Wright, New Testament, 101: It is at this stage… that some New Testament scholars have evolved highly sophisticated ways of getting of the horns of the dilmena posed by [the criteria of the need to account for the data in a simple way]. If parts of the data do not fit the simple hypothesis… then we have ways of dealing with the recalcitrant data: there are several tools available which purport to show that it comes, not from Jesus, but from the later church.”
[7] I have laid out some of these misconceptions in another, yet to be posted, essay. One of the most glaring is the redefinition of exile in terms of Roman oppression.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Philosophical Issues and Methodology in Jesus Research (Part 6)

(Be sure to read the previous parts of this essay: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

3. The Approach of Critical Realism
As we have seen, approaches to the question of the historical Jesus necessarily involve philosophical presuppositions about how one understands the relationship of faith and reason, theology and philosophy. The historical-critical method which first emerged with Spinoza and gained ground during the Age of Enlightenment operates with a certain bias against the supernatural, the miraculous and the theological. The result of such study is necessarily reductivist.

Yet, for the most part, Jesus scholars have held off on laying out a philosophical method as the basis for their work. B. F. Meyer and N. T. Wright are two refreshing exceptions. Meyer has influenced Wright in applying the philosophical hermeneutic of “critical realism” to historical Jesus research. In this part of the paper we will do two things. First we will look at the critical realist position. Then we will turn and see how N. T. Wright applies this method to Jesus studies.

3.1. Critical Realism
As we have seen, with the elevation of reason came a preoccupation with “objective” truth. To put it bluntly, this view entailed the idea that the meaning of a given text is found entirely on the page. Through critical reason all could come to “pure” truth. In this view, then, there is a perfect one-to-one correspondence between language and the world.[1] This view has come to be known as “naïve realism.”[2] Kant exposed the error in this view, explaining that human knowledge is arrived at only through conceptual categories of the human mind.[3] The work of Kant gave rise to the idea of phenomenalism, that is, that all a person can really know is one’s own experience of the object. Hence, whereas the naïve realists imagined knowledge in terms of a simple line of knower to object, the phenomenalists’ understanding could be described in terms of a line drawn from knower to object which then returns back from object to knower. [4]

“Critical realism” stands between these two views. This method acknowledges the objective reality of the thing known (reality), while asserting that it can only be accessed through a “spiraling path of appropriate dialogue or conversation between the knower and the thing known (critical).[5] Meyer explains that understanding is not like sight wherein “seeing is immediately present to what is seen.”[6] In understanding, the very presence of the to-be-understood does not immediately cause understanding. If this were the case school children would never have problems with comprehension—all would immediately understand the lesson presented.[7]

Wright goes on to explain that critical awareness reveals three things about the process of knowing. First, that the observer always views reality from a certain point of view. There is no such thing as a “god’s-eye” or “detached” view of reality. Secondly, our understanding is peculiar to our own worldview, which functions as a kind of lens for understanding. Finally, the how I understand is in large part defined by the community to which I belong. Wright goes on to draw upon the work of Alasdair MacIntyre, who argued that worldviews are embodied in communities through the concept of “story.”[8]

MacIntyre lays out his argument in his now classic book, After Virtue. He writes, “I can only answer the question, ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question, ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?”[9] It is through stories that a community imparts to its members its worldview. Through stories they learn how to function in the world—how to live out their story. Through fairy tales young children learn how to define “good” in the context of the world they have been born into.[10] He writes, “Deprive children of stories and you leave them unscripted, anxious stutterers in their actions in the world.”[11] These stories define and transmit the values of one’s own community.[12] They do not impart strict universal principles but, rather, impart “an ability to face with courage and to find one’s way through the hazards and tragedies of life by means of the ‘map’ of a living tradition.”[13]

Continue on to Part 7 here...
[1] Kevin Vanhoozer, Is there Meaning in this Text?: The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), 48.
[2] Wright, The New Testament, 35; Ben F. Meyer, Reality and Illusion in New Testament Scholarship: A Primer in Critical Realist Hermeneutics (Collegeville, Minn. The Liturgical Press, 1994), 2-4.
[3] Vanhoozer, Is there Meaning?, 49.
[4] Wright, The New Testament, 34-5.
[5] Wright, The New Testament, 35.
[6] Meyer, Reality and Illusion, 6.
[7] Meyer, Reality and Illusion, 6.
[8] Wright, New Testament, 38.
[9] Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (2nd ed.; Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1978), 216.
[10] MacIntyre, After Virtue, 216: “It is through hearing stories about wicked stepmothers, lost children, good but misguided kings, wolves that suckle twin boys, youngest sons who receive no inheritance but must make their own way in the world, and eldest sons who waste their inheritance on ritous living and go into exile to live with swine, that children learn or mislearn both what a child and what a parent is, what the cast of characters may be in the drama into which they have been born and what the ways of the world are.”
[11] MacIntyre, After Virtue, 216. Also see Nelson, Narrative and Morality, 52.
[12] MacIntyre, After Virtue, 222.
[13] Nelson, Narrative and Morality, 53.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

To Die For

For all those concerned about the gnostic Gospels, here's a great quote from N. T. Wright about the faith of the early Christians:
“Those who were thrown to the lions were not reading ‘Thomas’ or Q or the ‘Gospel of Mary.’ They were reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the rest, and being sustained thereby in a subversive mode of faith and life which, growing out of apocalyptic Judaism, posed a far greater threat to Roman empire and pagan worldviews than Cynic philosophy or Gnostic spirituality ever could. Why would Caesar worry about people rearranging their private spiritualities?”
Tip of the hat to Michael Bird for this one.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Philosophical Issues and Methodology in Jesus Research (Part 5)

(Be sure to read Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 of this essay.)

2.3. Multiple Attestation
This criterion looks at sayings or actions of Jesus “that are attested in more than one independent literary source (e.g., Mark, Q, Paul, John) and/or in more than on literary form or genre (e.g., parable, dispute story, miracle story, prophecy, aphorism).” In other words, the likelihood of the historical reliability of something increases if it is found in more than one source and even more so if it is found in more than one literary context. For example, the phrase “the kingdom of God” is found in virtually every source and in an overwhelming number of literary context: the parables, the beatitudes, miracle stories, etc.

Not only are general themes found in various places, even some precise sayings are widely attested. Jesus’ words over the bread at the Last Supper are found in the synoptic tradition and Paul (cf. Mark 14:22-25; 1 Cor 11:23-26). Likewise, Jesus’ rejection of divorce is found in Mark, Luke and 1 Corinthians. Still also Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple is found in a number of places (Mark 13:2; 14:58; John 2:14-22).[1]

Nonetheless, this criterion’s most famous supporters have to recognize its limitations.[2] For one thing, it cannot exclude the possibility that a Christian belief that was “invented by early on” gained wide acceptance. Conversely, the inability to affirm a text on grounds of multiple attestation does not necessarily mean it is unhistorical, since its authenticity may be confirmed on other grounds.[3]

2.4. Coherence
Coherence refers (for Meier) to the fact that certain sayings and actions may be judged historical if they “fit” well with other passages confirmed by the first three criteria. This criterion is “less probative” than the other criteria given the likelihood that the early Church’s creations often flowed from Jesus authentic teachings and deeds. Passages affirmed by this method, therefore, should be seen as historical inasmuch as they convey the message of Jesus. They should not be seen as authentic “in the technical sense, i.e., coming from Jesus himself.”[4]

Failure to meet this criterion does not necessarily imply that a passage is not authentic. Meier explains that rhetoric in first-century Judaism often allowed for more tension than modern standards, indeed, it often made great use of paradoxical statements. Thus, Jesus could have combined elements from various traditions, such as sapiential material apocalyptic traditions. This criterion therefore can only be used positively and should never be applied negatively to prove a passage is inauthentic.[5]

It should be noted that other scholars have dealt with this criterion differently. While Meier’s approach is more inductive[6] scholars like N. T. Wright and E. P. Sanders begin with a more deductive approach. Instead of looking at each individual saying or deed, Wright tries to make sense of the picture we already have of Jesus in the Gospels.[7] This type of methodological approach views coherence more positively “because it has the potential to draw upon and illuminate an already existing body of authentic Jesus tradition.”[8] In other words, coherence is considered to have greater weight when it has the ability to explain other sayings and deeds.

It could be argued that this criterion is the most subjective criterion. Determining what exactly “corresponds” to Jesus’ message will largely be determined by one’s own presuppositions regarding him. This is not to say that Meier does not recognize the danger here—clearly he does. Meyer writes, “Any errors in the results obtained by the ‘dissimilarity’ principle are liable to be magnified by the principle of ‘coherence.’”[9] The ultimate basis for judgment is therefore not simply the data but the way it is organized by the scholar.

In fact, there appear to be inconsistencies within Meier’s own 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. Dennis Ingolfsland points out a couple of examples.[10] First, 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 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.[11]

Another example of Meier’s bias is his view that the evangelists were working with the agenda of having to “‘make John safe’ for Christianity.”[12] He bases this on the different presentations of John in the Gospels: Mark’s John never realizes Jesus true identity (cf. Mark 1:2-3, 4-8, 9-11); in Matthew he recognizes Jesus’ dignity and superiority (Matt 3:13-15); Luke presents him as bearing witness to Jesus while still in the womb (Luke 1:41-44); in John, his role is presented not as baptizer but as one who bears witness to Jesus (cf. 1:7-8, 9, 23, 34: 3:29-30). Ingolsfand argues Meier reads too much into Elizabeth’s statement that the child had “leaped” in her room. While he acknowledges that these presentations are different, he believes Meier’s description of them as “contradictory” overstates the tension.[13] He concludes, “Meier’s arguments about the Gospels making John ‘safe’ for Christianity are therefore apparently based more on a desire to see John’s relationship to Jesus in a certain way, rather than on Meier’s stated criteria.”[14]

2.5. Rejection and Execution
This principle is unique among the criteria. This criterion recognizes the historical fact of Jesus’ execution and demands an explanation for it. Meier argues that reconstructions of Jesus must sufficiently account for his ultimate demise. That Jesus was executed as a criminal was central to the description of Jesus in non-biblical historical accounts. Attempts to recover the historical Jesus, therefore, must recognize the subversive and controversial element of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus clearly alienated people and was especially disliked (feared?) by those in power.

Existentialist accounts of Jesus’ message will simply not do. The Rationalists and Deists who asserted that Jesus’ message was at heart about an inner experience of God failed to adequately explain why he presented a threat to political leaders. In a sense, this criterion is “Wrightian” inasmuch as it presupposes some aspect of the historical Jesus and attempts to make sense out of it.

2.6. Conclusion
Meier’s method is clearly rooted in the historical-critical tradition, which attempts to define Jesus using “objective” standards alone. However, as we have seen, these standards are not as objective as Meier might like to think. Despite his best efforts, Jesus’ identity is determined in some ways a priori. Most importantly, the historical Jesus must be separated from the later theology of the Church. It seems as though Meier does not adequately explain the relationship between Jesus’ teaching and the proclamation of the Church.

Part 6 continued here...
[1] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1:175.
[2] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1:175, referring to Harvey K. McArthur.
[3] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1:175.
[4] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1:176..
[5] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1:176-7.
[6] Wright calls it “pseudo-atomistic work on fragments.” N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (vol. 2 of Christian Origins and the Question of God; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 33.
[7] Powell contrasts the approaches of Meier and Wright, Jesus, 151.
[8] Pitre, The Historical Jesus, 26.
[9] Summarizing the conclusions of M. D. Hooker. Meyer, Critical Realism, 137.
[10] Dennis Ingolsfand, “The Historical Jesus According to John Meier and N. T. Wright,” in Bibliotheca sacra 155 (20) 460-73.
[11] William Whiston, The Works of Josephus (Peabody, Minn.: Hendricksen, 1987), 466.
[12] John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (vol. 2 of The Roots of the Problem and the Person; ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 1994), 21.
[13] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2:22.
[14] Ingolsfand, “The Historical Jesus,” 466.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Philosophical Issues and Methodology in Jesus Research (Part 4)

(Be sure to read previous parts of this essay: 1, 2, 3.)

2.2. The Criterion of Discontinuity
This criterion is closely connected with the criterion of embarrassment. Meier describes this criterion as dealing with “words or deeds of Jesus that cannot be derived either from Judaism at the time of Jesus or from the early Church after him.”[1] This criterion was originally lauded by Norman Perrin: “Sayings and parables may be accepted as authentic if they can be shown to be dissimilar to characteristic emphases of both ancient Judaism and early Christianity.”[2] An example of a passage authenticated on these grounds is Jesus’ rejection of oaths (Mark 2:18-22). However, Meier is quick to mention the many problems with this standard.

First of all, it assumes a complete knowledge of first-century Judaism, which, clearly, we do not possess.[3] Against this line of attack Meier argues that while our knowledge of the Second Temple period is incomplete, much is known. Since it is impossible to ever claim an entirely comprehensive view, the best recourse is for scholarship to forge ahead, recognizing that future adjustments may eventually be required.[4]

Another protest that is often raised is that by emphasizing Jesus’ discontinuity, Jesus is divorced from the “Judaism that influenced him and from the Church that he influenced.”[5] If Jesus were so radically different from his Jewish historical and cultural context he would have been completely unintelligible. Meier concludes that while this method is indeed useful, one must be careful not to think that it will necessarily reveal the central themes are the characteristic aspects of Jesus’ teaching. Balancing the use of this criterion with the other principles of authentication is especially necessary.[6]

Finally, Meier states that one should not describe the results of this approach as providing “unique” elements of Jesus’ teaching and ministry. This is partly due to our limited knowledge of first-century Judaism.[7] The use of this method should therefore be described in a more modest way, as highlighting what was “strikingly characteristic” or “unusual” about Jesus.[8] Instead of asserting that any particular story of Jesus reveals precisely what Jesus did, we should more carefully state that the Gospels reveal “the sort of things Jesus did.”[9]

It is interesting to note that Meier never returns to address the concern that this criterion neglects the way in which Jesus “influences” the Church. Moreover, it would seem that the use of this criterion involves a certain amount of subjectivity, especially since secondary criteria involve locating Jesus within his Jewish context (“The criterion of Palestinian Environment”)![10] A number of scholars have rejected the use of double dissimilarity, arguing dissimilarity from Christianity is sufficient to establish historicity.[11]

Part 5 continued here...

[1] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1:171.
[2] Norman Perrin, The New Testament: An Introduction: Proclamation and Parenesis, Myth and History (First edition; New York and Chicago: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974), 281.
[3] This point is argued by Hooker and Meyer. Hooker, “Christology and Methodology,” 480-7; “On Using the Wrong Tool,” 570-81; Meyer, Critical Realism, 136. Also see E. Earle Ellis, “Gospels Criticism: A Perspective on the State of the Art,” in Das Evangelium und die Evangelien (WUNT 28; ed. P. Stuhlmacher; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1983), 31.
[4] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1:171.
[5] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1:172.
[6] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1:172-3.
[7] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1:174: “Since we are not terribly well informed about popular Jewish-Aramaic religious practices and vocabulary in early 1st-century Galilee, modesty in advancing claims is adviseable.”
[8] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1:174.
[9] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1:174.
[10] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1:180.
[11] Ben. F. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus (London: SCM, 1979) 86: ““The requirement of simultaneous discontinuity with Judaism and the post-paschal church error by excess. That the community should gratuitously adopt from Judaism elements in discontinuity with its own concerns, practices and tendencies simply does not make sense. Discontinuity with the post-paschal church is sufficient by itself to establish historicity.” Also see Dale Allison, Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), 52-3; Brant James Pitre, The Historical Jesus, The Great Tribulation and the End of Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement (Dissertation; Indiana, Notre Dame University, 2004), 26.