December 28, 2011

Ten Things I've Learned

In four years of researching NT/Historical methodology:

1) Chronology is the bedrock of History.
2) The primary goal of historiography is reconstruction.
3) Incredible testimony may as well be accepted, as not.
4) Relevance is the enemy of the historian's task.
5) All history is interpreted, as all narrative is selective.
6) Ideas can both cause and arise from events.
7) God acts within History, as do others, with varying impact.
8) Slanted testimony shines helpful light from surprising angles.
9) The "whole story" is as lost as it would be untellable.
10) There are many valuable ways to re-present what is past.

The rest, perhaps, is in the works.

Anon, then...

December 20, 2011

Gospel Based History

Here is my four point proposal for a new way of discussing the Gospels.  I still say I've not seen any complete work done in quite this fashion, yet, but it should happen before too long.  If *you* would like to take part, here are four areas in which I humbly suggest your Gospel Based History project could break new ground:

First, basic historicity should be largely assumed but 'literalism' should be eschewed whenever nuanced distinctions may be practically helpful for reconstruction's sake.  In other words, be neither defensive nor critical for theo/ideological reasons.  If we're going to be trusting or skeptical, both should only apply in the interest of furthering historiographical objectives.  We aren't trying to shore up our camp, here.  We're trying to analyze the Gospel's content with greater historical sensibility.

Second, causal factors must be held in tension with theological humility.  Each interpreter has their own philosophy of History, and their own philosophy of God's involvement with History, but we must accept that Jesus at various moments acted, reacted and was acted-upon, and that divine power was neither absent from nor dominant over the recorded events, practically speaking, from what we can tell.  In other words, as events actually unfolded, the Father and Son were precisely, and only, two of our players.  History's stage must respect all the dynamic personae.

Third, we must draw careful distinctions about what our finished project will or won't claim to be, and thus sidestep traditional fears of constructing this summarized narrative.  Far from producing a Tatian-esque textual rearrangement, we'll not craft a remastered medley of four separate tunes.  Instead, we'll compose in our own words a song that is technically new, but which succeeds at three tasks:  1) to faithfully capture the spirit and soul of our source texts, 2) to represent both Gospel content and contextual 'background material' holistically, and 3) to provide greater awareness and insight into aspects of texts that we should already know, but often fail to recognize.

Fourth, the purpose of writing this Gospel Based History is not to discover something the Gospels didn't already tell us, but to build upon and make more from what they actually do tell us.  In other words, reconstructing sound History is a lot like constructing sound Theology, except that Historians naturally ask different kinds of questions. We will primarily focusing on scripture's testimonies about practical happenings and examining how persons who carried ideas and beliefs both took actions and interacted with one another, in ways that may or may not have been fully in line with anything God Himself was attempting to do, at particular times.

All in all, a Historian of Jesus' life needs to believe in the texts of the Four Gospels, but analyze those texts historically.  She must read, consider and comment on them while asking different sorts of questions than theologians typically ask.  She must write different sorts of overviews than theologians have usually written.  Like any good Theologian, she must build up and make more of scripture's God-breathed content, in ways that neither add to nor take away from scripture's claims, but which enhance what is already contained there.  The Historian must engage with historical issues without ignoring theological truths, and construct narrative summaries without ignoring the deep perspectival distinctions of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Like any good work of Theology, a Gospel Based History should impact readers by making them *more* eager to dive into the scriptures, not less.  Such a project will produce neither a radical new vision nor a regurgitation of church tradition, but a fresh four-dimensional (ie, fully spatial & temporal) perspective on the original Gospel, and especially on the most living and active aspects of that Holy Gospel. The goal of such work will be merely to bring out the full life of the One Story we find in the four irreplaceable Gospels.


December 16, 2011

Practical Advent

The Word became flesh in 7 BC, but Jesus’ public Advent came at the Jordan, when God declared that more than three decades of Christ’s earthly life was “well pleasing” to Him. Today, we wait for 30 days to open up a few gifts. Mary waited for nine months for the birth. God Almighty had waited a much longer time for that blessed event, and then God kept on waiting, for thirty-something more years, until he could actually send that boy somewhere. Talk about devoting oneself to the season of Advent!

Paul says, “In the fullness of time, God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law.” And John’s Gospel tells us, over and over, that Jesus came “into the world”, reminding us many times that the Word had been made Flesh. But John’s Gospel also has Jesus say, many times, “The Father has sent me” – apparently, to Jerusalem, to Capernaum, to some festivals, even to his to his last meal. In other words, I believe, we should properly notice that God “sent his son into the world” many times over.

Obviously, John’s Gospel is very spiritual, but it’s also deeply geographic (if you pay close attention). Likewise, the irony John plays on for 21 chapters is that Jesus’ hearers don’t recognize the spiritual impact of his words, but we can. Yet today, too often, *we* overlook the more practical side. When Jesus stands at the Temple and says, “God sent me”, the Jerusalemite’s natural response should be, “Oh, so that’s why we have to put up with your crazy talk here, today? Because God sent you?” In such cases the double meaning was absolutely intended, and probably in both directions.

Likewise, I suspect Paul’s summary to the Galatians has a double meaning that we often skim past way too quickly. Yes, of course, Jesus was ‘heaven come down’, but just as importantly, if not more so, Jesus was ‘heaven sent round’, and few could know this any better than Paul. At that writing, the apostle himself hailed from Taurus, from Jerusalem, from Damascus, from Arabia, and from Antioch. Paul had a deep appreciation of the eminent practicality of that word, sent.

Each December we're challenged to celebrate the Lord’s Manger-Advent with tremendous fanfare, and rightly so, because something mystical started to happen on Earth that day. But Jesus’ Jordan-Advent is something I wish we could celebrate with equal fanfare, if not even more. On that day, after more than three decades in Nazareth, Jesus’ mystical mission, bringing Light to the World, jumped up several big notches on the ‘practical’ scale.

In the Fullness of time, God sent his Nazarene into the world.


December 13, 2011

Twenty Questions for Leen Ritmeyer

or for anyone else at the big Boca Raton conference this weekend, on Jesus and the Temple... or for any other scholarly expert on the Temple of Jerusalem, for that matter.  If you're going, and if you get a chance to ask any of these questions*, I'd genuinely love to hear back about how Leen or anyone else answers them.

Without further ado:

1) Was the Temple in Jesus' day basically the same shape and size in all aspects as it was when Josephus described it?  If so, how do we know?  If not, which features or structures were different?

2) For instance, was the Temple courtyard in Jesus' day paved, or was it mostly dirt? How do we know?

3) If the Temple in Jesus' day was more or less structurally complete, then what if anything did the workmen of Agrippa II actually contribute to the "finishing" of that great complex?  What do you suppose was the very last element of construction they might have been working on?  Why?

4) Do you accept the suggestion that recently found coins may indicate the Western (retaining) Wall had not yet been built at the death of King Herod the Great? If not, why not, and what do you think they do indicate?

5) If the Western Wall had not yet been constructed by 4 BC, what other parts of the grand structure Josephus describes might possibly NOT have been finished by that date, either?

6) Would it be logical to assume that the Western Wall must have been finished before the temple court could be leveled, and that the leveling would be necessary before the court (the entire outer court) could be paved?

7) Would it be logical to assume that the courtyard was unlevel before the retaining wall(s)* went up, and that the courtyard would therefore have been unpaved before the courtyard was leveled?

8) Would it be possible for the outer court to have boundaries before the plateau had been fully leveled? Would those boundaries therefore have been necessarily smaller than they were later on? Is it possible that such an expansion of the courtyard could have happened at any given time between 20 BC and 63* AD?

9) What other developmental sequencing (or 'phases') of construction would have necessarily regarded the full retaining wall boundary (and leveling) as a prerequisite construction? Does the recent coin find therefore potentially change how we view the "Colonnade of Herod", or could it then push back the date at which it might have been completed?

10) Does a later wall construction affect the veracity of Josephus' account of the Battle of Pentecost, 4 BC, where rebel assailants are said to have hurled great stones down upon Roman legionaries [as from a great height directly above them]?

11) Do you believe the account of that passage that "[those noble structures were burned completely to the ground]"* at the end of that battle? If Josephus exaggerates, how extensive do you suppose the real damage actually was? Can you specifiy which structures are most likely to have gone down at that time, or to not have gone down, and why so? Can you speak to the physics of temperature and fire on limestone and marble(?*)? And on the bonding agents between them? (Or any other materials involved?*)?

12) If some significant portion of Herod's complex did burn down in the year 4 BC, how long did it take to rebuild? Who funded that rebuilding? With Archelaus partying hard for a decade and the Procurators coming in after that, was reconstruction funding therefore left to Jerusalem? Should we then expect they most likely applied a much smaller reconstruction budget, as compared to King Herod's original budget, and if so, again, how many years might it have taken for the rebuilding after that fire?

13) Is it possible that Jerusalem's Temple, in Jesus' day, was far from being the same structure that burned in 4 BC?

14) Is it possible that Jerusalem's Temple, in Jesus' day, was far from being the same structure Josephus had known from his Judean life in the 40's to 60's AD.

15) To what extent have archaeologist's reconstructions considered such questions of chronological development over the 'lifetime' of Herod's ongoing Temple project, from 20 BC until 63* AD?

16) To what extent might the following research scenario qualify as irresponsible misrepresentation:  If someone reads Josephus' description of the Temple and then works out convenient arguments as to why that same location, in Jesus' ministry phase, would have supposedly looked quite exactly the same?  To what extent has your research and writing attempted to avoid such a tactic?  What do you personally find most difficult about that particular challenge?

17) To what extent does the lack of developmental aspect in typical discussions of Herod's Temple Complex possibly enable the not-too-uncommon-in-print generality that "[Herod's Temple was under construction for around 80 years]"?  To what extent does this generality contradict the surface claims of the typical scholarly view?

18) What other aspects of New Testament research, or any other field within christian study, might also be suffering from a slight lack in developmental awareness?

19) Do you think we owe people a four-dimensional view of the past?  Does that include archaeology?  Does that include reconstruction?  Why, or why not?

20) Lastly, how many of these questions have you pondered before?  I'm just curious.

Thanks so much for your time...

* To the reader - Please forgive my lack of thorough fact checking tonight.  This is purely from memory, and the conference starts soon.

December 11, 2011

No Spirit for Eunuchs! (or Gentile widows, apparently)

In the earliest days of the christian church in Jerusalem, under Peter's Regime, there were two tiers of Christianity.  This becomes unarguably clear when we read of Cornelius, but that discrimination must have been going on from the start.  What Peter blessed should be counted as spiritually unconscionable - that Jewish believers were permitted instructed to receive the Holy Spirit, but the Gentile believers were not.

In retrospect, this comes out nowhere more forcibly than Acts 8, where Philip meets the Ethiopian eunuch, and especially because this occurs fresh after Philip gets schooled in Samaria by Peter & John, about how to make converts, and when to "give" them the Spirit.  Evidently, Philip had not known that Samaritans - while not 'Judean' - were indeed people of Abraham.  Thus, all their men were circumcised.  Thus, Holy Spirit.  But, alas, Philip had no special grace for his second-tier convert, the eunuch.

Seen in this light, I believe it shines clear that Luke's purpose in Acts 8 was far less to foreshadow the great reach of the Gospel's Global Advance than to show what a dangerous state that GGA was in about to be in, under Peter's direction.  For Luke, this is not a good ending:  an entire continent had just been inflicted with a Holy Spirit-less Gospel!  And as Acts goes on to show, later, even Jewish Apollos, the African, was some time later producing disciples who had "not even heard" of the HS.

Of course, it's only on a second read-through of Acts that we can retroject these attitudes into the otherwise glorious sounding adventures in Acts' early chapters.  Yet, retroject them we must, and by doing so we may be surprised in quite a few ways.

For example:

It was a genuine, righteous fury that inspired Stephen in denouncing the Temple (that very place where the Twelve had met daily since Pentecost, and the same place Luke later shows leading Paul towards his doom) but perhaps Stephen's anti-Temple rhetoric was being aimed in two directions at once.  Given the full picture, it couldn't have been merely the Sanhedrin's entrenched institutionalism that Stephen strongly resented.  Consider also the mindless heartless traditional bigotry of Peter and the Apostles.

We know Stephen was circumcised because "the seven" were allowed to take food directly from the responsible hands of fellow Jewish believers, but it must have grated on Stephen to be told he could share only food with these widows - with these unmarried women who could not be converted by the proxy of husbands submitting to cutlery.  Under Peter's instructions, Stephen had HS, but these widows did not.

Again, please imagine at some length the daily pleasure of being tasked to bring food to the needy, but the daily pain of being told it was unrighteous to share with them also what the rest of Christ's body was sharing.  That daily, from house to house, the believers were eating and praying together, instructing one another with words from the Apostles, and having spiritual fellowship with the Father and Son.  But if these gentile widows were so unclean that they couldn't come into the house of a Jewish Believer, to even eat together, then how could the church think they were holy enough to pray, learn and fellowship with?  If you can't even break the same bread with us, how can you ingest the same Spirit as us?

I expect Stephen was frustrated with many things in Jerusalem, of which the Temple was roundly symbolic.

Extrapolate as you may...

November 27, 2011

Bauckham on Jesus (QOTD)

From the final paragraphs of Chapter 6 in Richard Bauckham's Jesus: A Very Short Introduction:
Could Jesus act with fully divine authority and exercise the divine prerogative of giving life, while being himself no more than a human servant of God? No, because in Jewish theology such prerogatives belong uniquely to God and cannot simply be delegated to someone else. They help to define who God is. Hence, even in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus' claims to divine authority - to forgive sins or to share God's universal sovereignty - are regarded as blasphemy by Pharisees and chief priests. ...
And the payoff...
The only Jesus we can plausibly find in the sources is a Jesus who, though usually reticent about it, speaks and acts for God in a way that far surpassed the authority of a prophet in the Jewish tradition. His opponents recognized this. Probably a lifetime of pondering it led to John's theologically creative interpretation of it. To do his Gospel justice, we must see that he is engaged, not in free creation, but in creative interpretation of the same Jesus the other Gospels, in their more restrained ways, also interpret.
(Italics by Bauckham).

Well said, I do believe.  Any questions?

November 10, 2011

The Individualist Accident (Medievalism)

Ken Schenck's continuing posts on Scot McKnight's King Jesus Gospel have been really engaging so far.  Told ya they would be.  In the latest installment.. well, you should really go read it for yourself.  (Menu: Here!)  I'll just begin here with my major takeaway, so far.

Ken's last post made me realize how directly the Medieval Church was responsible for influencing the Protestant message into emphasizing individual salvation. Now, I've long recognized Catholic Individualism.  For one thing, when all of Europe became evidently "God's Kingdom", what else was there but to get everyone into heaven?  For another, the emphasis was good marketing AND good governance.  How do we make sure all these ignorant, filthy peasants keep the faith?  Talk up the next world!  And how do we make sure these disenfranchised, poverty stricken peasants remain good subservient citizens?  Threaten them with the next world!

At least in protestantism, to some degree, it turned more positive:  what began as a method of control and abuse ("Be good, peasants, or you won't get to heaven") was unconsciously adopted/retained as the context of the new proclaimed liberty ("be graced, peasants, and you will get to heaven").  Incidentally, the loss of that stick may be one reason protestantism had so much trouble maintaining stability in governance, itself.

At any rate, all ninety-five of Luther's Theses (last I checked) were about how wrong it was to "sell" individual salvation.  The purpose of that mindset is what infuriated Luther, but the form of that thinking was never rejected by Luther's mind, and that's fascinating.  Scot McKnight can blame Luther and Calvin for increasing the blatant emphasis (in their written Confessions) on individual salvation, but it's not as if L&C were thinking their 'new' thoughts in a total vacuum.  The Medieval emphasis had arisen for very practical reasons (though I admit I've probably oversimplified somewhat, above), and that basic situation hadn't changed one bit, despite all the new visioning.

Below Ken's post, I wondered if Scot was going out of his way to avoid the appearance of Catholic-bashing, but this morning I think, perhaps Augsberg & Geneva were simply more convenient ways to make Scot's case a bit more objective, and that's probably valid.  Of course, it could also be true that Scot just doesn't see things this way.  I may have to find out.  (Once again, the more I engage with a review of a book, the more likely I am to wind up reading the book itself.  Go figure.)

Finally, this all reminds me of NT Wright's IBR lecture in Atlanta, and Michael Bird (responding) comparing "kingdom" language in the early fathers, versus the lack thereof by the time of the reformers.  My question at that time was to wonder why any Medieval powers would have written words about "kingdom" for any reason?  When God had seemingly already conquered the world, politically, what else was there to be talking about?  And so, the focus, quite naturally, turned to individual salvation.

To be clear, I'm all in for avoiding the appearance of Catholic bashing.  I just don't think Luther & Calvin are really ultimately to blame.  And when we talk about Medieval Catholicism, let's be clear, we're also talking about a very different organization in many ways than the RCC that stands today.  But let's also be clear...

Evidently, there is something at work in the systematization of religion, on the massive scale, which eventually cannot help but to process believers on an individual basis.  Call it the precursor of the factory-model, perhaps, but it's absolutely systemic.  To increase the scale of doing business, one absolutely must create efficiencies.  It is no accident that today's mega-churches are the place where believers are most likely to wind up with a totally individualized church-going experience.  When you consider practical dynamics, the mega-churches can hardly do otherwise.

Think upon these things...

November 8, 2011

The Homanadensian War

The timeline of the career of Sulpicius Quirinius includes at least three solid points – his consulship in 12 BC, his service to Gaius in the East, from 2 to 4 AD, and his census of Judea in 6/7 AD.  There is some question about his status as governor of Crete & Cyrene (c.15 BC?) as it seems to have been a military command before the General had yet served as Consul, but the most significant question about the career of Quirinius is about the time at which he executed the Homanadensian War.
Given the inscriptional attestation in Antioch Pisidia for the presence of Legions V and VII in southern Galatia until after the Isaurian War (6 AD), it is unnecessary to suggest any Syrian Governor pursued the Homanadensians from the other side of the Taurus Mountains.  Further, the situation in the East during those years would have made it unwise to remove two of Syria’s three Legions (they were still not four at the death of Herod the Great) – aside from which any General starting a campaign from Antioch into the Taurus range should have begun with the Cilician mountains or Isaurians.  
Besides all this, the only suggestions that Quirinius attacked Pisidia from Syria are from those suggesting it happened from 3 to 1 BC.  Their motive is to contrive a late death for Herod and an early governorship for Quirinius, both of which should seem impossible after any thorough historical analysis.  Aside from this present volume*, they should check the works of Mitchell and Levick on Galatia, in the bibliography*.  But now having addressed his, we move on.
Accepting that Quirinius executed the Homanadensian War as Proconsul of Galatia, probably from Antioch Pisidia, means his governorship there must have occurred between 12 BC and 2 AD.  Fortunately the milestones of the Via Sebaste attest the presence of Cornutus Aquila and his completion (or near completion; see Levick) of that road in 6 BC.  Further, as the path of that road follows a difficult route through the mountains that is many miles west of the Kestros River valley, where the modern road lies, it seems even more certain that the Roman road was built as a limes (boundary road) before Pisidia had been fully pacified. 
That suggests Quirinius’ earliest arrival in Galatia at the middle of 5 BC.  At any rate, with a range between 6 BC and 2 AD it could hardly have been much later, and as the purpose for the road was for rapid military transport around a hostile area, it seems most natural to assume the next stage of preparation for that war began in the following year.  Galatia was not a strategic point at which to station Legions except to direct them locally, and the greater needs of the Empire would have motivated Augustus to pacify Anatolia as quickly as possible.
On essentially this basis, among other points, Levick concurs with the great Ronald Syme who suggested the war belongs in the years 4-3 BC.  With their recommendation on top of such historical evidence, I simply conclude Quirinius arrived in 5 and left in 2, leaving two full summers for a campaign so difficult Augustus rewarded him with an ornamental triumph.  Obviously, this view excludes Quirinius from any participation in Syria between 3 and 1 BC, but as stated above, that prospect never had any firm historical footing anyway.
*This entire post excerpted from an unpublished draft manuscript.  
Comments and feedback will be much appreciated.

November 2, 2011


From NT Wright's Simply Jesus, Chapter 1

"Many Christians, hearing of someone doing "historical research" on Jesus, begin to worry that what will emerge is a smaller, less significant Jesus than they had hoped to find. Plenty of books offer just that:  a cut-down-to-size Jesus, Jesus as a great moral teacher or religious leader, a great man but nothing more. Christians now routinely recognize this reductionism and resist it. But I have increasingly come to believe that we should be worried for the quite opposite reason. Jesus--the Jesus we might discover if we really looked!--is larger, more disturbing, more urgent than we--than the church!--had ever imagined. We have successfully managed to hide behind other questions (admittedly important ones) and to avoid the huge, world-shaking challenge of Jesus's central claim and achievement. It is we, the churches, who have been the real reductionists. We have reduced the kingdom of God to private piety, the victory of the cross to comfort for the conscience, and Easter itself to a happy, escapist ending after a sad, dark tale. Piety, conscience, and ultimate happiness are important, but not nearly as important as Jesus himself."


October 30, 2011

Back Links and Banter (October 2011)

Here's some worthwhile NT and/or History material elsewhere, recently (not necessarily appearing in Tom Verenna's November BS Carnival) with banter and counterpoint, of course:

Ken Shenck began blogging about Scot McKnight's King Jesus Gospel, and it's fantastic so far.  Shenck's better than most about sticking with his blog series.  Stay tuned to Ken's blog for the rest.  Speaking of Scot's new book, Derek Ouellette offers some interesting observations about McKnight's view of things as compared with NT Wright's.  Speaking of NTW, Nijay Gupta began reviewing Simply Jesus, pointing out that it's a simplification of Wright's own work, so that it could have been better named "Withouth-going-into-all-the-details-Jesus".  Heh.  Still, it should be good.  I'll get to it on my Kindle after I've finished Richard Bauckham's A Short Introduction to Jesus.  Boy, the Lord can still sell those books, can't he!  Don't even try to keep count...

Brian LePort interviewed his fellow Portlander Matt Mikalatos (Part 1, Part 2).  Coincidentally, I just finished re-reading Imaginary Jesus out loud to my wife and kids.  We all thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think the kids learned a lot.  To my wife's comment that she found the end a bit disappointing, I said, "Well, it's easier to tear down than it is to build up."  Still, there's a lot of ground left to clear.  Anyway, Matt, I'm a big fan.  Thanks for giving us something to share as a family.

Over at RBL, Richard Horsley reviewed 2009's big IBR 'HJ' release, Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus. In a strong essay, well worth reading, Horsley commended Robert Webb & Scot McKnight but noted several areas where Darrel Bock & the rest need to make serious improvements. Webb's stuff is without question the best in the book, and I fervently hope the others all pay close attention to Horsley's advice... especially if they're planning to do any more historical work on events in the Gospels.

Speaking of theologians and Gospel events, Daniel Kirk found another reason why we need multiple voices in the Four Gospels to show us the multiple meanings of Jesus' life and teachings.  Amen.  Daniel also spoke against people who want a harmonized fifth Gospel to promote "the one meaning" of Jesus' teachings.  Well, I must confess that never occurred to me.  I'm grateful.  But as regards Daniel's hopes for scholarship inspiring action, I humbly suggest a historical synopsis of Jesus' life and ministry should primarily inspire action, not simply further interpretation.  At any rate, it's a good reminder of why theologians dislike "harmonies", and I don't disagree.

Last but not least, Brian Small pointed out a really impressive feat.  Joel Shorey must have rehearsed for months in order to recite Hebrews.  I'd love to see more people do things like this, but I'd recommend Reader's Theater instead.  (Read the whole letter, but with great feeling.  Why spend energy remembering lines, if you can focus instead on the content and delivering it well.  And yes, I've done this.  It's tough enough, without memorizing.)  Nevertheless, if you have as much talent and time on your hands as Joel obviously did, go on and memorize.  Again, this is a really amazing accomplishment.  Check it out

BRIEFLY:  Irene Hahn drew my attention to a new book on Caesars' Wives.  Note the plural appostrophe. *  David Lamb said what I thought ages and ages ago when I quit reading Study Bibles' study notes. * Omnes Viae is still really cool! * Jona Lendering summarized his entire (new) book, Classics in Decline. * Larry Hurtado pointed out that HJ studies finally and rightfully have a "very Jewish" Jesus, but still don't focus very much on Jesus' own relationship to God. * And the Godfather, Jim West, featured Amy-Jill Levine's just out project, The Jewish Annotated New Testament.  I am definitely going against David Lamb to read this one, which should be here by Tuesday!

More to come, month by month...

Stick around!

October 12, 2011

Did Adam fail to lead?

Of course he did. And so did Eve.(*)

That is, I mean, if you define “lead” as deliberately setting a positive example for one’s companions. On the other hand, if “lead” means to “dominate” or “seize control over”, then... well, actually in that case I must absolutely note that he did fail at that also. Of course, in the first sense, Adam’s failure was regrettable. In the second, highly laudable... yes, despite the results.

Now, what is my point? Why bother with this today, really?

Because it’s a difficult thing to successfully influence others without taking control.

However, to the underlying question about Genesis 3, why did Adam’s sin cause the fall? Was the MAN more responsible than the woman, for their mutual sin? Historically speaking, there probably was that patriarchial assumption among the original storytellers and story-hearers. But in all honesty, there’s probably also a communal aspect of ancient life that's also assumed in the story - one that we individualistic westerners (internet readers, especially) may genuinely be missing.

One naturally wonders, if Adam had eaten first, would Eve have immediately fallen? (IDK, but...) From a storytelling standpoint, having the woman eat first satisfies BOTH the communal AND patriarchal expectations of the ancient world. Objectively, therefore, we might honestly speculate that the timing [of sin's consequence having arrived] wasn't entirely because Adam was male. Even considering the ancient Jewish mindset, the other aspect might deserve equal consideration - that Adam was the other half of their social unit, and when Adam ate forbidden fruit, sin had total sway over their entire group, corporately. Not to speculate too hard, but it's good food for thought.

At any rate, none of that is my point, today.  This is: It’s a difficult thing to successfully influence others without taking control. It may sometimes get easier in situations where mutual influence is the custom... but even then, even these days, results are still known to vary.

Dear Lord, open our eyes to what your kind of "leadership" truly is.

(*) Caveat 1: this post inspired by the blogosphere's thorough trouncing of some complimentarian blowhard, about a week ago, a trouncing possibly more set against his fundamentalism than his patriarchalism.

(*) Caveat 2: see my view on Genesis AS IF History.

October 11, 2011

All Roads

The Peutinger Table is now online and interactive!  What is it?  An ancient map. Sort of.

Basically, the Peutinger Table was a picographic route finder for using Rome's highways.  The famous copy we possess is 4th century, but older models were used in the 1st century.  In the PT itself, the cartography was cartoonishly (and deliberately) painted askew, so that roads, cities and mileage data could all be fit together sequentially.

The new site is called Omnes Viae, and it remains absolutely the coolest thing I saw all day. Here's what the PT lists for an inclusive route Ab 'Athenas' ad 'Philippis'. The milage may not be 100% accurate, but it's accurate to what the PT said.  And that's very interesting indeed.

H/T Deirdre Good, the Non-Sausage (on 9/7/11)
PS:  Yes, I am enjoying getting caught up on my reader.  Thank you, Google, again.

CK Barrett's obit writer confused me

when he said, "but a historian" and "theological character". Here's the full quote, from last Tuesday's Guardian:
“Barrett saw himself as a historian rather than a doctrinal theologian – but a historian with a sensitivity for the religious and theological character of the texts not always so evident as the discipline has become more secularised.”
Putting aside for the moment whether the dichotomy of "historian" vs "theologian" is even appropriate, it's the latter part of the quote that I honestly found so confusing.  First, for the NT texts to have such "character" presumably means that the texts themselves can be characterized as religious and theological. Okay, obviously the NT texts are nearly everywhere characterized that way. But a text itself isn't actually "religious".  It's the people's use of the text that's religious.  Thus, the praise here isn't for being sensitive to the text, but for sensing how most people feel about it.

That's not very scholarly, and yet it's being made to sound as if it were.

Please note, I mean no disrespect to the dearly departed Dr Barrett.  It's the Guardian's phrase.  In this case, the obit writer has chosen to praise someone for sensitivity to the "character of the texts", but what he really means is that Dr Barrett was sensitive to Christian bias and doctrine. Again, this makes no comment on the scholar himself, but I must note he's being praised here in a way that makes political sensitivity sound like textual sensitivity.

It's a shrewd phrase, and the obit naturally is going for positive spin. But my real target here isn't even the writer. My real complaint is that this type of phrasing feels very unoriginal. The writer's not really going out on a limb very far. This type of compliment is probably typical. It sounds vaguely like other vaguely similar statements I've heard many times before.

Btw, the term "theological" is a bit squishier. Strictly, of course, it may only mean that the NT texts are about God. But seriously, what professional scholar can read the NT and ever NOT be sensitive to that simple and obvious fact?  No, "theological" here most likely takes the colloquial meaning, so that to say the NT texts have a "theological character" is to say that the content of those texts are extra sacred because they've been used to make much theological doctrine. The obit writer, again, is saying Prof. Barrett should be much praised because he studied the text but *also* remembered what Christians believe about it.

And none of that is my most serious beef.  Apologies to CK's memory, but he's absolutely none of my real concern here.  This is.

Why can't the writer say that taking the text seriously as a historian INCLUDES taking its theological claims seriously?  Or why haven't I heard anyone write about any scholar who "takes a historical approach that considers the supernatural content of scripture with assumed historicity, for the sake of reconstructing events".  As far as I've noticed, that last sentence probably wouldn't be formed by any writer but me, and I myself ain't much to brag about, yet. Still, there's a blind spot here. That's all I'm trying to say.

To be fair, the obit writer's very next words are, "The relationship of theology and history in New Testament theology is at issue in many of his articles". Indeed, the precise nature of that relationship is the major question still. Obviously. But a truly academic approach would seem to require embracing that the text itself states things which are challenging and often difficult to believe. It does no good to falsely rope off certain elements of the text and preserve them under a "theological" banner.

Unless "I and the Father are One" has historical value, it has no value at all.

At any rate, if scholars are to be scholars, perhaps they should pay less attention to the pressures of religious authorities, and be more sensitive to the text itself. Not to certain aspects of the text, or traditions about the text, or ways in which religious theologians have characterized the text. They should be sensitive to the text itself.

To end with this post's title again, I started out being genuinely confused by the article, a week ago now.  But more and more, when I hear this “historian” versus “theologian” type of language being appealed to, I realize how much we’re constrained by our politics. And that is not at all academic.

October 8, 2011

The Approachable Jesus

He had such bossy disciples, and supplicants.  Try that with anyone else!  Or don't.

Read the Gospels and count how often people just walk up and demand his immediate action on some point or issue.  (No seriously, please do.  I haven't got time to be thorough just now.)  Maybe most of these commands Jesus doesn't obey, but I think some he does.  (Update Pending...)

In general, perhaps, the ones that got into the record are the ones where the contrast was instructive.  "Lord, do such and such."  And Jesus No, I tell you, and here's why.  But no matter how many NO answers he gave them, they kept coming back with more direct, bossy instructions.

Now, to be fair, this may have been partly because of a cultural difference, a sort of ancient 'blue collar' or poverty mindset that cut straight to the point.  Some demands from the twelve may be due to their heady position as his inner circle.  (Note to self: some time, research whether Kings and Emperors' counselors also gave 'advice' in the imperative mood.)

Or - as I quickly admit that I'd very much like to believe - was this also just something about JESUS?  Did he make the disciples, and even folks he'd just met, feel somewhat empowered?  Was this part of his reputation?  A reason why crowds followed him with so many requests?  Was Jesus known for doing what people told him to do?  Or did Jesus' very presence give people the idea they should take genuine opportunity for initiative-taking?

Again, part of this is probably the ancient world being different from ours.  Kings and rulers may or may not have heard imperative 'advice' from advisors, but they certainly didn't have crowds of peons chasing after them issuing demanding 'suggestions' all the time.  Yes, most westernized, "civilized" folks have been pretty well tamed, and the natural bent for the rest of humanity isn't too far from *take what you can if they'll give it, demand things from everyone who doesn't punch you or threaten to*.

But still, people kept coming to Jesus.  They came and they came and they kept coming.  And they kept on demanding.

Even the disciples, who surely had the most opportunities to be shut down, to be gently scolded or not-too-subtly dressed down - not just on each point, but on the very attitude of attempting to share Jesus' own agenda setting decision power - not even the disciples seem to have stopped coming again and again with their bossy instructions for Jesus.  Despite all the times he rejected their points, point for point, in general, they kept on making suggestions.

I've known "christian" leaders who cast withering glances at people who even dared to ask whether they might suggest ideas toward future decisions.  I've seen both men and women in leadership use nonverbal cues like posture and feigned inattention, just to make clear that their position wasn't meant to be open for sharing with others.  In my own world, I've rarely seen anyone fail to get the point.  And in my visits to poverty-land, where the reaction is more public, harsher and quicker, even there the powerless one making suggestions learns pretty quick when the leader doesn't want her suggestions.

And yet Jesus, in the Gospels, kept on receiving these impositions.  Repeatedly.

It says one of two things.  Maybe both.  Either (1) Jesus somehow made it clear that he really didn't mind when the disciples were bossy like that, no matter how many times he rejected each specific demand.  Or (2) there must have been plenty of times when they told him their ideas and Jesus said "Sure.  Go ahead.  That sounds pretty good.  Do that."  Again, both could definitely be true.

At the very least, without any specific research today, here's a hypothesis I assume will hold true.

The fact that we have so many rejections on record proves that people didn't get tired of giving the Lord straight up orders.  Whether he gave in or rejected the majority, or if there is any discernible pattern... I'll hold off on attempting to figure that out.  But this one thing I do think must be clearly embraced.

He must have been one extremely approachable Lord.

And yes, he remained "leader".  Think about that, practically.  Obviously, no one held Jesus' agenda hostage with sniping, pouting or conniption fits.  He often made his opinions quite forcibly clear.  At the same time, however, evidently, Jesus remained immanently approachable.  Everyone obviously kept feeling free to express their opinions quite openly, right to the end.

What a man.  What a Lord.

What a loss.

What a goal.


October 6, 2011

Certain Men from James/Judea

If one gets the idea that Antioch wasn't overly fond of Jerusalem, then one should also conclude Antioch felt much the same way about James.  By the time of Acts 15, James was essentially head of the church in Jerusalem, and therefore any christian emissaries sent "from Judea" were highly likely to have been sent directly or indirectly "from James".  The same word "certain ones" (τινας, τινες, in Gal.2:12 as in Acts 15:1) is merely circumstantial, and doesn't prove my assertion, but the most logical guess is that these were the very same men.

Chronologically, this would mean that Antioch had gone unmolested by Judean controversy until these men came along.  Apparently Peter himself was the first one to visit, which seems fairly appropriate, and then while Peter was still there in Antioch, these "certain men" came to visit as well.  Again, this makes perfect sense.  Acts tells us that Peter encountered resistance after meeting Cornelius.  Paul tells us that an "circumcision party" was alive and well in Antioch on the day Paul rebuked Peter, and this "party" must have been the same group, who had just come up from Jerusalem.  It seems as if someone in the C party was deliberately following Peter, who very clearly was susceptible to their influence.

So, Paul says "men from James", instead of "men from Judea".  Well, Galatians pulls no punches anywhere, does it?  But for Luke to say, "men from Judea" may have been just a bare bit of diplomacy.  The obvious conclusion to draw here most likely correct.

In fact, the famous Judaizers (who went to Galatia) are most likely also to be identified with these very same men from Judea.  At the very least, we know of no other such devouts from the C party who would travel as far as the 300+ miles to Antioch.  So, is it easier to suppose that these troublemakers at Antioch went back home from Antioch and then some other group of devout Judaizers left Judea and walked all the way into Pisidia?  Or is it easier to suppose that these "certain men" - who had come up from James/Judea, who had already caused such controversies in Antioch - that these were in fact the same "certain men" who went on through the Lion's Gate in Cilicia and found their way to the four very young churches of Southern Galatia.

This view simply makes good logistical sense, and I believe it makes the best sense of the evidence altogether.  These men, having just been daunted by Paul in Antioch, must have also heard about Galatia while in Antioch - for Paul had not yet testified about Gentile salvation in Jerusalem (Acts 15:3) - and these men there, in Antioch, evidently decided to move on and hope for better results with new Galatian believers than they'd been able to produce while in Syria.

Finally, this could also explain Paul's literary sequence in building up to the flashback in Gal.2.  It seems absolutely certain that these Judaizers had already told Galatia about Paul rebuking Peter... Paul's self defense proves they had tried to destroy Paul's reputation... but the news of the Council (2:1-10) would have been unknown to Galatia because the Council was happening at about the same time as the Judaizers were busily brandishing knives in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch.

To wrap it all up:  Paul's "men from James" were the same men as Luke's "men from Judea".  The Council of Acts 15 is absolutely the focus of Gal.2:1-10, and Paul's letter was written to Southern Galatia very soon after the Council had ended.  Paul & Barnabas got back to Antioch, parted ways, and then Paul somehow heard that Galatians were in trouble.  He sent the letter ahead with Luke - and apparently Titus as well - and those two were probably also keeping Jerusalem's letter in their 'pocket' for back-up.  Luke & Titus went on then to find their pre-arranged rendezvous at "Troy", to wait there while Paul & Silas headed for follow up visits in Galatia, having deliberately given the churches some brief time to digest and respond to the letter(s) and letter carrier(s).

That's the simplest way I can see - not to harmonize seemingly divergent texts (blech!), but - to synchronize all the accounts.  Or, in other words, that's my brief sketch at a historical reconstruction.

Think upon it...

October 5, 2011

When to Quit

When I've done all the good I can do, in a place, with a group.  When the even better I'd like to be doing isn't working for someone who's throwing their weight around.  When the road seems blocked up ahead and I struggle a while and can't find any way to get through.  When I'm absolutely convinced there's no more chances for me to keep working on making things better.  When the people around me want something better for themselves, personally, rather than what seems (to me) to be best for the common good, long term.

Sadly, it's become quite a pattern in my life.  In multiple cities, and churches, and jobs.  I don't regret any decisions I've made to quit.  Not one.  What kills me is the left behind opportunities, the wistful longing, the sick feeling of loss, and the knowing.  That if so-and-so had just listened to me, had just let me keep going, then we could have broken on through to a whole new level of awesome, but for various reasons, too often, my particular vision touched things that they wouldn't let go of.

Maybe if I was better at being cool, kissing up, or playing along.  Maybe then I'd quit less.  Maybe if I could chill out more and not push the pedal down all the way to the floor.  Maybe if I cared less about making things better, and better, and better.  Maybe if I didn't always want to do something else MORE.

But if I was better at all of those things, I'd be worse.  If I was like that, then I wouldn't be able to bring change.  And what purpose is there in belonging to something that does not want to change, to improve things?

Somewhere, someday.  Maybe.  I'll get to make awesome.

I just need the right mix and timing.

Anon, then...

September 26, 2011

Stephen as Scapegoat, Scattering as Ingathering

Chronology tells me Stephen's martyrdom came around this time of year.  Typology makes it more interesting still.  Nevertheless, on any given date, Stephen's martyrdom and the scattering offer parallel typology with events from the Day of Atonement to the Festival of Tabernacles.  That may not suggest Stephen died on a certain day, but it does suggest some things about Acts 6-7.

As always, first we must do the Chronology.

With Jesus' temporary death at the Passover of 33 (see here and here) and Paul's temporary blindness coming before Passover of 34 (see here and here), the necessary event sequence undoubtedly puts Stephen's death at some time around the Feast of the Booths.  On Atonement Day?  It doesn't matter.  At any time even close to the High Holy Days, these events easily should have seemed extra pregnant with meaning.

Which events, you ask?  Forget the speech for a moment.  Here's what happened.

Merely a few months into the tumultuous days of Acts 1-6, the Sanhedrin and Temple authorities were still fighting against fresh claims about Jesus' resurrection, trying to convince everyone in Jeruslaem that they themselves were not, in fact, guilty of helping to execute Israel's Messiah.

So, on the day they heard Stephen's "blasphemy", they had him executed to set an example, and quite an effective one, evidently.  In the moment, however, at some psychological level, this execution also must have been partly to cover up their own suspicions of self-guilt.  Whatever their internal thoughts, the Sanhedrin evidently decided that killing Stephen was a sacrifice needed for Israel's good.  That makes him a "scapegoat" in the absolutely most classical (if not absolutely the most biblical) sense.

Next, all but twelve Christians fled Jerusalem.  Not only Stephen, but the Church was therefore sent out of the camp, exiled to wander away, in the Wilderness.  Not only Stephen, but the Church became Israel's - well, Jerusalem's - Scapegoat.

But then, what happened next is even more typologically interesting.

Acts 8-11 shows that believers fleeing Jerusalem reassembled in various towns, both near and farther away. With a bare bit of basic logistics, we can imagine quite easily how long that took.  If the scattering happened the day Stephen was stoned, then believers began reassembling (in nearby towns) within 24 hours after fleeing Jerusalem.  Obviously, those who reached as far as Phoenicia and Antioch took much more time, probably at least one to three weeks.  But that only shows the upper limit.

Within Judea, and more near to Judea, daily and for several days after Stephen was stoned, the scattered believers were reassembling themselves.  Daily and for several days, after the Christian Church became exiled, the members of Christ's body found one another in various places.  And God himself put up temporary dwellings.

Just like the events in Jerusalem on Atonement Day, and for several days afterward... Spiritual Sukkot were being assembled, from the day of the scapegoating, for several days afterward.  The Lord God himself was building tents, for himself, out of Christian believers.  Temporarily - and whether a given church met in each place there for ten days or for forty more years, each was temporary - the dwelling of God on Earth was moving onward again.

The Tabernacle of God, the Movement of God, the House of God, the Testimony of God.  Moved again.

It almost doesn't matter what Stephen said, or how much of Luke's speech in Acts 7 might have any historical root in all actual fact.  (Of course, I also have an idea that the time of year made something like Stephen's speech incredibly memorable to Paul and the other eyewitnesses on that day, but that's a post for another day.)

What matters is what happened.

Stephen's martyrdom - on any day that it happened - was a type of the Scapegoat event.

The Church's scattering - in the same way - was a type of both Scapegoat and Sukkot.

And the scattering - given what should be the most obvious logical implication from simple practical sense - quickly led to a tremendous ingathering.  God himself reaped the fruits of one marvelous season, brought his crop of new Christians (who'd spent a scant few months in the city that crucified Christ) out from that troubled field and into brand new storehouses.  Fresh produce, fresh dwellings, fresh new direction.

Thousands of new believers suddenly scattered, reproduced themselves into dozens and probably hundreds of new gatherings.  The Son of Man, who'd had no place to lay his own head, had suddenly produced many spiritual houses for his Father to dwell in.  And, like in the days of Moses, like the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, and unlike the previous thousand years beyond King David... these houses could move.

It doesn't matter what Stephen said.  It doesn't matter what day it took place.

What matters is what actually happened.  Even from the barest fact claims of Acts 6-12, we should be able to tell this much, without much real debate.

The martyrdom of Stephen and the scattering fulfilled, in this view, new, deeper and possibly final categories of meaning for the (prior to then) pregnant symbolism of the third and last movement in Israel's festival cycle.

The types of the Scapegoat and Sukkot were thereby fulfilled, in these ways, and almost certainly about this time of year, in the year 33 AD.

Mazel tov!

September 15, 2011

Matthew's Minor Mystery

Brian LePort drew my attention to "the Licona Controversy", which is nice I guess, because I can't keep as close tabs these days as I'd like to be keeping.  But my first comment has to be - poor Mike Licona, having his new surname become "Controversy".  Dang, dude.  Rub some salt in that wound and then wrap it down with duct tape.  At any rate, Mike Bird has also commented today, after which point I had two things worth posting.  So that means I'll take this brief moment to do so.

First, Yes, Mohler and Geisler are bullies.  Duh.  As it happens, that's an occasional part of their official job description.  Seriously, it is.  (Sigh.)  Someday, semi-independent evangelical protestants are going to wake up and realize that you can't ask leaders to be kinder, gentler dictators.  Although I do personally and wholeheartedly believe in the concept of benevolent dictatorship, it works best in places like Kindergarten, or small task force missions, and maybe also - someday, somehow - in the great hereafter.  However, once you get up past a dozen or two thousand people (or somewhere in between, all depending) the "benevolent" dictator must inevitably run up against someone who isn't towing the line, AND who's also rocking the boat.  There is NO way for the dictator to simultaneously hold down his/her job description while ALSO avoiding bullying tactics.  None.  It doesn't happen, Brian.  You either give up power and control, giving in or creating a compromise with the radicals, or else you hold the line you've decided must be held, and in the process you become something you swore not to become.  There is never a third option.  Oh, with a lot of boat rockers there are polite, subtle, friendly ways to maintain control without your "bullying" being so obvious.  But it's still coercion.  In the family of God.  And we baptize it every day.  Every Sunday, at least.

To quote an old friend:  "These things ought not to be."

Second, Mike Bird and Brian agree with Licona and several others that the first Gospel's author didn't really intend for his readers to take 27:52 literally.  He didn't?  Well, I don't see how the heck not.  I mean, don't get me wrong!  The sentence may or may not be intelligible, and the fact claims as they appear may or may not have happened quite in that way, but that isn't really my point at the moment.  My issue at present is merely the passage itself:  v.54 tells us that the earthquate in v.51 actually happened and was witnessed to by the centurion; v.50 is obviously a fact claim, because Jesus died; the torn veil in v.51 has always been hard to believe but it seems plain enough... until v.54 says the centurion and his cohort also witnessed this veil tearing... which they couldn't have viewed at the moment from Calvary... but that would then merely and logically imply that the centurion was called in to investigate, presumably after some Temple authorities made noise about it, or someone tried to blame Jesus' followers.  Again, all this as the text reads is clear enough.  It may or may not have happened quite as we think we understand what Matthew's telling us.  (For instance, who are the "saints" at this point?  How far back in Israel's history does one have to go to find "many Jewish holy men" (Bird's interpretation)?  But they'd certainly be decomposed.  It's a very odd problem.)  I don't know what to make of this passage.  A straightforward interpretation certainly poses some problems, but what Bird and LePort are proposing seems to me like a much bigger problem, grammatically.  If the risen dead weren't an actual happening, then what about the earthquake and veil tearing?  What about v.54 which says the soldiers at Cavalry observed both Jesus' death and these other things?  Mike, Mike & Brian, if you find ways to conveniently jettison the risen saints into "allegory-land", then why not the earthquake?  And how, in any event, does v.54 make any sense at all, if the centurion didn't really see what it says he did?  I don't know what solves the conundrum, but the allegory "defense" seems like nonsense to me.

What else can I say?

In the text being fought over this month, we have major problems and ultimately little to go on.  But to go back to my first point, we might shed some grace on the second.  If evangelical christendom hadn't already built itself on the foundation of "inerrancy", we might not be striving so hard to attack one another or defend poor old Matthew.  But "inerrancy" itself is a convoluted facade.  The doctrine purportedly works to assure us that Scripture itself is a sure foundation, but Scripture-as-a-foundation was the Reformers' (de-facto) hat trick for blessing themselves with the political authority they needed to keep mass Christian Chaos from breaking out all at once.  Thus, "inerrancy" today is just a circularly self-justifying game.  Why believe it?  Because they say that we must.  Why such a must?  Because if they're wrong then we don't have to listen to them anymore.

Authoritarian dogma is one Medieval holdover I really hope the post-evangelical movement makes some progress against.  Embracing Mystery, however, is a different Medieval tradition.  That one, I'd like to see Fervent Bible Affirmers attempt to enjoy more.  Perhaps.

September 10, 2011

Hoehner's Chronological Aspects

I wrote this post two years ago, in late July 2009.  I should probably rewrite it, but I'll let it stand as is, with this necessary explanation.  At the time, biblioblogger Nick Norelli had challenged me with the big meme of that summer, which was to post about five Biblical Studies books that one wanted to like, or should have agreed with, but couldn't quite get fully behind.  I blogged separate posts on my chosen books, One, Two, Three and Four, in that same month.  This post was to be my fifth, but for reasons that will soon become obvious, I couldn't bring myself to post it at that time.  Now, perhaps it's been long enough.  We shall see.

Two years late, unaltered and for the first time... here it is:


It has scarcely been six months since we lost Dr. Harold Hoehner. Longtime blog readers know how much I value his work and how upset I was at his unexpected passing, even (especially) considering I never met the man. I kick myself even harder for that now, because after confessing to one of his students recently the main reason I never contacted him (I realized my main purpose was wanting to argue with him about what I considered to be flaws in his Chronological Aspects), I was told "Actually, he would have really enjoyed that." Yes, I had gathered as much from the many tributes I read after his death. So I will always regret never meeting him, unless perhaps it was somehow for the best.

As I said, it has not been long since his passing, but when I was recently challenged to write about "Biblical Studies" books I cheered for but felt some reservations about, I decided it could actually be the best time to go ahead and blog my critique of Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, by the great Dr. Hoehner. Hopefully, furthering that important conversation will be taken as another way of also furthering his memory. So here goes everything...

Chronological Aspects remains one of my most cherished academic books, because of its uniqueness and because of the same thorough scholarship poured into Hoehner's Herod Antipas. The footnotes alone are tremendous. I could quote the entire preface right here, cheering loudly. His treatment of the major points and their issues is comprehensive and arguably definitive. I have long since worn out the glue in the spine. (Making this the one book of my "5" that I actually did read every word of, and that several times over.) But... yes, I have a few problems with this book, and they are not minor.

Hoehner's arguments are arranged chronologically, on dating the birth, baptism, duration of ministry, and crucifixion of Jesus - in that order - but my gripe is not with the presentation. A proper argument should proceed by skipping forward and backward through time as necessary.  Since Hoehner didn't do this, it was not always clear how each chapter depended on points previously (or yet to be) made. Dates for the (1) commencement, (2) duration and (3) consummation of Jesus' ministry are supported by seemingly independent arguments, when in fact, solid conclusions on any two of these points should automatically render the third set of arguments unnecessary. Instead, Hoehner admits (p.37) to his views on all three of these points early on and then argues each separately, as if none are dependent on each other. Of course the strongest arguments are those for dating the crucifixion year, which therefore ought to predominate the overall work, and yet it comes last.

This automatically makes his earlier arguments suspect. The chapter on duration, for example, consists mainly of objections to Johnston Cheney's 4 year view followed by arguments supporting the 3 year view. The fact that 30 and 33 AD have been presupposed as the boundaries of that duration is only mentioned in the chapter summary, and never acknowledged during the arguments. However, IMHO, a carefull reading of Hoehner's presentation shows that the 3 and 4 year arguments come off as equally inconclusive and I'm sorry to say his assertion that only one had "suppositions" was simply unfair.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem is that for all Hoehner's laudable and high view of the "grammatical-historical interpretation of the New Testament", an overall reading of the book suggests his primary mental orientation was not to reconstruct chronology but to defend the integrity of scripture on chronological points. That is also laudable, but the particular apologetic efforts Hoehner used to reconcile John 2:20 and Luke 3:1-3 & 3:23 with other historical data are the real reason - combined with 33 AD - why he HAD to argue for a three year ministry.

A holistic view of his arguments shows which ones really depend on certain others. The defense of scripture was more important than building a historically based chronology, leaving a work that I believe - for all its great qualities - was less than perfectly faithful to either. Academically, it would have been more accurate to say this much: Luke 3:1-3 cannot mean 26 AD, so 30 AD is out. Therefore, 33 AD is in. The 3 or 4 year views each have their challenges, and we could easily date Christ's baptism to 28 or 29 AD. For all our investigations, we may or may not know the best way to "break the tie".

In the end, nothing in Hoehner's book, other than his [somewhat contrived] interpretaion on John 2:20 (as compared with Josephus) gives an entirely unflexible resistance to 28 AD and the 4 year view. The argument for John 2:20 therefore becomes the central governing point, de facto, of the book's major argument, which is hardly fair.

The fact that we have no idea how long the prep work lasted (after Herod announced the Temple project in 20 BC) means we don't know what year construction actually began. Our ignorance of that prep time means John 2:20 is inconclusive - unless we wish to guess whether prep work began in 18 or 17 BC - for settling this one year difference in question.

Therefore, the de facto "tie breaker" of all Hoehner's arguments is actually irrelevant. Therefore, Cheney and the implications of his view deserve much greater attention. We desperately need a new tiebreaker. (Personally, I think it may be the death of Sejanus - which must fall either just before or after the death of John the Baptist - because the 4 year view (the 'after' view) better explains the timing of Jesus' final movements into Judea.)

Despite my strong critique, finding these flaws only increases the value of Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, imho. The book remains a wonderfully comprehensive treatment of the key points, and Hoehner was certainly able to process more scholarship on the topic than I'll ever be able to review in my entire life. I'm a layman, like Cheney. I deal with the major points. So this book is a major influence in my life as much for its flaws as for its strengths. If I didn't care so greatly for it's subject matter, for which Hoehner obviously felt a great deal of passion as well, I would never spend so much of my life trying to improve on what it attempted to accomplish... nor could I ever have hoped to, probably.

As Samuel Johnson said in the preface to his first English Dictionary, "I have only failed at that which no human powers have hitherto completed." In that regard, Hoehner is even more a giant, in my estimation. What other book like his has ever gone to print? None so comprehensive, as far as I can tell, and certainly none since Chronological Aspects. To call it required reading in the field should be putting it lightly. I say again, I will always treasure my old, worn out copy.

I heard a rumor last May from someone who corresponded with him that Harold Hoehner had mentioned a desire to revise his book, if not also (?) his chronology. On the hopeful prospect of this, I began trying to make my arguments stronger and more worthy of his valuable time. Time, alas, we did not have.

If anyone reading this, today or in the future, was working with him on such a project, or had been hoping to, I would very much love to argue with you about it. In my experience, arguing is the sport of friends. Since I hear Dr. Hoehner liked arguing as well, and if you were his friends, I would look especially forward to meeting you. Perhaps soon... or at least soon enough, hopefully.

Thank you, Lord, for Harold Hoehner and his Giant work. From his shoulders, give us eyes to see farther. Amen.

September 5, 2011

The Gospels and History

What is History?  Events reconstructed with words aren’t what happened.  They’re the best we can do at describing what we think might have happened.  And that’s not what most people think History is.  But – for worse and for better – that’s what History is.

So then, what are the Gospels?  Most scholars these days will concede that the Four Gospels of the New Testament are the best window we have into Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, Son of Man, the Messiah.  Skeptics debate how much accuracy they offer, on face value.  Theologians defend Christian Faith by retreating from fights over historical value.  The Gospels aren’t History, say our Christian Scholars.  They are narratives, written to convey theological views of our Lord Jesus Christ.  That view's worked well for christendom at large, at least in recent centuries.... but now times are in flux.  Today, many say 'We don't care as much for dogma and defense of the faith.  We want more questions asked, fewer answered.'

So, again, what is History?  All written accounts of the past are limited re-presentations of real life situations we can no longer access.  The people, events, ideas, relationships, physical structures, social context and the infinite number of decisions made based on unknown factors – decisions both simple and complex, either rash or deliberate – the vast web of interactive human experience for a given region and time – these are inscrutable.  All we have is aspects, pieces, cross-sections of real life, as it actually took place.  All we have is accounts of the past.  We do not have the past, any longer, at hand.

Yet, we do have these accounts.  We do have the Four Gospels.  And they do give us a great deal about Jesus and his activities.  He taught.  He healed.  He prayed.  He led women and men across Galilee and Judea, proclaiming that God was eager to make a new way to rule over them all.  And he did many things.  We don’t know all that the Lord did, but we do know – however sharp or fuzzy this picture may turn out to be – that these are indeed aspects of the true past.  The Four Gospels do give us something of Jesus’ History.  The only debates on this topic – yes, in all of the many debates across the vastness of Christian and Secular New Testament Scholarship – always boil down to how much they do give us.

Now to you, my dear blog reader, come these very same questions.  In what ways, to what degree, and to what effect are the Gospels qualified to speak of Jesus historically?  Does his actual life matter?  

Personally, I say that if his life mattered not, then our life matters not.  But if the Gospels all about meaning and message, and if my Christian life is really all about what I believe... then why would his life matter?  And what about mine?  I could just sit and listen, think and agree, pray the right prayer, and voila!  The power of the Gospel is my name on a salvation card.

Paul of Tarsus wrote a lot about why Jesus died, and I absolutely do believe each little word.

But the New Testament opens with how Jesus lived.

It also says a lot more about how Jesus lived than some think it does.  But that's a topic for some other day.  For now, here is what we should just stop disputing:

History matters.  Events matter.  What we do to, with and for one another... these things matter much more than what we believe about salvation or angels or even (gasp) the Holy Spirit.  Facts are facts, and the more often it happens that Christians come out from inside the barrier walls of their institutional borders, the less it sounds like we still care so much about fine theological distinctions.

These Christian scholars who need to make narratives all about hidden theology, well, they're no longer doing quite so well as they used to at holding congregations together, using that old approach.  God protect us from whatever they cook up next, to keep their flocks in the pens... and it'll probably be a retreat back to authoritarian dogma... but in the meantime I'd like to put out my little cry that we might take advantage of a growing opportunity here. 

People are starting to seem less automatically predisposed against what I've been yearning for.

We should study the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, through the Gospels, as History.

August 27, 2011

Anti-Semites must love the term "Jesus' Silent Years"

It took nineteen centuries for Christian scholars to embrace the fact that Jesus was fully Jewish. Consciously or unconsciously, some experts still try to minimize the impact of that realization. But the primary and most certain conclusion about Jesus’ early life must be that his life in the Synagogue was extremely significant.

According to Luke, Jesus, the Jew, grew in favor with his Jewish community. That community, of course, was the Synagogue. It was more than his custom to meet there on Sabbath days. Not only are we told this distinctly, but logic demands we believe Jesus attended the Synagogue faithfully.  He could not have remained in good standing in Nazareth otherwise.

In his sovereignty, God chose for Jesus to grow up learning Torah, every Sabbath, with the Nazarene-Jewish community.  The Lord's faith, life and practice all blossomed, however uniquely, in the light and the life of that Nazareth Synagogue.  Any Biblical Historiography of the Lord’s life has to deal with those facts, and that context. But with such a realization, can there be any question that established Christendom, in centuries past, would have been less than eager to embrace such a view? And yet, given what little the Gospels reflect of Jesus' early life and hometown experience, there is no other view that can possibly be taken.

If Jesus' early years aren't to be muzzled, our Gospel based conclusion must inevitably be that those years must have been very centered on Synagogue, for Jesus. My own investigation took place two years ago, and remains online, right here.  As research based argument, it's a crude treatment, of course.  But I'd appreciate very much everyone taking another good look.

On today's point:  The past predominance of antisemitism certainly doesn't prove that my reconstruction of Jesus' early years is on track. It does, however, point out at least one reason why scholars ought to be more skeptical of the old, oft repeated mantra, "The Gospels are silent on Jesus' early life." In this amateur historian's opinion, they reflect much... but only to those who are willing to look.

Consider these things...

August 22, 2011

Mary should have stayed home!

If Joseph & Mary returned home as soon as their Judean business was finished, as Luke 2:39 seems to say that they did, then why was Mary even along for the journey at all?  Did the census require women to register in the land of their husband's father?  Did the Nazarene community ostracize her so badly that she had to be near Joseph at all times until the baby was born?  I doubt option one very seriously, but if option two is correct, then why should they go back to Nazareth?

The fact that Luke puts Mary in Bethlehem at all makes it highly suspect that Luke 2:39 is accurate to the letter.  Luke's own readers must have wondered.  Really?  "All" had to go to be registered?  (2:3)  But otherwise, why would Mary even be down in Judea?  It obviously makes no sense that Mary would prefer to give birth in a borrowed room in a strange city with seemingly only her husband around for help!  Plainly, women about to give birth should have remained at home, with her relatives and whatever passed for the local community midwives all remaining nearby.

The only reasonable inference as to why Mary would be in Bethlehem is to suppose that Mary *had* been somewhat ostracized from the Nazarene community and that Joseph was moving his new family down to Judea for permanent residence.  But in that case, again, why does Luke 2:39 say that they went back "when" all of their Judean business and post-birth requirements were finished.  Really?

To me, it seems like Luke 2:3 and/or 2:39 has some purposeful 'squishyness' pre-built into its wording.

Of course, if Matthew's testimony is true - that Joseph & Mary had a "house" and a "child" in Bethlehem, before fleeing to Egypt - and if Luke's basic narrative is accurate about Mary being from Nazareth at the time of betrothal and conception - then the most obvious solution would be to conclude that Mary & Joseph must have chosen to leave Nazareth, because of the scandal, and relocate to live with his family in Bethlehem.

The only interpretive trouble, at that point, is at 2:39... and perhaps also at 2:3.

We cannot know for sure whether Luke knew about Matthew's testimony, but if Luke did know, and if Luke had some reason to avoid telling the Egypt digression, then the squishiness of 2:39 would fall down to one word: "when".  The sentence, "when they finished all things, according to the Law of the Lord, they turned back to Galilee" now seems... well, misleading, at the very least.  On the one hand, if Luke knew about Egypt, he's been willfully inaccurate.  But if Luke didn't know about Egypt, the directness of his "when" shows either sloppy work or a misunderstanding of true facts.

None of these options encourages faith in the so-called inerrancy of scripture... and certainly not the most politically useful versions of "inerrancy"... which is probably one reason why Evangelicals shrink from historically reconstructing these events, plausibly.

Personally, for the sake of historical sanity and a reasonable super-narrative, I'll quickly opt in for a squishy word or two and a Luke who's deliberately misdirecting the audience at some points.  Maybe Egypt was left out to avoid angering Herod's descendants, two of whom sat in at one of Paul's trials.  Or maybe Luke didn't know why Mary went along OR that anyone went down to Egypt.  Maybe "all" (in 2:3) was Luke's slapdash and deliberately vague effort to explain what he'd heard and believed to be true, that Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem.

Maybe something else explains Luke's apparently rough seamed transitions.  I don't know.  But at any rate, if Matthew 2 is at all accurate, then Luke 2:39 must be somewhat 'squishy', in fact, regardless of Luke's unknown intentions.

Otherwise, if the implication is that Joseph & Mary had planned to remain residents of Nazareth, after the census, then Mary should have stayed home and had the baby with family nearby, in Galilee.

August 8, 2011

The Passover Travel Itinerary of Simon, from Cyrene

How early would you suppose ancient Judean (and Jewish proselyte) Pilgrims begin making plans for their Passover journeys?  Perhaps as early as you start getting ready for Christmas?  Putting yourself into the first century pilgrimage question... your answer might not depend on - but may have to contend with - what Roger Beckwith argued in his 2001 book, Calendar and Chronology.

According to the Mishnah, a certain "Rabbi Gamaliel" once wrote a letter to someone in authority, declaring that Passover should be postponed (!) by a month.  The Rabbi's reasoning?  Lack of girth.  From a sampling of local/regional livestock, it seems lambs and turtledoves had not yet grown to the preferable sizes for sacrificing.  Also, the spring harvest had not yet produced grain heads of acceptable size.  Not to make light, but it should go without saying this Gamaliel was almost certainly a Pharisee.

Now, Beckwith admits this letter may well post-date 70 AD, but suggests that it may not, and even if so, that it likely reflects practice in pre-70 Judea as well.  Thus, Roger concludes, Passover was so unfixed it was possible to reschedule the whole festival by a month if the incoming grain wasn't ripening quickly enough.  Lambs and turtledoves, perhaps, could have been sized months in advance, but to disapprove grain heads it must have been past January, surely. If not past February. (Anyone?)

These agricultural questions I can't answer, but we can nevertheless consider the same question from another, equally valuable position.  In three parts:

(1) How early did Simon of Cyrene NEED to know which month that particular Passover was going to be held in?  (2) How much time did Simon require to get himself and his two boys from North Central African coast to Jerusalem, including time required for travel planning in addition to actual self-transportation?  (3) How much time did the news take to spread that Jerusalem's authorities had determined WHICH MOON the festival would be held under, that year, in March or in April?

It may not be necessary for us to answer these questions precisely so much as consider their general significance.  I find it difficult to believe that Jerusalem before 70 AD - especially with the Saducees leading under Annas & Caiaphas - would have allowed such nit-picking questions to amend Passover's date *after* the first of the year.  If Simon of Cyrene needed a month's travel time, minimum, just to arrive, and if the scheduling announcement required approximately the same lead time, then 'Rabbi Gamaliel' would have needed to CONCLUDE his successful calendar protest by mid-January at the very latest.  This seems unlikely, I must say, for a number of reasons.

Granted, I've only sketched out these reasons here, and in my earlier posts (October, 2009). Also November '09 here and here.)  Someone else should try a more thorough logistical, financial and agricultural analysis of the possibilities here.  However, it also goes to show that general skepticism about Gospel Chronology should be as doubtable as overconfidence.  Just because Roger Beckwith built a head of uncertainty around this issue since 1996, doesn't mean we should be quite so un/certain of what Beckwith asserted so confidently.


July 23, 2011

Augustus' Registration of the 'Oikoumene'

The Roman registration of Herod's Kingdom is historically bizarre, and could not have been part of any "worldwide" registration. For Caesar to order a mass registration of all Roman Provinces and Client Kingdoms, at once? There is no cause to believe that. No, not even if we accept Luke 2:1-5.  And personally, my desire is to trust every word of Luke 2:1-5.  But what DID Augustus decree?

Regarding tax registration, Augustus' only known policy change that actually did go "worldwide" was a key facet of his provincial reforms. After 27 BC, the Princeps made sure that Proconsuls sent to govern the Provinces would be less likely to overtax their poor local subjects. Prior to that reform, the oversees Governors had normally held auctions for the job of chief tax collector, and the winning bidder had typically gone on to extort, steal or to outright seize as much "tax" as needed to make up the bid value, and then some!

Naturally, this "tax farming" system encouraged provincial unrest and potential uprisings. Wisely, Augustus decided it was finally time for Rome to start counting heads OUTSIDE OF ITALY! That is, before 27 BC, Roman Hegemony had not included the registration of foreign tax payers. After 27 BC, Rome's Provinces were now eligible for census-style registration.

However, for client kingdoms, like Herod's, the amount of the annual tribute was a matter negotiable only between Rome and the King, and this fact did NOT change after 27 BC. Clearly, Augustus was less concerned about whether some client-King's subjects were being over-taxed.  To the contrary, revolts against such Kings could at times lead to Rome's occupying the kingdom, seizing the King's assets AND being hailed as liberators. (!)  So, no, Augustus was not eager to meddle in client Kingdoms politically, at least not on the level of micromanaging local head-counting systems.

Thus, Caesar's 27 BC decision to start provincial registrations is the only event that we know of which could possibly be what Luke was trying to reference.  Luke's Greek, of course, refers to something called the "oikoumene" - literally, "the inhabited world", but which some translators believe is more closely rendered by "the civilized world".  That second sense, in Roman eyes, could mean that Luke was referring properly to the jurisdiction of all Roman Provinces.  When Augustus decreed the provinces should be censused, one could nearly just as well say that Augustus decreed the oikoumene should be censused.

Herod's Judea, Civilized?  Well, he was working hard to get there... but no, it wasn't.  Not hardly, by Rome's standards.

By the way, Luke 2:1-5 is MOST CLEAR on one point - that a Roman census of some sort took place within Herod's Kingdom while Herod was still in charge. Such a thing was completely unprecedented, so far as we know. So, accepting Luke's clear insistence on this point, the primary historical question must be - how, when and WHY did such a unique census take place?

This raises many more questions, as does the issue of Quirinius.  However, if Luke meant for 2:1 to refer to an event which took place in 27 BC, and if Luke 2:2 refers to the well known Governor of the year AD 6, then this odd juxtaposition may be more of a boon than a hindrance.  The combination of these references - twentyish years before Jesus' probable birth and twelve or thirteenish years after - make it appear Luke was trying to collapse more than three decades of time into one sentence. In other words, whatever Luke meant to write, in that sentence, he was packing it in very densely, perhaps trusting his readers to sort out that which should have been somewhat familiar to them at the time.

Again, other more pressing historical questions remain; most critically, how and why did Augustus decide to actually go do this thing?  But regarding the text itself, and regarding its composition, it seems most likely that Luke was simply trying to reference the two most critical bits of well known Judean tax history - one from 27 BC and one from AD 6, in between which the Lord became human.

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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