Thursday, April 30, 2009

Paul As . . . Mystic

Let's try our hand at doing some historical sleuthing on the Apostle Paul. Unlike the gospels, Paul's authentic letters come from his own hand so we don't have to deal with a layer of tradition about him from other interpreters of his life and ministry. In order to minimize disagreements, let's follow our own Ground Rules. Consequently, we will:
1. Use only the seven undisputed letters (Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon)
2. Use Acts of the Apostles as a secondary source. Where Acts differs from Paul, priority will always be given to Paul's own words.

Our first historical statement: Paul was a mystic who believed he experienced God through visions and special revelations.

Primary evidence from Paul:
  • His gospel came by way of a revelation of Jesus Christ - Gal 1:11-12, 15-16
  • Subsequent to his conversion he had ecstatic experiences in which he was taken up into Paradise and heard things so profound that he was not permitted to speak them - 2 Cor 12:1-4
Secondary evidence from Acts:
  • Paul's conversion, told three times by Luke - Acts 9:3f, 22:6f, 26:12f
  • Night vision by an apparition that directed his missionary activity - Acts 16:9
  • Night vision in which the resurrected Jesus encouraged Paul's stay in Corinth - Acts 18:9f
  • Enters into a trance and is given a warning by Jesus to flee Jerusalem - Acts 22:17f
What other supporting evidence would you submit? Contra evidence?

Miracles - A Test Case

In the last post, we looked at DeConick's Ground Rules for making decisions about the historical Jesus. Ground Rule #2 related to the use of miracle stories in historical studies.

Here is a test case for how we approach miracles. The example I use comes from the Mormon tradition and centers on their belief that the angel Moroni appeared to the young Joseph Smith and revealed to him the location of a set of golden plates that contained the fullness of the gospel Jesus Christ. See the following description from the website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and pay particular attention to Joseph Smith's own account of the miracle.

How would you evaluate the historicity of this account? What criteria would you use in your evaluation? How would your analysis differ from how you would evaluate the various resurrection narratives in the New Testament? Or other Christian miracle stories such as Jesus walking on water or his raising the dead?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Creating Jesus 2

April DeConick has completed her second post on creating Jesus. Her list of ground rules are all worth considering. I especially appreciate the challenge of Ground Rule #2: "We cannot grant special privileges to the religion we are studying." She relates this specifically to the biblical use of miracles.

How far do we depend on miracles for validation of our faith, especially THE miracle - the resurrection? Would we cease practicing Christianity, if the bodily resurrection did not literally happen? What miracles would we be willing to support from traditions not our own? What miracles traditions do we dismiss without a second thought.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Very Short Introduction

Oxford University Press has a great idea in its A Very Short Introduction series. Written by experts in subjects ranging from Ancient Philosophy to the Spanish Civil War, each volume provides a concise introduction to a wide range of topics in history, philosophy, religion, science, and the humanities. The books are approximate 6.8" x 4.4" with a page count of around 150. If you want a quick way into a new subject, this is a great choice.

In particular, if you want access into the life and theology of the Apostle Paul by one of the premier Pauline scholars without wading through interminable discussions about what scholar said "this or that," you can do no better than the volume by E.P. Sanders. This is not Paul for Dummies; it is thoughtful, challenging, clearly written, and amazingly brief. You really should consider this one for your library.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Tony Jones and Bart Ehrman

Tony Jones is a leader in the emerging church movement. He is young, hip, articulate, and theologically astute. He recently interviewed Bart Ehrman about his new book, Jesus Interrupted (the interview is available at Home Brewed Christianity). Unlike many of Ehrman's interviews, this one is more relaxed and helpful in understanding Bart's reason for writing. It was interesting to listen to how Tony interacted with Bart as opposed to many of Bart's evangelical critics.

The First Paul

If you enjoyed The Last Week, then you may want to check the new release by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan called The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon.

From the title, you can see that the two authors believe that the "real" Paul has been suppressed by the church and tuned into a crusty, old defender of ecclesiastical status quo. They argue that three Paul's can be found in the New Testament: 1) the radical Paul of the authentic letters; 2) the conservative Paul of the three disputed epistles; and 3) the reactionary Paul of the three inauthentic letters.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Drinking Water

I hope you learned a few new things yesterday about how to better care for our planet earth. Here is a brief video with excellent presentation graphics that helps illustrate the consequences of unsafe drinking water in developing countries. It also will introduce you to a significant earth care information source,GOOD.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day 2009

For the beauty of the earth . . .
Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our sacrifice of praise.

The Earth Seen from Apollo 17, courtesy of NASA

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Geography of the Resurrection

A comparative study of the resurrection appearances in the four gospels reveal distinct geographical differences as to where Jesus will appear to his disciples.

Mark's narrative has no resurrection appearances, but the women at the tomb are told by an angel (?) that the disciples should go to Galilee and it is there they will see Jesus. At this point, Mark's gospel ends with the women so terrified that they tell no one what has been revealed to them.

Matthew follows Mark in identifying Galilee as the location where the disciples will see the resurrected Jesus. In Matthew, Jesus himself reveals the meeting site to the women after they leave the tomb. Further detail specifies that Jesus in some way directed the disciples to an unidentified mountain in Galilee for a post-resurrection meeting with them.

Luke tells nothing of a Galilean interaction with Jesus. For Luke, Jerusalem is the geographic epicenter. On Easter, Jesus immediately reveals himself to the disciples, first to two followers near Jerusalem at Emmaus and then to the Eleven disciples in Jerusalem. The disciples are commanded not to leave Jerusalem for there they will receive the Holy Spirit, an event narrated in detail in Luke's second volume (The Acts of the Apostles).

John, the latest of the four gospels, combines the two geographies. Jesus first visits the disciples in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, giving them the Holy Spirit. Then there is a subsequent appearance in Galilee. This appearance, however, takes place at the sea of Galilee, not on a mountain.

If we consider the tradition that Paul provides about the resurrection appearances which has no geographical reference, it seems that there were various traditions in circulation before the end of the first century that are not easily reconciled.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Church Lady Triumphs

The folks at Get Region have a the link and set up information for perhaps the most inspirational video you may see in a long time. On the British Got Talent, the source for our American Idol, 47-year-old Susan Boyle blew away Simon, the other judges, and the entire audience. Take a few minutes and see why. Read the post, click on the YouTube link, and watch. And enjoy a triumph!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

When and How Did Jesus Become God?

This post title is one of the most important questions in the study of Christian origins. Based on the evidence available to us, Jesus never claimed to be God and pointed others to the coming kingdom of the one, true God of Israel. So when and how did he himself come to be worshiped by many of his followers after his death.

Larry Hurtado's Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity provides one model for consideration. The just released volume by James D. G. Dunn, Beginning From Jerusalem, also provides extensive analysis of the question (more on both of these substantial works in later posts).

Another way into the subject, requiring less of an investment in time and money, is to be found at April DeConick's blog site, where yesterday she began a series: Creating Jesus: How Jesus Became God. You will be well served to keep up with April's look at Christology and what Dunn calls "Christianity in the making."

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Monday

Jakemaxwel in the comments of a recent post alluded to Shimon Gibson, Israeli archaeologist, whose new book, Final Days of Jesus: The Archaeological Evidence, is getting quite a bit of press over the Easter season. In this clip, CNN's Ben Wedeman takes us to Jerusalem as Gibson points out why the traditional route of the Via Dolorosa is misplaced.

James Tabor, Chair of the Religious Studies Department at the University of North Carolina and author of The Jesus Dynasty, gives a favorable review of Gibson's work at the TaborBlog.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Resurrection Appearances - Oral Tradition

The earliest written account of the resurrection of Jesus is not from any of the four gospels. Rather, the first account comes from a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth around the year 54 of the Common Era (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). According to the oral tradition received and handed on by Paul, the resurrection appearances of Jesus were sequenced as follows:
  1. To Cephas (Peter)
  2. Then to the Twelve
  3. Then to 500 followers at one time
  4. Then to James
  5. Then to all of the apostles
  6. And finally to Paul himself
Our four gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke, John) were written from 1 to 4 decades after Paul writes. These four gospels narrate that Jesus first appeared to female followers, though they do not agree on "who" and "how" it happened.

The appearance to Paul could have been as much as two years after the death of Jesus.

Paul's letter to the Corinthians was written approximately 24 years after Jesus' death.

The Last Week - EIGHT: Easter Sunday

Key ideas from the Last Week by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan.

The concluding chapter of the book looks at the meaning of Easter Sunday. The authors begin with a significant question: What kind of stories are the Easter stories? In response, they suggest two basic answers. The first, and the most widespread in Christian circles, sees the stories as factual history. They report what a modern news team would have captured had they been there with their video cams.

The second answer, favored by Borg and Crossan, is that the stories are parabolic narratives, which is to say their importance lie in their meaning, not in their being historically factual. In this approach, the stories, like the parables of Jesus, are profoundly true independent of their historicity.

Mark as parable evokes the following powerful concepts:
  • The tomb could not hold Jesus
  • Jesus is not to be found in the land of the dead
  • Jesus has been raised and vindicated; God has said "yes" to him and "no" to the powers who killed him
  • His followers are promised that they will see him

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Last Week - SEVEN: Saturday

Key ideas from The Last Week by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan.

The Gospel of Mark provides no information on what happened the Saturday following the death of Jesus. Consequently, Borg and Crossan use this chapter to discuss Jewish theological concepts that influenced Mark's passion narrative. Among the topics covered are the descent into hell, apocalyptic eschatology, and God's justice and the bodily resurrection of the dead.

The authors suggest that the martyrdom of righteous Jews during the time of the Maccabees raised the problem of God's justice, which was eventually resolved by formulating the concept of bodily resurrection. God's justice would someday make things right and His "Great Cleanup" of the earth would begin with the resurrected bodies of the tortured martyrs.

With this conceptual world as background, Mark's Gospel affirms:
1. The kingdom of God has already begun.
2. The Son of Man (Jesus) has already arrived.
3. The bodily resurrection has already started.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

"Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha
(which means the place of a skull). "

". . . It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him."

Mark 15:22,25

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Raymond Brown - the Death of the Messiah

I have always wanted to use these two words in a sentence: "encyclopedic" and "magisterial." So here's my chance.

Anyone interested, really interested, in what is known about the death of Jesus should have the work of Catholic biblical scholar, the late Raymond Brown in their library: The Death of the Messiah, From Gethsemane to the Grave, A Commentary on the Passion Narrative in the Four Gospels (Volume 1 and 2).

From the arcane to the obvious, this two volume set, first published in 1993, is truly magisterial and encyclopedic. The paperback edition logs in at a combined page count of 1,664. Heavily footnoted and with a massive bibliography, this is not the kind of book that you sit down and read cover to cover; it is simply overpowering in its detail. The scope of Brown's research is amazing.

Save up your pennies and get this into your library. You'll be using it for years to come.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

James on Jesus

James McGrath, Associate Professor of Religion at Butler University, asks: "What does it mean to be a follower of the historical Jesus?" His reflections deserve a look. Here's a sample to encourage your review: "Following the historical Jesus is not about attempting to define Jesus' nature - as though we could. It is about investigating a human life, passionately." (Click here.)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Last Week - SIX: Friday

Key ideas from the Last Week by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan.

Friday, what is now called Good Friday, was the day of Jesus' execution. The authors raise the question: Was his death the will of God? Their answer is a responding "No." But from one vantage point, the death of Jesus was inevitable because that is what domination systems did to those who challenged them. Here are three quotes that sum up the "why" of Jesus' death:
1. ". . . Jesus's passion for the kingdom of God led to what is often called his passion, namely, his suffering and death."
2. "Good Friday is the result of the collision between the passion of Jesus and the domination systems of his time."
3. "Jesus did not die for the sins of the world. . .he was killed because of the sin of the world."

Friday, April 3, 2009

My Jewish Learning

If you want to know more about modern Judaism, I have a great website for you to visit. My Jewish Learning is filled with a rich variety of articles and features on Jewish culture. From the best in Jewish cookbooks to details on a Passover Seder, this site is full of attention-grabbing graphics that highlight topics you'll want to take time to explore. Take a minute and visit the Home Page. I think you'll want to bookmark this one.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Take the Hermeneutics Quiz

Last year, I took a self-assessment quiz published in Leadership journal that was created by New Testament Professor Scott McKnight. "The quiz," in the author's word, "is designed to surface the decisions we make, perhaps without thinking about them, and how we read out Bible and don't red our Bible."

I found it helpful, and now you can take it free online. See where you fall on the theological spectrum when it comes to interpreting the Bible. Check it out here. One caveat: You probably should take the test first and then read Scott's explanation and scoring instructions.

Let me know if your theological placement seemed on target.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Where To Find Out About Different Kinds of Stuff

Jane Hart, e-learning professional, has put together a terrific list of learning websites. She labels the list "100+ Free Websites to find out about Anything and Everything" The next time you're trying to find the right piece of information for a class, a presentation, or a paper, or you just want to learn something new, check out this list.

YouTube EDU

You can now hear a number of biblical scholars such as Marcus Borg, John P. Meier, Bart Ehrman, etc. on YouTube. Go to YouTube EDU and in the search window type in the name of the scholar you are seeking. Here is a short example from Duke University featuring E.P. Sanders, a prominent historical Jesus scholar.