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...
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