October 29, 2010

The Movement of God - 23

God promised Canaan to Israel, but claimed Mt. Sinai for himself, and that is a critical difference.  The children of Abraham were told that God would be giving them land.  It was going to be their land.  But Mount Sinai, by contrast, made it clear to Israel that God could inhabit his own piece of land, also.

And that - going back to the previous two posts in this series- may explain God's consistency in returning to Horeb/Sinai.  The repetition (for Moses, at least) could have driven the point home.  But even if Mt. Sinai wasn't precisely the same spot as Mount Horeb, the length of time Israel spent camped there made it clear that Mount Sinai absolutely was Holy Ground. Israel could not have gone without noticing that God was a God who most certainly did want a PLACE on the Earth.

That simple concept - what Sinai was - set the stage for what God did while there.  The whole time Israel camped at Mount Sinai, as God dictated the Torah to Moses, every word spoken was practically aimed at either one of two things.

 First, He was giving the Law, which was God's way to establish a practical means to help Israel grow into walking with Him. And secondly, on Sinai, God was giving Moses instructions for how to assemble a new place. As a matter of fact, a significant portion of all the words Moses heard from the LORD on Mount Sinai were God's instructions on how to build, take care of, put up and take down God's new place...

The Tabernacle.

Quite clearly, this new place was intended to replace Sinai as God's home on Earth. Just as clearly, there were many reasons why this new place, God's Tabernacle, was superior to Sinai, as a position for God's dwelling. But one key improvement over Sinai was incredibly obvious:

God's new PLACE had the constant dynamic potential for MOVEMENT...

To be continued...

October 28, 2010

The Gospels: Theology vs. History

TPTB all say, "Don't write narrative history of the Gospels because it might usurp the Gospels themselves."  

The same PTB say the Gospels are primarily Theological.  So if the Theological content of the Gospels is what's most important, then why is it okay to write a Theology of the Gospels?  Why don't we worry about usurping the primacy of these "Theological" Gospels with a rewritten Theology?

TPTB and their predecessors have spent centuries examining the Gospels through the lens of constructed theologies. To this very hour, they continue to write new Theology and then try that on as the context of their readings in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Furthermore, traditionally, TPTB tend to express very great confidence in their Theologies.  Apparently there's nothing to worry about in all that business.

But in History - where the uncertainty of one's conclusions is more obviously apparent - we get dire warnings about what befell Tatian and straw men arguments against Harmonies.  And on historical aspects of Gospel content, we get defense of so-called inerrancy, but virtually nothing in the way of any positive efforts towards reconstructing events for their own sake.  And on chronology, we get "Well, we just really don't know enough to be certain about that."

Oh.  But you're certain about the precise workings of how the Almighty operates from behind the curtain of Eternity.

Well, I guess.  As long as you say so.

October 27, 2010

on Chronologizing Jesus' Ministry

The idea isn't to date each verse, or passage.  The idea is to reconstruct a sequence of events which occurred in actual history, during Jesus' public phase - a sequence which can then be viewed as [a part of] the broader context of all Jesus' actions and sayings, first as a whole, and then perhaps somewhat developmentally.

In how many ways was his final year of traveling & preaching at all different from his first?  In how many ways did his strategy change after John's arrest, and after John's death?  What, if anything, does that say about Jesus' mission *before* his Passion took place?  Does a brief (1 or 2 year) ministry support those who want Stephen and Paul to get on stage as quickly as possible?  Does a longer (3 or 4 year) ministry require us to consider more carefully that God may have wanted something from Galilee and Judea, also?

The idea isn't to reconstruct a context for reinterpreting particular sayings and actions of Jesus.  The idea is to care about the fact that Jesus' enormous impact on his own day didn't take place in a chronological or developmental vacuum.  The idea is that some event-based context is better than none.  The idea is that sequenced events tend to influence one another.  If Jesus' actions stay in the Gospels, they remain that much more insulated from the book of Acts.

Why don't Christian believers put more effort toward reconstructing a History - an historical synopsis of Gospel events?

To date, I still can't think of any good reasons not to.

October 26, 2010

Did Priscilla write Hebrews?

That could explain a lot more than just the anonymity. Priscilla was a Hellenized (Italian*) woman with a Jewish husband, Aquila. She'd lived in Rome, Corinth and Ephesus. She'd become soaked in Paul's thought in all three of those cities, and probably became acquainted with Johannine thought before Nero exiled the writer to Patmos. She'd either lived through the horrors of Nero's persecution or lived to hear about friends dying in horrible ways.

Luke says Priscilla knew how to lay out the way of God - not 'teach', not 'proclaim', but to expound. Luke says 'laid out', like the baby moses was laid out. It's the same word Luke uses when Peter recounts his experience at Caesarea, and when Paul expounded his way through the scriptures with Rome's Jews.  That kind of instructive exposition fits the style of the Hebrews writer, who laid out her/his arguments more like relating a saga than imitating a sage.

And who among early Christian leaders, more than Priscilla, had known the wandering life of an exile?  When the Emperor Claudius kicked her husband out of Rome, they moved to Corinth.  P&A left Corinth to help prepare Ephesus for Paul, they left Ephesus for Rome after Claudius died, and they left Rome for Ephesus again some time before Paul's execution - most likely soon after Nero's persecutions began.  That's a lot of personal transition for the ancient world, and it must have brought some personal sensitivity towards the themes found in Hebrews.

I now+ see this suggestion - that Priscilla wrote Hebrews - has been made before, and I'm not surprised.  By whom, and for what reasons, I've not yet ascertained.  Intriguing, though.  Don't you think?

*Most Greeks were never Romanized, but all Italians had become somewhat hellenized after the 2nd century BC.
+Post originally written for 9/17/10

October 24, 2010

Reverend Augustus & his PR Machine

Barbara Levick's latest book is out.  Augustus: image and substance attempts to show that "Augustus’ overriding purpose was always to keep himself and his dynasty in power".  Well, of course it was, but that's mainly because Revered Caesar (the 'August One') genuinely believed his own person and legacy was the only way to keep Rome at peace.  Honestly.

By the way, I can't help thinking I've known other men with and without that same title who believed similar things of themselves.  Anyway...

Whether the Empire's Revered One was justified in his belief is debatable.  What should be undisputed, however, is that once Augustus had justified that self-centric decision to himself, from that point onwards Reverend Caesar had to pull out all the stops to make sure everyone else believed it (and kept on believing it, even while things were crumbling around him) as well.  And that's what Levick's book promises to be about - the difference between what Augustus was (or at least, what he became) and what he portrayed himself as.

From the cover, again: "This fascinating story of the realities of power in ancient Rome has inescapable contemporary resonance..."  Indeed.  The realities of power.  Control begets wickedness.  But I digress again.

One reason I wish seminaries focused more on First Century Events is because I often wish ministerial trainees would study more in the area of Imperial Politics.  Dear reader, if YOU harbor such noble ambitions as to caretake for God's people, I daresay you could probably do a lot worse than to get a copy of Levick's Augustus, and keep it right next to your Bible... at least for a while.  It might show you all the things you do not want to do.  It might show you how power corrupts.

Godspeed, all you wanna be Reverends.  Godspeed to learn History... and then, hopefully, to fall on your face before God once again.

October 19, 2010

Let's Revolt

Up until about 500 years ago, the overlords of Christian Scripture promoted their dogmas so strongly that almost everyone went along.  Then the Renaissance birthed the Reformation, which paved the way for the Enlightenment, and power started to shift.  Upstarts used logic and reason to overturn entrenched dogmas.  Newly established upstarts, however, turn to dogma as soon as they're able.

Today's overlords of Christian Scripture are the ubiquitous "scholars" - University and Seminary professors who've earned clout within the Society of Biblical Literature.  But the half-art, half-science of "Biblical Scholarship" is a mixture of reason and dogma.  At the top of the current power structure is skepticism, primarily against the historical veracity of what scripture apparently claims.

But while some Christian members of SBL defend scripture against these attacks, the way they defend leaves all the power with skepticism.  Likewise, other Christian approaches sidestep historical challenges by appeals to scripture's "theological" nature, but this also leaves all the power with skeptics.  We've allowed *them* to define where *we* may stake our claims.  Really?  But it works for some, sadly.

Reason & dogma mix unequally, in these groups.  Wisely, the skeptics apply reason on top of their faith.  "We do not accept the miraculous.  Now, let us reason about what remains."  Foolishly, Christian authorities are still trying to reclaim the authority lost centuries ago, still attempting to "prove" to skeptics what did or didn't (could or couldn't have) happen(ed).  But the ones who've surrendered are just no help at all.

Christians, don't support dogmas about arguments that support our Christian scriptures.  Support dogmas that support our belief in scriptural claims.  On top of that dogma, apply reason.  On top of that faith, apply logic and historical argument.

IF the gospels were written as records of things which actually happened, THEN what may we conclude?

That approach is virtually untried.  It doesn't help anyone's kingdom building, at the moment.  It doesn't attack skeptics, and it doesn't shore up weak minded believers.  What it DOES do, is make sense.  What it DOES do, is project integrity.

That approach may not win much notice among SBL atendees... yet.

But the 21st century is young.

And I have not yet begun to write.

Stay tuned...

October 14, 2010

Five Targets

In 5 minutes, I'm going to finish this blog post.
In 5 days, I'm going to publish another one.
In 5 weeks, I'll report some things about SBL in Atlanta.
In 5 months, I'm going to be drafting or redrafting one of my book ideas.
In 5 years, I'm going to have a dozen e-books available, of varying lengths and qualities... and then I'll start revising them all.

That's one target met.  Will the others hit?

Stay tuned.

October 1, 2010

To be continued...

Sometimes the pillar of fire would stop...

And sometimes Moses' arms would simply drop.

Watch this space?
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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