Looking forward to Fortress Press Round Table with general editors Gale Yee, Matthew Coomber, and David Sánchez (3 of the 6 editors of the Fortress Commentary on the Bible) along with Fortress Editors Neil Elliott and Scott Tunseth at the Fortress suite for an informal blogger roundtable at SBL on Monday (11/24) from 10:00-11:30am.
More info on the newly released Fortress Commentary on the Bible is at the link above and numerous others on that page, such as an interview with the editors, what contributors have to say, and an online sample. If there is something you're interested in finding out about the process, the scholars involved, or the work of the contributors, feel free to join us.
I will be reviewing this commentary on my blog following SBL, excited to see my former professor from Notre Dame, Hugh Page and talk with Gale Yee. If you have questions about the event, contact Emily Varner
Last week I wrote a post regarding the most recent “Jesus baby-daddy” scandal to hit cyberspace. In my article I suggested that every now and again, media sensations like this one can be beneficial if they help us re-examine Jesus, take him for who he is according to the sacred writ.
In preparation for Advent, it seems important to discuss the world into which Jesus was born so that we might better understand the expectations that loomed and the liturgy upon which his life was read. Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll feature a series of posts to aid pastors and seekers in their understanding of This Jesus who lived and breathed in human form and walked in the dust of Ancient Palestine.
We believe Jesus was born between 6-4 BCE. BCE, of course, means Before Common Era and bears witness to what we now know, Jesus was not born in 0 such that the definition of “Before Christ” is a historical.
If we take the evangelist Matthew’s account to be credible, then the child Jesus was born within two years of Herod’s death. Since according to Matthew, Jesus is in danger of being one of the Hebrew boys under two who are murdered under Herod’s reign, and since the Roman record confirms the death of Herod in 4 BCE, or according to Josephus 37 years after the beginning of his reign.
At the death of Herod, there is an enormous uproar in Palestine. Octavian and Marc Antony had placed Herod in his position over the Judean kingdom so that he functioned much like a puppet king. Upon Herod’s death, the Jewish people who had never wanted Herod for a king, revolted under the new reign of his son’s. There were uprisings in Judea, Perea and in Galilee where fighting was centered in Sepphoris and the leaders of the revolt were Judas and Zadok, who are the origin of the faction known as the "Zealots."
Since the Roman garrison at Cesarea could not contain the multiple revolts, the Syrian governor then responded with some 18,000 Roman troops and put down the rebellion, crucifying some 2,000 rebels outside the walls of Jerusalem.
It is into this world Jesus is born, where oppression and apocalyptic hopes burn fierce fires in the hearts of the Jewish purists who await a Messianic king who will reign as Simon Maccabeus who liberated the Jews from the tyranny of foreign kings or his brother Judas took back the Temple from the Gentile oppressors. In fact, it is Judas' act that is celebrated at Chanukah, when the Jews rededicated the Temple to God after it had been under the rule of Selucid kings and used as a pagan site of worship.
Jesus’ entry into the world during a volatile political and socio economic climate changes everything about how we read his words and understand his mission. Jesus comes into the world to inaugurate the Kingdom of God which will challenge the rulership of the day and call his followers to live radically counter to culture to embrace a revolution of love and the reign of a spiritual world.
Stay with us here as we prepare for Advent and get to know This Jesus...
It’s Monday and as I scan my Twitter feed and engage in some research before my baby wakes up again, I am alerted that there is now another “Jesus was married and had a couple of kids” scandal about the web. Once again, Simcha Jacobovici who is neither a Biblical Scholar nor Archaeologist, not a Theologian or Ancient Languages specialist-- but plays one on tv-- has set out to prove that an ancient manuscript is proof of Jesus’ other life and a fifth gospel.
The manuscript Jacobovici is drawing from is an ancient papyrus of the apocryphal book of Joseph and Asenath, Jacobovici posits that Joseph and Asenath acts as an allegory for the relationship between Jesus and Mary of Migdol and that this is how it has always been understood in the Syriac. The authors of the “Lost Gospel” intend to hold a press conference later this week and unveil the names of Jesus’ and Mary’s children which is sure to stir controversy and hike book sales.
While I am grateful to colleagues like Dr. Marc Goodacre who take to the airwaves to debunk flawed research, I am also, always grateful for any new conversation about Jesus. My challenge to the church is, rather than bashing this book from the pulpit and forbidding churchgoers to read it, let’s help congregations develop some much needed critical thinking skills and analyses tools to approach the question broached by the “Lost Gospel.”
What if we used this Advent to talk about who Jesus really was and the world he was born into? What if we could give some time and space to Palestine under Herod, and thus, under Rome. What if we spoke of the uprising that occurred at Herod’s death and the rape, pillage and mass crucifixions with which Rome answered. What if our sermons helped people imagine the socio political landscape into which Jesus came so that his words and actions made sense in his own context such that, in turn, we could apply those meanings to our lives today? What if we could really understand the wonder of the illogical God who as an act of divine love chose to come to the world as a poor babe to an unwed teen in a small no consequence village during a time of political oppression?
What if we, dare I say it, read from the Apocrypha, from Joseph and Asenath and talked about how communities might have understood this text to have been code for Jesus and Mary and asked, why or why not? What if we just allowed ourselves to look at Jesus with fresh eyes, to survey literature from his time period and tried to understand who he was in flesh and blood terms so that the gift of his flesh and blood could astonish us again?
What if, a generation of Christians who believe they know everything about Jesus learned they know nothing about Jesus; what if we were confronted by the man who preached against wealth and modeled the radical love of the poor and needy? What if thousands of women and men who have vowed to follow Jesus bumped into him, into love incarnate, and learned he was leading us in an entirely different way; what if we were converted to the following of this one who never owned a home and never rushed anywhere and gave over his life for the good of others? Well, then this Advent we’d welcome Jesus with bruised and humble open arms and the media circus of the “Lost Gospel” would have been well worth the trouble.
I was six years old, all I was young, somewhere close to six all pop knots and missing teeth when I would climb into the old wooden pulpit in the sanctuary and snag the pasty little squares I called “manna” that were served during Holy Communion.
As small and mischievous as I was, that old pulpit felt like home, it was big and tall and strong and even though those tiny flat squares didn’t have my name on them, I knew they were mine for the taking. So, I dined, often as I liked, as long as the grown-ups lingered downstairs eating pie and drinking black coffee, on the manna of heaven, God’s gift for God’s people.
I’m not sure I had ever heard anyone refer to the bread of Communion as manna, but somehow in my young mind, I was making a connection between the feast of Jesus and the provision of God. From that day until this, I have always understood the Table of Jesus to be a mystical and physical reality of sustenance, a sacrament when we take in the nourishment God has provided.
Consider my elation then, when I learned of a new discovery at the John Ryland’s Research Institute at Manchester; an early Christian inscription concerning the Eucharist as “manna from heaven.” The papyrus first discovered by Dr. Roberta Mazza, a research fellow at the institute, dates to 600 CE and the era of late antiquity, some 300 years after Constantine. They papyrus was a charm written to be worn in an Egyptian style amulet, the holy inscription meant to protect its owner from evil.
Along with the words describing the Eucharist as manna, the papyrus also contains bible passages including Psalm 78:23-24, Matthew 26:28-30, and others. Dr. Mazza notes that several of the words are misspelled and written out of order which seems to suggest these words were written from memory rather than being copied. This is striking because it is an instance of Scripture being used by common folk not just priests or religious elite. Mazza also finds the papyrus for the amulet to be an indication of how Christianity was understood as magic to ward off evil.
The full text of the papyrus:
“Fear you all who rule over the earth.
Know you nations and peoples that Christ is our God.
For he spoke and they came to being, he commanded and they were created; he put everything under our feet and delivered us from the wish of our enemies.
Our God prepared a sacred table in the desert for the people and gave manna of the new covenant to eat, the Lord’s immortal body and the blood of Christ poured for us in remission of sins.”
The papyrus is a confirmation that some early Christians in Egypt had access to or at least took to heart the sacred words of Scripture, long before they had hand held copies translated to their own language and offered in their own vernacular. Again it affirms the centrality of the Table for early believers and the body and blood of Jesus as a continuation of the covenantal and sacrificial work of God in the history of the world.
May the words of our story and God’s presence with us reach across the ages and give us strength and may the power of the Table unite us with those who have gone before, those who walk with us now and to the one who will come again.
It is hard to find books to read while you are grieving, difficult to find books whose words reach out and take your hand and help you walk through the mine fields of honest lament. I have been exceedingly grateful for the stories put to pen and paper that have helped walk me home each time my life has exploded. Acutely aware of the gift of an author's raw words that scratched out in manuscript serve as testimonies of grace and hope, the affirmation of real fear and anger, have been shapes and syllables that found me when I have been left disoriented and ragged stumbling along. While many different works have spoken to me across different seasons of loss, the books named below have been special solace for these most recent miles along my path.
So we might know the stories of our mothers; hear my CBH Viewpoint interview with Jim Lyon on early church holy women. Drawn from my research, this week we discuss Prisca, wife to Aquila, ministry companion of Paul and some early material suggests, Bishop of Kolophon just outside of Ephesus!
You learn from loss to hold on since letting go is always present. You learn to savor, to squeeze every moment, until the joy drips on your face like rain. You learn to send flowers, bouquets of love, to send that card, to show up for that lunch date. You know to tell people what they mean to you and why, this tiny moment being all you know for sure. You learn to value presence and the grace of living life full awake. You learn that you are small and life is a vapor fleeting fast so you work to slow down its rapid, racing pace. You abandon fear, no time for the wretched thief who would keep you worried, anxious, hurried and mangled with despair. You memorize freckles and take photos with your heart and you cherish before it's gone. You drive long hours for band concerts and track meets, to hold new born babies and to make snow flake angels with helping little hands. You make your grandfathers Christmas candy and build ritual out of rubble, you sew memory with every heartbeat. You weep and you mourn, you curse and you laugh, you live your life true and full and wide. You pray and you dance and you come to know grief as a grace that delivers to you love en masses and you have but this one life to take it all in.
Learn how it all fits together here in an effort we call ChoG Trafficklight.Listen below to our CBH Viewpoint broadcast below!!
Incredulous, even as my fingers strike keys, that these are words anyone would ever need to write. Seems outlandish that one Jesus follower would be prompted to say to another, “judgment is not the way here brother,” “anger and fear will not produce fruit, dear sister.” Yet it becomes necessary as I read headlines of the fiasco in Warsaw, OH where after years of picket lines formed by bible quoting church folk outside the Foxhole Exotic Dance Club, the owner and employees of the Foxhole have finally decided to retaliate.
This weekend, women in bikinis armed with signs that read, “Don’t judge us until you are living a perfect life” and “God loves all His children” walked topless at the edge of church property in an effort to fight back. And my head goes to my hands and my heart finds the floor.
This isn’t the only news, of course, there are brutal murders and attacks on Christians in Iraq while the violence continues in Syria and the age old bloodshed marches on between Israel and Palestine. Citizens of St. Louis take to the streets to protest the murder of another dark skinned, unarmed teen . . . and believers in this church in Ohio decide the way to bring light and love and the hope of Jesus into our broken and bruised, war torn world is to carry cardboard signs outside of strip club; and I wonder does God drown in God’s own tears today.
Today I write from my home, safely distant from the horrors that rage in most of the world, the gentle rain puddles outside my window and I ache inside for all that is torn and broken. I weep for children across the globe who have no idea if they will eat today or if bullets will spray across the tiny hovel they call home, for those awaiting persecution at the hands of militant terror regimes.
And I plead, for all that is good and holy, with those who bear the mark of Christ, to cease from breathing contempt, lay down your words of hate, let go of the poison that is fear of other and instead, walk into love.
As rain nurtures soil, so does love soothe and till and plant seeds of hope in the parched desert of soul. It is fear, not love that allows us to reduce those in our human family to rank and file of other, worse yet, “sinner bound for hell.” I wonder upon which passages we draw to find impetus for a broken, humble creature to serve as judge over another when surely the call of the holy writ is to love, and bear witness to the good news of Christ. In fact, the Greek μάρτυς means literally witness, out of which we derive the term martyr. Imagine for a moment, what would happen if followers of Jesus decided to live out the call to bear witness to the love of God as made manifest in Jesus rather than occupying their days and nights with the work of judgment which has, --‘er already been assigned.
Today I hold hands around the world with frightened children and those imprisoned for their faith, I stand with those who cry for justice in St. Louis, with exotic dancers in Ohio and I breathe words of love and hope, and I pray for peace. I say to you what is true and eternal, God in Christ is with you and for you, you are loved and you are not alone.
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." John 14.27
To learn more about empowering women to walk out of fear and into love visit StrippedLove.org
As promised....Fall 2015-2015 Course Booklists
Ehrman, Bart, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings., Ed. 5 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
Reasoner, Mark. Imperial Roman Texts: A Source Book (New York: Fortress Press, 2013)
Taylor, Barbara Brown, The Preaching Life (Lanham, MA: Cowley Publishers, 1993).
Lischer, Richard, The Company of Preachers: Wisdom Preaching Augustine to Present (New York: Eerdmans, 2002).
Kinnaman, David and Aly Hawkins. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving
Church…and Rethinking Faith (Grand Rapids:Baker Books, 2011).
Stanley, Andy. Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012).