Thursday, February 25, 2010

On the Radio Tomorrow!

Tune in tomorrow (Friday), when, as on every Friday, I will be doing my radio show Reasons for Faith Live from 2-3pm Eastern Time (11am-12pm Pacific).

How to hear the show:
Listen on-line: Click here and go to the "Radio" tab (you'll figure it out from there).

Listen on a local AM/FM station: To find a radio station in your area go here.

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The Chief Rabbi Who Became A Catholic and His Book on Jesus

L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, has just run a review praising a new edition of a book that is often overlooked. The book is Il Nazareno and it was written more than seventy years ago by Israel Zoller, the former chief rabbi of Rome who shocked the world by becoming Catholic in 1945. Significantly, the book was written before the rabbi's controversial conversion.

Incidentally, Zoller was baptized with the name "Eugenio". Eugenio, of course, was the name of Pope Pius XII. Zoller took the name to express his admiration for the pope.

The book by Zoller is reviewed by Anna Foa, a Jewish scholar, who is professor of history at the University of Rome "La Sapienza." The review is largely positive.

For more, go here.

It's nice to see this book getting republished. I always enjoy reading the works of Jewish scholars about Jesus. In fact, one of the clear shifts in emphasis in recent historical Jesus scholarship has been the attempt to understand Jesus within the historical context of Second Temple Judaism.[1]

In light of this it is sort of ironic that the works of many important Jewish scholars of the past are often overlooked. Among them all I must highlight the scholarship of Zionist scholar Joseph Klausner, whose work offers some insightful observations[2]. Other important Jewish scholars include Hans-Joachim Schoeps,[3] and David Flusser.[4] While such works were exceptional in their day,[5] Craig Evans is right in assessing the present state of scholarship: “The fruitful progress of the rediscovery of the Judaic character and setting of Jesus is now everywhere seen.”[6] Of course, the major difference between older scholarship and more recent research is that older scholars were a bit less critical in their use of the later rabbinic traditions in reconstructing the Judaism of the first century.

Of course, Israel Zoller's work stands out as unique among these works: none of the other Jewish scholars mentioned here ended up converting to Catholicism.

[1] Colin Brown, “Historical Jesus, Quest of,” 337: “If there is a common theme [of "Third Quest" Jesus scholarship], it lies in the belief that Jesus was not the Jesus of liberal Protestantism or of the New Quest, but a historical figure whose life and actions were rooted in first-century Judaism with its particular religious, social, economic and political conditions.” This emphasis in recent scholarship has been noted by numerous other scholars (see, e.g., Tom Holmén, “The Jewishness of Jesus in the ‘Third Quest,’” in Jesus, Mark and Q: The Teaching of Jesus and its Earliest Records (eds. M. Labahn and A. Schmidt; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 149–50. Indeed, this is part of a larger trend in New Testament scholarship, which emphasizes greater continuity between early Christianity and Judaism. Thus, for example, in Pauline studies the Jewish backdrop of Paul’s letters is increasingly coming into focus. See, to name only a few, E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1977); Mark Nanos, The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul's Letter (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996); Chris VanLandingham, Judgment and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul (Peabody: Hendricksen, 2006).
[2] Joseph Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, Times and Teaching (trans. H. Danby; New York: Macmillan Co., 1925; repr., New York: Bloch, 1989), trans. of Yeshu ha-Notzri (Jerusalem: Stybel, 1922). Particularly useful is Klausner’s survey of the history of Jewish scholarship. For our purposes here it is worth mentioning that Klausner highlights the work of a number of Jewish scholars largely ignored by contemporary writers. For example, Klausner discusses the way Albert Schweitzer’s seminal survey of the history of Jesus research pays hardly any notice to the work of Joseph Salvador, Jésus Christ et sa doctrine: histoire de la naissance de l’église, de son organisation et de ses progrès pendant le premier siecle (2 vols.; 2d. ed.; Paris: M. Lévy Frères, 1864–65). As Klausner observes, that this work was overlooked cannot simply be chalked up to the fact that the work was originally written in French since Salvador’s work had been translated into German by the time of Schweitzer’s writing. Strikingly, not only is Salvador’s work badly mischaracterized and mentioned only in passing, but Schweitzer even misspells his name (“Salvator”)! See Schweitzer, Von Reimarus zu Wrede: Eine Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung, 161. See also Craig A. Evans, “Assessing Progress in the Third Quest of the Historical Jesus,” JSHJ (2006): 36 n. 3.
[3] See Hans Joachim Schoeps, Das Leben Jesu: Versuch einer historischen Darstellung (Frankfurt: Eremiten, 1954). Schoeps own work on Jesus followed his own comprehensive study of ancient Judaism. See Hans-Joachim Schoeps, Jüdisch-christliches Religionsgespräch in 19. Jahrhunderten; Geschichte einer theologischen Auseinandersetzung (Berlin: Vortrupp, 1937).
[4] David Flusser, Jesus in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten (Rowohlts monographien; Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1968). With the current climate of scholarship warming towards such approaches, Eerdmans recently republished two of Flusser’s works into English. See David Flusser, Judaism of the Second Temple Period: Qumran and Apocalypticsm (vol. 1; trans. A. Yadin with D. Bivin; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007); trans. of Yahadut Bayit Sheni: Qumran ve Apocalyptica (Jerusalem: Hebrew University Magnes Press and Yad Ishax Ben-Zvi Press, 2002); and The Sage from Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus’ Genius (trans. R. S. Notley, with J. H. Charlesworth; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007); trans. of Jesus in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1968). For a fuller survey of Jewish scholarship see Donald A. Hagner, The Jewish Reclamation of Jesus: An Analysis and Critique of Modern Jewish Study of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984). Another scholar who was clearly ahead of his time in calling for an approach that rooted Jesus in first-century Judaism was Joachim Jeremias (e.g., Neutestamentliche Theologie: I. Die Verkündigung Jesu [Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1971] and other works cited above).
[5] For a fuller treatment of the neglect and retrieval of the Jewishness of Jesus in the history of research see Keck, Who is Jesus, 22–47.
[6] Evans, “Assessing Progress in the Third Quest of the Historical Jesus,” 39. Scot McKnight (“Jesus of Nazareth,” in The Face of New Testament Studies: A Survey of Recent Research [eds. S. McKnight and G. R. Osborne; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 170], citing words spoken by John Dominic Crossan in public settings, describes how “modern scholarship is in a contest to see who can find the most Jewish Jesus.”

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

New Discovery in Jerusalem

The AP is reporting some big news about important new find in Jerusalem:

JERUSALEM – An Israeli archaeologist said Monday that ancient fortifications recently excavated in Jerusalem date back 3,000 years to the time of King Solomon and support the biblical narrative about the era.

If the age of the wall is correct, the finding would be an indication that Jerusalem was home to a strong central government that had the resources and manpower needed to build massive fortifications in the 10th century B.C.

That's a key point of dispute among scholars, because it would match the Bible's account that the Hebrew kings David and Solomon ruled from Jerusalem around that time.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Temptation, Kings, Nuns and Priests

The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Lent is the temptation of Christ in the desert according to Luke.

Christ is tempted in three ways: through his physical desires (hunger for food), through his eyes (being shown all the glory of the kingdoms of the world), and through the temptation to pride (to stage a magnificent stunt that would win him fame throughout the nation).

This threefold temptation of Christ corresponds to St. John’s warning about the “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” in 1 John 2:15. This threefold categorization has been known in the Church as the “threefold concupiscence,” the unholy Trinity of temptation.

Eve was tempted in the same way. She saw that the fruit was “good for food, pleasing to the eye, and to be desired to make one wise.” “Good for food” is lust of the flesh. “Pleasing to the eye” is lust of the eye. “Desired to make one wise” is a temptation to pride—Eve wants to be wise like God.

Thousands of years later, the king of Israel was commanded by Moses to restrain himself from the temptations of the threefold concupiscence. Deut 17:16-17 forbids the Israelite king from multiplying horses (military might), women (sensual pleasure), and gold/silver (greed/avarice) for himself. These three items correspond to lust of the flesh (women), lust of the eyes (gold), and pride (self-aggrandizing military build-up).

First Kings 10–11 describe how, in his latter years, Solomon, the first Son of David to sit on his father’s throne and a kind of “New Adam” figure in the biblical story line, egregiously fell prey to the threefold concupiscence by multiplying for himself everything Deuteronomy 17 forbids.

In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus, the New Adam, overcoming the threefold concupiscence, and so undoing the sin of Eve, and overcoming the failings of the first Son of David, Solomon. “One greater than Solomon is here” (Luke 11:31).

All Christians share in Christ’s royal anointing and therefore must take steps to overcome lust, avarice, and pride. In particular, in the Catholic tradition, those who enter the religious life take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. These vows are radicalized ways to mortify the threefold concupiscence: lust of the flesh (chastity), lust of the eyes (poverty), and pride (obedience). We should view these “evangelical counsels” as means toward a profound conformity to Christ and his power to overcome temptation. Even Catholic diocesan clergy, who do not take formal vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, nonetheless de facto commit themselves to this lifestyle. It seems fitting that they should, since they are in a sense the viceroys of the New Israel (Gal 6:16), and therefore should commit themselves more radically to the self-denials required of anyone who would rule over the people of God (Deut 17:16-17).

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Back from St. Michael's Parish Houston

While Brant, Michael, and Dr. Hahn are partying in Lubbock, I've been down to Houston to a wonderful parish there, St. Michaels. I gave my conversion story on Thursday night, and spoke to a women's retreat on Friday morning about the Cross as both a priestly and nuptial act on the part of Jesus the Christ. I can't say enough good things about the people and hospitality at St. Michael's parish. I think we all had a great time.

The talks I gave, although in different versions, are available on CD at

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tweeting Catholic Bible Conference in Texas

As I mentioned in a previous post, I will be in Lubbock, TX, this weekend with my co-blogger Brant Pitre and our good friend Scott Hahn for a Catholic Bible Conference. Specifically, we will be looking at the biblical roots of the Sacraments. I will be tweeting the conference on Twitter.

I am always excited to head out to Lubbock. This the third year in a row Brant and I have been invited to do a Biblical conference there (this is the second year Dr. Hahn will join us). Over that time we have come to know and love Bishop Placido Rodriguez, who always comes out to be part of the event and generously lend his support. He is an inspiring example to us of Christian leadership. He is a shepherd who truly loves the Lord--and we always have fascinating conversations with him! In addition, the people are absolutely on fire to study Scripture. It's great being there with people who love Jesus! I might also add that the conferences in Lubbock are always especially well-organized (despite my usual efforts to muck this up!).

Here are the talk titles for the weekend:

Scott Hahn:
"So help me God: An Overview of the Seven Sacraments"
"Lord, Have Mercy: The Healing Power of Confession"

Brant Pitre:
"Confirmation: The Sacrament of Martyrdom"
"Ephesians 5 and St. Paul's Life-Changing Vision of the Christian Family"

Michael Barber:
"Born from Above: Baptism and the New Creation"
"'A Priest Forever': Priesthood in Scripture"

Brant Pitre and Michael Barber:
"Tag Team Talk on John 6 and the Eucharist"

I'm especially excited about the last talk. Brant and I have never done a "tag-team" presentation before, but I think it will be fun. During Q&A sessions at these sorts of conferences we always have fun interacting with each other. People often come up to me saying that we are really funny as a team. I'll let you know how it goes.

Finally, I ought to add that we'd love to get comments here from anyone who actually attends the event. Feel free to drop us a hello in the comment box.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"When you fast. . .": An Ash Wednesday Post

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the traditional period of "Lent". "Lent" is an old English word for "Spring", but of course for Christians it is more than a recognition of the changing of seasons, it is a call for a change of heart.

I recently did an hour-long radio interview on the practice of Lent on Catholic Answers radio, the podcast of which can be heard here. I'm not going to try to reproduce all I said there in this post.

In addition, to that interview I can also mention some helpful resources. For a great overview of some of the issues relating to Lent, see this fine piece by Jimmy Akin. I'd also highly recommend the excellent article from the Catholic Encyclopedia which is available for free over at inimitable In addition, my good friend Taylor Marshall has a helpful overview of the day's fast prescriptions on his site.

Here I wanted to just touch on a few issues.

The Antiquity of the Pre-Easter Fast

One thing that should be underscored is that the observance of a pre-Easter period of penance has deep roots in the early Church. Eusebius records a letter written by Irenaeus (2nd cent.) to the bishop of Rome, Victor I, in which he talks about the fact that there was controversy in the early Church as to how "the fast" should be celebrated. Note that while there was a debate about how long exactly "the fast" should be practiced, there was apparently no question in any one's mind that there should be some sort of period of penance prior to the annual celebration of the Lord's death and resurrection. Irenaeus also testifies to the antiquity of this practice.
"For the controversy is not only concerning the day, but also concerning the very manner of the fast. For some think that they should fast one day, others two, yet others more; some, moreover, count their day as consisting of forty hours day and night. 13. And this variety in its observance has not originated in our time; but long before in that of our ancestors. It is likely that they did not hold to strict accuracy, and thus formed a custom for their posterity according to their own simplicity and peculiar mode. Yet all of these lived none the less in peace, and we also live in peace with one another; and the disagreement in regard to the fast confirms the agreement in the faith" (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 5, 24, 12).
Jesus' Expectation that His Disciples Would Fast

Why did the practice emerge? Well, I explain the logic of penance in greater detail in my interview, but suffice it to say, it is important to point out that according to the Gospels Jesus himself clearly expected his own followers to fast:
And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matt 6:16-18)

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. (Mark 2:18-20)
Notice that Jesus assumes that his followers would fast. In fact, as the second episode recounted above indicates, the idea that someone would not fast would have been unthinkable to an ancient Jew.

The Torah's Command to "Afflict Yourselves"

Indeed, the practice of fasting and of "afflicting oneself" in penance has deep roots in the Old Testament and Judaism.

Such practices were especially associated with Yom Kippur:
And it shall be a statute to you for ever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves, and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you; 30 for on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the Lord. 31 It is a sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute for ever. (Lev 16:29-30)
The reference here is obviously to penitential self-denial, especially abstinence from food, e.g., fasting. That this is how this passage was understood is abundantly clear when one reads the Mishna. The rabbis explain: "On the Day of Atonement, eating, drinking, washing, anointing, putting on sandals, and marital intercourse are forbidden" (m. Yoma 8:1).

Not a "No" but a "Yes"

Finally, as I explained in the interview I linked to above, Lent is NOT about simply saying "No"--it's about saying "Yes". If Lent is simply understood in terms of a dour season or as a kind of spiritual "ultimate challenge" (e.g., an attempt at some ridiculously difficult penance for the sake of accomplishment), one would miss the whole point of the season.

Lent is about saying "Yes"--yes to loving God with all that we have and all that we are. True, this does involve saying "no" to certain things we may be attached to, but more than anything else, it is a "yes"--a yes to refusing to "gratify the desires of the flesh" (cf. Gal 5:15), in order to live a life more devoted to Christ our Lord.

I always turn to the story of Jesus and the rich young man as an example of the need for us to learn self-denial. I'll leave you with these thoughts:

Sunday, October 11, 2009: Liturgy Reflection from JP Catholic University on Vimeo.

Original Sin Abolishes Fatherhood

One of my students at JP Catholic, Sr. Mary Agnes, has a post up on her new blog about the absentee and abusive fatherhood she has witnessed in her work. She is part of a religious community which is devoted to caring for abused children. She knows what she is talking about. Her order runs an orphanage in New Hampshire, St. Charles,--and, as CBS news explained in a story they did on them, they really do "run" it.

Her post reminded me of this quote which I've pulled out of the file entitled, "the Profound Wisdom of John Paul II":

"Original sin attempts, then, to abolish fatherhood, destroying its rays which permeate the created world, placing in doubt the truth about God who is Love and leaving man only with a sense of the master-slave relationship."

--John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (Toronto: Knopf, 1994), 228 (emphasis in the original).

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Popes on "the Great Washington"

Given that today is George Washington's birthday--Happy Presidents Day!--I thought I'd say something about the man.

In fact, since turning in my doctoral thesis (please pray for me!) I've been resisting the urge to read much biblical theology out of fear that I might discover something that might make me regret something I said in the dissertation. . . or for that matter, failed to include (too late to change it now!). Thus, in my free time I've turned my attention to a different topic: the American revolution.

In particular, I've become fascinated with George Washington, whom we Americans celebrate today. Even apart from the myths, the man was truly remarkable.

First and foremost, there was his enormous size. Washington stood at a looming 6 feet, 3 inches--much taller than the average height of an 18th century American (5' 7").

This of course made him an easy target on the battle field. Military commanders of the period were typically shorter--men of smaller stature were far more likely to survive battles and advance in rank (e.g., think of Napolean!). However, despite the fact that he frequently rode to the front of the lines during combat, he was astonishingly never wounded in battle. In fact, reports of his heroics on the battlefield--and his seeming invincibility--read more like an account in a comic book of a superhero able to dodge bullets than historical records. And yet, so it was. Of course, Washington attributed it all to Providence.

Notably, Washington was very open to Catholicism and urged his compatriots to resist the deep anti-Catholic bigotry that was common in America at the time. Above all, he was grateful to Catholic France for the aid they gave to America in their struggle with the British. In addition, he was apparently rather close to the first American Catholic prelate, Archbishop John Carrol of Baltimore.

In his "Letter to Roman Catholics" (March 15th, 1790), President Washington wrote the following:

While I now receive with much satisfaction your congratulations on my being called, by an unanimous vote, to the first station in my country; I cannot but duly notice your politeness in offering an apology for the unavoidable delay. As that delay has given you an opportunity of realizing, instead of anticipating, the benefits of the general government, you will do me the justice to believe, that your testimony of the increase of the public prosperity, enhances the pleasure which I should otherwise have experienced from your affectionate address.

I feel that my conduct, in war and in peace, has met with more general approbation than could reasonably have been expected and I find myself disposed to consider that fortunate circumstance, in a great degree, resulting from the able support and extraordinary candor of my fellow-citizens of all denominations.

The prospect of national prosperity now before us is truly animating, and ought to excite the exertions of all good men to establish and secure the happiness of their country, in the permanent duration of its freedom and independence. America, under the smiles of a Divine Providence, the protection of a good government, and the cultivation of manners, morals, and piety, cannot fail of attaining an uncommon degree of eminence, in literature, commerce, agriculture, improvements at home and respectability abroad.

As mankind become more liberal they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protection of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations in examples of justice and liberality. And I presume that your fellow-citizens will not forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishment of their Revolution, and the establishment of their government; or the important assistance which they received from a nation in which the Roman Catholic faith is professed.

I thank you, gentlemen, for your kind concern for me. While my life and my health shall continue, in whatever situation I may be, it shall be my constant endeavor to justify the favorable sentiments which you are pleased to express of my conduct. And may the members of your society in America, animated alone by the pure spirit of Christianity, and still conducting themselves as the faithful subjects of our free government, enjoy every temporal and spiritual felicity"
I could write much more, but I will leave that for historian bloggers.

Here I thought I'd honor Washington's memory today by quoting two papal documents which speak glowingly of the man. Suffice it to say, such high papal praise for a political figure is rarely found in the writings of the modern day popes:

Pope Leo XIII, Longinqua (Encyclical Letter, January 6, 1895):
"Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional Republic the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established amongst you; and at the very time when the popular suffrage placed the great Washington at the helm of the Republic, the first bishop was set by apostolic authority over the American Church. The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence that the United States ought to be conjoined in concord and amity with the Catholic Church. And not without cause; for without morality the State cannot endure-a truth which that illustrious citizen of yours, whom We have just mentioned, with a keenness of insight worthy of his genius and statesmanship perceived and proclaimed. But the best and strongest support of morality is religion. She, by her very nature, guards and defends all the principles on which duties are founded, and setting before us the motives most powerful to influence us, commands us to live virtuously and forbids us to transgress."

Pope Pius XII, Sertum Laetitiae, 3 (Encyclical Letter, November 1, 1939):
"When Pope Pius VI gave you your first Bishop in the person of the American John Carroll and set him over the See of Baltimore, small and of slight importance was the Catholic population of your land. At that time, too, the condition of the United States was so perilous that its structure and its very political unity were threatened by grave crisis. Because of the long and exhausting war the public treasury was burdened with debt, industry languished and the citizenry wearied by misfortunes was split into contending parties. This ruinous and critical state of affairs was put aright by the celebrated George Washington, famed for his courage and keen intelligence. He was a close friend of the Bishop of Baltimore. Thus the Father of His Country and the pioneer pastor of the Church in that land so dear to Us, bound together by the ties of friendship and clasping, so to speak, each the other's hand, form a picture for their descendants, a lesson to all future generations, and a proof that reverence for the Faith of Christ is a holy and established principle of the American people, seeing that it is the foundation of morality and decency, consequently the source of prosperity and progress."

Happy President's Day!

Phoenix Rising to L.A.: Will it be Bishop Olmsted?

Apparently, I'm not the only one thinking Bishop Olmsted may get the papal nod. Thomas Peters, a.k.a., the American Papist, is likewise discussing the prospect of a "Phoenix-Rising to L.A." I am grateful that he mentioned my posts on the potential papal picks (part one, part two), which he kindly described as providing "a withering amount of information".

Of course, we welcome all of you "Papist" readers!. We hope you'll give this site a good look and maybe even "bookmark" it. :)

In the end, only time will tell if Bishop Olmsted becomes the successor to Cardinal Mahony. It's really anyone's guess who the next archbishop of L.A. will be.

However, I hasten to add that my speculation wasn't simply based on flights of fancy. What I tried to do is offer an "educated" guess, devising a careful methodology with criteria for my speculation. Instead of simply looking at high profile ecclesiastical figures I tried to focus my attention on those already identified as likely candidates. I also noted that Rocco apparently has some inside information that the list of the final three names is split between Anglo and Hispanic names.

My speculation was based on this and proceeded as follows. First, I looked at the leading Hispanic prelates in America who have all been rumored to be under consideration for the job.

Second, I tried to offer an in-depth analysis of the Holy Father's latest episcopal appointments in the hopes of identifying the characteristics of a Benedict large-see Ordinary. As I explained, unless the pope picks a Latino, it seems to me Bishop Olmsted emerges as the likely candidate. Not only has he had experience running a major diocese with a large Hispanic population, he also seems to possess the kind of curriculum vitae Pope Benedict looks for in his major appointments: (1) experience in priestly formation, (2) a Roman background, (3) an academic background, etc. Other names might be mentioned, but if we limit our speculation by focusing on the pope's recent track record, it seems to me--and I wish someone else would do a similar analysis--Bishop Olmsted emerges as the front runner.

Still, again, it's anyone's guess. And I'm confident that the Holy Father will do a better job picking a shepherd than I would!

Finally, I might add that if Bishop Olmsted does get the job, I'll be curious to see how many writers (if any) use my "Phoenix-Rising" blog heading to announce the news. Note the time stamp here: February 15, 2010--it was used here first!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Scenes from the 7th Annual Biblical Studies Conference

The conference was a blast. My friend Matt Arnold put together this "behind the scenes" video. Next up: Lubbock, TX (check out the post below!).

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Beatitudes of Jesus

Tomorrow’s Gospel reading at Mass is taken from Jesus’ sermon in Luke 6, a passage with many similarities to the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. Specifically, in the reading of Luke we hear Jesus issue four Beatitudes.

Much has been written about the Beatitudes and I can hardly summarize it all here. However, I thought I’d draw attention to a particular Dead Sea Scroll fragment some scholars think has significance for understanding Jesus’ teaching.

In 4Q525 Frags. 2 col. ii + 3 we read:
1 with a pure heart, and does not slander with his tongue. Blank Blessed are those who adhere to her laws, and do not adhere 2 to perverted paths. Blank Bles[sed] are those who rejoice in her, and do not burst out in paths of folly. Blank Blessed are those who search for her 3 with pure hands, and do not pursue her with a treacherous [heart.]Blank Blessed is the man who attains Wisdom, Blank and walks 4 in the law of the Most High, and directs his heart to her ways, Blank and is constrained by her discipline and alwa[ys] takes pleasure in her punishments; 5 and does not forsake her in the hardship of [his] wrong[s,] and in the time of anguish does not abandon her, and does not forget her [in the days of] terror, 6 and in the distress of his soul does not loathe [her. Blank] For he always thinks of her, and in his distress he meditates [on her, and in all 7 his life [he thinks] of her, [and places her] in front of his eyes in order not to walk on paths […] 8 […] together, and on her account eats away his heart […] 9 […] … and with kings it shall make [him s]it […] 10 [with] his [sc]eptre over … […] brothers … […] 11 […] Blank […] 12 [And] now, sons, lis[ten to … and do] not reject […] 13 […] … the evil of […]
What is striking here is that not only do we find Beatitudes, but that we find some that are in many ways similar to the ones pronounced by Jesus. Evans highlights some of the parallels:
“[Blessed is he who walks] with a pure heart” (4Q525 2:1).
“Blessed are the pure in heart” (Matt 5:8)

“Bles[sed] are those who rejoice in her” (4Q525 2:2)
“Blessed are you when men revile you . . . rejoice and be glad” (Matt 5:11–12)

Blessed is the man who . . . in the distress [or ‘meekness’] of his soul, does not despise her” (4Q525 2:3–6)
“In the meekness [or ‘meekness’] of righteousness bring forth [your] words. . .” (4Q525 4:20)
“Blessed are the meek” (Matt 5:5).[1]
Moreover, Puech has argued that the fragment originally contained 8 + 1, mirroring what we find in Matthew 5, a view picked up by Evans[2] as well as VanderKam and Flint.[3]

Furthermore, as one continues to read, it seems apparent that 4Q525 is linked with eschatological terminology used in other sectarian texts. This has led some to see the fragment as relating an eschatological vision,[4] something also suggested by the references to affliction, e.g., the eschatological tribulation, a theme my co-blogger Brant Pitre has examined a great deal.[5]

All of this is interesting and leads to a broader backdrop which potentially shines more light on the implications of Jesus’ Beatitudes. As Flint writes, “One contribution of 4Q525 is . . . to show that the structure of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 most likely was familiar to many Jews in the first century b.c.e.”[6]

[1] Craig Evans, “Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran Cave 4,” in Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature; eds. C. A. Evans and P. W. Flint; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 95.
[2] Craig Evans, Jesus and His Contemporaries: Comparative Studies (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 142.
[3] See É. Puech, “4Q525 et les péricopes des Béatitudes en Ben Sira et Matthieu,” Revue biblique 138 (1991): 90-106; James VanderKam and Peter Flint, The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their Significance for Understanding the Bible, Judaism, Jesus and Christianity (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002), 336-338; Peter Flint, “Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in The Historical Jesus in Context (eds. A.J. Levine, D. C. Allison, and J.D. Crossan; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 124–25.
[4] Jacqueline C. R. de Roo, “Is 4Q525 a Qumran Sectarian Document?,” in The Scrolls and the Scriptures: Qumran Fifty Years Later (eds. S. Porter and C. A. Evans; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1997), 338–367.
[5] Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of the Exile (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005).
[6] Flint, “Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” 124.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Come Join us in Lubbock, TX

Scott Hahn, Brant Pitre and I are looking forward to the big conference coming up in Texas next weekend. We will be discussing the Sacraments in Scripture.

Don't miss out. Find out more here!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Does Hebrews Envision a New Ministerial Priesthood?

Since Pope Benedict has declared this the "Year for Priests," and since I am now teaching at a Catholic seminary, I've been doing some thinking and writing about the origins of the ministerial priesthood. 
In the course of this research, I went back to the council of Trent's decree on the ministerial priesthood, and found that in key text, the Council rooted its teaching on the institution of the ministerial priesthood in a text from the epistle to the Hebrews:
"Sacrifice and priesthood are so united by the ordinance of God that both have existed in every law. Since, therefore, in the New Testament the Catholic Church has received from the institution of the Lord the holy, visible sacrifice of the Eucharist, it must also be confessed that there is in the Church a new visible and external priesthood (canon 1), into which the old has been translated (Heb 7:12). Moreover, that this was instituted by that same Lord and Savior (canon 3), and that to the apostles and their successors in the priesthood was handed down the power of consecrating, of offering and administering His body and blood, and also of forgiving and retaining sins, the Sacred Scriptures sho and the Church has always taught. 
(canon 1)." (Council of Trent, Session XXIII)

Several things are interesting about this text, not least of which is the language used to describe what is now commonly called the 'ministerial' priesthood. For one thing, Trent refers to this as the "visible and external priesthood," which presents a contrast to the priesthood of all the baptized, which I presume would be an "invisible and interior" priesthood. Moreover, Trent also speaks of the "translation" of the old priesthood into the new. This is intriguing language, perhaps not one would expect when thinking of the establishment of a new priesthood. 

Finally, it is interesting that Trent focus on Hebrews 7:12, since the context of that seems to me to suggest both (1) that Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek, and (2) that there has been "a change in the priesthood," not a dissolution of the priesthood:

11 Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levit'ical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for
another priest to arise after the order of Melchiz'edek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is 
necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. (Heb 7:11-14)

Notice also that the context is specifically priestly ministers--i.e., those who "serve at the altar" (Heb 7:13), which was something that was never done by all Israelites, even though they were all "a kingdom of priests" (cf. Exod 19:5-6). What is fascinating about this emphasis on service "at the altar" in combination with a "change in the priesthood," is that Heb 7:13 is not the last reference to an altar. Rather, in Hebrews 13 we find the following:

We have an altar from which those who serve in the tent have no right to eat." (Heb 13: 10)

What "altar" is the author referring to? It seems clear to me that  is a reference to the eucharistic sacrifice, from which Christians may eat, but not the levitical priests in the Jerusalem Temple. If right, this is highly significant: if Hebrews sees the Eucharistic table as an "altar" of sacrifice, one would be hard pressed to deny (especially in a first-century context) that the author also saw the Christian ministers of the altar as priestly figures. This becomes suggestive when we recall that the context of this statement is surrounded by an inclusio focused on obeying the Christian "leaders," who are distinct from the lay faithful (Heb 13:7, 17, inclusio). 

In sum, at first glance, it seems to me that it is precisely in Hebrews that we find some of the most intriguing references to a new priesthood, centered on the new altar of the eucharistic sacrifice. Of course, unlike the Levitical sacrifice, the eucharistic banquet would be an
unbloody sacrifice of bread and wine, but  that is precisely what Melchizedek offers in Gen 14:18, and why he is appropriate type for Jesus' own priesthood and the priestly leaders of the new covenant.

Year of the Priest: Priesthood in the OT (audio)

OK, we're going to try this again.

A couple of days ago I posted a link to some talks on the priesthood in the OT from a Catholic perspective, but the link didn't work.

The final link is now (theoretically) up and running, so click on the title of this post if you want to listen.

These talks were part of Adult Faith Formation for the City of Steubenville, an effort of all the city's parishes.