Monday, April 30, 2012

Old Testament Manuscripts

In this follow up to the last post, we discuss important manuscripts (hand-written copies) of the Old Testament.
The Oldest Manuscripts of the Old Testament
Frontispiece of the Leningrad Codex, known as Leningradensis
The original manuscripts (the autographs) written by the sacred authors themselves are no longer extant for any book of the Bible.  The oldest partial copies of the text of any biblical book are to be found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (treated in next post).  However, the oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew of the protocanonical books of the Old Testament is a codex (a book formed by leaves of paper stitched on one side; i.e. the form of book most familiar to us) called Leningradensis, held in the Imperial Russian Library in St. Petersburgh (formerly Leningrad).  Leningradensis is a complete copy of the Masoretic Text written in Galilee around AD 1000.
The Masoretic Text
The Masoretic Text is the standard Hebrew form of the books of the Jewish Bible, the form used for

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Scandalous Jesus: The Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

 The readings for this Sunday’s Masses are truly “scandalous” in more ways than one. 

Our English word “scandal” comes ultimately from the Greek skandalon, “a stumbling block.” A “scandal” is something that causes people to “stumble,” i.e. that offends or injures them in some way. As we will see, the exclusive claims made for and by Jesus in the readings for this Sunday are scandalous to the pluralistic and relativistic culture we live in today. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Text of the Old Testament

 This is part of a series of posts on fundamental Catholic teaching on Scripture.  In this post, we delve into some of the specifics of the human dimension of Scripture: in this case, the original language(s) of the Old Testament.

***The Sacred Page
The original language of large majority of the Old Testament books is Hebrew. Hebrew is the ancestral language of the people of Israel. It is a Semitic language, that is, one of a family of Near Eastern languages that share certain features such as tri-literal word roots (most words are formed from a root consisting of three consonants), the absence of true verbal tenses, and a paratactic syntax. In ancient times, Hebrew was (and continues to be) written from right to left without vowels, using a form of script now called paleo-Hebrew, an example of which is illustrated here, from a ninth-century BC inscription found in northern Israel.

A radical linguistic and literary shift occurred for the people of Israel when much of the population of Judah was deported to Babylon in 597 and 587 BC.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Shyamalan’s “Signs” and the 3d Sunday of Easter

One of my favorite movies is M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs.” It’s a cross between “Places in the Heart” and “Independence Day,” and probably a couple other movies I’m forgetting at the moment. Anyway, one of the marked features of the movie is its foreshadowing. Shyamalan introduces all sorts of strange themes associated with the different characters who surround Fr. Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), an (Anglican?) priest who’s lost his faith and let his ministry: the strange last words of his dying wife, his brother’s obsession with hitting home runs, his son’s asthma, his daughter’s water-drinking compulsion. The significance of these motifs does not become clear to the viewer until the final scenes, where one discovers that a strong hand of Providence was guiding the life of Fr. Hess through it all.

I see an analogy between Shyamalan’s “Signs” and the convictions of the early Christians about the

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

In Dayton This Weekend

I'm speaking in Dayton this weekend.  On Thursday night, its Theology on Tap at the Oregon Express, 336 East 5th Street,  Dayton, starting around 7PM.  I'll be speaking around 7:30PM on "Confession as Spiritual Warfare."  The following night, Friday, I'll be at Emmanuel Catholic Church (149 Franklin St) talking about "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Catholic Faith," starting at around 7PM as well.  If there are any TSP readers in the area, feel free to come out!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Speaking this Saturday in Escondido, CA!

This Saturday I am honored to be the speaker for the Magnificat Prayer Breakfast. Magnificat is a well-known ministry in Southern California. The day begins with Mass at 8am. Breakfast follows from 9am-12pm.

I will be talking a bit about one of my favorite Bible stories: Jesus' exorcism of a boy in Mark 9. In particular, I will look at the cry of the boy's father, who, upon hearing that his son's deliverance is dependent upon his faith, exclaims, "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24). As I will explain, this prayer in some ways encapsulates my personal spiritual journey.

To make reservations call Elise Botch (858) 436-4946 or email:

The event will be held at the address below.
California Center for the Arts
340 N. Escondido Blvd.
Escondido, CA 92025

To learn more about the event, go here.

Humor as a Barometer of Faith

‎"The profound joy of the heart is also the true precondition for 'humor'; and so 'humor,' under a certain aspect, is an indicator, a barometer of faith."
--Pope Benedict XVI

Happy 85th Birthday to the Holy Father!

Friday, April 13, 2012

How Precious is that Flow: The Readings for Divine Mercy Sunday

Behind the readings for this Sunday lies a Gospel text which is never read, but whose influence is felt and whose concepts and images serves as a link between the texts that are read. That passage is John 19:34:
John 19:34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness — his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth — that you also may believe.
The blood and water flowing from the side of Christ is the background for the Divine Mercy image seen by St. Faustina.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Catholic Exegesis: A Streamlined Overview

This is part of a continued series of posts on fundamental issues in Catholic doctrine of Scripture. Building on previous discussions of Catholic inspiration and interpretation, we propose here a six-step streamlined overview of the process of Catholic exegesis.  Comments are welcome below.


The points made above about the interpretation of the literal and spiritual senses of Scripture may be integrated into a six-step process representing an idealized picture of the method of Catholic exegesis: the interpreter, with proper spiritual and intellectual formation, should analyze the text from historical, grammatical, rhetorical, canonical, liturgical, and magisterial perspectives in order to arrive at a comprehensive view of the literal and spiritual senses of a given textual unit of Scripture.

The Splendor of Eschatology: Highlights from Matthew Levering’s Jesus and the Demise of Death

(This post is part of the Patheos roundtable discussion of Matthew Levering's latest book from Baylor University Press.)

What happened to Jesus when he died? And what will happen to me when I die? These two perennial Christian questions are the foci of Matthew’ Levering’s new book, Jesus and the Demise of Death: Resurrection, Afterlife, and the Fate of the Christian (Baylor University Press, 2012).

In this deceptively brief but remarkably rich study of Christian eschatology, Levering puts contemporary scholarship on the fate of Jesus—his descent into hell, bodily resurrection, and ascension into heaven—and the fate of the Christian—the existence and immortality of the soul, resurrection from the dead, and beatific vision—into dialogue with the profound and subtle eschatology of St. Thomas Aquinas.

The result is a fascinating entrée into what Scripture, tradition, and contemporary exegetical, theological, and philosophical discussions have to say about the mystery of the grave and what lies beyond it. Although the book is replete with flashes of insight, several highlights stand out.

The Fate of Jesus as the Paradigm of Christian Eschatology

First, Levering’s fundamental contribution is to show that when it comes to the question ‘What happens to me when I die?’, Christian eschatology must not take its eyes off Jesus of Nazareth. In order to know what will happen to us after death, we must look carefully at what Scripture reveals about the paschal mystery of Jesus.

This connection between the fate of Jesus and the fate of the Christian, though basic, is of critical importance. For one thing, it acts as a corrective to those currents of thought—especially popular in modernity—that are overly apophatic (if not agnostic) about personal eschatology. When it comes to the mystery of death, Christian theology is by no means left in complete darkness. Nor does it need to turn primarily to the anecdotal evidence of Near Death Experiences or to private mystical phenomenon of more or less questionable authenticity for answers to questions about what lies beyond the grave.

Rather, a robustly Christian eschatology looks first and foremost to Jesus Christ as the one whose Passover “from death to life” (John 5:24)—the descent of his living (but disembodied) soul to the realm of the dead, his resurrection to bodily but unending life, and his bodily ascension into the heavenly glory of the Trinity—reveals the truth about the fate of the Church as a whole and the individual Christian in particular. In a word, authentic Christian eschatology must be a Christological eschatology.

Jesus’ Descent into Hell and the Life of the Spiritual Soul

Second, given this Christological framework, Levering’s book is significant for the stress that it puts on two particular doctrines: the descent of Jesus’ disembodied soul into “hell” (as professed in the Apostles’ Creed), and the existence of the spiritual soul of the individual Christian after death. As Levering demonstrates, both of these doctrines have fallen on hard times of late, with modern theologians proposing profoundly incompatible theses about what Jesus did or not do while in the realm of the dead (e.g., N. T. Wright, Hans Urs von Balthasar) and contemporary philosophers and exegetes casting doubts about the very existence of the individual soul, much less whether it continues to exist in the intermediate state between death and resurrection (Nancey Murphy, Joel Green).

With regard to the fate of Jesus’ soul, Levering argues that his descent into hell is not merely about the eschatological triumph over death. In a remarkable convergence of modern scholarship and medieval theology, Levering shows how Aquinas’ theology of Jesus’ descent corroborates the emphasis of contemporary exegetes on the hope for the eschatological restoration of Israel.

For Aquinas, Jesus descends to the dead precisely in order to liberate the “holy Israelites” of the old covenant era and lead them to the heavenly promised land. Using the language of N. T. Wright, Jesus’ descent truly begins “the end of exile”—but not by means of a geographical restoration to the earthly land of Canaan. Rather, Jesus’ descent is about the eschatological return of God’s people from the spiritual realm of the dead to the Paradise once lost. In the words of the prophet Zechariah: “Because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your captives free from the waterless pit” (Zech 9:11).

With regard to the fate of the Christian, Levering draws once more on the anthropology of Aquinas to show why it is eminently reasonable—and profoundly scriptural, to say nothing of tradition—to continue affirm the existence of the spiritual soul after death. In one of the most fascinating chapters in the book, Levering shows that the growingly popular idea that the New Testament does not teach the existence and/or continuation of the human soul as distinct from the body is not on terra firma, either metaphysically or biblically (see Matt 10:28; 2 Cor 5:1-10; Rev 6:9-11; Phil 1:21-23, etc.)

Bodily Resurrection, Beatific Vision, and the Bodily Ascension of Jesus

Third and finally, Levering’s book is commendable for the way in which it holds together the distinct hopes for the beatific vision of the souls in heaven and the bodily resurrection of the dead. In keeping with is method so far, Levering interprets both of these in the light of Jesus’ bodily ascension into heaven and the ultimate restoration of the redeemed to bodily life and beatific vision at the end of time. Indeed, the final discussion of bodily resurrection and beatific vision in Chapter 7 is worth the price of the book.

It is one of the more curious aspects of modern Christian eschatology that it often tends to choose to emphasize either the resurrection of the body—as a restoration to a life not unlike the life of this world, though perfected—or the beatific vision—which is already experienced now by the disembodied souls of the faithful departed in heaven.

By contrast, Levering, following Aquinas, refuses to choose between bodily resurrection and beatific vision, but holds them (eternally) together. By means of his insistence on placing Christian eschatology within a Christological framework, Levering emphasizes that the climax of Jesus’ paschal mystery was not his resurrection but his bodily ascension into heaven. As the ascension of Jesus makes clear, the resurrection of the body is not an end in itself, just as this world—even made new—is not an end in itself. Instead, both humanity and cosmos are ultimately ordered toward the life of the Trinity, of the one God who is “spirit” (John 4:24) and yet who will restored the material cosmos in such a way that it is not annihilated but made new in a “ new heaven and new earth” (Rev 21:1-5).

To be sure, at this point, we reach the threshold the ineffable, even with the aid of the inspired language of Scripture. But that is precisely where the pages of the New Testament are designed to lead us—to the threshold of the eschatological promised land. In this way, by following the path of Jesus and contemplating the mysteries of the end, Levering helps his readers to taste something of the splendor of Christian eschatology and, God willing, to grow in the hope of “the life of the world to come.”

You Guessed It!

You guessed it!  It wasn’t Tim Tebow, Chuck Colson, Rick Warren, Rick Santorum, Bill Hybels, Fr. Robert Barron, Cardinal George, Cardinal Dolan, or George W. Bush, but our very own President Barack Obama who said last Saturday:
"Yesterday, many of us took a few quiet moments to try and fathom the tremendous sacrifice Jesus made for all of us. Tomorrow, we will celebrate the resurrection of a savior who died so that we might live. And throughout these sacred days, we recommit ourselves to following His example."
I suppose by making this comment he risked losing the votes of the "Reason Rally" faithful this Fall, but perhaps such comments will help him pick up the votes of the 77% of Americans who believe in the resurrection.  Certainly his comment makes it look like our President is among that 77%.

All I can say is, Wow.  Let's all rally behind our President and heed his advice on this one.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Who Said It?

Can anyone identify the speaker of the following quote, made over the this past weekend?  
"Yesterday, many of us took a few quiet moments to try and fathom the tremendous sacrifice Jesus made for all of us. Tomorrow, we will celebrate the resurrection of a savior who died so that we might live. And throughout these sacred days, we recommit ourselves to following His example."
Put your suggestion in the comments.  No fair googling! : )

Monday, April 09, 2012

77% of Americans Believe in the Resurrection

Interesting. From Rasmussen:
This Easter weekend, Americans’ belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ remains strong.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 86% of American Adults believe the person known to history as Jesus Christ walked the Earth 2,000 years ago. Just seven percent (7%) don’t share this belief.
Read the details here.

Can you have Scripture without revelation?

Preparing for a course I am teaching on Catholic theology. Tomorrow we deal with "revelation". Here's a quote I just love from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.
 “. . . you can have Scripture without having revelation. For revelation always and only becomes a reality where there is faith. The nonbeliever remains under the veil of which Paul speaks in the third chapter of his Second Letter to the Corinthians. He can read Scripture and know what is in it, can even understand at a purely intellectual level, what is meant and how what is said hangs together—and yet he has not shared in the revelation. Rather, revelation has only arrived where, in addition to the material assertions witnessing to it, its inner reality has itself become effective after the manner of faith. Consequently, the person who receives it also is a part of the revelation to a certain degree, for without him it does not exist. You cannot put revelation in your pocket like a book you carry around with you. It is a living reality that requires a living person as the locus of its presence.”
The source?

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “The Question of the Concept of Tradition: A Provisional Response,” originally published in Offenbarung und Überlieferung ("Revelation and Tradition", [1965]), republished in God’s Word: Scripture—Tradition—Office (eds. P. Hünermann and T. Söding; trans. H. Taylor; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008), 52.

Are Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle Really Morons? Dawkins and Popular Culture

Watch the first 16 seconds of this video if you have never seen it before:

I was reminded of this classic scene a week or so ago, when I read about Richard Dawkin's address to the "Reason Rally" in Washington, D.C.  Dawkins urged the faithful of his congregation to go out into the highways and byways of society and "ridicule [religious believers] with contempt."  You can read about it more here.

I've been following Richard Dawkins' career on and off now for over a decade, beginning with reading

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Aquinas' Five Reasons Christ Rose from the Dead

Aquinas pores over the New Testament and comes up with five reasons it was fitting for Christ to rise from the dead (ST IIIa, q. 53, art. 1). Here they are.

1. It reveals God’s justice. Because Christ humbled himself and died on the cross out of love and obedience to the Father, God lifted him up by a glorious resurrection.

2. It was necessary for the confirmation of our faith in Christ. Thomas cites Paul, who explains that the resurrection attests to the power of God (2 Cor 13:4).

3. It gives us hope for the resurrection of our bodies. This, of course, is the whole point of 1 Corinthians 15. As Paul writes, “Now if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how do some among you say, that there is no resurrection of the dead?" (1 Cor 15:12)

4. It means death to sin and new life in Christ for us. Since we are united with Christ we have not only died with him but been raised with him to newness of life. Thomas cites Romans 6:4, 11: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life… 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

5. It completes the work of salvation. This is an especially important point that is far too often overlooked. Christ’s death is not the only aspect of his work for our salvation. Again, Thomas cites Paul, who explains that Christ was “put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom 4:25). Most people forget about this verse and simply profess that Jesus died for our salvation--but that's only part of it!

Notice that Thomas pays very close attention to Paul’s language in particular here.

Salvation involves two elements: (1) the payment of the debt due to sin, which is accomplished on the cross (e.g., he was “put to death for our trespasses”) and (2) he is raised for our sakes as well (e.g., "for our justification"). Ultimately, Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t for his sake but for ours. The goal of salvation was not simply to save us from sin, but to unite our humanity to God. Peter explains that we are called to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4).

Christ’s resurrection then is the cause of our sharing in the new life of grace―the unity of our humanity with divinity. Salvation isn’t just a matter of being delivered from the punishment due to sin, namely, hell―it also means being delivered to life in God (cf. also ST IIIa q. 56, art. 2; cf. also IIIa q. 57, art. 6.; also see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 654).

Hallelujah―He is Risen!

Resources for the Lectionary Readings for the Easter Vigil

I was hoping to have a post up on the readings for the Easter Vigil. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen this year. However, The Divine Lamp has an extraordinary good list of resources for each of the readings for the Easter Vigil (all 9 lectionary readings), including links to commentaries from Aquinas, Augustine, as well as John Paul II, and much, much more. This is very well done!

There's also a link to the readings for the Extraordinary Form lectionary as well.

By the way, I am grateful that TSP posts and podcasts have been included.

Holy Saturday Podcast fixed

There was a problem with the link to the podcast in the Holy Saturday post. It has been fixed. Thanks to DimBulb for highlighting this.    

"Sodom" Archeologist Speaks to TSP!

Just yesterday The Sacred Page had the great honor of a comment by the leader of the excavation at Tall-el-Hammam ("Sodom and Gomorrah") concerning a post I made several months ago about the remarkable presentation given by his team at the November SBL in San Francisco.  Since the post was old and most readers would miss it, I have decided to post it in full below.  On behalf of The Sacred Page, I offer my sincere thanks to Dr. Steven Collins for taking the time to update us on the progress of his exciting work:

Hello, Sacred Pagers:
My name is Steven Collins, co-Director and Chief Archaeologist of the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (a joint scientific project of Trinity Southwest University and Jordan Department of Antiquities). Someone gave me this link and said that the discussion was (at least)

Jim West: Doubting Thomas and the Ecclesial Context of Faith

Jim West has written an outstanding post on the story of the resurrection appearance to Thomas. I found it so insightful, I just had to reproduce it here:
The day of Jesus resurrection the disciples (except for Thomas, and Judas of course) were gathered in the same location in which they had eaten the ‘Last Supper’ just a few days before. Suddenly the risen Jesus appeared and conversed with them. 
When Thomas next appears he is told what happened and he doesn’t believe it. ‘Unless I see the prints in his hands and push my finger in his side, I won’t believe’. 
The next week the disciples are again gathered in assembly and this time Thomas is present. Jesus chides him for disbelieving the testimony of his compatriots and then challenges him to shove his finger in Jesus’ side. He refuses, and then confesses ‘My Lord and my God’. 
Two simple observations may be worth making: 

Historical Questions About the Resurrection (Special TSP Easter Post and Podcast)

Click below (scroll to the bottom of this post) to listen to the special TSP Easter podcast. Of course, you can also listen on iTunes. (Have you subscribed to the podcast yet?)

St. Paul makes it clear that Resurrection is an essential aspect of Christian faith. He states,
“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.” (1 Cor 15:16–19).
Yet many dispute the historicity of the Resurrection. For example,
“The tiny fraction of New Testament Easter traditions that comprises our bona fide historical evidence—the core empty tomb tradition (Mark 1:1–6, 8) and the appearance list given by Paul (1 Cor 15:3–8)—is woefully inadequate to establish a proposition as bold as the resurrection hypothesis.”—Robert Cavin1
Here I want to look at some of the reasons for such skepticism.

Friday, April 06, 2012

"He Descended into Hell. . .": Did Jesus Really Go To Hell? (Special Holy Saturday Podcast and Post)

UPDATE: Podcast link fixed!

Click below (scroll to the bottom of this post) to listen to our special Holy Saturday podcast. Listen on iTunes or right click the link below. 

On Holy Saturday we meditate on one of the most obscure lines in the Apostles' Creed: "he descended into hell." What does this part of the Creed refer to? Is it biblical?

Moreover, what does it mean to say Christ "descended into hell"? Did he experience the torments of wicked?

Christ and the "Spirits in Prison"

In 1 Peter we read that Christ continued to save souls--even after his death.
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. (1 Peter 3:18–21)
According to this passage, after he died, Christ went to those who died in the flood judgment.

Where were these figures? The "hell of the damned"? Well, not quite. Let's look at this passage in light of ancient Judaism.

The Priestly Theme in the Good Friday Readings

In the readings for today's Liturgy of Good Friday there runs a priestly theme from beginning to end.  We begin with the famous suffering servant song in Isaiah 53.  Several times the song mentions the servant bearing guilt: "surely he has borne our griefs" (v. 4); "the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (v. 6); "he shall bear their iniquities" (v. 11). It's often remarked that this is sacrificial terminology: the servant is a sacrificial lamb that bears guilt.  And that's correct.  However, the servant is a human being, and the human being who bore guilt

Crucifixion: History, Archaeology (with photos!), and Why Jesus Died This Way (Post and Podcast)

Click below to listen to our special Good Friday podcast. Also be sure to come back tomorrow and Sunday for special podcasts on Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday! 

Crucifixion: History, Archaeology, and Why Jesus Died This Way (Good Friday Podcast)(Right click to download)

Today we meditate on the crucifixion of Jesus. In places around the world, images of the Christ crucified will be contemplated and venerated. Indeed, the image of the cross is quite familiar to us. It is part and parcel of Christian iconography.

Perhaps, it is too familiar.

Put frankly, the cross has in many ways been sanitized. To some extent, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) helped bring attention to the actual violence associated with this form of ancient execution. Indeed, the attempt to re-dramatize the violence caused deep controversy.

Some have even claimed that the film exaggerated the violence of Jesus’ death. For example, some complained that the scene of the scourging, a vicious punishment carried out prior to crucifixion, was unrealistic.

Such complaints reveal just how “safe” Christian art has made Jesus’ suffering. As New Testament scholar Mark Goodacre explains, a quick look at ancient sources reveals Gibson actually showed some restraint. Describing the scourging of another first century man named Jesus—Jesus ben Ananias—Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, relates how his bones were “laid bare” (B.J. 6.304)(cf. Goodacre's piece defending the film here).

Ancient Accounts of Crucifixion

The reality is, crucifixion was ghastly. Here I can only offer a brief treatment of the evidence. The fullest study is written by Martin Hengel.1 I’d also recommend Joe Zias’ fine overview here. In addition, be sure to check out Mark Goodacre's fine podcast on the topic.

Josephus describes crucifixion as “the most wretched of deaths” (B.J. 7.203). The first century writer Origen calls it the “utterly vile death” (Commentary on Matthew 27:22). Cicero was horrified that any Roman citizen should crucified—in fact, he wrote that even the mention of the cross was too offensive to be mentioned:
But the executioner, the veiling of the head and the very word ̳cross‘ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears. For it is not only the actual occurrence of these things or the endurance of them, but liability to them, the expectation, indeed the very mention of them, that is unworthy of a Roman citizen and a free man. (Pro Rabirio 16)
Seneca pointed to crucifixion to make the case for suicide. He made the case that no one would fault a person facing such a death for choosing to take their own life in order to avoid having to endure such a death.
Can anyone be found who would prefer wasting away in pain dying limb by limb, or letting out his life drop by drop, rather than expiring once for all? Can any man be found willing to be fastened to the accursed tree, long sickly, already deformed, swelling with ugly weals on shoulders and chest, and drawing the breath of life amid long drawn-out agony? He would have many excuses for dying even before mounting the cross.” (Seneca, Epistle 101 to Lucilius).
(Note the implicit reference here to the effects of the scourging prior to crucifixion—the body is “already deformed” when fastened to the tree.)

Thursday, April 05, 2012

The Last Supper and the Forgiveness of Sins

Check out our special Holy Thursday podcast with Brant Pitre on the Date of the Last Supper. 

"The Last Supper is what transforms Jesus' execution into a sacrifice."

So Scott Hahn frequently tells audiences. He is right of course. As he frequently observes, no one standing at the foot of the cross would have described what was going on as a sacrificial offering. They would have described it as an execution.

What reveals the true meaning of Jesus' death? The Last Supper.

In light of that, here I want to revisit a topic I've looked at before, namely, the imagery of "atonement" at the Last Supper. As Jesus makes clear--in multiple ways, in fact!--his death is what accomplishes the "forgiveness of sins".

His Blood is "Poured Out"
Jesus' language of his blood being "poured out"--something found in all three Synoptic accounts of the Last Supper--evokes the Levitical law code. Not only does it call to mind the language of Leviticus 17, but also the fact that the blood of the sacrificial animals brought for atonement had to be "poured out" (cf. Lev 4:7, 18, 25, 30, 34).

Notably, the ritual of pouring out blood is also linked with the Day of Atonement in the Dead Sea Scrolls (cf. 11Q19 15:3; 23:13). These texts provide strong support for the antiquity of the traditions found in the Mishna which also link the pouring out of blood to the Yom Kippur liturgy (cf. m. Yoma 5:4, 7; cf. also b. Yoma 56b).

In fact, strikingly, certain sources explain that the blood was poured from cups. This is especially apparent in the Talmud (cf. b. Yoma 57b), though this is a much later source.

However, there is a particularly striking parallel between Jesus’ Eucharistic words and Sirach 50:15, which explains that on the Day of Atonement the duties of the high priest apparently involved “pouring out” (ἐξέχεεν) the “blood of the grape” (αἵματος σταφυλῆς) from a “cup” (σπονδείου) (cf. Sir 50:15).

That Jesus has spoken of his “blood” being “poured out” in connection with the wine in the “cup” is strikingly evocative of this text.

Jesus as the Suffering Servant
In Isaiah 53 we read about the Suffering Servant who “poured out his soul to death. . . he bore the sin of many” (Isa 53:12). The Suffering Servant is clearly linked to atonement imagery. He is explicitly described as a “sin-offering,” who, like the scapegoat of Yom Kippur, is said to “bear iniquities" and "he bore the sin of many" (Isa 53:10, 12).

Of course, it is widely accepted that Jesus' saying about his blood being "poured out for many" in Matthew and Mark (cf. Matt 26:27//Mark 14:24) is drawing on this prophecy.

The Account of the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians
In the account of the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul does not mention Jesus’ blood being “poured out.” But this does not mean that he does not see it as having atoning value!

First, it is possible that the very image of Jesus' "blood" would have evoked such imagery for Paul. Expiation is typically associated with Jesus' blood throughout the New Testament books, including in other Pauline letters (cf. Rom 3:25; 5:9; Eph 1:7; 2:13; Col 1:20; Heb 9:12, 14; 10:19, 29, 12:24; 13:12; 1 Pet 1:2, 19; 1 John 1:7; 5:6, 8; Rev 1:5; 5:9; 7:14; 12:11).

Confirmation that Paul has this in mind may be seen in the following.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The Process of Interpretation: Literal and Spiritual Senses

Part of a continued series on the Catholic doctrine of Scripture.

Fundamental to the process of Catholic biblical interpretation is the distinction between the literal and the spiritual sense of the text. This distinction is common among the Fathers, and was articulated by St. Augustine on the basis of a comprehensive philosophy of “signs” and “things.” St. Augustine argued that reality could be divided into “signs”—realities that had signification, pointing beyond themselves to something else—and “things,” realities that had no signification. The words of Scripture were “signs” that pointed to “things” beyond themselves, usually to historical realities. For example, the word “David” is “sign” that refers to a historical “thing,” the founder of the royal dynasty of Israel. When one fully understands all the “things” (realities) to which the “signs” (words of Scripture) refer, one has attained the literal sense of Scripture.

However, St. Augustine recognized that the “things” to which the words of Scripture referred could

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Brant Pitre on the Date of the Last Supper (Special TSP Holy Thursday Podcast)

In this podcast I talk with Brant Pitre about the Last Supper. Specifically, we look at the chronology of Holy Week. In particular, Brant discusses an issue he has long labored over: the question of the date of the Last Supper.

As many know, there appears to be a discrepancy between the Synoptic and Johannine accounts. In the Synoptics, Jesus' Last Supper is a Passover meal. In the Gospel of John, however, there are indications that Passover has not yet been celebrated.

This is a topic Brant will tackle in much greater detail in a massive academic monograph he is just finishing up for Eerdmans. The book is a look at the historical Jesus and the Last Supper. This is a book he has been working for several years--as you can probably tell from this podcast.

Also, be sure to check out Brant's recent book, a runaway best-seller, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper (Doubleday, 2011). I've written a detailed review of this book over at the amazon link provided. In addition, check out Brant's audio presentations on Jesus and the Eucharist here.

Finally, be sure to check out previous podcasts of our show for more on the Eucharist.

Have a Holy Thursday!

Listen on iTunes or click the link below. Look for more information on this podcast over at the corresponding post at 

Feel free to leave your comments below.

Holy Thursday Podcast: Brant Pitre on the Date of the Last Supper

As always, I'd like to express my gratitude to Saint Joseph's Communications, who generously support this podcast. They are also offering our listeners a free copy of the first CD from Scott Hahn's audio set on Jesus' Seven Sayings from the Cross. Also, again, during this Lent as you're making your almsgiving plans, please consider calling them up and giving them a donation, 1-800-526-2151. (And don't forget to thank them for supporting the show!) I'm not sure how to get these sets via mp3 download. Just give them a call and they can help you out. (800-526-2151).

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Jim West Hosts the Latest Biblioblog Carnival

Jim West hosts the latest Biblioblog carnival. He does a fantastic job surveying what bibliobloggers were up to last month.

Check it out!

(The mention of TSP posts in particular and the kind words regarding the birth of our latest child were greatly appreciated!)