Oct 282013
 

claudius_etal3Polycrates of Ephesus gives us a description of John:

and there was also John, who rested upon the breast of the Lord, who became a priest who wore the plate, both martyr and teacher; he sleeps in Ephesus.

ετι δε και Ιωαννης, ο επι το στηθος του κυριου αναπεσων, ος εγενηθη ιυρευς το πεταλον πεφορεκως και μαρτυς και διδασκαλος, ουτος εν Εφεσω κεκοιμηται. (from Ben Smith’s Text Excavation)

Many have taken το πεταλον as a reference to the “plate of pure gold” of the high priest’s Tzitz, which in the Septuagint of Exodus 28:36 is translated into Greek as πέταλον (leaf) χρυσοῦν (of gold) καθαρὸν (pure).

And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and engrave upon it, like the engravings of a signet: HOLY TO THE LORD.

καὶ ποιήσεις πέταλον χρυσοῦν καθαρὸν καὶ ἐκτυπώσεις ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτύπωμα σφραγῖδος ἁγίασμα κυρίου

The high priest was to wear it when entering the holy of holies.

This is a possible understanding of the Greek, but there is another image that would come to the mind of hearers among his audience in second century Roman Asia Minor. That image is the dress of Greek priests at the time. When this fact is compared against what we know about John otherwise, which would not suggest his participation in a Greek cult, the description is seen to suit a person who held the distinction of being both a Jewish priest by birth and a Greek elder by rank.

Continue reading »

Oct 272013
 

The epistle 1 Clement has several features that show up on a close reading:

  • Disjointed indications of date, with different parts suggesting conclusions both before and after the destruction of Jerusalem.
  • Difficult and long perambulation to the letter.
  • Doxologies punctuating the letter abruptly.
  • Digressive material that interrupts the flow of the argument.
  • Doctrinal concerns of Judaism addressed in a Jewish way.
  • Defense of the resurrection from nature and the phoenix.
  • Divergent aims and vocabulary at the start and finish absent in the middle.

And so to the problems that face us, I wish to throw my own hypothesis into the ring. I’ve placed my reconstruction below today, and I welcome comments. I will gather my thoughts about the various arguments surrounding the epistle in a later post on another day, hopefully informed further by any helpful comments. Continue reading »

Oct 222013
 

Domitian_denarius_sonRevelation 11:8 has a passage that has troubled some interpreters with the conflicting indications of the place mentioned in this verse, which could be taken as Jerusalem or Rome based on the text of Revelation itself. While most interpreters settle on seeing it as Jerusalem out of seeming necessity, this necessity can be obviated with an alternative interpretation of the crucified one being mentioned here.

The alternative interpretation starts from the manuscripts that read “ὁ κύριος αὐτῶν,” i.e., “the Lord of them” or “their Lord,” along with a few premises of convenience better suited to another essay.

Premise (1). The text is a unity. This is possibly wrong, but it did achieve its final form at some point, and I don’t have confidence in recovering a possible original.
Premise (2). The text speaks of a beast in terms of the Nero Redivivus myth and was written between 70 AD and 96 AD (most likely, under Domitian).
Premise (3). The text implies the identification of Babylon as Rome (as both destroyed Jerusalem).

I’m sure there are plenty of people that reject the premises, but let’s follow through on them. Continue reading »

Oct 182013
 

deteringA conversation between Hermann Detering and one of his critics has been rediscovered and arranged here. It bears the title, added at a later date, “A Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems Regarding Paul,” which must be understood as a dispute arising over the authenticity of the letters attributed to the apostle Paul.

In the middle of a discussion between Detering and one of his students regarding the references to the letters of Paul in 1 Clement and the epistles of Ignatius, the critic steps forward and declaims, “I can’t help but think that all of these points have long ago been hashed out by authorities of the past such as Harnack, Lightfoot, and Zahn. I would want to find these authors in English translation and read their arguments as well before coming to a decision on the authenticity of 1 Clement and the seven Ignatians.”

Noticing the earnestness displayed by his critic, Detering responds, “For a long time I was thinking like you. But when I wrote my dissertation I found that the arguments used by Harnack and Zahn defending the authenticity of 1Clem and Ign are rather poor and superficial. So if you read these authors you should also read the original texts of F.C. Baur, Van Manen, A.D. Loman or G.A. van den Bergh van Eysinga etc. to get an impression of the power of their arguments.”

And Detering adds a cautionary statement, “Generally I think that any kind of scholasticism is dangerous. At least it is better to trust our own eyes and our own rationality than the results of our ‘glorious fathers’.” Continue reading »

Oct 162013
 

strangegods-1024x705Moyer V. Hubbard puts it remarkably well:

Greek society, as the apostle Paul observed of Athens, was indeed ‘very religious’ (Acts 17:22 NIV). Religion was integral to community life, family life, and the private aspirations of individuals. Most civic celebrations contained overtly religious elements, as did the grand ceremonies of state. Family traditions, along with the mundane duties of daily life, were performed under the watchful eyes of the household gods, and if calamity struck the family or the city, the first order of business was to determine which of the gods had been offended and what must be done to appease him or her. Christianity entered this milieu and made some rather startling claims. In contrast to the conventional religious conceptions of the day, the followers of Jesus claimed that there was only one God, who created everything. This God cared about humanity to the point of sending his own Son in the flesh to atone for their sins. Even more preposterous, this atoning self-sacrifice took place through the shameful spectacle of crucifixion—a death reserved for slaves, criminals, and enemies of the state. The figure of Jesus was certainly an oddity in the religious smorgasbord of antiquity. Amid the plethora of divinities being worshiped in the first century, it is remarkable that anyone would dare to add a crucified Jewish peasant to this list, and even more remarkable that the primitive Jesus movement would snowball into an empire-wide phenomenon. (“Greek Religion,” The World of the New Testament, p. 122)

If there is one impression that we can gather from the references to Christians in our non-Christian sources, one common theme that that runs through Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the YoungerLucian, Marcus Aurelius, Galen, Celsus, and Philostratus, it is the inherent oddity they ascribe to the group. The only real exception in the literature of the era that stands out is that attributed to Mara Bar-Serapion. Continue reading »

Oct 152013
 

AtlanticRoadIt’s a good question why an agnostic would study early Christianity. I can’t answer for everyone, but I can answer for myself. Even after I have disengaged myself from believing the content of the Christian faith, I have never fully given up the interest in it that was ignited in me through a Catholic education. I still remember fondly my first church history teacher, typically Dutch in his enthusiasm for the somewhat arcane and eccentric subject. This subject did not stop being of interest to me after I was no longer a believer.

I also remember sitting in another church history class while in college, when the news of the election of the successor to John Paul II was announced, with the tittering and excitement people felt, most of whom were not themselves Catholic. There is a certain fascination with the subject globally even in people who don’t believe. In Japan, fictional stories incorporate Christian beliefs as an exotic motif. In Russia, where grown men have gotten into barroom brawls over Kant, they also have interest in speculation on the subject, which casts its shadow over the whole history of the Western world. And in California, where I live, a Persian friend of mine who is a Muslim had been himself wondering whether he should rather be a Christian. Suffice it to say that people of many backgrounds have found the subject of Christianity interesting.

My wife, who has a Lutheran background, has a story not that much unlike my own, except for all of the most nerdy bits. She also had passionate involvement with the church in her youth. She also continues to have a level of attachment and fascination, as I do. She also has no desire to be a part of any church. Of course, she has even less a desire to take up the academic approach to the study of religion as a hobby. It takes a certain kind of nerd to appreciate that. Continue reading »

Oct 142013
 

Cave_of_time

I’m pretty stoked about the new blog series starting at Higgaion:

In the coming weeks, probably stretching into months, I plan to read as much as I can find of the published literature on gamification and blog about the experience. I will also share some of the practical lessons I’ve learned from gamifying my own Religion 101 course.

Chris Heard explains the concept of “gamification”:

In case you haven’t encountered gamification yet, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative’s 7 Things You Should Know About newsletter for August 2011 used the widely-accepted definition, “Gamification is the application of game elements in non-gaming situations, often to motivate or influence behavior.” Nick Pelling claims to have coined the word “gamification” in 2002, defining it as “applying game-like accelerated user interface design to make electronic transactions both enjoyable and fast” and primarily seeking to make electronic devices fun to use.

These interests are close to my heart also.

It’s common knowledge that “hearing” is not as effective a tool for learning as “seeing,” and that “seeing” is not as effective as “doing.” This needs an addendum: “doing” is not as effective as “playing.”

Continue reading »

Oct 132013
 

Shut-Up-Graphic-09

I started out with a post that was long, verbose, and carefully calculated to impress the reader with its soft, moderate approach. I gave it the title “The Delights of Doubt,” explaining that doubt is a virtue in the face of evidence that doesn’t demand a verdict and pointing out the contortions people put themselves through when they try to claim knowledge when they have none.

Predictably, my browser ate the post, so let’s get right to the point. Tim Widowfield nails it on the head:

The public is the audience. We are receivers. It was never intended to be a two-way street. Our proper role is to buy their books, take their classes, write fan letters, applaud politely, and by all means shut up.

Jim West wears his heart on his sleeve (responding to a post that I found very admirable in its own approach, by Mark Goodacre) when talking about “claims that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.”

I’m glad Mark is keeping an open mind.  Personally, however, I think all such claims are a priori absolutely idiotic.  Produce ONE SHRED of ancient (1st century CE) evidence that Jesus took Mary to wife.  Just one shred; then, I’ll have an open mind to the possibility.  But until you do, there’s nothing for me to be open minded about.  Simcha’s claims are proof of nothing.  Period.  Show me the evidence or don’t make the claim.  First century, authenticated, provenanced archaeological or textual material, or shut up. Continue reading »

Oct 122013
 

ichthusFor some reason, I’ve never seen a simple table of some christological titles as presented in the early Christian writings, even though it would be very handy to have. So I made my own.

I started out including fragmentary and quoted writings, but midway through I decided to put them in a separate table (incomplete). Both the entries and the blanks in the table are meaningful, but those blanks are much less meaningful with a short, fragmentary text. Some texts with substantial fragments, such as the Gospel of Peter, are shown.

I certainly wouldn’t mind if anybody would like to mention some of my errors of omission and other mistakes. Please do. I would be very happy to improve the table.

Further work to be done could be to add more christological titles, to design different arrangements or charts, to note any difficulties of ambiguous interpretation, to integrate data about presumed dates of authorship, to extend this table to the entire Nag Hammadi Library (not just the texts that are part of the Early Christian Writings site), and of course to add the rest of the fragmentary and quoted writings.

Still, I’d like to release this first draft now, below. Continue reading »

Oct 092013
 

top50linksThis ranking has used MajesticSEO for data on the number of domain names with links pointing in to the blog, and this allows for all blogs to be ranked with a somewhat meaningful metric. It also goes beyond the top 50. Please let me know if you want a biblioblog added to future rankings.

As you may be able to guess, the age of a blog is even more important when it comes to the number of inbound links from different domains. This is one of the facts that has substantially changed the order of top biblioblogs listed below, when compared with the previous list of the top 50 by traffic.

(The numbers on the right are the number of different domains linking in. More info below.)

With no further ado… why not add some of these to your blog reader?

Continue reading »

Oct 082013
 

notovitchOver at Exploring Our Matrix, James McGrath brings our attention to a sensationalist (to put it mildly) press release from Joseph Atwill to the effect that “ancient confessions recently uncovered now prove, according to Atwill, that the New Testament was written by first-century Roman aristocrats and that they fabricated the entire story of Jesus Christ.” Could this just be nonsense trumped up to sell a book documentary? Say it isn’t so!

Certainly I have to agree with McGrath that the popularization of outlandish made-for-media headlines “makes the work of scholars that much harder, as we try to come up with scholarly reconstructions, float new ideas to their peers, critically evaluate evidence, and offer nuanced conclusions.” Or, at least, that it does make it harder for that work to penetrate the public consciousness.

One can read the subtext, however, made explicit here, that such nonsense “has many similarities of approach to that of Earl Doherty and other mythicists,” meaning to tar any writer disbelieving in a historical Jesus with the same brush. With a book from Richard Carrier forthcoming On the Historicity of Jesus, we can expect that a wide range of polemics will be applied liberally to him as well, with similar injustice.

Certainly, however, any number of books have come out of la-la land under the rubric of the study of the historical Jesus. And I’m not just talking about the apologetics industry (e.g.,  the tombs of Jesus and the Shroud of Turin). There are books telling us that Jesus sojourned in India or that Jesus faked his death and lived on in Rome. Or the latest oeuvre from Bill O’Reilly, as a simple case in point. Continue reading »

Oct 082013
 

This gorgeous map of the Roman Empire at the end of Trajan’s reign is in the public domain.

romanempire-117ad

The document below shows the languages of the Roman Empire around the same time. (Note the legend; “displaced” means that it no longer survived by the time of the dissolution of the western Roman Empire. That Celtic patch in Asia Minor is Galatian, as Jerome attests that the Gallic tongue was spoken in both regions in his day. The map shown below may not be completely accurate.) Continue reading »

Oct 062013
 

celtic-symbol-of-the-holy-trinityThe text attributed to the second century Gnostic Valentinus called “On the Three Natures,” known to us in a single reference from the fourth century, Marcellus of Ancyra, has at least three possibilities regarding its composition:

  1. Valentinus is, more or less, one of the first Trinitarians.
  2. Valentinus wrote something misunderstood by Marcellus of Ancyra, or known only by title, on a different topic (possibly, on the three natures of man).
  3. Valentinus wrote nothing of the sort, but a text of the title later circulated among Gnostics, with its contents being either about man or about theogony.

Here is the reference:

Now with the heresy of the Ariomaniacs, which has corrupted the Church of God. … These then teach three hypostases, just as Valentinus the heresiarch first invented in the book entitled by him ‘On the Three Natures’.  For he was the first to invent three hypostases and three persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he is discovered to have filched this from Hermes and Plato. (Logan, A. Marcellus of Ancyra (Pseudo-Anthimus), “On the Holy Church: Text, Translation and Commentary.” Verses 8-9.  Journal of Theological Studies, NS, Volume 51, Pt. 1, April 2000, p.95)

Most discussions online make one of the first two assumptions without mentioning any other possibilities. So let’s go over these three possibilities briefly now, with a discussion of the evidence.

Continue reading »

Oct 042013
 

joinForumSeveral bloggers, including Roger Pearse and Neil Godfrey, among others, have used a venerable, ancient forum on the web to hash out issues informally in an open discussion format. This forum, over 10 years old, resided at the “Internet Infidels Discussion Board” as “Biblical Criticism & History,” where I moderated for a while.

Yesterday, that particular forum lived on at “Free Ratio” as the History of Abrahamic Religions & Related Texts. But today that forum got iced. Nobody can post anymore.

Since I see this as a tragic loss, given how few really active forums with quality discussion exist for our topic, I immediately responded by setting up its spiritual successor, the Early Writings forum.

I’m looking forward to the next 10 years of discussions, and to kick this thing off, I have alerted some of the notable posters from the old forum. I am also inviting everyone reading this to help give it a chance to grow by stopping by and posting. (And I will be putting some sneaky links on my other websites to get it rolling.)

Think of it as a place where you can float ideas, ask questions, or sound off with even less pressure than your blog’s “publish” button… which is something that I find valuable and that, for others, is the only way they prefer to get involved in the discussion: informally. Join us.

Oct 032013
 

questionmarkIn my last post, I drew together some lines of thought. (1) The Gospel of Luke’s preface says the writer is putting things ‘orderly’ or ‘in order.’ (2) The central section of the Gospel of Luke exhibits a structure of chiasm (according to some scholars) and disagrees with the order of Mark/Matthew. (3) Some writers in the ancient world used such literary structure to make their text memorable to those hearing it read.

From this, I concluded that the author of Luke-Acts intentionally ordered his narrative to make it memorable, that this is part of the interpretation of the preface, that this explains his treatment of the other synoptics, and lastly that Luke-Acts did all this so that his work could stand on its own, as it were, as an important text to be read widely, without having a claim to apostolic authorship.

  • This short essay moved from premises, stated and unstated, to a conclusion.
  • The conclusion is a plausible but not necessary consequence of the premises.
  • The stated premises are not beyond reproach (e.g., chiasmus or no?).
  • The unstated premises are a bit shaky too (e.g., the text of Luke-Acts, any synoptic problem solution).

To say that a lot of writing on the New Testament follows this kind of pattern is a bit of an understatement.

There is more to the problem of Luke and Acts than first meets the eye… Continue reading »

Oct 032013
 

lukegospel

Luke doesn’t feel the need to hide behind the pseudonym of an apostle to give his writings authority, as so many other authors of his era do.

What is supposed to be so compelling about the Gospel of Luke, the Acts of the  Apostles, and the orderliness of it all? It’s a good question and one to which the author himself must have had an answer.

The blasé reply is that the author thought that his order was, chronologically, more accurate as to what came first, what came second, and so on. Is this the complete answer? Something like this could definitely be implied by the author for his reader to believe from the preface as a way to impress the reader with the work’s authority. However, I think there’s another answer that’s just as important to the author that has evidence in the text itself. Continue reading »

Oct 022013
 

Church-Fathers-2Well I got sour news for you, Jack.

It ain’t that easy.

For instance, are you willing to make the commitment to wakin’ up at the crack a’ noon for 7 or 8 readings of the Didache at a time, in a row?

How about are you ready to make the commitment to perfect knowledge of Greek, Latin, and Syriac—polyglot style—bristling on your tongue?

How about are you willing to make the commitment to wakin’ up and going, okay, study time, which church father am I gonna read? (Can’t decide! Can’t decide! Brain aneurysm!)

Today Triablogue and Roger Pearse have asked the question: how do I get into reading the church fathers, both in terms of primary and secondary reading? They come to some very different answers, and I have a third perspective…
Continue reading »