August 31, 2009

Jesus in Nazareth - Post Index So Far

One series complete, one half way done, and more on the way:

The Nazareth Synagogue 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

Dealing with Nazareth 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 6.1, 7, ...(more coming soon)

Plus, other recent, related posts: Law and Love; 12 Bodyguards at the Nazareth Synagogue; Johannine Historiography; The Most Challenging Miracles; Jesus, in Nazareth, in the Spirit; Reconstructing Nazareth; Reconstructing Spiritual Events; Eden... Nazareth... Thessalonica...

If you prefer, you can also scroll through the August 2009 and July 2009 Post Pages. And be sure to look for much more, soon to come.

Since I seem to have a lot of new readers recently, some of you may want to click here and learn how to subscribe to this blog. If you don't know yet, a "feed reader" is like another inbox you check, that displays the full text of new posts for pretty much any blog you tell it to watch for. You can "feed read" your favorite syndicated columnists and comic strips too. Google Reader is a very nice (free) service I use because it works with my GMail account, but there are others you can explore and choose from after clicking the link.

I hope you've all been enjoying these posts about Jesus in Nazareth. Feel free to comment at any time, no matter how old the post. And whatever you do, please stay tuned...


August 30, 2009

The Nazareth Synagogue - 14

It seems appropriate to end this series with the Nazarenes' geographical question from Jesus' second homecoming, in Matthew 13 & Mark 6. Where did he get this wisdom? By now we have formed an answer.

He got it in Nazareth. We know this because he had it by age twelve. Luke and Matthew together inform us that during the decade between leaving Egypt and attending his first Jerusalem Passover, Jesus' parents attended the spring festival every single year. That means Jesus was living there. If he had not traveled elsewhere before age twelve, and he had such wisdom from paying attention in something like 500 Sabbath meetings, then no one should think Jesus had to travel anywhere else for the next 1100 Sabbath meetings, or so, before his baptism by John.

John tells us that Jesus said he got all his teaching from the Father. Before that became directly mystical, it happened on Saturdays in the Synagogue. It happened because of a focus and an obsession that, evidently, he managed to keep totally private from the rest of the Jewish community in Nazareth. (That thought, again, needs to be held onto for some future post. For now we have merely accepted it, without attempting to explain it.)

This can probably all be accounted for by recalling the one scripture Jesus most certainly learned early in life, and the one he most certainly heard more often than all others. Hear, O Israel. The Lord your God is One. You should Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your might. An historical view of Jesus at age twelve, filtered through all that we can possibly reconstruct about the Nazareth Synagogue, tells us Jesus must have taken this scripture greatly to heart when he was still very young.

In our modern age of leisure, some kids give their entire self to a TV show, or to a baseball team, or to a friend, or to a famous musician. In first century Nazareth, ever since Jesus was a boy, He must have genuinely cared about his Father, God, more than he cared about anything else. He was not trying hard not to sin. He was simply, sincerely, in all of his ways, worshiping Him.

I'll say it again. The historical explanation of Jesus' life before age twelve must be that this common Jew cared about God to an uncommon degree.

Everything after age twelve until age thirty-four is a question for another series.

Maybe. :-)

The End (for now)

Series Update: The Nazareth Synagogue
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

The Nazareth Synagogue - 13

Incredible memory is hardly unusual. It's common for people to spout off endless reams of knowledge about various topics. It all just depends on whatever you're "into". We have noted that Jesus was "in[to] the things of my Father" at age twelve. And he had reflected upon scripture enough to impress elders and sages with his insights. That's amazing chiefly because his particular field of mastery happened to be so un-child like, but in many other ways it's perfectly normal.

It has become easy to see in our modern world that any five year old can memorize vast quantities of information with great detail, provided they have become hyper enthusiastic about the material. To be sure, visual material aids memory (although video CGI is not necessarily more effective than a chart on the back of a baseball card) and some people are visual learners. But some are auditory. Brain studies show the more brain-connections (writing, reading, hearing, reciting) are used, preferably all at once, the more effective rehearsal (or studying) can be for instilling vivid long term memorization.

Now then, the fewer connections (modalities) of learning one is able to employ, the more repetition is required to permanently 'bank' a given bit of information into long term memory. However, one final factor in this memory process is unquantifiable, although every teacher knows what it is. Interest. Unlimited resources can never get through to a student who simply could not care less about the information being presented. Contrariwise, hypermotivated individuals can overcome great learning obstacles to master even the most difficult material. So among all the factors in learning and memorization, motivation and interest are key. Age is not really a factor at all.

In all those facts about learning, there is one practical detail that might take us farther towards reconstructing some likely aspects of Jesus' development. That is, repetition. It is possible Jesus may have been a strong auditory learner or had an audio-photographic memory, but we should not expect he was some super-mentalist. In the case of almost every human who has ever lived, it still requires rehearsal and repetition to move recently acquired knowledge from short term into long term memory.

That means he must have worked at remembering what he heard every day. I don't mean he necessarily worked at it like it was a chore, although I would have no problem with that thought. I simply mean he employed active recall. That means he spent time thinking about what he'd heard. As we have seen, he was genuinely interested in God and the things of God and so thinking about scriptures about God and God's business would seem like a natural pass time for Jesus' private thought life.

In order for him to have learned scripture by attending nothing but (or little more than) Sabbath meetings, and without having a personal copy of anything to take home and re-read, we should absolutely conclude his learning process involved these long periods of personal reflection. And since that reflection was about God, we should certainly expect it was directed towards God. In other words, his reflection on scripture, at times, must have naturally flowed into prayer. If we trust John's gospel especially, that prayer life also grew to include mystical communion, at some point.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think this counts as concluding historically, by a faith-based historiographical analysis of biographical details found in the Gospels, that Jesus must had an active devotional life during the "hidden years" in Nazareth. That is very significant.

Also, if these arguments have been valid then there could still be more for us to conclude about Jesus in Nazareth. We have tried to get this far by focusing on facts and events from the Gospels' Testimony, plus other historical and scientific knowledge. We have tried to get this far without making assumptions based on preference, ideas or God-logic. We will do our best to maintain these methods as strictly as possible.

To be concluded...

Series Update: The Nazareth Synagogue
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

The Nazareth Synagogue - 12

For the sake of argument, let's assume Jesus ("Is this not the carpenter?") only had access to scripture on Saturdays, which happens to be all that we can say for certain. How can that account for the wisdom he displayed in Jerusalem at age 12? And how would that fit into the rest of what we know about his development?

First, do the math. By my calculation, Jesus passed over 500 Sabbaths from the day he saw Nazareth until his Passover visit at age twelve (in March of 7 AD, some months after Archelaus was exiled). Ten years of Sabbaths is enough time for a very small child to grow into a very impressive twelve year old, IF that child paid very close attention because of a deeply held passion for any and every thing that was of God. (Hold that thought briefly.)

What we see in the Lord's age twelve episode is an impressive degree of focus - we might even say fixation - on the "business" of God. As that business seemed to include listening and asking Rabbinical questions about God's Laws, we should expect that twelve year old was very much interested in the ways of the Synagogue. In fact, it becomes plainer and plainer that the only shockingly inconsistent fact here is that he kept all that insight to himself when he went back to Nazareth. (Hold that thought too, for a bit longer.)

The age twelve episode also reveals some awareness of a unique personal Sonship to God as his Father. It doesn't matter how we define this. A young Jewish boy considered God his personal Father in some unique way. That should be enough to convince us that this kid was passionately wrapped up in this whole God thing. His entire self-definition, sense of purpose, direction and identity, was completely summed up by one simple reference to his Father. (It was never about the "business". It was always about the Father.)

It is that focus, that healthy obsession - *(and it was healthy, because it was balanced, because he was able to obey his parents and leave Jerusalem immediately - which we should see as one more gracious provision of God for his Son, during his development)* - that genuine and utter worship of his Father that possessed and inspired Jesus to pay close attention each Sabbath day in the Nazareth Synagogue, focusing on each reading of Law and Prophets acutely in terms of what it had to do with the Father, above anything else. Furthermore, Jesus must have maintained this practice in earnest for many years before he became proficient in communing spiritually, mystically, with the One he already adored.

In that process of worshiping God, Jesus also learned scripture. But how did he learn the scriptures so well, just from Saturday meetings? At the risk of repeating a key point once too often - Jesus must have been paying attention.

To be continued...

Series Update: The Nazareth Synagogue
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

August 29, 2009

The Nazareth Synagogue - 11

After all our considerations thus far, we can start to put some things together.

The Synagogue community in Nazareth may have met in a home or a specially built meeting house, but they met every Sabbath for teaching and learning the Law and the Prophets and held gatherings for various other purposes during the week. Whether by paid tutor or volunteer Rabbis, they most likely held some morning sessions for instructing their children, which Jesus may not always have been able to attend because of his family responsibilities.

The Synagogue definitely had a set of scrolls, probably amounting to most if not all of the "Old Testament" and other "apocryphal" writings as well. Whatever scrolls Nazareth may have lacked, it is possible Jesus heard, saw or handled those when traveling Pharisees came through town, or perhaps in Sepphoris or Jerusalem. However, we should realize that when Jesus summed up "all the law and the prophets" he had mystical ways of being certain about such a statement, at that point in his life. So we do not need to presume Jesus had personally read every word in the complete cannon of scripture for his day. (Such a presumption should also be unnecessary for christian faith, in my humble opinion. But if you need to believe it, it's possible.)

It was Jesus' custom to attend Sabbath meetings where he heard readings from both Law and Prophets. At some point, whether on Sabbaths or week days, Jesus was trained in literacy and learned how to handle the scrolls, but hearing the words of God read aloud probably remained his most frequent interaction with them.

That last point deserves examination. Since we're pretty sure Jesus didn't have his own copy of the scriptures, and we have no grounds for concluding he was active in weekday education, is there any chance Jesus ever got significant "alone time" with the scriptures? At first glance, it does seem unlikely. The Nazarenes' shock at seeing him teach in 30 AD may not mean they had never seen him pursue learning, but it strongly suggests they had not known him as someone who pursued a deep knowledge of the scriptures with passion and vigor. So if Jesus had done so, we should most likely conclude his neighbors - somehow - never knew about it.

To be clear, I am not arguing that Jesus must have spent much alone time with the scriptures. I think we should be very satisfied to find that the Son of God spent time hearing the word, reflecting on it and discussing it privately with his Father. But just to cover all of our bases here... for all we know, it is very possible Jesus might have snuck into the Synagogue late at night, some nights, stealing nothing and doing no damage, but reading the scrolls. Would it really have been trespassing if the scrolls belonged to the entire community? Hmm. That sounds just like Him, actually, doesn't it?

Once again, we are really NOT trying to speculate on the specifics. We are merely considering the possibilities and - at the moment - strengthening the case that he had lots of chances to look at and handle the scriptures whether that happened in supervised group sessions or whether it took place in personal sessions, by some circumstances the rest of the Synagogue somehow knew nothing about. I honestly don't think we need to see Jesus pursuing the scrolls by himself, but we have to consider the facts. It is a fact that the scrolls were definitely somewhere in Nazareth, 24/7. They may or may not have been locked up, but it is a fact that they were on the premises at absolutely any moment he might have been able to access them.

In the final analysis, we have to say Jesus was familiar with the content of Nazareth's sacred scrolls and he was skilled in handling them. Somehow or another, that must have come from experience. I've run through the options. Decide for yourself which is most likely.

This series is getting very, very close to a conclusion.

To be continued...

Series Update: The Nazareth Synagogue
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

The Nazareth Synagogue - 10

Luke tells us the Nazarene Synagogue had at least one scroll with the latter portions of Isaiah, or possibly all of Isaiah. After that, we are technically speculating. But with that said...

The Gospels do tell us that Jesus could quote from all of the following: all five books of Moses, some History and Psalms of David, every major Prophet and about half of the minor ones. Jesus also made claims about "all the Law and the Prophets" which may or may not imply that he'd read the entire "Old Testament" and possibly then some. We must acknowledge that Jesus visited Jerusalem and that Pharisees who visited Nazareth could carry scrolls on their journey, but it is most likely that Jesus learned all these scriptures in Nazareth, at his local Synagogue.

There is no question that all Synagogues valued the scriptures and undoubtedly desired to have at least one copy of all their traditionally sacred writings. But did they? The question boils down to three things - time, money, and manpower. To illustrate:

Individual Jews and Christians in antiquity simply did not possess personal copies of "the Bible". Even if a very wealthy person paid a group of scribes to transcribe a collection of scrolls, full time access to any (probably far away) scriptorium was not commonly available. You needed connections. Even then, the financier would still have to cover the costs for countless man-hours, expensive specialty item materials (let's not even get into that, please), access fees for time spent with the master copies, and perhaps even security for the documents' protection.

Without instigating such operations, wealth alone was not typically sufficient for such a procurement because - functional literacy being as low as it was - sacred writings were certainly not being peddled at Jewish street markets across Palestine. These economics of publishing, especially publishing of the sacred word, remained fairly consistent until the 16th century AD.

In first century Palestine, it was simply unheard of for individuals to have personal copies of the scriptures. The fact that it took so much trouble means we should actually be fairly amazed to think a small town in Galilee could afford it. But Synagogue costs were corporately defrayed, and their connections ran straight through Jerusalem. Also, the Nazarene scroll collection probably took several decades to grow, possibly subsidized by wealthy Jerusalemites who stayed involved in bringing along the "new" converts, since about 104 BC.

The Nazareth community may or may not date back that far, but it's probable because their location was good (hidden from three sides on semi-high ground with at least one natural spring, and close to good farmland and other resources). However many decades the Synagogue had been building their scroll collection before 4 BC, that expense should have been a priority, over a building. So whatever the odds that the word "Synagogue" in the gospels refers to a free standing purpose built structure, instead of merely whatever place the community held their gatherings (see post #3), such are the odds that their scroll collection was most likely complete, or at least sufficient enough by the standards of their peers to proceed.

If they had a building, they probably had a large scroll collection. If they had no building yet, they'd still had decades to build up that collection. Either way, the Gospels account of what Jesus could cite is not at all an unreasonable estimate of what Nazareth actually held in their 'library'. But we should definitely NOT imagine Jesus had his own copy of the same scriptures.

We may now return from the question of resources, to the question of how much time Jesus might have been able to spend accessing them.

To be continued...

Series Update: The Nazareth Synagogue
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

The Nazareth Synagogue - 9

Jesus was the son of a carpenter before he became a carpenter. It was his custom to attend Synagogue services on the Sabbath, beginning from childhood. But did he have time to attend some ancient version of "Hebrew School" during the week? Maybe. Maybe not. We don't want to make assumptions, but there are several things worth considering here.

Joseph was skilled but he was still a laborer. The term "lower middle class" is completely anachronistic, but something like that is probably close to the right idea. Their household undoubtedly had many needs with extended family around, but they doubtless could not afford servants. And we know kids from working class families are always less likely to have time for school, especially before modern times. (And in this case, before 70 AD.)

What about rich kids? Some Nazarenes must have been landlords or landowners, or at least local property managers. Wealth being relative, Nazareth no doubt had some Jews who were richer than others. We may also note that Jesus spent a lot of time talking about wealth and the wealthy during his public ministry. The odds are therefore fairly high that he knew rich folks during his three decades in Nazareth. (To be fair, Jesus probably visited Sepphoris from time to time, which had more money, and was probably home to some villages' absentee property owners.)

If Nazareth had some rich folks then they probably had some education. The more wealthy Synagogue members in town, the more likely it is that their Synagogue hired (full or part time) a children's tutor for the betterment of their whole community. In later antiquity, children's training was typically held in the mornings, and sometimes perhaps for adults in the evenings. In Jesus' day, we can only guess whether Nazareth had such a tutor on staff, but a local Rabbi could also have volunteered time when he was able. These are both definite possibilities.

Now, even though we may find it likely that the Synagogue probably did offer some teaching sessions, we still don't know whether Jesus was able to attend any of them. However, we should expect that a carpenter's son was unlikely to make all of them. Some of us may want to suppose Joseph made special provisions so that he could, but it may be more likely that Jesus attended when work days were slow. However, again, we are not trying to speculate. These are simply the potential options. At the moment, we are only trying to narrow things down.

Beyond regular 'school', it is very likely that visiting Pharisees would give lessons when they were in town. If there were no children learning, there would be no future disciples to train up as future Rabbis (who visiting Pharisees naturally hoped would side with the Pharisee party). It is true that the Sanhedrin did not expect Prophets to come out of Galilee - or probably anyone else of educational consequence - but the Pharisees were far more bound to the common folk than the dominant Sadducee Party of Annas & Caiaphas. Besides, any good recruiter hits even the coldest spots once in a while, and Jerusalemites had been developing Galilean Judaism for a hundred years when little Jesus was first brought to Nazareth. All things considered, some traveling Law teachers must have come through at some times. However often it happened, these were more opportunities for Him to hear scripture read out loud at the Synagogue, and (less often) to see and to hold it.

In all this, we should emphasize that we still have no precise idea about what went on mid-week at the Nazareth Synagogue. We cannot reasonably estimate how many regular or special opportunities Jesus had in his upbringing and later life to enhance the educational input he was receiving on Sabbath days. However, we should think there were some. The high probability of some such opportunities is something we definitely should keep in mind, even though we have no reason, as of yet, to say whether the Lord actually took advantage of any of them.

In the end, his only Synagogue lessons may have come on Saturdays. Soon, therefore, we must ask the question - could Sabbaths alone have given Jesus enough input to account for whatever he meant when he said, "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me?" Naturally, in keeping with the rest of this series, we will attempt to answer this question with direct evidence from the Gospels, and not with interpretative theo-logic.

But before we finish our considerations about educational opportunity, we need to focus for one brief post on educational resources. To the best of our knowledge, what scrolls were actually kept in the Nazareth Synagogue? And were there other copies of scripture, around town?

To be continued...

Series Update: The Nazareth Synagogue
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

August 28, 2009

The Nazareth Synagogue - 8

An awful lot of what we know about Synagogue practice is based on evidence that dates after 70 AD. Obviously, when Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed the local communities in Palestine and the Diaspora had to adapt in many ways. One of the significant changes that scholars believe must have taken place was an increased need for and emphasis on the formal education of Jewish children.

Obviously, practices varied and we don't know for certain precisely what went on anywhere, let alone everywhere. But Solomon's vision - renewed by Zerubbabel and co-opted by Herod the Great - was that God would always be with Israel via Jerusalem. So as long as the religious aspects of life were secure in what seemed to be their everlasting institutions at Jerusalem, local Synagogues were less vital to Jewish identity and their members were more free to concentrate personal and family resources as necessary on what was always the primary activity of anyone in the ancient world - raw survival. Thus, there was less emphasis in general on childhood education in Synagogues before 70 AD.

This makes Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs" seem upside down, but Maslow (aside from generalizing) was focused on individuals. As all of European History shows, the survival of the Jews has always been a community effort. Most human beings are hard pressed to help certain ones among their own kin, but Jews everywhere have traditionally been helpful to each others' relatives. Over time, that positive interdependence helped generate wealth in their communities, which in turn helped inspire resentment, but it was never all about the wealth. In effect, they were hated because they were beautiful.

By the way, this always reminds me of Tacitus accusing the Christians in Rome of anti-social tendencies (Penguin; or, in the Loeb translation, "hatred of the human race"). An enclave of foreigners always stands out when they band together, and early christians were foreigners anywhere in the world. It is sometimes when the foriegners seem to prefer their community that the locals begin to dislike feeling like outsiders. Well, oh well.

My point is that Maslow claims basic survival should be the top priority, but Jewish economics depended on the survival of the community. So when community survival required universal childhood education, individual economic needs actually became less of a priority. Or maybe the Synagogue distributed welfare. Either way, the top, bottom and middle of Maslow's triangle seem bound together in Jewish motivation after Jerusalem fell, because of community, not to mention because of their faith (another Maslow blind spot). After 70 AD, it became more intensely true on a local level that Jewish survival depended on survival as Jews.

So, after 70, education of Jewish children in every community became vitally necessary. But before 70 AD, a random carpenter's son may or may not have been able - or perhaps even allowed - to attend school during the work week. Until it became a vital necessity, Jewish education of the general public was more like education in the rest of the world. All Jews learned on the Sabbath, but work day chores were demanding if not all consuming. By and large, families that could not afford servants needed all hands pitching in.

As I said above, the picture we get is a little unclear, but this is solid in general. Next we can consider these principles more specifically, and other facts about Synagogues (pre and post 70) as they all pertain to the probable education activities of Jesus in Nazareth.

To be continued...

Series Update: The Nazareth Synagogue
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

Law and Love

I've finally sat down and read the first and last chapters of John P. Meier's 4th volume of his Marginal Jew series, entitled Law and Love, and it promises to be the first "Historical Jesus" book I could actually finish all the way through. What Meier brings to the scholarly sandbox that seems to be really new and fresh is a HJ study of a Jesus who is fully Jewish. And I love, love, love, love, love what he's doing.

Christian scholars often accept critical assumptions just long enough to attack them, or else genuflect to skepticism in order to sidestep it for theological goals. In contrast, Meier plays the game for the game's sake and draws his conclusions for the sake of the gamers. It is not about the arguments to him. It's about the subject matter and the students doing the study. If I was at all content with the state of faith-based historiography, or the state of the church, this is precisely the kind of scholarly "lifestyle evangelism" I'd be supporting today.

But here's the best part. In the process of working so hard at objectivity, Meier happens to reach one very important conclusion that 19 centuries of christian theology had apparently been unable to reach before him. Simply put, Jesus was reaally Jewish. I mean like, Jewish Jewish. He was into the Law every bit as much as the Pharisees. He just disagreed with their interpretations.

(If you ask me, that's because Pharisaic interpretations were essentially Godless. Therefore, we could make the same statement about Paul, twenty years later. Paul loved the Law. He just didn't like those who made it into something it was not supposed to be - Godless social control.)

Meier concludes that the beating heart of Jesus' Jewishness was the Torah in all it's complexity. If his study had been officially faith based, I assume it would have gone one step further and said the heart of the Torah is God Himself. At least, that's my takeaway. Jesus' Love for the Law was centered on Love for His Father.

(Again, if you ask me, the exact same is true of Paul. Paul took the heart of the Law and translated it for the Gentiles. The terms get confused because the poor gentiles were confused. But there was nothing wrong with the Law or with Jewishness.)

And now for a tangent.

My Dad's Dad was captured in the Battle of the Bulge, 1944. Thinking quickly, he took off his rosary and put it around the neck of his foxhole buddy, a Sgt. Golman, to keep him from being shot on sight. So when their captors arrived, they poked their gun barrels at his chest instead and said "Jouda?" (As a young man, Billy Heroman had black, curly hair.) To save his own life, my Paw Paw recited a line from the Latin Mass. Three years later, my father got to be born. (My grandmother raised him Episcopalian.)

I'm not entirely sure why it's taken another 65 years since that time for gentile christians to be told that we're all still minimizing the Jewishness of Jesus. I'm not sure whether anything but the Holocaust could have broken the ice on that subject. Likewise, I don't know all the reasons why Protestants have embraced such a 'Lutheran' Paul for almost 500 years. But I do know the blind spots of my forefathers are mine by inheritance. With all that in mind, I feel extremely grateful for John P. Meier and the vital conclusions of his latest book.

Jesus Christ should absolutely be found on the pages of History and any historical approach to Jesus has to deal with his thorough going Jewishness. Reading about Meier's book (in late June) gave me the courage to walk boldly towards the inevitable conclusion that Jesus in Nazareth was heavily involved in the Synagogue. Now I'm wondering if this is part of the reason why we gentiles have kept the Nazareth years unjustly "silent" for so many centuries.

Without question, a Historical Jesus must be a Jewish Jesus. Thanks to John P. Meier, I also now know what this means: "A Jewish Jesus is a halakic Jesus." I add only that the halakah of Jesus was entirely focused on His Father. The Gospels make that much very plain.

Thank you, Lord.

The Nazareth Synagogue - 7

According to John's Gospel, the Jerusalem Jews knew (or could tell somehow) that Jesus had never been trained in any of their schools and Jesus' response confirmed their opinion. Trusting John, we take this as historical fact. It is less clear, however, whether this statement also implies that Jesus had never been trained elsewhere.

Of course, I'm not suggesting anything that required travel. The Gospels give us no reason to think Jesus went to Qumram, Alexandria, Rome or any other exotic location. In fact, from what the Gospels do tell us, the conclusion that Jesus had no formal training in Jerusalem should almost certainly rule out formal training anywhere else, outside of Nazareth. In other words, there is no better reason to put him with the Essenes in Transjordan than there is to make Jesus a Pharisee in Jerusalem. And so as far as the evidence goes, and chiefly according to scripture, if Jesus had no formal training in Jersualem, then his educational options are all to be found at the Nazareth Synagogue.

Now, the overall picture we've built to this point does suggest there was no formal training in Nazareth either, but we ought to consider this carefully. John may actually mean to imply Jesus had never been trained formally anywhere, but John happens to offer this statement as the opinion of Jerusalemites. If that is a historically accurate source for the opinion [as part of a reconstructed or representative conversation] then it's unclear how the Jerusalemites might know for sure whether Jesus had undergone formal schooling in Nazareth. Besides, we have already seen that Jesus' response could include hearing the Law read on the Sabbath. Therefore, John 7:15-16 does not rule out further training in Jesus' hometown.

When we think carefully about Jesus' second homecoming in Matthew 13 & Mark 6, we also find a bit of ambiguity in the response of the Nazarene Jews. We observed (two posts ago) that they were astonished to find that he could teach, especially to teach as he did. We observed that they sound as if his only proficient vocational skills, to their knowledge, were in woodworking. They evidently never learned about his age 12 sagacity.

By all this, we are sound in concluding that Jesus had never demonstrated such teaching ability, during his three decades among them. He had certainly not done so in that same way, and it is difficult to imagine him "teaching" far below his own level, from age 13 on. Most likely, he had never done any significant teaching at all, before his baptism.

However, evidence that he had never taught there is far from the same thing as evidence that he had never learned there. Even if we imagine Jesus sitting in every teaching session the Synagogue offered, we have already noted (since five posts ago) that he never spoke up in any remarkable or memorable way. Therefore, it's conceivable he went through as much education as the Nazareth Synagogue could have provided, but simply failed to display any reflective or didactic aptitude in the presence of his teachers and fellow students.

This is only to say what might be possible. The truth is probably somewhere between the two extremes. It was definitely Jesus' custom to attend Sabbath meetings in Nazareth, by which he both honored his earthly parents and grew in favor with the local community. Beyond that, Jesus may or may not have attended educational programs during the week, at the Nazareth Synagogue.

To make a more precise estimate about this, we need to consider the Nazarene response one more time, in the light of what little we know about Synagogue education before 70 AD.

To be continued...

Series Update: The Nazareth Synagogue
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

The Nazareth Synagogue - 6

In all four Gospels, Jesus expressed some ironic attitudes to education. He frequently teased the Pharisees. Haven't you read the scriptures? He flat out embarrassed them. Go and learn what this means. The Lord quoted scripture from all five books of Moses, every major Prophet and most of the minor ones. He cited both History and Psalms of David. He'd obviously learned how to read and could handle a scroll, but he was considered uneducated. He also recruited uneducated men.

The Nazarene Jews weren't surprised to see him locate and read from a passage in Isaiah, but when he came back a year later, teaching, they were astounded. This guy's a carpenter. Where'd he get this wisdom? In one of his trips to Jerusalem, according to John, the local Jews asked a similar question. How does this man know so much without having been taught? So Jesus answered. My teaching is not mine but His who sent me.

There's a lot to consider about that response. Let's take God Himself, first of all. Does divine revelation fully explain Jesus' lack of formal education? Conceivably, it could - and it may, at least partly - but that still wouldn't be the whole story. The scriptures do not tell us precisely when Jesus began hearing the voice of his Father internally, but we do know that same Father sent his Son to grow up in a Jewish Synagogue community. Therefore, we should probably look for some balance on this question, to say the least.

Next, even though we may accept, as historical, John's testimony about spiritual phenomena [which is very consistent with his method of inserting factual details into dialogue] we have an additional problem. What does Jesus' response here actually mean? My teaching is not mine but His who sent me. In addition to divine revelation (which I certainly do affirm is the strong implication when considering the rest of John's testimony) the statement could also mean Jesus is simply giving God credit for everything he'd learned in his life, including every scripture he'd heard being read in the Synagogue, since his childhood.

The shema, for instance, was no doubt repeated at least once a week in every prayer house and Hebrew gathering from Egypt to Galilee. It was probably the first and most frequent scripture Jesus ever heard from a very young age, and it famously became "the Greatest Commandment" of His adult ministry. Those are facts. On top of them, it would be thoroughly consistent with everything we know about Jesus for him to credit the shema as God's teaching, instead of his own. Therefore, Jesus' response in Jerusalem plays on two levels. My teaching is not mine but His who sent me. Well of course it was. His teaching summed up the entire Law and the Prophets.

In his whole life in Egypt and Nazareth, Jesus was listening to (weekly, at least), reading (less often) and handling (perhaps much less often) the scriptures. Somehow, Jesus was gaining a much greater depth of understanding through that experience than any other Nazarene Jew at the time, including the leaders. And for this learning experience, among others, Jesus gave all the credit and glory to God.

Thus, Jesus was learning from God in the Nazareth Synagogue even before he was learning from God by divine revelation. Thus, we are finally starting to put together some concrete details about his experience in the Synagogue during the so-called "hidden years". But there is still much more to consider.

To be continued...

Series Update: The Nazareth Synagogue
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

August 27, 2009

Gospel Facts for Facts' Sake

Biblical Scholars often describe the Gospel writers as "theologians", which is somewhat anachronistic, just to begin with. But even if we call them 'amateur theologians' who charged themselves with explaining the teachings of [and about] their Lord, I still don't think God-logic was ever their primary purpose in writing. Not only do the writers constantly embed truth in action and action in truth, but the notion and practice of separating "history" from "theology" is highly acadamized and took centuries to develop. In that respect, such an approach to the Gospels seems anachronistic in the extreme.

I think the Gospel writers were simply amateur biographers, whose material was both historical and Jesus (God) centered. They made no theoretical distinction between things Jesus said and things Jesus did. They made no practical distinction in reporting on the natural and supernatural elements of their testimonies. If we accept the seemingly fantastic events as plausible and consider them to be true, then I think we have to see the Gospel writers as normal people who took up these ambitious writing projects essentially with the mindset and consciences of regular folks. They would naturally have cared about being accurate in the details they included.

Therefore, any suggestion that they deliberately falsified parts of their narratives in order to more effectively illustrate some particular principles of spiritual truth is an insult - not only to those writers, but to the notion of truthfulness itself. Their claim is always to report what had actually happened.

Now then, comparisons of the Synoptics certainly reveal creative arrangement of some relatively contextless content (most notably Matthew's mid-section and Luke's 'travelogue'). Sometimes, certain semi-redundant material seems to have been cut (such as one of two Nazareth homecomings and one of two seaside recruitments). Also, thematic elements were sometimes considered when including or omitting things in order to make a particular point (John clearly knows the story about Jesus' baptism but omits the audible voice of God in order to emphasize the spiritual voice of God). On top of all this, the Gospels were inherently self-serving. That is, they were composed in loyal service to the Jesus movement. However, if anyone on Earth is capable of honesty, then "self-definition" does not automatically imply false or untrustworthy testimony. (* You there, BW? See, I bought it and skimmed it. Am I being unfair? ;) *)

So yes, creative compositions they certainly are, but since when did creativity ever require deception or pure invention? The bottom line is that nothing prevents us from trusting them, and further, from trusting their details to be accurate. The Gospels include more than enough specific details [which show no apparent symbolism or ulterior motive at work] to convince us the writers valued and cared about facts for facts' sake. That is, of course, unless you suppose they were complete con-men. So take your pick. ;-)

PS: For an example of a disputed detail, let's take the rooster incident. It's possible someone was wrong about how many times the rooster crowed, but I really don't care. Two times, three times, 2*3 times? Somebody else can defend that if they want to and/or refine their definition of 'inerrancy' - which I would probably be willing to sign, if I ever bothered or cared to actually read it, and if I ever felt like signing such things, which I generally don't. ;-)

My own point is simply that, any way you slice it, those numbers show the writers cared about detail. I'm sure there's some way to explain the difference, but again, I'm really not worried about it. So I'll faithfully suspend judgment on the crowing count, thankyewverymuch, and take every claim that is clear in its rendering to have happened, historically. :-)

Leadership and Oversight

I often see people substituting "leader" for "elder" in talking about NT church offices/functions. And this is just one of many instances (when I read christianese) where I'm never quite sure what they mean. Maybe it's simply a manner of speaking, but I think it betrays a common mindset that only certain people are qualified to "lead". That may be true in the military, but I think it's very false in other walks of life.

Oversight is parenting, which often involves watching and waiting. Leadership is setting a course for action and then taking said action, which is something parents and teens ought to work out together. Oversight is coaching. Leadership is doing. The second string linebacker can demonstrate leadership on his high school team in a number of ways, but the coaches bear the brunt of responsibility for the game and the team - before, during and after each play, in and outside the locker room, on and off the field.

Leadership is something anyone can contribute during an ongoing group effort. Coaches "lead" less and less overtly as a team grows, matures and learns how to execute its proper functions together. In a coaching situation, the balance of leadership shifts back and forth between coaches and players. But oversight is the constant resolve of a tireless caretaker. His concern is not merely to accomplish a task, but to develop competent task-accomplishers on every part of the team.

I may or may not have seen it much in my day, but I believe New Testament Eldering is service oriented in a much more behind the scenes way than we usually hear about. By the way, I don't find any value in equating the terms "lead" and "serve". That's purely apologetic semantics, if you ask me.

Actual leadership is not necessarily just by example. It includes reminding others of that which we have all agreed to, sometimes (gasp) even with verbal imperative commands. It means making suggestions about specific activities we can all follow along and participate in. Leadership can be charging once more into the breach, when you just so happen to get followed. It can also be standing up to exclaim, "Let's all charge once more into the breach. What do you say?"

Oversight is a precious commodity healthy churches are blessed to have, usually given in larger supply to certain individuals who have learned how to deal with problems graciously in the spirit. Leadership is just as precious in a whole different way. Without Leadership, people sit around and do absolutely nothing. Leadership is vital to movement of the body and the spirit.

Oversight is best recognized (even better when not-often-acclaimed) as being granted to a select number of experienced folks. Leadership is that which every joint can and - for God's Own Sake - really ought to supply.

Elders most certainly can and should lead, perhaps more often in some seasons than others. When they've done their job best is when we might see them the least. But Elders are not the same thing as Leaders, and therefore we should not equate the two terms. It is not only a matter of linguistic precision. It is a matter of setting our sights on a healthier, more holistic, more scriptural benchmark for the functional development of the members of the Body of Christ.

Oh, okay. Fine. Be militaristic in your institutionalism and exclude non-elders from leading. But at the very least, don't equate these two terms when talking about Elders in the New Testament. That's anachronistic. It may be other things, too. ;-)

August 26, 2009

Coffee Talk

I'm not verklempt or anything, but I need a moment. Talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a topic. Attitude is everything. Timing is everything. Angle is everything. Do these colloquialisms contradict one another or suggest equilibrium? Discuss.


August 25, 2009

The Nazareth Synagogue - 5

Jesus' first trip home to Nazareth (in Luke 4) took place in mid to late summer of 29 AD. His return trip (in Mark 6 & Matthew 13) came roughly a year later, before the second harvest of 30 AD. At the first homecoming he showed up alone and almost got thrown off a cliff. At the second homecoming, Jesus brought his disciples and nobody touched him. That alone should prove these are two separate incidents, but there are many more valuable distinctions worth noting, especially for the sake of reconstructing events.

The information we get from Mark and Matthew about this occasion is nearly the same. Mark gives a little more detail, and sounds as if Jesus might have come in a day or two early before teaching on the Sabbath. Matthew does not suggest a time frame at all, but both writers quickly establish that the central focus of the passage is going to be about teaching and learning, which was of course the main activity for the Synagogue community each Saturday.

In his first homecoming, Jesus read scripture and spoke words of grace, both of which amazed the Nazarenes, who asked, "Isn't this Joseph's son?" That earlier question sounds especially personal when compared with the somewhat similar question(s?) at his second homecoming, which focused on his vocation. (Mk: "Is not this the carpenter?" Mt: "Is not this the carpenter's son?") This time, the Nazarenes were specifically astonished by his teaching and healing abilities, as if the only skills they’d ever seen him master were in carpentry.

Both passages seem to emphasize the teachings more than the miracles, which took up much less of his time that day. It is also notable that the Synagogue and its teaching programs had long been part of Jesus' life, whereas the miracles were new. John’s Gospel tells us that miraculous powers came to Jesus only after the spirit descended upon him, so the Nazarenes being astonished about his miracles makes perfect sense. Even though they’d heard reports, they’d not seen his power first hand until now. In contrast, the Nazarenes being astonished at Jesus' teaching ability should give us pause, because Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus had been able to engage in rabbinic dialogue very impressively since age 12.

For that matter, we need to consider what exactly Jesus might have been “teaching” in Nazareth. Mark’s Gospel is not highly demonstrative about Jesus' teaching sessions, but parables and scripture were often involved. Matthew's Gospel is much more helpful, giving us the entire “Sermon on the Mount” - during which Jesus reinterprets the Law and describes a better approach to pleasing God and after which the crowds were astonished [exeplessonto] in the same way as the Nazarene Jews. Whether in parables or rabbinic style discourse, Jesus was no doubt explaining his revolutionary view of God and the Law.

Matthew tells us clearly (7:29) that Jesus' teaching was strikingly different from the typical Synagogue fare, and so we must conclude that if Jesus had ever discoursed in Nazareth in that way, even once in the past three decades, the Nazarenes would have been astonished at that time, instead of during this homecoming event. This is more specific than (and yet already contained within) our conclusion about his first homecoming. If Jesus had never spoken publicly in a memorable way, then that includes teaching like we are now considering. But we have gone this far with the question of his teaching in order to go a bit further.

The central question of the Nazarene Jews still stands for us today, and it begins with what must be the single most surprising word in both texts, from a historical perspective. More than once, they asked themselves, “Where…?” At first glance, we might take this merely as a rhetorical term, until we remember that Jesus has been away and traveling for the better part of two years, since his baptism. In that light, “Where…?” comes across as a definitively geographical question. Now it is our turn to be astonished. Somehow, the Nazarenes did not believe Jesus could have gained such understanding during his three decades of life right there, among themselves.

If the Jews of the Nazarene Synagogue did not know where he got his astonishing education, then where did he get it? Or, if he learned "these things" in Nazareth, why were they so astonished to think that he could have? Why did it shock them to think he had so fully mastered the Law? Why did they think he was merely a carpenter?

To be continued...

Series Update: The Nazareth Synagogue
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

August 24, 2009

Jesus + Father, Pre-Baptism

I know the Gospel writers don't seem that interested in showing us the Lord's adult life before he began ministering. But they had just been with Him. Their written testimony was enhanced by their personal memories of having had the experience. First John 1:1-4 reveals a much higher experience than the Synoptics generally seem to provide... but I don't think the beloved disciple was really so unique. I just think he's the one who put it on paper most directly.

So that's all to say I'm starting to believe there's a real purpose for our day in pulling back the curtain from the Gospels to look at Jesus alone. I think we've spent so many centuries on his teachings and their deeper meanings (especially as compared with theo-logic based on Paul's letters) that we've allowed our view of Him in His Prime to become virtually theoretical.

One very common view about Nazareth seems to be: Jesus somehow, mysteriously lived this perfect life that we're not supposed to imagine, because we could never possibly live up to that standard anyway and we'd go crazy trying. Another is: There was one way by which Jesus pleased the Father but you and I have a totally different challenge than he did. Then there's the one that shouldn't even be worth mentioning, which is: We're not supposed to nail Him down, man, because Jesus is, like, whoever you want him to be, maaan.

Sorry, but no. Jesus is whoever He actually Is. I've seen written "portraits" of Jesus that emphasize his characteristics, his deeds, his teachings, his theology, his moral rectitude or his personability. I don't think any of those portraits strikes directly enough to his real core. Only one thing was his centrality. And that one thing is something I believe we actually DO need to see much more clearly.

So it begins to occur to me that Jesus' adult life pre-baptism is the one area of the Gospels where there is nothing else to distract us from that view. (Stay with my recent series and I believe I will demonstrate that, yes, the Gospels do reflect that period of time in his life, if we look carefully.) And you know what else? Maybe it's not up to you or me to re-enact what we see in Nazareth. Maybe we're just supposed to look at it and fall on our faces in awe - because if we could look at Jesus in Nazareth, there is one thing we absolutely would see.

The centrality of Christ's Life on Earth was His Father.

August 23, 2009

Matthew's Composition Process

This is far too rough for what it attempts, but it's the best I can do at this time so I'm posting now. Feel free to tear it apart. :-)

If we apply Johnston Cheney's chronology of the Gospels to events in Matthew, we find 1:1 through 8:13 fits the larger timeline with nothing out of sequence whatsoever (except 3 verses near the end). The same is true from Matthew 12:45 to 28:20 (except the alabaster night in Bethany). But what is interesting is that 12:46 picks up on the timeline very shortly after 8:13 left off. In other words, if 8:14-12:45 wasn't there, Matthew would be virtually perfect when compared to Cheney's chronological sequence.

Let's call the above three sections MA, MB & MC. Our first significant observation is that MB is only 17% of Matthew's text. Excepting MB, the other 83% of Matthew's Gospel follows the sequence almost perfectly. That aside, MB itself is still a complete jumble, sequentially. Working from Cheney's chronology, almost everything in MB belongs to the timeline for MA or MC. In other words, it's a hodge podge of flashbacks and flash forwards that never presents itself as such. In fact, there is only one event in MB that fits in the larger event sequence between MA & MC, which is basically the summer of 30 AD.

That exceptional MB event is the occasion when John's disciples deliver his doubts to the Lord. Interestingly, the first major event of MC, the passage on John's death that begins chapter 14, is the only straightforward flashback in Matthew's entire Gospel. Since that flashback begins by referring back to 4:12, the last major event in MA, it begins to look as if Matthew's strategy in composing the midsection of his Gospel reserved special preference for the ongoing narrative about John the Baptist. We will keep this in mind.

Analyzing MB more closely, we can subdivide and sub-label its material chronologically:
* 36%, MB1, belongs between 13:52 and 14:1
* 27%, MB2, belongs between 4:23 and 5:1
* 21%, MB3, aligns with material from Luke's travelogue
* 11%, MB4, is the exception passage, about John
* 03%, MB5, is unique to the gospels (11:25-30)
It may be helpful to note that the passages in MB1 and MB2 are heavily event-based, woven together as individual threads, each still in sequence to the larger timeline. MB3 is largely non-event-based teaching material, selected and inserted with no discernible pattern. MB4 falls very near the middle of MB, about where it would belong if MB (or the entire Gospel) was completely re-sequenced to the overall timeline. And MB5, for the moment, remains a beautiful, fascinatingly context-less enigma.

We also see that MB2 fits into Cheney's chronology just before the Sermon on the Mount and MB1 belongs just after the long teaching section of chapter 13. In fact, the entire jumble of MB, excepting the travelogue bits, fits into the timeline between 4:12 and 14:1. We might call this the "expanded MB", whose alternating segments of teaching and event based episodes covers everything in Matthew's Gospel that goes between John's arrest in the spring/summer of 29 AD and John's beheading in the winter/spring of 31.

Viewing this expanded middle, it seems Matthew has jumbled the events of his own first two summers with Jesus and purposefully re-arranged that material while enhancing the more didactic parts of the same section with additional sayings of Jesus (from the travelogue). This complex arrangement is very odd, but extremely non-random. Everything that isn't 'supposed to be there' was deliberately stolen by the author from one of three specific windows of time. The MA parts of MB remain sequential unto themselves, but are woven together sporadically with the early MC parts, which also remain in sequence unto themselves. Almost separately, the narrative thread about John provides a chronological anchor for the entire mid-section.

Can such a complex pattern reveal any simple compositional strategy? Perhaps.

The simplest explanation for MB2 is that Matthew wanted to slide the Sermon on the Mount as close to the front of his Gospel as possible, which clearly befits his larger themes and 'political' purpose in writing. On this theory, the author's first major edit was cutting the MB2 material from its chapter 4 context. Then he had to decide whether to 'delete' it or 'paste' it elsewhere.

It is far more difficult to imagine what motivated the MB1 edit, unless Matthew decided or somehow realized a larger jumble was more justifiable than one large, glaring discrepancy. Whatever motivated the next major edit, it seems early MC was transposed with MB1. Then MB1 and MB2 were interwoven in overlapping style, alternating at their most natural breaks. MB4 stayed in the MB section not equidistant from 4:12 and 14:1, but well spaced enough to keep the spine of the major plot line in development.

Finally, the lack of a pattern for Matthew's MB3 and MB5 portions actually makes sense because these portions of text are primarily snippets that supplement passages of similar tone and content. The most likely explanation here is that Matthew had already finished his gospel when he decided to go back and insert extra material in his possession, wherever it seemed appropriate.

In conclusion, it must be acknowledged this all depends on presupposing Cheney's blended event sequence from all four Gospels, and that Matthew knew precisely that sequence and tried keeping to it at first. This entire argument would probably be stronger if it were re-worked directly from the basis of comparative sequence, rather than simply following Cheney. (But hey, gimme time!)

Having said that, any careful reader must also acknowledge that the timeline of Johnston Cheney does provide a surprisingly clean view of compositional structure, sequence and chronological awareness in Matthew's Gospel.

August 22, 2009

Lights & Fanfare

Dr. James McGrath, that beloved college professor, fun-loving sci-fi fan and tireless champion of Biblioblogging's Team Liberal, has won well-deserved fanfare and his name here in lights by answering my distress call and my question. (Although, to be honest, I'm still a bit confused. But that's on me, right? ;-)

So, without further ado...


light * light * light * light * light
light * James McGrath * light
light * light * light * light * light

Thanks again, James. Your challenging input is always appreciated here. :-)

Your Brain on Blogs

This is me, 4 years ago, as a new blogger.

And this is me now.
Any questions? ;-)

HELP! - Synoptic Problem Research Question

Whether serendipitous or not, I stumbled from the Synagogue article into the Synoptic Problem article a week ago while reading IVP's Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Perhaps as a dog returns to its vomit, I was reading through it again tonight. But unless I'm missing something, this explanation seemed lacking, about the problems with Lessing (1776) & Eichhorn's (1796) hypotheses of an early Gospel in Aramaic:
"The main problem with this argument is that as one sought to reconstruct what this Ur-Gospel looked like, it began to look more and more like an Ur-Markus... This in turn began to look more and more like the canonical Gospel of Mark."
I get the point there at the end, but can anyone tell me why the reconstruction trended that way? I mean, especially since they're positing Aramaic instead of Greek, why didn't they simply posit a giant sized Gospel with everything found in all three Synoptics? Seriously, was that just too easy, or were there deemed to be some particular problems with it?

For scholarship as old as America, I'll print your name here in lights with much fanfare if you've got the true scoop!

August 21, 2009

Sequence, not Harmony

I know scholars frown on Harmonies, but I'm not trying to replace the four Gospels. I'm trying to reconstruct their event sequence. With that in mind, the most important piece of scholarship to my efforts thus far has been the work of Johnston Cheney.

Evangelical harmonies of the Gospels are indefensible because they're using the wrong chronology. They use a three year chronology of Christ's ministry because the necessary apologetics were more readily available, back in the day. But those arguments weren't quite good enough. So Cheney came along with his four year solution and was largely ignored, perhaps not completely apart from the fact that he was a layman. But his study of sequence in the four Gospels is peerless. If he had written more about the process of his work, instead of merely publishing the result and a brief defense of it, maybe we'd all be relying on his four year chronology, and I might be writing fiction about the church in Thessalonica, instead of working through Matthew's chronology... again.

Someday, someone may need to redo Cheney's work from scratch. Precisely why do the four Gospel sequences demand the conclusions he reached? Cheney did not explain that sufficiently. But if you're willing to take my word for it - believe me - he did the work well. So well, in fact, he may have had help. Oh, I'm not getting spooky. I'm getting busy. But I will gladly take your prayers...

What's happened to me?

She's not a dog, she's a worm. Just look how she wormed her way onto my lap last night. What a disgustingly cute, adorable creature of pure affection. Sometimes, I'm slightly offended at myself. And sometimes I imagine God before creation thinking, "Alright, now we're going to need a lot of extra smiles to go around. What can I do?" And so he made puppies.

And Bo and Emma saw that it was good.

12 Bodyguards at the Nazareth Synagogue

On the heels of my last post...

Without question, the Lord's primary practical purpose in selecting disciples was to train (teach, prepare, discipline) twelve of them for their upcoming mission as his apostles to the world. But along the way, they perform other duties as well. They ran errands (food in Sychar/Samaria, a lamb and a donkey in Jerusalem) or talked about doing so (facing the 5,000 at lunchtime). They most likely caught fish a whole lot more than two times.

As 'first-tour' recruits in Judea, they baptized, seemingly on their own initiative (most likely at Andrew's suggestion). Peter, for one, took strong initiative on numerous occasions and was not always shut down (the coin, the two swords). The more memorable rebukes of his worse contributions (building three shelters, denying the cross, attacking Malchus) actually demonstrates that Peter felt perfectly comfortable making bold suggestions at any time.

The others did too, just as boldly, although less individually by most accounts (calling down fire, forbidding the children). "Explain this parable", "Send her away" and "Tell us when" are all imperative statements. So the same Jesus who embraced his role as their Master was also perfectly comfortable following his trainees' commands, to some degree, if the action was appropriate.

The disciples' high level of ownership and empowerment means Jesus didn't have to instruct them to act as his bodyguards, for them to have done so. Their failed attempt to forbid the children suggests a more general practice. Yes, there were some times when the crowd pressed around Jesus, but there were others when the Lord seemed content letting his entourage act as his 'screen'. Although it certainly appears they kept that screen fairly porous at most times, by Jesus' own preference, the leading apostles were fiercely devoted to him. Given their desire to see him become King, they could not help but take initiative concerning his safety.

When the Sanhedrin finally took Jesus, they sent a cohort of armed troops to make sure they got past his apostles. Until the very moment Jesus called it off, Peter and Caiaphas were both expecting a fight. It was not the threat of dozens (or possibly hundreds - on which, see below*) of troops that scattered the Lord's men during that dark night. It was their Master's own shocking surrender.

Up to that night, Jesus' practice of fostering initiative among his apostles-in-training should emphasize for us that there were always twelve extra minds at work, wherever they went. There were twelve extra wills to contend with, if you wanted to get close to Jesus. And there were twelve extra sets of eyes looking over the Nazareth Synagogue [at his second homecoming, in the summer/autumn of 30 AD]. However those eyes did their looking - gently, firmly, harshly or severely - they most certainly would have said, Don't even think about it, if anyone in the crowd so much as stepped in their Master's direction with apparent intent to do harm.

Once again, the authorities over Jerusalem sent an armed cohort to get past these guys. By comparison, the small village community of Nazareth would have been unwise to attempt the same thing with no planning, and probably would not have been able to drag Jesus up the hill to the cliff if the disciples had been there on that occasion. These considerations add significant weight to the view from a harmonized chronology that Jesus' homecoming in Luke 4 was a completely separate occasion from that of Mark 6 and Matthew 13.

* If the cohort was indeed Roman, it did not have to be at full strength - up to 500, or according to some, possibly 1000 Legionaries. It does seem less likely that Caiaphas got Pilate to send so many men, but the numbers itself (perhaps somewhere in the low hundreds) are not inconceivable. If the soldiers literally besieged Gethsemane from all sides before moving in, it would have been a foolproof strategy for capturing Jesus. That might seem excessive to us, but Roman military tactics at this stage in the Empire tended heavily towards staging an overwhelming show of force to avoid any unnecessary fighting. Given recent events in Palestine, Pilate might have been far more likely to send one or two hundred than merely a few.

On the other hand, even if we imagine Jerusalem's leaders sent between fifteen and a hundred troops, that's still quite a statement. Jesus had eleven apostles on his side in the garden that night, plus one boy in a sheet, and perhaps several more followers as well. But even if the cohort came merely in equal numbers to the size of His entourage that night, we should be impressed with their respect for the apostles. Twelve, twenty or thirty armed military men, highly trained as a unit, should have easily taken down the same number of simple peasants. Practically, therefore, for our purposes here, the numbers are moot. Even at the smallest reasonable estimate, the authorities had taken the measure of these men for a year in Judea and a week in Jerusalem, and on that undoubtedly careful recognizance, they sent a cohort!

August 20, 2009

The Nazareth Synagogue - 4

In the opening preview of his masterful work, The Ancient Synagogue, Lee Levine provides this beautiful summary of the function(s) of the first century Synagogue:
the primary importance of the synagogue, as a whole, throughout antiquity lay in its role as a community center. ... Within the confines of the synagogue, the Jewish community not only worshipped, but also studied, held court, administered punishment, organized sacred meals, collected charitable donations, housed the communal archives and library, and assembled for political and social purposes. (p.3)
The key point from the ellipses is that the Synagogue buildings of Jesus' time were never primarily or exclusively reserved for Sabbath worship, study and prayer, although that became more the trend in the centuries after Jerusalem's destruction. According to Levine (and the majority of recent scholarship, as I gather from him), the meeting place was in every way the central hub for the entire Jewish community in that town.

Now, I said all of that in order to say this: Many people conclude merely on the basis of Luke 4:16 that Jesus attended Sabbath meetings throughout "the silent years" in Nazareth. I actually think he did but I don't agree that one phrase is enough here, because "as was his custom" could conceivably refer, merely, to all of the Saturdays in his recent teaching circuit, in 29 AD. But the clincher to me is the powerful blanket statement of Luke 2:52.

It would be difficult to see how Jesus could "grow in favor" with the community of Nazareth if he had conspicuously avoided the central location for community gathering, function and expression. And if he had attended everything but the Sabbath meetings, it would have been even more profoundly offensive.

Therefore, even though it is evident that Jesus never taught or spoke on the scriptures at any length or in any remarkable way, he was nevertheless most often there, in attendance. To have earned the gracious approval of any Jewish community, he simply must have been a regular fixture at most if not all of their normal gatherings and functions.

(Granted, there does come a day later on when Jesus publicly declares himself "Lord of the Sabbath", but if he ever felt that way about himself in Nazareth, we would only need to understand that the Lord of the Sabbath had at least equal prerogative for attending as for avoiding Sabbath meetings.)

Overall, then, in order to read Luke's testimony as being both consistent and historical, we should conclude the statement "as was his habit" refers to the Sabbaths of his entire three decades of life spent in Nazareth. In other words, it seems Jesus was definitely a part of the Synagogue, according to Luke.

To what degree, then, did he participate?

To be continued...

Series Update: The Nazareth Synagogue
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

August 19, 2009

Jesus' 12 Bodyguards

In Luke's Gospel, Jesus almost gets thrown off a cliff. Two cities later, he's recruiting Simon Peter in Bethsaida. Shortly after that, he's expanding the push for disciples.

In the blended chronology of Gospel events, his disciples leave him alone after Samaria. Maybe they just needed to go back to earning an income or maybe Jesus' kindness to the woman at the well was too radical for them at that point. Probably it was a bit of both. Either way, that summer/autumn, when Jesus travels alone, is when he almost gets killed in his hometown.

Six to nine months after that dangerous day, Jesus has finally finished re-re-recruiting his twelve apostles. So when he goes back to Nazareth, roughly a year after his previous visit, he's not only become even more famous. He's also got an entourage.

Smart man, that Jesus.

The Nazareth Synagogue - 3

Archaeology has not yet uncovered a Synagogue in Nazareth and may never do so, but we certainly trust that it was there during the Lord's ministry. To go farther back in time, we should also assume Nazareth had a Synagogue long before Jesus was born. Jewish custom required only ten men in order to form a Synagogue [community], even if their Synagogue [building] (or proseuche, 'prayer house') was merely a large room on the ground level of some other building.

Of course, it might have been either. But Luke 7:5 sounds as if the [at-least-partly-Centurion-financed] Synagogue building at Capernaum was that city's first-ever corporately owned, specifically allocated, communal construction. And since Capernaum was probably a hair better off than Nazareth, economically, it seems very possible that Jesus' family and neighbors actually gathered in a converted home or something similar.

(Seriously, my house church friends should NOT be getting excited about this - practical expedience was extremely common in antiquity. On the other hand, I do wonder if this being a common practice might help explain the relative dearth of early Synagogue finds in Palestine. But as far as my purpose here, I'm merely trying to be thorough.)

My only point is that we don't need Archaeology, in this case, to expect that the Jewish community of Nazareth held gatherings in some place or another during Jesus' early life. Whether they utilized part of a shared building or had somehow afforded themselves a proper meeting house, the Synagogue was the Community.

This well established fact was especially true before 70 AD, and clears the way for us to ask the next logical question. Given that there almost certainly was a Synagogue association/gathering of some sort in Nazareth, during the Lord's "silent years", to what extent did Jesus participate in it, and for that matter, what precisely did they do?

To be continued...

Series Update: The Nazareth Synagogue
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