Monday, August 28, 2006

Making Waves

Dr. Hahn's new book, Understanding the Scriptures is truly an amazing work. Of it, he has said, "I believe this is my most important work." The book is not only full of amazing content--it's an overview of the entire Bible!--it is also beautifully illustrated and contains a number of tests and other educational aids. You can see some samples here. This book sells faster at conferences than any other book I think I've ever seen. Copies just fly off the table. If you don't have a copy, you need to get one. Read more here.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Benedict on the Apocalypse

Pope Benedict has made the Apocalypse the subject of his most recent catechesis. Here is what he had to say--note the Eucharistic reference near the end.


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the last catechesis we meditated on the figure of the Apostle John. At first we tried to see how much can be known of his life. Then, in a second catechesis, we meditated on the central content of his Gospel, of his Letters: charity, love. And today we are again concerned with the figure of John, this time to consider the seer of Revelation.

We must immediately make an observation: Whereas his name never appears in the Fourth Gospel or the letters attributed to the apostle, [the Book of] Revelation makes reference to John's name four times (cf. 1:1,4,9; 22:8). On one hand, it is evident that the author had no reason to silence his name and, on the other, he knew that his first readers could identify him with precision. We know moreover that, already in the third century, the scholars argued over the true identity of the John of Revelation.

For this reason we can also call him "the seer of Patmos," because his figure is linked to the name of this island of the Aegean Sea, where, according to his own autobiographical testimony, he found himself deported "because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (Revelation 1:19). Precisely on Patmos, "in the Spirit on the Lord's day," John had grandiose visions and heard extraordinary messages, which would have no little influence on the history of the Church and on the whole of Christian culture.

For example, from the title of his book, "Apocalypse" [Revelation], were introduced in our language the words "apocalypse, apocalyptic," which evoke, though inappropriately, the idea of an impending catastrophe.

The book must be understood in the context of the dramatic experience of the seven Churches of Asia (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Tiatira, Sardi, Philadelphia and Laodicea), which toward the end of the first century had to face great difficulties -- persecutions and even internal difficulties -- in their witnessing of Christ. John addresses them, showing profound pastoral sensitivity for persecuted Christians, whom he exhorts to remain steadfast in the faith and not identify with the very strong pagan world.

His objective, in short, is to unveil, from the death and resurrection of Christ, the meaning of human history. The first and essential vision of John, in fact, concerns the figure of the Lamb, which, despite being slain, is standing (cf. Revelation 5:6), placed before the throne where God himself is seated. With this, John wants to tell us two things above all: The first is that Jesus, though he was killed with an act of violence, instead of lying fallen on the ground remains paradoxically standing firmly on his feet, because with the resurrection he has vanquished death definitively.

The second is that Jesus himself, precisely because he died and resurrected, now participates fully in the royal and salvific power of the Father. This is the fundamental vision. Jesus, the Son of God, is, on this earth, a defenseless, wounded and dead Lamb. And yet, he is standing, firm, before the throne of God and participates in the divine power. He has in his hands the history of the world. In this way, the visionary wishes to tell us: Have confidence in Jesus, do not be afraid of opposing powers, of persecution! The wounded and dead Lamb conquers! Follow Jesus, the Lamb, trust Jesus, follow his way! Even if in this world he seems to be the weak Lamb, he is the victor!

The object of one of the principal visions of Revelation is this Lamb at the moment he opens a book, which before was sealed with seven seals, which no one was able to open. John is even presented weeping, as no one could be found able to open the book and read it (cf. Revelation 5:4). History appears as undecipherable, incomprehensible. No one can read it.

Perhaps this weeping of John before the very dark mystery of history expresses the disconcertment of the Asian Churches because of God's silence in the face of the persecutions to which they were exposed at that time. It is a disconcertment which might well reflect our surprise in the face of the grave difficulties, misunderstandings and hostilities that the Church also suffers today in several parts of the world.

They are sufferings which the Church certainly does not deserve, as Jesus did not deserve punishment either. However, they reveal both man's maliciousness, when he allows himself to be led by the snares of evil, as well as the higher governance of events by God. So, only the immolated Lamb is capable of opening the sealed book and of revealing its content, to give meaning to this history which, apparently, often seems so absurd.

He alone can draw pointers and teachings for the life of Christians, to whom his victory over death brings the announcement and guarantee of the victory that they also, without a doubt, will attain. All the language John uses, charged with strong images, tends to offer this consolation.

At the center of the vision that Revelation presents is the extremely significant image of the Woman, who gives birth to a male Child, and the complementary vision of the Dragon, which has fallen from the heavens, but is still very powerful. This Woman represents Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer, but she represents at the same time the whole Church, the People of God of all times, the Church that at all times, with great pain, again gives birth to Christ. And she is always threatened by the power of the Dragon. She seems defenseless, weak.

But, while she is threatened, pursued by the Dragon, she is also protected by God's consolation. And this Woman, at the end, is victorious. The Dragon does not conquer. This is the great prophecy of this book, which gives us confidence! The Woman who suffers in history, the Church which is persecuted, at the end is presented as the splendid Bride, image of the new Jerusalem, in which there is no more tears or weeping, image of the world transformed, of the new world whose light is God himself, whose lamp is the Lamb.

For this reason, John's Revelation, though full of constant references to sufferings, tribulations and weeping -- the dark face of history -- at the same time presents frequent songs of praise, which represent, so to speak, the luminous face of history.

For example, it speaks of an immense crowd that sings almost shouting: "Alleluia! The Lord has established his reign, (our) God, the almighty. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory. For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready" (Revelation 19:6-7). We are before the typical Christian paradox, according to which, suffering is never perceived as the last word; rather it is seen as a passing moment to happiness and, what is more, the latter is already mysteriously permeated with the joy that springs from hope.

Therefore, John, the seer of Patmos, can end his book with a final aspiration, in which an ardent hope palpitates. He invokes the Lord's final coming: "Come, Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:20). It is one of the central prayers of nascent Christianity, translated also by St. Paul in Aramaic: "Marana tha." And this prayer, "Come, Lord Jesus!" (1 Corinthians 16:22) has several dimensions.

Above all it implies, of course, the awaiting of the Lord's definitive victory, of the new Jerusalem, of the Lord who comes and transforms the world. But, at the same time, it is also a Eucharistic prayer: "Come, Jesus, now!" And Jesus comes, he anticipates his definitive coming. In this way, with joy, let us say at the same time: "Come now and come definitively!" This prayer also has a third meaning: "You have already come, Lord! We are certain of your presence among us. For us it is a joyful experience. But, come definitively!" Thus, with St. Paul, with the seer of Patmos, with nascent Christianity, we also pray: "Come, Jesus! Come and transform the world! Come now, today, and may peace conquer!" Amen.

[Translation of the Italian original by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Pope greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Continuing our reflections on the teaching of the Apostle John, we now consider the Book of Revelation. The seer of Patmos, identified with the apostle, is granted a series of visions meant to reassure the Christians of Asia amid the persecutions and trials of the end of the first century.

John's central vision is that of the Lamb once slain, who now stands victoriously before God's throne, sharing in the Father's kingship and power (5:6ff). He alone is able to open the mysterious book closed with seven seals and to reveal, in the light of his own triumph over persecution and death, the ultimate meaning of history in God's providential plan.

The certain unfolding of God's victory is seen in John's visions of the Woman who gives birth to a Son destined to rule the nations (12:1ff.), the final defeat of the Dragon, and the heavenly Jerusalem, prepared as a bride adorned for the wedding feast (21:2ff.). As his book draws to an end, John invites Christians of every time and place to trust in the victory of the Lamb and to hope for the coming of God's Kingdom: "Come, Lord Jesus!" (22:20).

I am happy to greet all the English-speaking visitors present at today's audience, including the pilgrims from Taiwan, Japan and the United States of America. May your visit to Rome renew your faith in the Church, the bride of Christ, and may the Lord's definitive victory over all evil fill you with hope and courage. I invoke upon you God's blessings of joy and peace.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Priestly Ministry of the Apostles

In Acts 1 the Apostles cast lots to fill the office left behind by Judas.

Acts 1:15-26: In those days Peter stood up among the brethren (the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty), and said, [16] "Brethren, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David, concerning Judas who was guide to those who arrested Jesus.[17] For he was numbered among us, and was allotted his share in this ministry. [18] (Now this man bought a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. [19] And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Akel'dama, that is, Field of Blood.) [20] For it is written in the book of Psalms, `Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it';and `His office let another take.'[21] So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, [22] beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us -- one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection." [23] And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsab'bas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthi'as. [24] And they prayed and said, "Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen [25] to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place."

[26] And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthi'as; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles.

This was more than a mere game of chance.

Casting lots was the means by which priests were assigned their duties in the Old Testament (cf. 1 Chr 24:5). In fact, Luke tells us in his previous volume (the Gospel of Luke) that this was "the custom of the priesthood" (cf. Luke 1:9).
Luke 1:8-10: [8] Now while [Zechariah] was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, [9] according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. [10] And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.
I have mentioned the parallels between Luke-Acts before. Acts seems to mirror the Gospel narratives in many ways. Both begin with an address to Theophilus, with the descent of the Spirit (Jesus' Baptism, Pentecost) in visible form (dove/fire), Jesus and the Apostles begin their ministry with an inaugural sermon, etc. For an extensive side-by-side comparison see here (you'll need to scroll down a bit).

I don't think it is a stretch to see a similar parallel here. As the Gospel of Luke begins with a priest of the Old Covenant chosen by lot, the book of Acts opens with the selection of one of the priests of the New Covenant by lot.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Tagged by DimBulb

DimBulb has tagged me for a meme: "If you could meet and have a deep conversation with any five people on earth, living or dead, from any time period, who would they be?"

Following his lead, I've added some questions I might pose...
1. Jesus: First question:What should I want to talk to you about? Second question: What did you say to the apostles during those forty days?
2. Mary: First question: What did Jesus talk about at the dinner table?
3. Paul: First question: 'Fess up. You wrote Ephesians, right?
4. Thomas Aquinas: First question: What do you think of Karl Rahner?
5. Matthew the Evangelist: First question: People are now saying Mark wrote first--your thoughts?

Here are a few runner-ups:
Mark: First question: Some people are now saying Q wrote first--your thoughts?
Author of Hebrews: So you do prefer "Paul" to "Saul", right?
James: First question: Paul--discuss.
Moses: First question: How do you ennumerate the Ten Commandments?
Aaron: First question: How did you know how to make a golden calf?
King David: First question: So you did exist?
Noah: First question: This gopher wood sounds pretty sturdy... Where can I get me some?
Abraham: First question: You seem good at breaking bad news. God commands you to circumcise all the males in your household--how do you start that conversation?
Solomon: First question: Tell me the date of your wedding anniversaries.
Jude: First question: Was papyrus in low supply in your area or did you simply lend it all to Matthew? Seems like it was almost "impossible" to find some in your area.
Esau: First question: But in your defense, would you say that it was exceptionally good pottage?

Monday, August 21, 2006

I Believe

What Colbert Believes--"The One True Religion"

Colbert slams New Age philosophy, cites the Creed, and leaves everyone in stitches.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Why the God of Christianity?

In his recent highly publicized interview (Part 1, Part 2) Pope Benedict talked about his upcoming visit to Germany. Well aware of the secularization of Europe, Benedict has chosen an important theme. Here's an excerpt:
Q: Holy Father, your next trip will be to Bavaria. During preparations for the trip your collaborators said you are nostalgic for your homeland. What are the issues you'll be speaking about during the visit and is the concept of "homeland" one of the values you intend touching on, in particular?

Benedict XVI: Of course. The purpose of the visit is precisely because I want to see again the places where I grew up, the people who touched and shaped my life. I want to thank these people.

Naturally I also want to express a message that goes beyond my country, just as my ministry calls me to do. I simply let the liturgical recurrences suggest the themes to me. The basic theme is that we have to rediscover God, not just any God, but the God that has a human face, because when we see Jesus Christ we see God [emphasis added].

Starting from this point we must find the way to meet each other in the family, among generations, and then among cultures and peoples as well. We must find the way to reconciliation and to peaceful coexistence in this world, the ways that lead to the future.

We won't find these ways leading to the future if we don't receive light from above. So I didn't choose very specific themes, but rather, it is the liturgy that leads me to express the basic message of faith which naturally finds its place in everyday reality where we want to search, above all, for cooperation among peoples and possible ways that can lead us to reconciliation and peace [emphasis added].

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Limits of the Method

While The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church commends diachronic study as "indispensable," the Pontifical Biblical Commission does recognize the limits of source criticism. Here's what the document has to say on the matter:

In the desire to establish the chronology of the biblical texts, this kind of literary criticism restricted itself to the task of dissecting and dismantling the text in order to identify the various sources. It did not pay sufficient attention to the final form of the biblical text and to the message which it conveyed in the state in which it actually exists (the contribution of editors was not held in high regard). This meant that historical-critical exegesis could often seem to be something which simply dissolved and destroyed the text. This was all the more the case when, under the influence of the comparative history of religions, such as it then was, or on the basis of certain philosophical ideas, some exegetes expressed highly negative judgments against the Bible.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

More From Goldingay

Picking up from yesterday, here's a little more from John Goldingay:

"The admission that one is using historical-critical methods with a 'bias' may seem scandalous, but it is becoming clear that historical-critical history always functions ideologically in the nature of the concerns and presuppositions that determine what counts as history [see Brueggemann, Abiding Astonishment 37-46]. Since historical critical-exegesis is the ruling method in professional biblical study, one purpose of its exercise is now to legitimate the members of the scholary guild in their position of power [Fussel, 'Materialist Readings of the Bible,' 15]."
Models for Interpretation of Scripture, 44.
On another those from last night's Bible study, here are the links to the two articles I mentioned:

Crispin Fletcher-Louis, "Jesus and the High Priest."

Craig Evans', "Assessing Progress in the Third Quest of the Historical Jesus," Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 4 (2006): 35-54.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Goldingay on the Impasse of Historical Criticism

Below is an excerpt from John Goldingay’s, Models for Interpretation of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 19-21:

General features of Israelite or first-century life are often an important part of the taken-for-granted background to biblical narratives. Nevertheless the value of efforts to establish the narratives’ precise historical context has been overrated. It is not usually the case that we are able to place them geographically and historically with certainity and precision. This results from an aspect of their inherent nature: While prophets and Epistles work by revealing their background, intention, and message, narratives work by being more reserved about such matters.

In awareness of such facts, a substantial critique of the historical approach to interpretation has now accumulated.

First, the fact that the practicioners of this approach cannot reach agreed results reflects not merely the fact that some are using the wrong methods or starting from mistaken assumption, but also the fact that all of them are asking questions whose answers the text by definition conceals. Admittedly this may make these questions paradoxically more attractive to a profession that thrives on asking questions that are not very readily answered. Much study of the Song of Hanah in the story of Samuel’s birth, for instance, has focused on locating it in a specific sociohistorical setting rather than interpreting it in its literary context in 1 Samuel. There is broad agreement that its origin is later than events the story is relating, but little agreement about the particular historical context from which it did originally emerge.[1] South African interpreters of the Cain and Abel story have sought to consider it in the light of sociocritical insight, but their study suffers from radical diversity in conclusions even among people committed to the black struggle.[2]

Second, and conversely, because the historical approach’s interest centers on a topic on which the text does not overtly focus, it misses the text’s specific burden and thus misfocuses the interpretive task. It cannot directly help exegesis. We have noted that establishing the historical events that lie behind the story does not in itself establish the story’s meaning. The many biblical commentaries that concentrate on the historical background, reference, and implications of their texts and on the process of development whereby the traditions reached their final form are sidetracked by these concerns from the actual task of exegeting the text. The point has been put with special trenchancy by Robert Polzin in a review of works on 1 Samuel. He notes the effort put into establishing its correct text, which is then ignored out of a desire to excavate behind it to its hypothetical earlier forms, so that the object of study is the pre-text rather than the text.[3]

Third, the historical approach is capable of casting doubts on the truth of the text it studies, by questing historical value, but it is not capable of vindicating the truth of the text. Its historical results are always tentative, and by their nature they cannot establish the religious heart of the stories’ truth-claim. They cannot establish what is now sometimes called the viability of the world that the texts portray to their audience.

Fourth, again to extend the previous point, the historical approach inevitably thus fails to realize the text’s own aim. The form of objectivity it seeks is not only unattainable but also not worth attaining.[4] To whatever degree a biblical text seeks to convey historical information, it seeks to do so not for the sake of that information but in order to bring a religious message. A piece of historical exegesis will generally acknowledge that it is handling a text with a religious message and will summarize that message, but it will not feel obliged to go beyond such a summary of this message’s surface structure. This fourth difficulty of the historical approach is compounded by the fact that for many people the stories being studied are not merely religious texts but parts of their scriptures. To put this point in less confessional terms, the historical approach ignores the actual text, which ‘has helped shape Western civilization and the Judeo-Christian culture at its core.’[5] Indeed, it may make that achievement rather a mystery.

It is in part the sense of impasse that historical method has reached that makes literary approaches to the text worthy of investigation.
[1] Cf. Eslinger’s comments in Kingship of God in Crisis 102.
[2] Contrast the work of Wittenberg (“King Solomon and the Theologians”: the story emerges from critique of Jerusalem state theology) and Mosala (Biblical Hermeneutics and Black Theology in South Africa 33-37: the story was designed to support the ruling classes who were appropriating land from peasants). Cf. G. West, “Reading ‘the Text’ and Reading ‘Behind-the-Text,’” in The Bible in Three Dimensions (ed. Clines and others) 299-320; also West’s Biblical Hermeneutics of Liberation 45-62.
[3] See “1 Samuel”; cf. Samuel and the Deuteronomist 1-17.
[4] Cf. Philips, Poststructural Criticism and the Bible 12-13, 37.
[5] Polzin, Samuel and the Deuteronomist 3.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Theory Passing Away

I recently discovered a very interesting article by Rolf Rendtorff on the Society of Biblical Literature's website. Rendtorff looks at the 2002 collection of essays assembled by Christoph Levin, entitled, Abschied vom Jahwisten. Die Komposition des Hexateuch in der j├╝ngsten Diskussion (A Farewell to the Yahwist. The Composition of the Hexateuch in Recent Discussion).

Rendtorff makes the following observation at the end of his article:

In my view, this book shows very clearly that the end of the Yahwist means at the same time the end of the Documentary Hypothesis. A documentary hypothesis with just one single document cannot work like an hypothesis that was originally established and developed with four or at least three documents or sources, whose interrelations are a basic element of the method of working in the framework of this theory. As I mentioned before, only a few of the essays in this volume deal with this question, and they touch it just briefly and rather hesitantly. Instead, the question is raised of the interrelations between certain blocks, such as patriarchal stories and Exodus traditions or Genesis and the following books. These are questions beyond the Documentary Hypothesis. By the way, this was already the key point in my paper of 1974. Other scholars developed this approach more deeply and broadly, first of all Erhard Blum in his two books from 1984 and 1990.

You can read the whole article here.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Thought For The Day

This week I've been driving around A LOT. I've been spending my time listening to some great audio sets. Yesterday, I listened to a Scott Hahn lecture and this great quote has been ringing in my ears since I heard it:

"God opposes the proud--even when they are right."

Would that we all could keep that in mind!

In connection with this, I went back and read Thomas' treatment of "Pride" (ST IaIIae, q. 84, a. 2):

...(Sirach 10:15): "Pride is the beginning of all sin." For it is evident that he is speaking of pride as denoting inordinate desire to excel, as is clear from what follows (verse 17): "God hath overturned the thrones of proud princes"; indeed this is the point of nearly the whole chapter. We must therefore say that pride, even as denoting a special sin, is the beginning of every sin. For we must take note that, in voluntary actions, such as sins, there is a twofold order, of intention, and of execution. In the former order, the principle is the end, as we have stated many times before (1, 1, ad 1; 18, 7, ad 2; 15, 1, ad 2; 25, 2). Now man's end in acquiring all temporal goods is that, through their means, he may have some perfection and excellence. Therefore, from this point of view, pride, which is the desire to excel, is said to be the "beginning" of every sin. On the other hand, in the order of execution, the first place belongs to that which by furnishing the opportunity of fulfilling all desires of sin, has the character of a root, and such are riches; so that, from this point of view, covetousness is said to be the "root" of all evils, as stated above (1).

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Structure of Psalm 110

Robert Alden recognizes a chiastic structure to Psalm 110, which highlights God’s oath to the Davidic king:
A v.1 The Lord installs the king
B v. 2 He is sent out to conquer
C v. 3 The day of power
D v. 4 The Lord swears an oath
C1 v. 5 The day of wrath
B1 v. 6 He goes out to conquer
A1 v. 7 The Lord installs the king[1]

The central place of God’s oath in the psalm bespeaks the psalmist's desire to highlight it.[2] Moreover, Alden recognizes other links, such as antonyms “feet” in v.1 and “head” in v.7, and the synonymous relationship between the “enemies,” “nations,” and “countries” in verses 2 and 6. Finally, he mentions the clear link between the “day of power” in verse 3 and the “day of wrath” in verse 5.[3]
[1] Robert L. Alden, “Chiastic Psalms (III): A Study in the Mechanics of Semitic Poetry in Psalms 101-150,” in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 21/3 (1978): 204. The installment of the king is implied by the expression, “He will lift up his head.” Also see, Starbuck, Court Oracles, 160.
[2] Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 350; Randy G. Haney, Text and Concept Analysis in Royal Psalms (New York: Peter Lang, 2002), 124.
[3] Alden, “Chiastic Psalms (III),” 204.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Sunday Readings and Monday Meetings

One of the fundamental assertions made in Jesus scholarship is that there is--to quote Gotthold Lessing--an"ugly ditch" between the teaching of the historical Jesus and the theology of the early Church. One of the most common "criteria of authenticity," the criterion of "embarrassment," basically assumes a significant discontinuity between the teaching of Jesus and faith of the early Christians.

With that in mind, the second reading at Sunday's Mass made me smile:
"For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty..." (2 Pet 1:16).

In other news, Joel Willitts, the new blogger I mentioned a couple of days ago, talks about his conversation with Dr. Scott Hahn over at his Euangelion.

Not to be outdone, I had my own ecumenical experience tonight--I had dinner with Protestant theologian, Ralph Mackenzie. Dr. Mackenzie is a wonderful man, a true believer, who is deeply devoted to furthering the Catholic-Protestant discussion. With Norman Geisler, he has co-authored Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences. Together with Fr. Anthony Saroki, director of vocations for the Diocese of San Diego, we had a truly enjoyable theological conversation which lasted close to three hours in which we discussed our "agreements and differences"--spending more time on the former than on the latter.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Stephen Colbert Interview on the 10 Commandments

Just another reminder to study Scripture... you never know when you might be put to the test.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

New Blogger Added To Euangelion

Michael Bird has welcomed a new contributer to his blog, Euangelion: Joel Willitts.
Willitts is the author of an outstanding article on methodology in historical Jesus research. I look forward to his future posts with great interest.

Welcome to the blogosphere!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Ransom Captive Israel (Part 6)

Be sure to read the previous parts of this article. Begin here.

Restoration in Jesus’ Ministry and the New Testament
As many scholars have noted, Jesus' selection of the twelve apostles and his promise that they will judge the twelve tribes of Israel (cf. Matt 19:28//Luke 22:30) expresses the hope for a pan-Israelite restoration.[1] Paula Fredricksen writes, “… if Jesus indeed taught that ultimately these twelve would judge the twelve tribes, then he was thinking eschatologically. To assemble the twelve tribes… would take a miracle. But that, I think, is what Jesus was expecting.” [2]

Likewise, Jesus’ Galilean ministry in northern Israel may be understood within the larger context of the restoration of the united kingdom of David and Solomon. (Only David and the son of David reigned over all twelve tribes.) As the son of David, Jesus is depicted as restoring the united kingdom of David and Solomon, which was originally composed of all Israel—the northern tribes and those in the southern kingdom of “Judah” (the “Jews”).[3] David Ravens writes, “This restoration did not just entail the Jews alone but something altogether more grand: nothing less than a return to the unity that had once existed under David.”[4]

Moreover, it may be significant that Matthew’s account of the genealogy of Jesus breaks Israel’s history up into three periods: “generations from Abraham to David… from David to the deportation to Babylon… and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ” (Matt 1:17). Noteworthy is the fact that the “return” from exile is never mentioned—possibly implying that Nehemiah and Ezra did not bring about the true restoration, it had yet to be accomplished.

Restoration hopes continue through the book of Acts. It is significant that on the day of Pentecost Jews from all over the Diaspora were gathered in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 2:5-13). Furthermore, the program of the missionary enterprise of the Church described by Jesus in Acts 1:8, “Jerusalem . . . Judea and Samaria . . . the end of earth,” describes the territories of the original Davidic Empire in the reverse order in which they successively were lost.

Paul’s ministry could likewise be read as a mission not only to the Gentiles, but also to “all Israel” scattered to the nations. Paul himself declares to Agrippa that he is on trial “for hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day” (Acts 26:6-7). Indeed Paul is keenly aware of the tribal distinctions within Israel and identifies himself as “Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin” (Rom. 11:1).

Certainly concern for the twelve tribes is also found in other places in the New Testament.

James 1:1: James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, greetings.

Rev. 7:4: And I heard the number of the sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand sealed out of every tribe of the sons of Israel, twelve thousand sealed out of the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand of the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand of the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand of the tribe of Asher, twelve thousand of the tribe of Naphtali, twelve thousand of the tribe of Manasseh, twelve thousand of the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand of the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand of the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand of the tribe of Zebulun, twelve thousand of the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand of the tribe of Benjamin. After this I looked, and behold a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palms branches in their hand” (cf. also Rev. 14:1-5).[5]

Rev. 21:12: It had a massive, high wall, with twelve gates where twelve angels were stationed and on which names were inscribed, (the names) of the twelve tribes of the Israelites.
This hope is also found (perhaps surprisingly) in early Christian sources outside of the New Testament.

Shepherd of Hermas, Sim. 17: Now therefore, Sir, explain to me about the twelve mountains.... 'Listen,' said he, 'these twelve mountains are the tribes which inhabit the whole world.’

Epistula Apostolorum: He answered and said to us, 'Go and preach to the twelve tribes of Israel and to the Gentiles [Eth. add 'and Israel'] and to the land of Israel towards East and West, North and South, and many will believe in me, the Son of God[6]

Instructions of Commodianus XLII: Of the Hidden and Holy People of the Almighty Christ, the Living God": "Let the hidden, the final, the holy people be longed for; and, indeed, let it be unknown by us where it abides, acting by nine of the tribes and a half.... Two of the tribes and a half are left: wherefore is the half of the tribes separated from? That they might be martyrs...

[1]Meyer, The Aims of Jesus, 154; Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 98; Meier, A Marginal Jew, 3:148-53; 176 n. 53; Evans, “The Continuing Exile,” 91.
[2] Paula Fredricksen, Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews (New York: Vintage, 1999), 98.
[3] Sean Freyne notes that the Galileans were Israelites of non-Jewish stock. See Sean Freyne, Galilee, Jesus and the Gospels: Literary Approaches and Historical Investigations (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), 170-71. In addition, see pages 130-31.
[4] Ravens, Luke and the Restoration of Israel, 99.
[5] “Palm branches” were used as symbols of restoration. 1 Macc 13:51; cf. Matt. 21:7; Mark 11:8.
[6] Cited by Oskar Skarsaune, "The Mission to the Jews--A Closed Chapter?" in J. Adna and H. Kvalbein (eds.), The Mission of the Early Church to Jews and Gentiles (Tubingen: JCB Mohr, 2000), p. 70; citing Hennecke-Schneemelcher-Wilson I, 212.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Book Meme

I've been tagged by Aaron Ghiloni for a meme that's been making the rounds. Here are my answers:

1. One book that changed your life:
Francis De Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
Scott Hahn, Letter and Spirit: From Written Text to Living Word

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
Matthias Scheeben, The Mysteries of Christianity

4. One book that made you laugh:
G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

5. One book that made you cry:
Jean Corbon, The Wellspring of Worship [long story...]

6. One book that you wish had been written:
My Life After Winning the Lottery, by Michael Barber

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
William of Ockham, Quodlibeta

8. One book you’re currently reading:
Dom Chautard, The Soul of the Apostolate

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
Hilarin Felder, Christ and the Critics

10. Now tag five people:
Steve Bogners
Scot McKnight
Alan S. Bandy
Amy Welborn
Rev. Robert A. Connor

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Ransom Captive Israel (Part 5)

Evans also makes the important point that though the southern tribes returned from the exile, the northern tribes deported under the Assyrian campaign never did—hence the expression the “lost ten tribes.”[1] This expectation is well attested to in the prophets, as our survey above demonstrated.[2] Sirach 48:10 speaks of the coming of Elijah in the eschatological period, who will “restore the tribes of Jacob.” It is also well attested in the intertestamental and pseudepigraphical writings. Consider just a few examples:

T Naph 5:8: And I looked... and behold a sacred writing appeared to us, which said, 'Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Elamites, Gelachians, Chaldeans, Syrians shall obtain a share in the twelve staffs of Israel through captivity.

T Ben 9:2: But in your allotted place will be the temple of God, and the latter temple will exceed the former in glory. The twelve tribes shall be gathered there and all the nations, until such time as the Most High shall send forth his salvation...

T Ben 10:8-11 "Then shall we also be raised, each of us over our tribe, and we shall prostrate ourselves before the heavenly king. Then all shall be changed, some destined for glory, others for dishonor, for the Lord first judges Israel for the wrong she has committed and then he shall do the same for all the nations.... Therefore, my children, if you live in holiness, in accord with the Lord's commands, you shall again dwell with me in hope; all Israel will be gathered to the Lord.

T Moses 4:8-9 "Now, the two tribes will remain steadfast in their former faith, sorrowful and sighing because they will not be able to offer sacrifices to the Lord of their fathers. But the ten tribes will grow and spread out among the nations during the time of their captivity.

2 Baruch: 77:2: Hear, O children of Israel, behold how many are left from the twelve tribes of Israel.

2 Baruch 78:4-7: Are we not all, the twelve tribes, bound by one captivity as we also descend from one father? Therefore, I have been the more diligent to leave you the words of this letter before I die so that you may be comforted regarding the evils which have befallen you, and you may also be grieved with regard to the evils which have befallen your brothers, and then further, so that you may consider the judgment of him who decreed it against you to be righteous.... For if you do these things in this way, he shall continually remember you. He is the one who always promised on our behalf to those who are more excellent than we that he will not forever forget or forsake our offspring, but with much mercy assemble all those again who were dispersed.

The “pan-Israelite” hope is also well-attested to at Qumran.[3] The eschatological battle described in 1QM assumes the participation of all twelve tribes (3:12-13; 5:1-2). Something similar is found in 1 QT 57:6. Likewise, the Community Rule states:

When the two houses of Israel were divided, Ephraim departed from Judah. And all the apostates were given up to the sword, but those who held fast escaped to the land of the north; as God said, 'I will exile the tabernacle of your king and the bases of your statues from my tent to Damascus' (Amos 5:26-7). The Books of the Law are the tabernacle of the king; as God said, I will raise up the tabernacle of David which is fallen (Amos 9:11) .... and the bases of the statues are the Books of the Prophets whose sayings Israel despised” (7:14-16).

As Schiffman observes, “In most of these texts, there is a fundamental assumption that the restoration is not an event that took place in the Persian period. . . the restoration was still to come.”[4]

Brant Pitre therefore concludes,

Wright has the right insight but the wrong exile. The Jews of the first century were certainly waiting for ‘the End of the Exile’—but not the Babylonian Exile. Rather, they were waiting for the end of the Assyrian Exile, as we saw with the quote from Josephus. For it was only with the end of the Assyrian Exile that all twelve tribes could be restored to Zion.”[5]

To be continued...
[1] Fredricksen writes, “And the redeemed Israel would include more than those Jews currently living in the Diaspora. It would include as well those who, centuries earlier, had been lost: not just the two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, which had survived the Babylonian Captivity in the sixth century b.c.e., but also the ten lost tribes of of the Northern Kingdom that had been swallowed up by Assyria after 722 B.C.E.” Jesus of Nazareth, 95. It has come to my attention recently that some Jewish scholars today contest this claim, arguing that they did in fact return or that they are not in fact “lost”. However, this flies in the face of all of the ancient testimony. See for example, Allen H. Godbey, The Lost Tribes A Myth: Suggestions Towards Rewriting Hebrew History (New York: KTAV Publishing House, 1974).
[2] Also see Shemaryahu Talmon, “’Exile’ and ‘Restoration’ in the Conceptual World of Ancient Judaism,” in Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives (vol. 72 in Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism; ed., James H. Scott; Leiden: Brill, 2001), 107-146; David E. Aune and Eric Stewart, “From the Idealized Past to the Imaginary Future: Eschatological Restoration in Jewish Apocalyptic,” in Restoration, 147-77.
[3] For complete references see Lawrence H. Schiffman, “The Concept of Restoration in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Restoration, 203-21.
[4] Shiffman, “Restoration in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Restoration, 220.
[5] Brant Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoratin Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), 35.