God is anything but boring. Our fear of a life-stifling, stern old man in the sky is misplaced. Our apathy about a dull encounter with bland, emotionless divinity turns out not to be true. God is full of pathos, caring love, risky emotion. And the intense joy we long for and adventure we seek is a far better clue to God’s nature than any list of theological facts. Instead of being an answer we find, God is a mystery we can approach forever without arriving.
–beginning of chapter 2 of my upcoming eBook, Divine Messiah, “The Nature of God in the Hebrew Bible.”
eBook coming May 2014. Please contact me if you’d like to arrange a Divine Messiah seminar wherever you are in the U.S. You can find more information on the Seminars page.
In the early half of the first century, it happened so suddenly that there are no records of the way the innovation came about. The early community of Yeshua-followers started believing and practicing something beyond any previous concept. While the Judaisms of the Second Temple period spoke of principal agent figures who spoke for God — great heroes of the faith like Moses or Enoch, chief angels like Michael, or personification of God’s attributes such as the Word or Wisdom — the early believers started reverencing Yeshua as one of equal standing with God.
Larry Hurtado puts the question in stark terms, “How on earth did Jesus become a god?” It’s the title of his landmark book, in fact. And the evidence is compelling.
How did Yeshua come to be the object of acts of devotion far in excess of anything ever said about Moses or Enoch? How did he surpass in supremacy even the archangels? How did the image of his person and authority come to outshine even the Wisdom of God? How did his presence come to be equated with the presence of God’s spirit and exceed in personal importance even the Glory that resided in the Temple? Read more
After the resurrection, the apostles demonstrate a similar attitude towards the temple as Jesus did. They participate in the annual celebrations like Pentecost, or the feast of weeks which included a communal sin offering (Lev 23 and Num 28). On top of that, the movement loved the temple and attended frequently. This group with the resurrection still freshly printed in their souls, participates in the temple services, prayers, and sacrifices—this includes sin offerings.
A curious question to ask is whether Jesus ever offered sacrifices in the Temple? It’s a curious question because the gospels never depict him doing so. Our off-the-cuff answer to the question may reveal a lot about our assumptions concerning Jesus.
Another question might be, “Why don’t the gospels ever depict Jesus offering a sacrifice or mention that he did so?” Read more
Would Jesus offer a sin offering? Did the apostles offer sin offerings after Jesus’ death and resurrection? The answer to both of these questions may surprise most Christians. The New Testament unfolds many stories where a sin offering would have been required. By looking at these stories, we can see if it makes sense that Jesus and his disciples (pre and post resurrection) brought the sin offerings as described in Leviticus and Numbers.
Importance: This is the only evidence outside of the Bible, supporting David as a historical figure in Iron Age period. The critical inscription can be easily seen below outlined in white. This piece is on display at the Israeli Museum and is a must see!
This artifact was found “in situ” during the 1993 archaeological season at Tel Dan, one of the northern most cities in Israel. These partial remains of a destroyed stele (a stone slab with writing on it) from the Aramean King Hadad includes this text: Read more
Building on the conversation David Matthews and I are having about the early Yeshua (Jesus) movement and Paul’s life and message and the issues he faced in his time, I posted today on my own blog about reasons why the early believers may have been persecuted by synagogue and Jewish authorities. I used the strike-through feature to eliminate some theories that have been around a while that do not fit the evidence.
To dig out some of the gold we located in Part 1 of this tag-team post, let’s take a more in depth look at one particular case: the Thessalonians.
Thessalonica is particularly interesting because of a few factors:
According to Acts 17, Paul was in town for a maximum period of four weeks and as little as two, and yet he later writes two letters to them with pretty complex subjects. That’s very quick to get something up and moving.
The same group of people both welcomed Paul and then persecuted him within a matter of weeks. These same guys then continued persecuting Paul, even following him to the next town to finish the job.
The congregation that Paul establishes (in less than a month, mind you) emerges in the midst of persecution and continues to grow. Read more
The genesis of this post was an unexpected adventure at SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) in November in Baltimore. My young friend, David Matthews, and I were there catching all the papers we could in our main fields of interest (his = the Temple, mine = Isaiah). But we couldn’t resist a few “Paul and Judaism” sessions. And one of them was like a Rock Festival of Pure Pauline Goodness . . . an unbelievable chance to hear Paula Fredriksen, Mark Nanos, Magnus Zetterholm, and Pamela Eisenbaum all in one room. It was one of the larger session rooms at SBL, probably with room for 400 people, and it was standing room only. Note, by contrast, the Isaiah sessions I attended rarely had more than thirty people.
Afterwards, the excitement was palpable, the air electric, as DM and I hit the Pratt Street Alehouse to process it all. “Paul was too Jewish for the synagogue!” we said. The result? A series of two posts, one by me and the cleanup post by DM himself. If more people could just understand Paul via the Radical New Perspective (which should neither be viewed as “radical” nor “new”) what a wonderful world this would be . . .
Our discussion began with me sketching out a diagram on a legal pad at the Pratt Street Alehouse. Here is it slightly cleaned up: Read more
In this series I intend to discuss the evidence for Ancient Israel outside of the Biblical text. Admittedly, the vast majority of this evidence comes from the Iron Age period (1200 – 539 BCE) in the Levant (the eastern Mediterranean — including Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria).
Merenptah Stele (also spelled Merneptah)
Canaan has been plundered in every evil way, Askelon has been brought away captive, Gezer has been seized, Yenoam has been destroyed. Israel is devastated, having no seed. Syria is widowed because of Egypt. All lands, they are united in peace. Everyone who roamed, he has subdued him, By the king of Egypt Merenptah.
The Merenptah Stele (Merneptah) is the earliest recorded evidence supporting the notion of a people called “Israel” outside the testimony of the Bible. Not all agree the stele (stone slab with inscription) mentions Israel. A minority of scholars has offered alternative translations of the key word found in line #27. One is alternative is to translate “Jezreel”, a city in located in northern Israel. However, the majority of scholars, including the original excavators, translate it as “Israel.” Read more
14. Context for the New Testament – language from the temple is found throughout the gospels and Pauline letters. One example for now: in Ephesians 2, Paul describes how the gentiles were far off but now have been brought near. As mentioned above, drawing near is a technical term for worship/sacrifice. Paul is indicating that Jews and Gentiles have the ability to draw near/worship the Mighty One. Without the knowledge of this technicality, we can still understand the intent behind the passage: those who were far are now closer. Great! That is what Ephesians is saying. With the technical details filled in, the picture becomes far more concrete and vivid. This isn’t just about distance compared to someone else—you’re closer than me but I’m getting closer. No, but rather, this is about encounter with the Eternal One.
15. The Prophets, Jesus, and the book of Revelation maintain an expanding role for the temple. The minor and major prophets both explicitly prophesy the coming restoration of the temple in righteousness, and then go on to explain how the holiness of the temple will permeate society in a way never before seen. In these descriptions, the prophets also described a messianic figure (e.g. the messenger in Malachi or the branch in Zechariah) having a key role in this restoration. Jesus also prophesied that THE sign for his return is the desecration of the temple. John’s Revelation describes the apocalyptic judgments in the context and language of the temple. This is a growing vision of the temple, not a diminishing role. Read more
The worship life of Israel is central to her identity throughout time. It has defined generations and kings, set the foundations of that ancient race, and created a hope for the future of the world. For all the real estate this subject matter takes up in the text, the ritual life of Israel should take a prominent place in our understanding of the text.
Even if every sentence regarding the temple and tabernacle is only a figure of speech or an imaginary tale, the strength of this imagery still carries great literary weight throughout the text from beginning to end. Read more
Some people avoid learning too much about the cultural background of the Bible because they worry about losing their faith. Others live in denial that the Bible has a cultural background. Quite a few have discovered this background and decided the Bible is no more “inspired” than a great poem or novel. I argue in solidarity with those who believe the Bible surpasses everything created by humankind, that it is divine as well as human.
The following is my first draft of commentary on the section of Isaiah in 1:10-17. I will be consulting some other sources and this may lead to some edits. I am working on a full commentary planned for completion in 2015 and hopefully publication in 2016. The format is translation (my own), the essence of the passage in italics, quick reference notes in a smaller font, and then detailed commentary. For those who might wish to support me in my study and writing, I have a daily email list. Info for that list is at bottom . . .
1:10-17. Hear the word of Hashem, O leaders of Sodom; give ear to the instruction of our God, O people of Gomorrah! 11 “Why should the plentiful number of your sacrifices matter to me?” says Hashem. “I am over-filled with whole offerings of rams, with the fat of fattened cattle; with the blood of bulls and lambs and he-goats I am not delighted.”
12 When you come to make your appearance before me . . . who demanded this from your hand — wearing out my courtyards? 13 Stop bringing again and again the grain offering that is useless; it is an abominable smoke offering to me! New moon, Sabbath, convening festival gatherings — I cannot endure corruption together with religious assembly! 14 My soul hates your new moons and festival times; they have become for a burden I am weary of bearing. 15 And when you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you. Even if you multiply prayer, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash! Become clean! Turn aside from your evil deeds! Stop doing evil right in front of my eyes! 17 Learn how to do well; seek justice; lead the oppressed; obtain justice for the orphan; contend for the widow. Read more
Jesus overturned the tables in the temple and uttered his cry from Jeremiah and Isaiah. The chief priests and authorities questioned Jesus about what authority he has to do these things. But truthfully, what are these things that the chief priests and the scribes mention? Is it just making a decision on whether the court of the nations should be shared by business and prayer? Or is there something more? Could it also be about the destiny of Israel?
Remains from the Delos synagogue, the oldest known in the Diaspora.
This series has focused on some surprising ways Bible-bad-boy King Herod may have actually prepared the ground for good relations between Jews and Gentiles, between the lands of Judea and Galilee and Jewish communities outside of the land, and in so doing, prepared the ground for the spread of the Yeshua (Jesus) movement.
Herod played a role in giving certain diaspora cities and synagogues large sums of money. It is no accident that many of the cities chosen contained large Jewish populations. Evidence for these communities comes from both archaeological and literary material. Read more
First, this could have been a protest against the greed and avarice found in doing normal business. If it had, we would expect to see similar actions in a bazaar in another city—say Capernaum where Jesus did a lot of teaching. We don’t see that. Rather, we see Jesus comparing the kingdom of Heaven to kings, shepherds, merchants, homemakers, farmers, and the like. Jesus does not advocate greed, but doesn’t denounce work or business either. He seems to use the world around him as a means of understanding the spiritual. In many ways, Jesus teaches his disciples to underwhelm the world—not to flip tables, braid a whip, and get things in order. Something else is going on here. This is not Jesus’ typical modus operandi.
Second, of the non-canonical saying of Jesus (things Jesus might have said which were not recorded in the New Testament) quoted by the early church fathers, the most quoted saying centers on the figure of a money changer. Read more