July 31, 2009

Jesus, in Nazareth, in the Spirit

I posted on 'spiritual biology' yesterday to reveal my bias. I believe what I wrote is true in reality, not just in theological principle. I also believe it describes the life of Jesus Christ in Nazareth. As the firstborn of a new race, he lived a new kind of life. He had a body, soul and spirit that functioned together and properly, giving him an advantage in knowing the Father that no human being before him had ever enjoyed.

The Israelites were commanded to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength but Christ attained true worship in the spirit. According to the Gospels, he definitely achieved that close communion with God by the time of his ministry. The question I'm trying to answer somewhat more definitively is... how much earlier in life did that spiritual connection develop? A good start at a generalized answer might be, "Somewhere between learning to walk and learning to walk on water." But when?

Various theological traditions might place that point before age 12, after age 12, or not until the day of the Baptism itself. But fooey on "theology". Historically, it happened. Whether gradually or suddenly, by some point it had happened. Approximately, when? And what possible grounds do we have for concluding as such, even generally?

I'm going to try and answer these questions a bit less vaguely than is usually done - I hope. We obviously don't see the gospels giving us a direct answer on this, but it's an important issue. What did Jesus do for "about thirty" years to earn the audible praise of God at the Jordan River? Was his devotion purely soulish? Or was there a mystical connection, and if so from what age?

I'm also going to try leaving "theologic" completely out of things. In other words, I'm going to take a stab at answering this question historically, from the scriptures. I may fail. Or not. Perhaps we shall see.

Stay tuned...

July 29, 2009

Body, Soul and Spirit

Human beings are born with a body and soul. Once born from above, we gain a living spirit and that spirit becomes one with the living Spirit of God. All three can sense. My body has five senses through which I experience the physical world. My soul has a mind, will and emotions through which I experience my self. My spirit has the ability to sense God.

It's beside the point to debate whether the spirit is or becomes part of the soul. It also does not matter whether babies are born without spirit or with a dead spirit ('inherited from Adam & Eve') that becomes alive when one is "born of God". What matters is that a pagan can pray to a stone idol, pretend to hear instructions from it, and imagine its pleasure or displeasure. But a christian can do more.

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is not metaphorical. It is metaphysical. And "spirit" is every bit as real as concrete. Yes, there is a way in which faith always remains blind but true christianity is about spiritual experience, as frightening as that may be. Faith is necessary because it takes courage to believe what your spirit is telling you and confidence to keep believing what you've sensed when the sensation isn't so present.

If you suddenly grew a second set of arms they'd have to be strengthened, but at least you'd already know how to use arms. How does one grow accustomed to the proper use of a spirit when one has been living by mind, will and emotions for so long? It doesn't help, either, when one is trained to use ones soul, primarily, in pursuit of the spiritual.

Mainline theologians usually treat this distinction as if it were minor and mostly academic, which makes sense because Institutional Christendom does not like to promote what it cannot control. If ecclesiastical authorities taught that the headship of Christ were direct over every believer, functionally, they'd have a harder time denying the functional priesthood of ever believer.

Regular readers know I don't get into theology. But I don't consider this theology. I consider this biology.

Your spirit is as real as your lungs, and as different from your soul as the lungs are from the heart. The soul is the seat of the spirit like the heart pumps oxygen through the blood, but the blood is not oxygen and the blood cannot provide life to the body without air first filling the lungs.

In the same way, the human soul is a beautiful part of how God intends men and women to direct themselves in the physical world, but the soul must learn how to be in subjection to the spirit. Otherwise, christians are just pagans pretending to be spiritual.

By the way, I know this to be true both by experience and from the scriptures. But I won't try to prove it from either. First, you can argue anything by quoting scripture. Second, if you don't actually work this out experientially, it doesn't matter whether you 'believe' it.

Why does this matter? Because a great many christians treat the reality of a christian's intimacy with God as if it were largely make-believe. Faith is not about believing something that seems unreasonable. Faith is being confident in that which you know, even when 90% of everyone else in your city thinks you're insane. "Belief" comes when you accept an argument, choose to overlook its flaws, and/or enjoy the conditions of having been persuaded. "Confidence" comes only from knowledge and experience.

Faith is being confident in that which we cannot see. Spirit is invisible.


July 26, 2009

Reconstructing Nazareth

Here's an exploration I did a month ago. How much of this is 'theological assumption' and how much can be called 'spiritual events attested by scripture'? I'm still trying to decide, so if you care to judge, please do let me know:

The Father sent the Son into the world. Jesus lived in Nazareth. He grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and with man. In him was life. And that life was the light of the world.

The law had come through Moses, but He came to fulfil the whole law. In the course of his life, Jesus of Nazareth filled up all righteousness. For over three decades, the Father loved the Son, right there in the hills of Galilee. As he grew up, the Son loved the Father right back. And when grown, this Nazarene man loved his God with all his heart, mind, soul and strength. Jesus also loved his neighbors as himself, and he cared for the least of them as if he was loving His Father.

He was born to save what had been lost - that a Man might live life to the fullest. As he grew, Jesus learned to hear his Father's voice and follow Him like a sheep does its shepherd. His righteousness far outclassed that of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The son of Man obeyed his heavenly Father because he cared about Him more than anything else in the world. The Nazarene denied his own self daily, and went where his Father wanted him to go. This was his life. He was THE life, like a resurrection, like God's "second Adam". The son of man restored God's hope of glory in what Man could be like, full of Life, on the Earth.

The Nazarene, Jesus, spent decades in a small hill town, living life to its fullest. The Son was beloved by his Father, and the Father was pleased with his Son. This life was not just spent preparing. This life was a joy to the Father, a big part of the reason he came.

Okay, so what do you think? Is this a theological reconstruction? Or are these spiritual-historical events, testified to by scripture?

Reconstructing Spiritual Events

History deals in probabilities. Without evidence, it’s difficult to evaluate fantastic claims, such as miracles. However, if we accept the record of the Gospels as reliable testimony, then the Resurrection counts as an historical event - no problem. So dealing with miracles is easy as pie.

What’s more difficult, I’m finding, is to render a reasonable account of spiritual events. I am uncomfortably finding it more difficult than I’d expected to reconstruct Jesus’ spiritual life in Nazareth without depending on theo-logical assumptions.

I’m trying hard to stick to the attestations of spiritual encounter – such as the Jordan baptism, the Transfiguration, and personal claims made by Jesus about his connection with the Father, as early as age 12. Overall the evidence shows a definite spiritual history between Jesus and God, which developed over time. The first challenge there is to boil down what must have happened during that process, event-wise, without editorializing or characterizing the reconstruction in order to romanticize it.

I have no problem saying there was something big going on in Nazareth. It happened. It was spiritual. It developed. It had (and has) tremendous significance as a part of the Lord’s History on Earth. And I do believe we can extrapolate a basic, relatively minimal outline of practical aspects which must have been part of that development, historically. But reconstructing Nazareth has to be an extra careful task. We can't just say whatever we want to say.

For example: It’s easy to say I believe everything I said in yesterday’s post is true. But some elements of that post should be called romantic, for the way I expressed them. Some of them definitely relied on theo-logical assumptions, in the way I tied them together. And yet some of them, I believe, may be fairly described as “spiritual events, attested by scripture”. The categories might overlap, but all I'm trying to say is that I'm trying to stick to this third category as much as possible. And I’m finding out it’s even tougher than I thought.

For a more specific example: Paul told Philippi that, before coming to earth as a man, Jesus emptied himself. (Php 2) Paul told Colossae that, after ascending up to heaven, Jesus was indwelled by all the fullness of God. (Col 1) Therefore, we may conclude, somewhere in between those two points there must have been a filling process. I’m perfectly comfortable categorizing all three of those points as “spiritual events, attested by scripture”. But what IS "emptying" and "filling"? I take it to mean Jesus was actually, actively, spiritually filled up with God. To me, that's not "theo-logic", it's a spiritual event. But someone else will say I'm still interpreting Paul's statements and so, technically, I'm relying on theo-logic.

Even given my reading, there's another problem. I'm not sure whether I have to employ “theo-logic” to conclude WHEN that filling-up process took place. Someone else might say it all happened after the cross. I think it began gradually, during his earthly life. But WHY do I draw that conclusion? Is it because of other scriptural attestations? Or because of theo-logical assumptions?

I don't like dealing with theoretical theo-logic. I try to think exclusively in terms of concrete elements - people and events. And yes, spirit is "concrete". But this is really, really difficult.

Feel free to school me here. Meanwhile, I'm heading back into the Gospels, again....

July 25, 2009

Eden... Nazareth... Thessalonica...

Jesus Christ was God's second Adam - God's second chance to have a man live the way He'd always wanted, on Earth. Of course, the baby Jesus was not omnipotent in that manger. He had emptied himself before coming into his creation. He had to learn, grow, increase and be filled up again with G0d's righteousness.

In Him was Life. He was in very nature God. But that Life had to Grow. His divine nature developed along with his human body and soul. He grew. By the time he was "about thirty", he was grown. But before he was grown, he was growing. While growing, he was also - very significantly - living.

Nazareth was God's second Eden. Christ had to learn, as a man, how to walk with God in a spiritual way. Jesus lived by every word from the mouth of his Father. Those words were Life, so Jesus ate Life. He bore the image of God - he WAS the image of God. When he walked around living by God's spirit inside him, people were seeing what God looked like. But I'm not talking about Jesus' ministry years. I'm talking about his carpenter, good son, good neighbor and big brother years.

In Nazareth, God's Man was doing what God always wanted. He was fulfilling the law by loving his Father and everyone else. He was choosing each day to do everything only in ways that were pleasing to the Father. He wasn't only growing. He was living. He didn't only come to die. He came to live. Life. Abundantly.

Nazareth was the prototype for Joppa, Lystra, Berea, Thyatyra, and all the other first century churches. What God did with Jesus in Nazareth he wanted to do again and again with men and women who would ingest his divine nature, become one with him, partake of his spirit, and learn how to incorporate Life into life. The brothers and sisters in Thessalonica had to do what Jesus did in Nazareth. Learn. Grow. Increase. Be filled. Submit. Live by God's spirit. Have Life. Abundantly.

Eden was eventually built over with stones - Living Stones - that God himself cut, hammered, polished and built (together) into streets, gates and a wall - but no temple. His glory filled all of them. The Tree and the River were still in the center. The Root and the Flow of His Life were now, finally, surrounded by more than simply one Adam, one Cornerstone. God's New Man had multiplied, filled the earth, surrounded it, and kept out the creeping thing.

There was no progression of strategy here. It was always the same. God kept his deal with Israel, but he started a new deal when Jesus came into the world. The old deal had been a one realm arrangement. The new deal was going to be two-realms at once. Just like Eden. Sticking out of heaven. Sticking around for a while. In various places on earth.

Where I'm from, we called this "the church".

My point today? Nazareth is as significant. Nazareth needs more attention.

July 24, 2009

Historical Jesus: Do Be Do Be Do?

Why does the question, “What do you do?” make so many people say, “I am a _____.”? Is it just for prestige? Or do we really think identity is the same thing as action? It reminds me of an old joke – Plato said, “To be is to do.” Aristotle said, “To do is to be.” But Sinatra settled the issue when he sang, “Do be do be do.”

When I was in college, in the early 90’s, it was vogue among evangelicals to focus on our “Identity in Christ”. As wonderful as that can be, I came to think the movement was basically repackaged psychology, a sneaky way to get people to behave better without focusing on 'works'. (That’s probably fine, but it’s not necessarily spiritual or divine. Whoops, now I’m off topic.)

Why do we have such confusion about behavior and identity? I ask because, whenever I’ve looked into “Historical Jesus Studies” one of my big frustrations is that I find the analyses heavy on “Who was this man?” and very light on “What did he do?”

Any good historical analysis should do both, of course, and I trust scholars know this. Therefore, I guess my real frustration is because Biblical Scholars decided as a group to act like we don’t know very much about the historical events in Jesus’ life.

I think we do. I just think we haven’t looked at things concretely enough. Why? Oh, brother, I don’t know. THAT is a whole other question…

July 21, 2009

Going Fishing

Which means writing. Which means I'll see you back here in August. Sorry to postpone things here, but feel free to check out my pet projects page in the meantime. Gotta write write write.

Be back 'soon'...

July 16, 2009

Busting My Book Buying Budget

I've just ordered the last four books I can afford to buy for a while. Brandon Wason's recomendation, plus three others:

Historiography And Self-definition: Josephos, Luke-acts, And Apologetic Historiography - Gregory E Sterling
Jesus the Radical: A Portrait of the Man they Crucified - R. T. France
The Chronological Life of Christ - Mark E. Moore
Life of Christ - Fulton J. Sheen

They'll all be here Tuesday. It will be interesting to see how the last three stack up in the categories of academic quality, historical reconstruction and faithfulness to scripture. I liked France's 1980's article about chronology, so I'm looking forward to that one especially. And maybe when I'm done reading Sterling, Brandon will comment again. :-)

I've got one more "Biblical Studies" book to post about before Tuesday and then I'll wrap up that series. Sigh. Sometimes I feel like such a libcalib dusties sliclexid.

Oh, well. ;)

Rattle & Hum

I believe in the Kingdom Come. But yes, I'm still running.

The song starts about 55 seconds in.

Biblical Studies - 5

I still haven't found what I'm looking for. I start to feel like the Jack Nicholson's obnoxious psychiatrist character in Anger Management asking "Who are you? ...no, that's your name. I want to know who you are. ...no, that's what you do for a living. The question I'm asking is, 'Who are you?' ...no, that's where your're from..." Etc.

What I want to see is a History of Events during the Life of Christ, including events according to Scripture. Is that so unclear? Or how am I failing to find such a thing? Or else, why isn't it out there, really?

Michael Whitenton let me twist his arm into having lunch in Dallas tuesday, and we had a great time. Lots of good talk and laughs, plus Mongolian Stir Fry. I'm grateful he introduced me to Genghis Grill and shared a fascinating view on the term "Son of Man", among other things. While putting up with my ignorance which I'm sure was on full display, Michael also suggested that I might want to check out Darrel Bock's Jesus according to Scripture, awhich I ahave. (Inego Montoya - no?)

The book arrived today. Just from my first once overing, it looks like a great book. "But not my favorite." (Johnny Depp now - Chocolat). Overall, it seems organized like a harmonized commentary on the Gospels. The aspect that may be unique about that is Bock seems to approach each "scene" as an actual event, which is very nice. On the other hand, his repeated use of the word scene is already conspicuous on perusal, so I had to check. Amazon's Look Inside feature says he uses it 132 times.

Bock also moves quickly in more than one chapter to distance himself from issues of chronology, which makes sense for his overall goal, "Restoring the Portrait". I'll probably get a lot out of this book over time by using it as a sourcebook along the way, and I'm actually looking forward to his insights. It's just not the book I was hoping it might be.

I sure don't blame Michael. Maybe I wasn't clear, or maybe that's the closest thing going. But I'll ask again. Michael (or anyone else), where can I find a scholarly historical reconstruction of the biography of Jesus Christ? Or am I somehow failing to ask the right question, here?

"Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?" (Jackie Chan - Rush Hour)

Theology in Josephus

Clipped this recently and meant to blog it - Peter Richardson on Josephus' theological explanation: "In 28/27 BC there was a famine (Ant.15.299-316). Though Josephus allows that the drought that helped to create the famine was a whim of nature, he explains theologically that God was angry." -- Herod, p.222

This is a perfect example of why I don't like the word "theological" when we're talking about the author's objectives in the Gospels and Acts. Richardson uses this word in absolutely the correct manner. It implies pure subjectivity. Fantasy. Creativity. Superstitious imagination. Pure invention.

Josephus explained something theologically. That can NOT be what the Gospel writers did. And whenever I hear a Biblical Scholar suggesting that - and I don't care how they disclaim it or qualify it - there is an automatic, inherent suggestion that the event or claim under discussion doesn't need to have actually happened. Just like Richardson's comment about Josephus.

July 15, 2009

Neil Carter, Fruit Hunter

My old house church compadre from Georgia has been hunting for fruits in Ohio. (His words, not mine.) Personally, I think he's nuts. Okay, not really. I just like hassling Neil. In all seriousness, criticism and skepticism of church forms is always easy, but it takes guts to go investigate openly. How many 'lay' persons do you know who spend weeks away from their family and travel hundreds of miles just to find promising new ways of doing church?

Better question: how often do you find 70 autonomous house churches in one city that also meet together once a week for corporate worship, guidance and teaching? I honestly don't know, but here's this choice quote from Neil's preliminary report, to make you more curious:
These guys are holding together two separate models: organic house church and a traditional, congregational church structure. Their goal is that these churches be, not just "cell groups" following the mandates of the church staff, but fully functioning house churches, performing all of the functions of an independent church: baptism, communion, preaching, teaching, discipline, worship, etc. If that's really what they're after, then they're a rare bunch.

We live in Hope...

Biblical Studies - 4

Loren Rosson's twist on the evolving "5 Books" meme was to identify major works of scholarship you really wanted to agree with, or appreciated the importance of, but just couldn't get on board with. To some degree, that's how I feel about most of the "BS" I've encountered so far. Yes, of course I mean "Biblical Studies", you potty-brain. ;)

One example I really don't want to admit feeling this way about is the ongoing works of Paul Barnett. In the past year, I've bought five of his books: Jesus and the Logic of History, Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity, and the After Jesus Series (1,2,3). I already admitted I haven't read all the pages in any of them - though I've read a lot I could never claim to have mastered his thought, so take the following comments for what they're worth. Informed impressions.

I've cheered at several sections and held my breath anticipating passages that never seem to come. Tantalizing is a pretty good way to describe it. In all five books he makes bold claims for the historicity of our Christ as we see Him in the Gospels, and spends lots of pages defending those claims and other aspects of his historiography. But his writing structure often seems to lurch back and forth between confident methodology and defensive positioning. Who is he writing for? I'm seasick and confused.

The first chapter of his latest release, Finding the Historical Christ, concludes its first chapter saying, "I am confident it is possible to find the historical Christ and that to do so calls for nothing more than patient and careful reading of the gospels as historical documents. For that, in truth, is what they are." Hooray! So let's build on that foundation! But the last chapter concludes little more. "That he was the Christ is the hypothesis that makes best sense of all the evidence, both before and after the resurrection."

Well, duh. Should I really read all 269 pages of [what seems to be mainly] arguments supporting that conclusion? Seriously, I'm sure I can learn a lot about some finer points in the debate, but it still all boils down to presuppositions, doesn't it? It still depends on what you accept as "evidence" to begin with and which non-negotiables you bring to the table. Doesn't it? That said, I'm very glad Paul Barnett is writing these books... for whomever it is that is helped by his writing of them. I mean that passionately and genuinely. But - and I hate to have to say this - I'm just not one of those who's being helped. I'll have to get over that, evidently. ;)

The last three paragraphs of 'Finding' make it clear to me that "History" is mainly Barnett's trojan horse to make the Gospels more acceptable for intelligent people. I'm okay with that. I'm just disappointed on behalf of "History". To take such a strong stand defending the historicity of the Gospels and then ultimately close in a cloud of ignorance on the details for the sake of taking an evangelistic posture designed to help unbelievers accept Christ more personally... well, that's great for evangelism, but what about the Church? Get saved and save people. Is that all we're here for?

The Gospel's harmonized Chronology and Sequence of Events deserve more attention, such as they can be reasonably reconstructed. But if we're not going to study the Gospels historically, why defend them as "historical documents"? In the end, I guess that's what sums up my frustration with Barnett. He seems only marginally interested in reconstruction, which is a real shame since the smattering of concrete discussion I've come across in his chapters contains some conclusions I think are solid and worth building on. I would be more interested in reading his long involved arguments if I could see them working towards a comprehensive account of Gospel Events. Oh, well.

No slight to Barnett, seriously, but is this really the cutting edge of faith based historical research on the Gospels?


Biblical Studies - 3

This is a series on "Biblical Studies" books I tried to read, with varying levels of success.

The most recent book I purchased because of my desire to understand Biblical Scholars and the 'rules of their world' just arrived on Monday. It had been in my Amazon que since Nick Norelli recommended it a month or so ago - Jesus, An Historical Approximation, by Jose A Pagola. I don't remember what Nick said about it but the title alone demanded I purchase it.

So far, upon skimming the front and back matter, I already have a mixture of positive and negative reactions. First, I love the fact that Pagola writes openly and passionately as a believer and describes his struggle to stick as closely as possible within the historical critical framework. He's not shy in his opinions, calling some critical reconstructions of Jesus "science fiction" and yet I get a strong sense that this book isn't going to spend most of its time arguing against liberal theories and presuppositions. Pagola is trying to do responsible intelligent scholarship, and yet writing primarily for believers. All positives, imho.

The downside, on first impression, is that it's sooooo daaaang tttttttypical. Page 24 of the author's Preface: "The chapters of this book are not stages in an historical biography of Jesus. They should not be read as such, because as we know, it is not possible to write a 'biography' of Jesus in the modern sense of that word." Really, Pagoda? Really? I know Biblical Scholars all bow to that notion, but "not possible"? Really, Pagoda? Really? (Heavy Siiiiiiiigh)

He continues, "The first thirteen chapters bring him nearer by tracing his principle features step by step..." Honestly, I can skip quoting these. They're all valid, and beautiful too, but you can guess what they are. Pagoda goes on to explain how Christians and non-Christians might appreciate his chapters differently, justifies his 14th chapter [on the Resurrection], and his 15th [on challenging questions for Christians in response to the work].

Honestly, and I can't emphasize this enough, it's beautiful. If he does all he sets out to do in the rest of the book, it would be wonderful to read. I know I would love reading it. But will I read it? Not this week.

Why does the study of Jesus focus exclusively on aspects of his Identity as revealed in the Gospels, but never on events (except of course for the cross)? I'm so massively dissatisfied with that state of things I see no reason to become comfortable with "taking a ride" on absorbing the entire thought of anyone who accepts it. Besides, it's illogical.

Yes, there are chronological difficulties with reconstructing events from the Gospels. But how come we get to have a thousand complex theories on Gospel Source Theory and not a single one for a Sequence of Gospel Events? Not even a theory? I'm sorry, Biblical Scholars, but THAT is an asinine contrast. And I'm sorry, brother Pagoda, but reconstructing a historical biography of Jesus' life is far from "impossible".

So say I. Stay tuned...

Biblical Studies - 2

This is a series on "Biblical Studies" books I tried to read, with varying levels of success.

The first book I purchased because of the biblioblogs was probably Questioning Q by Mark Goodacre et al. This was just over a year ago, after I'd read Mark's 5th post on Orality and Literacy and devoured the article he digitized, "On Dispensing with Q" by Austin Farrer.

I knew I liked Mark's blog. His posts in that series were dense in the best possible way, and I felt like I learned something new every time I unpacked them. So I ordered the book, which also had a foreword by this N.T. Wright person everybody was talking about. I knew I didn't believe in "Q" as it has been described by my undergrad NT professor at LSU but I wanted to find out what the ins and outs were according to Mark and I was very much looking forward to it.

The Foreword was great. Is great. I read it several times and do again once in a while. (Someday I really should read more pages by this NTW guy.) The history of the debate is what I appreciated knowing. Unfortunately, almost everything after that felt extremely technical, or full of highly specialized phraseology, or - worst of all - clearly built on a very deep stack of assumptions and prior conclusions. I skimmed through several chapters and skipped to the last one, which I often do. But then, when Mark said, in the second paragraph of his concluding chapter, "Given the consensus that the Gospels post-date 70..." - I quit reading.

Oh, I know that's not fair to the author, but it was my breaking point. I've just read the chapter again now and I understand him better. A world without Q requires us to consider oral tradition also, which is more complex and thus more realistic. Okay, I get it. But "oral tradition" is just another highly specialized (and yet generalized) theory, isn't it? And again, one largely dependent on that consensus he mentioned which I disagree so strongly with.

To the point of the post and series - As a potential reader of more books like this, seriously, how many levels of prior assumptions should I really be expected to hang onto? Proponents of "Q" say the "two-source theory" is supposed to be the simplest possible explanation, but the book refuting it felt much more complex than I could bother with, honestly.

Dog People

My wife posted on her blog last night and declared that she is now a dog person. I might be too, but I'm not admitting it. I will admit I actually got a touch misty reading her post - but that's nothing new. She has a way of capturing our emotions in her words that always impresses me deeply.

Dog people. Good Lord, life can be strange.

Biblical Studies - 1

Since Nick Norelli tagged me for the latest meme I'm going to confess. I don't really read "Biblical Studies" books. I've skimmed a few. I've read lots more first chapters, last chapters, tables of contexts and indices. But I've not read any WHOLE books. I've purchased at least three dozen in the past fifteen months, but I've rarely strapped myself in and taken the ride of attempting to follow the author's entire thought. What can I say? I'm not really a student. I'm a hunter. But I do try to learn.

Therefore, since Nick knows (as do most of you, I'm sure) that I am genuinely trying to understand, appreciate and interact more effectively with the world of professional Biblical scholarship - it's only fair if I blog a few posts about Biblical Studies books to the extent that I've been able to dig in so far. Understand, I'm excluding anything on Roman History, first century Judean History, Josephus, or "N.T. Background" because 95% of what I've personally read on those topics wasn't written by scholars in New Testament or Biblical Studies departments.

This may take a few posts to get through. Sorry, Nick, it's not quite the meme, but I think you'll be interested to see what comes out here. This is going to reveal a lot of my own weak areas, as if they weren't clear enough already. Should be fun. ;-)

So stay tuned...

July 14, 2009

CJ on Ancient/Modern Macedonia

This article in the upcoming Classical Journal has some interesting arguments against the group of Classicists who wrote to Obama about [what is probably better left as] ancient history in the Balkans: Whose Is Macedonia? Whose Is Alexander? Key point: Yes, the Skopjeans are not all Macedonian but the French are not all Franks either. On the other hand, one might quickly add: There's no prior competition for the name of France. Who's right? I dunno. I just think it's interesting to see scholars debating activism, whatever their reasonings.

I briefly wondered if there were any ways to compare this debate with early 20th century zionism, but then my brain deflated, which was probably for the best. Funny story though - one time in a taxicab in Tirana I saw the ancient eight point star of Alexander on their government building and said (innocently, but out loud) "Oh, look, the star of Macedonia." To which our friend and guide interjected firmly, "No. Not Macedonia. Albania." At least, my two American friends who had been there before thought it was hysterical. ;-)

Augustus vs. Neptune

In a random series of thoughts this afternoon, it occured to me that both Gaius and Lucius Caesar died while at sea, shortly before their brother Agrippa became obsessed with fishing and calling himself Neptune. It also occured to me that the Emperor never got on a boat again, until the fateful nighttime voyage down the coast of Italy, during which he caught the cold that ended his life. Of course I'm not really suggesting there was an actual demigod pressing a supernatural grudge (not that there couldn't have been) but I do think the possibility could have crossed Augustus' mind in the more superstitious moments of his old age.

What I'm really wondering is whether this touches on Posthumous Agrippa's mental state. Suetonius says he had grown insane, which means Dio may be guessing to blame the new pseudonym exclusively on the new hobby. Either way, there's got to be something psychological going on when the last son of a dead admiral whose two brothers died mid voyage goes down to the water every day and proclaims himself master of the sea. I'm pretty sure Posthumous was the only "Neptune" Augustus really worried about, but it's interesting to see how the nautical theme must have helped hilight for the Emperor the personal instability which actually led to the young man's banishment in 7 AD.

July 11, 2009

Princeps, Domine, Kurios

To a large degree, Gaius Octavius Caesar, The August One, absolutely was a responsible altruist who believed he was serving the common good. Even Tacitus, who is hyper critical of Emperors in general, says of Augustus, “He had put the commonwealth in order not to make himself king or dictator, but under the title of princeps” (Annals 3.28). And there is no denying he seized peace for the earth, even though conquering and uprisings went on throughout his rule.

But I came across this gem searching the OCD today: “both Augustus and Tiberius took pains to suppress the use of the title dominus, though it remained a conventional form of polite address within Roman society.” The article also quotes the Princeps himself, who said, “I excelled in all influence, although I possessed no more official power than others who were my colleagues in the various magistracies.” (Res Gestae 34)

From this, I make the following observations: first, I think the Emperor’s political humility is something different from the false humility Paul decries in his letters. But I also notice Jesus did not eschew the title domine in its greek equivalent, kurios, right from the very beginning. “Many will say to me Lord, Lord…” shows an absolute lack of political humility. He’s entirely open about the fact that He’s the one who’s going to be in charge. I can’t help contrast that with professional ministers who insist on more comfortable titles like “Brother”, because they know they’re not supposed to be in charge, even though they are.

Of course, the honorary title Augustus can also be translated as Reverend. Some things to think about…

July 10, 2009

Paul's Epistles - Philosophy or Drama?

Why is it so much more likely for biblical scholars to write about what went on inside ancient Jewish and Christian heads, than it is for them to write about what was going on in their lives? If we don't know their lives, how can we know their heads?

I'll admit reconstruction is daunting, and NT chronology hasn't been nailed down yet. But why are Paul's letters so much more valued for their philosophical content than for their ability to increase our sense of the Story that went on in the first century?

To whatever extent this is even a problem, I would blame the Reformation more than the Enlightenment, but evidently the 'early fathers' were no better. Why does Aristotle still dominate the New Testament? Why so rarely Aeschylus or Euripides?

There's deep drama in Paul's epistles. How often do you hear it brought out?

July 9, 2009

Jesus Rested from Ministry

In my humble opinion, the three year chronology of Jesus' ministry years is too dense, too packed with activity. (The rarely held two year view is absurd!) More realistically, Cheney's four year chronology reveals long periods of silence in-between recorded activities, and these periods often occur during winter.

The ordeal of his forty days fasting must have required recuperation for several weeks before that first passover of John's 2nd chapter. That gets surprisingly overlooked. So does the fact that events for the whole year or so from the Woman at the Well until the Sermon on the Mount leave plenty of time for rest and prayer, including another whole winter. After that, Jesus sends his disciples out in pairs into "the harvest" (autumn) and seems to have been laying low when they meet up with him again around Passover (spring). It seems a third winter was spent "off".

The three and four year chronologies basically agree on that much, up to John's beheading. Everything after that either gets packed into one single year or spread out into two. Granted, Jesus seems to push harder near the end, and that lack of rest contributes to the stress under which he sweats blood and dies after only six hours on the cross. But Cheney's chronology gives him a third year that is more consistent with the first two, followed by a fourth year that shows nearly constant motion all over Judea.

Jesus traveled so much during that phase, running from Antipas, touring the Decapolis, Phoenicia and the Golan, and visiting at least 35 towns in Judea. In a three year model, the travel time alone means the ministry would have to be virtually non-stop. Personally, I don't think Jesus waited so long to get back into Judea and then gave it such a shoddy once-overing. Besides, did he never take a week off?

Jesus' life in general shows that times of rest and spiritual recovery (and preparation) were very important to him. This may not be much of a historical argument, but it should definitely add weight to the four year model and cause much reconsideration among its opponents.

Then again, if anyone can convince me Jesus was a western style corporate executive, I'll reverse my view entirely. ;)

July 7, 2009

Did a Josephson Just Say That?

My wife and kids have been re-watching the Harry Potter movies. The snob kid, Draco Malfoy, has a marvelous sneer in his voice when he talks about Ron Weasley's family. "They let you in? Really? A Weasley?"

Point being, it just occured to me that when the Nazarene Jews said "Isn't this Joseph's son?", that was as close as they could get to saying his last name. Not that they said it with any special disdain, but simply in shock that the son of a carpenter would suddenly be so impressive at teaching from the scriptures.

Back in my home town, I can think of a few things shocking enough to make people say, "One of the Heroman boys did that?!?" Not that I'm sayin what. Just imagine something either really good or really bad. ;)

July 6, 2009

Quarry Time on Herod's Temple

Apparently the Israel Antiquities Authority has uncovered another Herodian quarry. (h/t RC, natch) Here's the beautiful and surprising part of the quote from Dr. Ofer Sion: "...before Herod built the Temple he prepared the infrastructure for it: the quarrying of the Temple's stones lasted eight whole years. The Temple itself was built in a relatively short time of two years."

I'm thrilled to see somebody counting out years of prep work, but is he citing actual research or are these unpublished conclusions? For his statement to be accurate he must mean quarrying for the whole complex was done in eight years and the sanctuary building went up during two of those early years. Otherwise, if he means the sanctuary stones took eight years to quarry, how did they quarry and build all the rest in time for the Battle of Pentecost in 4 BC, at which time Josephus describes how the collonades and courtyard structures collapsed in a fire set by Varus' Legion.

At any rate, it's great to see a public piece that goes into construction time without the common generalism, "Herod's Temple took about 80 years to complete." I also hope Sion is also right that "Herod began quarrying closest to the Temple and worked away from it". Now I'll wait eagerly to see how far away they find quarrying for the pavement - that being what most likely accounts for the fact there was any work yet to be done under Agrippa II.

If anybody knows what research Sion was citing, please let me know.

Click Herod's Temple in the index below for my old posts on this topic.

UPDATE: Apparently he's just extrapolating from Josephus' Antiquities 15:420 that the porticos and outer courts were built in 8 years. That doesn't mean the corresponding quarrying hadn't been going on for 9 or 10 years or more, but I guess I'm quibbling now. (h/t David Meadows again!)

July 5, 2009

About This Blog

This research blog is about improving our view of the New Testament Story in its full historical context. Faith based NT Chronology really should be able to settle on much greater precision in dating the key events. I strongly believe there IS one, most likely, most plausible reconstruction for the timeline of the New Testament and scholars who accept the NT cannon as reliable testimony should be able to agree on this new Chronology with minimal reservations.

Such an accomplishment wouldn't necessarily have served the position of denominational theologians or ecclesiastical authorities in centuries past, but the past hundred years has engendered a more eccumenical approach. Today, it seems conservative New Testament scholarship is transitioning from the entrenched positions of the old guard to a more open minded and faith based rationalism. More and more, Christian scholars of all denominations are searching together for the best answers to good questions - not just their bishops' pet answers.

Verifiable history will always trump theology, but Chronology gives reconstruction a full fourth dimension. Journalists know the Who, What, When & Where of a story is infinitely more discernable in most cases than the Why. To put that another way: Character, Plot, Conflict and Setting are the concrete aspects of any dramatic non-fiction, but Theme is always a bit subjective. Solid literary analysis should always focus on those concrete aspects, the first four W's, before ever declaring itself on the deeper interpretations, but faith based Biblical Studies has not necessarily followed this pattern as thoroughly as it could have. (At least, not from what I can tell.)

This blog exists to proclaim that "backgrounds" and "culture" are not enough context for our sacred texts. We need to reconstruct the events. Classical scholars are staunch critics of Tacitus, Suetonius, Dio et al, but they work as a whole towards reconstructing what actually happened in as much detail as possible. Christian scholars haven't been interested in doing that with the events of scripture, practically ever - not in a thorough way, strictly for events' sake.

The context of a text cannot merely be more text. The context of a text is the author's entire life, plus the lives of those touched by whatever events the text relates and refers to. We need to reconstruct the Historical Events of the New Testament as more than a sketchy mish-mosh, and we need to give it more than piecemeal lip service before launching into theology and homeletics by isolating epistles. We need ONE, most likely, leading, cohesive, comprehensive, exhaustive chronology of the entire New Testament. So why don't we have it?

The first European missionaries to the Americas wrestled with the concept of 'invincible ignorance' - withholding the gospel so natives might not be held accountable by God for their sins. But ecclesiastical authorities have treated the Lord's flock in a similar way. For centuries, Church leaders have covered over a multitude of specific doubts by projecting a strong general doubt about all historical approach to the details of scripture. The punchline to that sick joke was the 20th century gnosticism of Bultmann. But saints, if Christ be not raised physically, we have no hope whatsoever.

We may or may not need to defend the resurrection, but we definitely need to believe it. We may or may not solve the Synoptic Problem, but we should do our best to spell out how, when and where the Christ of our Faith walked around in the Historical Palestine. We cannot put together all the details with one hundred percent certainty, but we CAN put together a plausible reconstruction, based on a minimal number of conditional assumptions. Since Faith is most effective as the foundation of Reason, the end of our christian historical arguments should be reconstructing the Facts - not defending what we already believe.

Classical Scholars do not know for certain who ordered the death of Augustus' last grandson, Agrippa, in 14 AD. It was either Caesar, his wife or Tiberius. We have all three scenarios and many opinions on which is most likely, but that is enough. We do not avoid reconstructing their general histories because of a few specific doubts.

We have more than enough information about the details of scripture to make a reliable, faith based reconstruction on the historical lives of Jesus, Peter and Paul. But we must overcome our own ecclesiastical history if we ever want to know the Historical Context of the New Testament's Events. I humbly suggest we must also focus primarily, for a time, on the Chronology.

So that's what this Site is About. Please argue vigorously with any point above you feel needs to be challenged. And please come back to this site as I do my part to help work out these issues in greater detail.

July 3, 2009

Sabbatical Year Taxes in Roman Judea

Julius Caesar exempted Judea from tribute in sabbatical years but it's unclear whether or not Herod the Great continued under this policy. After Herod's death, his son Archelaus seemed to ignore the sabbatical altogether and we can only imagine what revenue he might have collected from any Jewish landowners who remained observant in 2 BC and AD 6.

When Rome took direct control they introduced a poll tax (tributum capitis) but did they continue the land tax (tributum soli)? Mary Smallwood presumes they did and also presumes Caesar's exemption was abolished at this point, but for all we know it was abolished earlier. Peter Richardson cites Josephus as strong evidence that Herod the Great was less than completely respectful of the tradition in 30 and 23 BC. So I ask, since the King evidently collected some tax in those years, wouldn't he also have shared with the Emperor?

We can only guess what the King did in 16 and 9 BC, but even if Caesar's policy was still good after Herod's death, the subjects of Archelaus didn't need the extra ammunition to get him removed. Since this is still a push, I question only the double presumption by Smallwood. If the land tax continued after 6 AD, how could the exemption be removed only then without any mention of complaint or compensation? The zealous rhetoric of Judas was far more anti-Rome than anti-tax. The 'galilean' also didn't need the extra ammunition.

To speculate for just a moment, it is possible the poll tax could have been a clever compromise if the land tax and exemption were abolished together. Quirinius' property assessment would then merely have told him the proper amount to assess 'per capita'. If it could be proven in fact, this would give the debate referenced in Mark 12 an additional depth - with one side arguing the poll tax was acceptable because non-agriculturally based, and the other side viewing all seven years of poll tax unlawfull as a deliberate runaround on the whole sabbatical tradition.

This conjecture would fit perfectly if we had some reason to think Judea bucked precedent and gained exemption from the land tax altogether. It could fit the pattern of privleges issued by Rome, but without specific evidence it remains merely one of two presumptions. However, if we take the other one, Smallwood's, we should probably conclude sabbatical related outrage died down slowly through the reigns of Herod and Archelaus. And thus in turn, Smallwood's second presumption, that Caesar's exemption was still in place up to 6 AD, seems likely to be true only in an official sense. Practically speaking, it must have been virtually forgotten, made moot by decades of neglect.

Personally, the more I think about the poll tax as a compromise, the more I wonder why the trap question in Mark 12 is supposed to matter without sabbatical implications. (Even if they were merely fishing for zealot sentiments, were the Pharisees really so concerned about the image on the coin? Isn't that what they had the money changers for?) However, I don't normally find creative inference very convincing without additional support and I could be missing something here. Therefore, I'll be just as happy (for now) to stand with the conventional view that Judea probably continued to pay land taxes after 6 AD, including sabbatical years.

In conclusion, I have to say neither view affects our assessment of daily life anyway, as far as I can tell. Only wealthy landowners were directly affected by the land tax, however long it lasted, and the question may depend on how many of those were also devout enough to remain strictly observant. Since we're going to presume that those who let their land lie fallow were still going to be taxed on it, it seems simple enough to further presume they simply stored up extra money during the first six years to use for a tax payment while they lived off their stored grain and produce. This should only seem unnatural to anyone who ever said religious devotion comes at no cost. (!)

July 2, 2009

Sailing Season in the Roman Empire

Here's another helpful home made chart I'm happy to share. The range of dates for Pentecost and the Fast are based on lunar cycles and included for those working on Pauline chronology. It's interesting to note that Paul's aversion to sailing before Pentecost was learned the hard way, since his first three shipwrecks came before Ephesus. Also, for those working on Fair Havens, the lunar Day of Atonement was October 6th in 59 AD and September 24th in 60 AD. I'm not sure how that supports my view that Festus replaced Felix in 59 and not 60, but there it is. ;) Enjoy.

July 1, 2009

Five Influences

Lou tagged me a while back, but instead of influences on myself personally, here are the five biggest influences that have shaped what I do, and what I'm doing here.

Gene Edwards - I was already passionate about his vision of house church when I heard him make the statement, "Paul's epistles are not arranged in their chronological order." My shock and disbelief at christendom's apparent lack of concern about that fact has remained a driving force for the past thirteen years. Whether or not Gene is too idealistic for his own good, I love him like a third father and I wish all believers could look at the New Testament through his eyes at least once.

The Greatest Story by Johnston Cheney - I couldn't believe someone would go through the trouble to streamline the events and then chop them back up again with thematic subheadings. My efforts to retype Cheney's text into an ongoing story format is what showed me our desperate need for a greater sense of time and location when reading the scriptures. Besides, Cheney's independent status and his concise arguments in support of the four-year gospel chronology are constantly encouraging to me.

Peter Green's Alexander to Actium - trying to visualize the New Testament story entirely from Thessalonica's perspective led me to visit Greece and learn all about Macedonian history up to 51 AD. Green's book was a thorough introduction to "The Hellenistic Age" and changed the way I thought about ancient greek peoples while putting the Macabees into context with the Macedonian Wars. Dozens more books in that period of my explorations, but Green's is the one I remember reading (and appreciating) the most. It helped obliterate my elementary view of the mythological, heroic and golden age "Greece".

The Oxford Classical Dictionary - Read all 1640 pages cover to cover in two weeks and got depressed. "You mean that's all we know?" Four years later (third time straight through) I typed the major first century dates into a spreadsheet. From then on, I deepend my knowledge of the major NT era figures as their lives entwined around Jesus' and Paul's days. Best of all, the OCD article footnotes guided most of my deeper delving into top rank classical scholarship. Oxford's footnotes have led me to leading and worthy opinions time and again, almost without fail.

Bibliobloggers - I found Celucen Joseph and Jim West's blogs in April 2008, followed their links and quickly realized I had found my next circle to run in. I believed I had facts and numbers on my side, but I knew I was not prepared yet to present those facts and numbers to anyone who could help confirm or deny what I'd been doing. In the past fifteen months, I've learned a lot about the world of "Biblical Scholarship", and it has not altered my beliefs or conclusions greatly, but these interactions have ammended my approach to a significant degree, for which I am extremely grateful to God.

From here, I continue attempting to understand the (con and di) vergences of Biblical and Classical studies in order to more accurately, helpfully and effectively stake my long held claim that New Testament events - even spiritual ones - deserve to stand, by faith, as part of history.
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"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton