Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Spiritual Formation and Christ's Resurrection pt7

Did the disciples invent the resurrection?

            How many people do you know that are some flavor of Christianity?  In that context, I mean to paint with the absolute broadest brush possible, any religious movement that can be appropriately identified as Christianity.  How many people do you know are practicing Simon-ists?  Or practitioners of Bar-Kokhba-anity?  Do you know anyone who believes in Bar-Giora-ism?  As an honest question, do you know who Simon bar Giora or Simon bar Kosevah were?

They were both historical Jewish figures, Giora was proclaimed as the King of the Jews during the First Jewish War, and Kosevah was the messianic figure and leader of the Second-Jewish revolt.  Both had followers, both were second-temple Jews*, both were killed by Rome, and like Jesus, both are called false messiahs in Rabbinic literature.  Yet, the followers of these messianic figures never proclaimed their messiah had been raised from the dead.  They never continued their movements.  That’s mainly because there was no messianic expectation in second-temple Judaism for a dying messiah.  Why are there no religions based on these messianic figures?  To be blunt, they died and stayed dead.  Sure, some dead people still have a religious following from them, but not from the second-temple period and as a fulfiller of Judaism.

Did the disciples steal the resurrection story?

            This is a trendy idea online.  As has been previously pointed out in this series, many of the dying-rising god myths, both from Ancient Near-eastern Texts and European sources, are connected to the seasonal cycles.  There ways to explain why things die in the autumn and come to life again in the spring.  Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection have nothing to do with the seasonal cycle and has the backdrop of second-temple Judaism and the Passover instead.  Moreover, a good question would be how pagan mythology that explains seasonal cycles, repackaged as a dying and rising Messiah, convince second-temple Jews to abandon their religion and cultural identity?  As has already been established, the disciples were not well-traveled and highly educated men.  They were, for the most part, second-temple Jewish peasants.

            Keep in mind that Churches from various backgrounds, traditions and denominations annually celebrate Easter; however, there is no belief that Jesus just rose again last Sunday (or next Sunday if you’re Eastern Orthodox).  Easter is the remembrance of His resurrection, a resurrection that happened once in history and doesn't happen every year.  However, as pointed out above, many of the dying and rising gods of paganism are connected to the seasonal cycles, and therefore, they were believed to die and raise annually.

            As N.T. Wright points out, when Paul preached Christ’s resurrection in Athens (Acts 17), he was met with mocking and misunderstanding, but no one was saying things like, “Oh, this is a re-interpretation of X [Osiris, Attis, etc.])” (Wright, 81).  Which raises another good question, if second-temple Jews took pagan mythologies and used them to explain away the fact that their Messiah died, how would that get pagans to convert to a Jewish movement?  Especially if it was their myths that the Jesus followers were adapting to fit their non-Jewish dying and rising Messiah?

            Finally, on this point, early Christians believed that Jesus died, was buried and then rose again; i.e., He returned to life, this life and returned to this world.  Osiris was quite different. Egyptologist Dr. Frankfort, who was not a Christian, explains in his book that Osiris was a god who survived his passing through death but never returned to life (Frankfort, 185).

Perhaps this leads to another good question, did the first-century and second-temple Jewish followers of Jesus believe in a literal (bodily) resurrection of Jesus?  Which is the topic that we’ll take up next week.

(* The second-Jewish revolt was 132-136 AD, and Simon ben Kosevah died in 135, both of which are after the Second-temple period since the temple was destroyed in 70 AD.)

Written by Pastor Ozzy

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Works Cited

Frankfort, Henri. 1948. Kingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration of Society and Nature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Wright, N. T. 2003. The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3). New York: Fortress Press.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Spiritual Formation and Christ's Resurrection pt6

            In last week’s blog, we explored a little of second-temple Judaism’s understanding of resurrection and noted that our two primary New Testament (NT) sects of Judaism differed on the topic.  The Pharisees believed in the resurrection, whereas the Sadducees did not.  Now, I think we need to meet the Sadducees where they were, understanding that they only accepted the books of Moses or Pentateuch and rejected the Oral Torah.  Their exact beliefs regarding other Old Testament (OT) texts are not explicit; however, they did not accept them as authoritative scripture.  Moreover, there are very few passages in the whole OT where one can find the idea of resurrection, and none of them are in the Pentateuch.  So, we can see, with their parameters, why they would reject the idea of resurrection.

            Where does the idea of resurrection then come from?  Well, as I stated above, there are very few passages in the OT where resurrection is present.  The state of the dead in the OT is a developing concept, for example in the book of Job[1] we can read, “When a cloud vanishes, it is gone, so he who goes down to Sheol [the place of the dead] does not come up” (Holy Bible: New American Standard Bible, Job 7:9).  From Job’s understanding, the dead go to the place of the dead and do not return (cf. Job 14).  However, during the time of the exile and towards the beginning of the second-temple period, this view develops further as can be seen in the book of Daniel.  There, we get one of the texts on the subject, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Ibid. Dan. 12:2).  Job represents a very early and undeveloped theology, he serves as the priest of his own family, there is no hint of organized religion or Mosaic laws.  Daniel comes from the end of the captivity, and by the time of the second-temple, there are more texts that express the idea of some future state of the dead.

            One could then ask, what would be the portrait from the OT of the state of the dead?  It would seem like ancient Israel had a rather dark view of that place.  David called it, “the pit” (Ps. 30:9) and another Psalmist calls the place of departed spirits, “the grave”, “Abaddon” [place of destruction], “the darkness”, and “the land of forgetfulness” (88:10-12).  Solomon describes it as a place where there is no activity, planning, knowledge or wisdom (Ecc. 9:10).  Again, Job did not think that one returns from the place that he depicts as darkness and deep shadow (10:21).  However, that is not the only depiction we get, starting in the Pentateuch with Abraham, it reads that he was gathered to his people (Gen. 25:17) and by the time of the kings they are described as sleeping with their fathers (1 Ki. 2:10, 11:43).  It needs to be made clear, this place of sleeping with their fathers is not the tomb, because there is no text regarding the burial place of Jesse or any of David’s other ancestors.  Therefore, it seems reasonable that by saying, “they slept with their fathers” means, that they went to the place of the dead.

Would resurrection in the OT raise the Messiah?

            Although I have above stated that there is little in the OT about resurrection, it is there.  The clearest is Daniel 12:2-3; however, notice that the text mentions “many” but not “all” and therefore, this text does not suggest a universal resurrection.  When does this happen?  Whoever is talking to Daniel states that it will be at the end of time (12:4).  Therefore, this resurrection text is speaking about an event that will happen at the end of this age.

            That kind of eschatological [end of this age, start of the next age] view of the resurrection is expressed in the NT by a peasant Jew.  Martha tells Jesus that she knows her brother Lazarus will be raised again on the last day (Jn. 11:24).  Which could be a very good indicator of what the common Jew in the first-century believed about the resurrection of the dead and that view would fit what the Daniel text said.

            However, if that view is accurate, it does nothing to explain the origin of a dying and rising Messiah.  N.T. Wright, one of the foremost scholars on the NT and historical period that we are talking about writes, “No second-Temple Jewish text speaks of the Messiah being raised from the dead” (Wright, 25).  Notice that the apostles did not understand Jesus when He predicted His resurrection (Mk. 9:31-32, Lk. 18:32-36), nor did they believe right away when it was reported to them (Lk. 24:11). 

Therefore, there was a sudden and unconditioned [in the Pavlov sense] shift amongst a group of second-Temple Jews to begin proclaiming a unique resurrection in history[2] [as opposed to an eschatological one] and that resurrection was of the Messiah.  How did that happen?  Where would these peasant Jews have come up with such a radical idea, something quite different from their embedded theology?  This mutation was fundamentally different from the Jewish expectation of the day

And with that, we’ll leave it and pick it up next week.

Written by Pastor Ozzy

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Works Cited

1995. Holy Bible: New American Standard Bible. LaHabra: The Lockman Foundation.
Wright, N. T. 2003. The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3). New York: Fortress Press.

[1] Dating for this book is difficult, both when did the events happen and when was it written.  Job fits well in the time of the Patriarchs.
[2] Jesus’ resurrection is dissimilar from the widow’s son (Lk. 7), Jairus’s daughter (Lk 8) and Lazarus (Jn. 11), because they were performed by a Messianic figure and those raised were only to die again.  There is no indication in the text that anyone thought of these as a sign of the eschatos.  Whereas, Jesus resurrection was a rising from dead never to die again.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Spiritual Formation and Christ's Resurrection pt5

            From the New Testament (NT) texts, we learn that Jesus of Nazareth chose 12 men to follow Him (Matt. 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, and Acts 1:13 minus Judas Iscariot) as “apostles”.[1]  These men are then described as witnesses to God having raised Jesus from the dead (Acts. 3:15).  What do we know about them and what would they have meant by saying that God raised Jesus from the dead?

Second-temple Jews:

            The Second-temple period extends from the sixth-century BC to the first-century AD, when the second Jewish temple was built in Jerusalem after the return from the Babylonian captivity, until its destruction in AD 70.[2]  Therefore, we refer to Judaism during this time as Second-temple Judaism.  That is not to say that there was only one type of Judaism during this time.  During the NT period, there were two major sects: the Pharisees and the Sadducees, both of which are involved in NT events.[3]  There was also the Zealots and the Essenes, but neither play a significant role in the NT.[4]

            According to the Jewish historian Josephus, the Jews liked the Pharisees over the Sadducees, but then again Josephus was a Pharisee (Antiquities, Book 18, Ch 1. 16).  The main difference between the two related to our topic is that the Pharisees believed in a resurrection of the dead, whereas the Sadducees did not.  Therefore, it is difficult to determine with complete accuracy what the peasant Jew in Galilee would have believed about the resurrection.  However, one thing that is perfectly clear, there is no evidence from second-temple Judaism in the belief of a dying messiah, let alone a dying and rising again messiah.  So it must be asked, where would second-temple peasant Jews have come up with such an idea?

What do we know about the 12? pt.1

            Two were the sons of Zebedee, James and his brother John, the latter of which is identified as the disciple that Jesus loved (Jn. 13:23) and had been a disciple of John the Baptist (Jn. 1:35). Their mother was Salome, who may have been the sister of Mary, Jesus’ mother (cf. Mt. 27:56, Jn. 19:25).  They were fisherman from Galilee, and business partners with Simon Peter (Lk. 5:10).  Two final details are that they own multiple boats (Lk. 5:11) and employed servants (Mk. 1:20) and therefore, may not have been poor.  Simon Peter and his brother Andrew were the sons of Jonas (John) and were from Bethsaida.  Peter was married (Mk. 1:30) and lived in Capernaum.  Andrew had also been a disciple of John the Baptist (Jn. 1:40).  Philip was also from Bethsaida (Jn1:44) and traveled from Galilee to hear John the Baptist (Jn. 1:43), likely with Andrew.  Perhaps because of his Greek name, it was him that the Greeks came to hope to get to talk to Jesus during the Passover (Jn. 12:20-33); ergo, it’s reasonable to think that he was fluent in Greek.  Philip went and found Nathanael/Bartholomew (Jn. 1:45), who may have been a fisherman from Cana in Galilee (Jn. 21:2).[5]  He also had gone to Bethany where John the Baptist was preaching (Jn. 1:28) and it seems was well versed in the Old Testament (Jn. 1:46).

           Thomas who is also called Didymus (Jn. 11:16) and was best known for being a doubter in the resurrection (Jn. 20:25).  He was the one that told the others they should go with Jesus to Bethany for the raising of Lazarus, saying that if Jesus were to die there, they should die with Him (Jn. 11:16).  Also, on the eve of the Passover, he was the one who questioned Jesus about them knowing the way (Jn. 14:5).  Next, Matthew, who is identified as Levi (cf. Mt. 10:3, Mk. 2:14 and Lk. 5:27) and called the son of Alphaeus (Mk.2:14) which raises the question if he is the brother of James the son of Alphaeus, of which there is no clear text calling them brothers as there is with Peter and Andrew or with James and John.  Levi does not seem to have been a follower of John the Baptist and was working in Capernaum as a tax collector, when he was called by Jesus (Lk. 5:27).  He must have had some education and been acquainted with Greek because of this position.  James son of Alphaeus, is sometimes referred to as James the less, beyond this little is known.  Judas, the son or brother of James, not Iscariot (Jn. 14:22) and sometimes identified as Thaddeus.[6]  He does not play a significant role in the gospels and only speaks once (Jn. 14:22).  Simon the Canaanite (Mt. 10:4, Mk 3:18) or Zelotes/Zealot (Lk. 6:15), these designations should be understood that at some point, Simon was associated with the movement of Judas of Galilee who opposed increased taxation during the census of Quirinius.  Simon was most likely from Galilee.  Simon does not play a significant role in the Gospels and as noted above, it is possible that he is to be identified with Nathanael, not Bartholomew.

            Lastly, Judas Iscariot, who is identified as the son of Simon (Jn. 13:2).  It is possible that he is the only non-Galilean, Iscariot meaning, man of Kerioth, which was somewhere south of Judea.  John’s Gospel gives us the most details regarding Judas.  Sufficient for the purpose here is to identify him as one of the 12.  As to the spreading of the gospel after the resurrection, Judas plays no part seeing how he was already dead from suicide by hanging (Mt. 27:5) and that afterward, wither the rope or branch broke, he fell to the ground in a gruesome manor (Acts 1:18).

Next week, we’ll continue to explore how the message of Jesus went out into the Greco-Roman world and changed it forever.

Written by Pastor Ozzy

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[1] Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew (Nathanael Jn), Thomas, Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Judas (Thaddaeus Mt & Mk) the son or brother of James, Simon the zealot and Judas Iscariot.
[2] Despite the fact that there were two temples during this period, Ezra’s temple and Herod’s temple.
[3] Josephus mentions three groups, we know there were more, but they are not relevant to this discussion.
[4] Some people have speculated that John the Baptist and Jesus were associated with the Essenes; however, there are no explicated NT references and there is no data from the DSS to support this notion.
[5] The Nathanael-Bartholomew connection is not for certain, others have identified Nathanael as Simon the son of Cleopas.
[6] There are seven people mentioned in the New Testament with the name.  We only need to be concerned with three of them.  First (1) Judas Iscariot.  Second, the apostle identified as (2) Thaddaeus and called Judas of James in Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13 and finally a (3) brother of Jesus mentioned in Mt. 13:55 and Mk. 6:3.  There is no clear reason from the New Testament to identify 2 and 3 as the same person.  3 is commonly believed to be the author of Jude in the New Testament, he is identified as the brother of James, the author of the book that bears his name.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Spiritual Formation and Christ's Resurrection pt4

The age of the text is a different topic then textual variance.  The age of the text has direct implications on the Resurrection, whereas variance could only have at most secondary implications.  All variances in New Testament manuscripts have been documented at Instituts für Neutestamentliche Textforschung in Munster Germany.  Therefore, this blog will focus on information regarding the age of New Testament texts.

How old are our New Testament (NT) texts?  When were they originally written?

            I think that we can, with some level of accuracy, limit the timeframe in which they were written by what they contain [One could say this is an argument from silence, and it is, but it’s at least a pregnant argument from silence]:

1.     Who is the emperor?  Augustus is mentioned in Luke 2:1 and Tiberius is mentioned in 3:1. Caligula is not mentioned, but Claudius is mentioned twice in Acts, specifically 18:2 relates an edict that he issued.  Nero is not mentioned, which is odd because under him is when the first state sponsored Christian persecutions began.  But none of the other first-century Roman emperors are ever mentioned.  That includes Vespasian and it was under him that the temple was destroyed and Domitian, who also sponsored Christian persecutions.

2.     Which of the disciples are dead?  The NT only recounts the deaths of two of the original twelve disciples, Judas (Matt. 27:5, Acts 1:18) and James the brother of John (Acts 12:2).  According to Eusebius (c. AD 260-5 – 339/340) both Peter and Paul were martyred under Nero; ergo, they are dead before AD 68.  According to Josephus, the high priest Ananus ben Ananus ordered the execution of James the brother of Jesus in 62. 

3.     The Jewish revolt began in 66 and the temple was destroyed in 70.  Yet, there is no reason from the NT to think either of those events have happened.  Note especially the appearance of the Jerusalem Temple in Revelation 11.  There is no indication in the text that this is not Herod’s Temple, nor is there any surprise by anyone that there is a Temple in Jerusalem. 

     a. If the destruction of the Temple had happened before the writing of any NT texts, there are good reasons to expect it to be mentioned.  To begin with early Jesus followers were 1st century Jews and as can be seen in the book of Acts, very early in the existence of the church the temple was still relevant in their minds.

     b. Second, by the second half of the first century, the division between Jew and Christian was becoming more and more clear.  If the Temple had been destroyed, it would be well within expectations for a report in the NT leaning towards God’s judgment on the Nation of Israel or the like.  Its absence should be suspect if the event had happened.

     c. In Matt. 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, Jesus is recorded as predicting the destruction of Jerusalem, and we know that happened in 70.  However, no NT uses its destruction as evidence for Jesus’ claims.  If someone says those were written after the event, note that in all four Gospels, landmarks and locations in Jerusalem and its area are mentioned as if they were still standing; therefore, there is no indication in the texts that those events had already happened.

4.     In part 1 of this series, I pointed out that the canonical Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John get both political and religious rulers correct.  We can compare that track record to texts written later, such as the ‘Gospel of the Birth of Mary’.  In its first chapter there is a Jewish High Priest named Issachar.  That, however, is demonstrably false because the Jewish records of their High Priests show there was never a High Priest named Issachar.  If the canonical Gospels were late 1st-century or early 2nd-century, then we’d find errors such as mentioned above.

5.    The Didache, which can be dated to the later part of the 1st-century or early 2nd-century, quotes the Gospels.  Both Pseudo Barnabas (late 1st-century or early 2nd-century) and the Shepherd of Hermas (2nd-century) quote the NT including the Gospels.  Finally, early Church fathers including Clement I allude to or quote the Gospels by the end of the 1st- century.

6.     There is little doubt that Paul is the author of 1st Corinthians and we know that he was in Corinth when Gallio became proconsul of Achaia in AD 51 (Delphi Inscription).  After Paul left Corinth, he was in Ephesus for a few years and there he wrote 1st Corinthians around AD 54.  It specifically mentions that Jesus died, was buried, rose on the third day and had several post-resurrection appearances.  This is within 35 years of the event, within the lifetime of eyewitnesses and confirms details reported in the Gospels.

7.     Gallio’s response to Paul being brought before him by the Jews reveals that Rome did not yet notice a difference between Judaism and Christianity.

8.     The Synoptic Gospels all contain the ‘Beelzebul controversy’ (Matt. 12:24, Mark 3:22 and Luke. 11:15).  Two points about this can be made, first if you were going to invent a story, would you include an episode like this?  Second, Beelzebul is present in some 2nd-temple Jewish literature; however, it would be unlikely for late first-century Gentiles to know about this and make reference to it; therefore, these two facts point to this being an accurate charge made against Jesus and the earliness of this report.

9.     I can understand why a skeptic would be doubtful if I cited a conservative Evangelic source, so I’ll quote liberal Biblical Scholar, William F. Albright, “In my opinion, every book of the New Testament was written by a baptized Jew between the forties and eighty of the first century…” (Albright 1963).

10.     The atheist Bart D. Ehrman, distinguished professor of Religious Studies at Chapel Hill and NT critic wrote in his book The Triumph of Christianity, that the Christians believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus before Saul of Tarsus’ conversion (Ehrman, 46).  Moreover, Ehrman also wrote that within Jewish communities the message of Jesus’ resurrection could have been being spread within a year or two of the crucifixion (Ibid.)
     a. The fact that this comes from an atheist NT critic and scholar makes this powerful enemy attestation.
     b. If Jewish converts are speaking the news of Jesus’ resurrection within a year or two of the event there is no reason to reason that it’s a later invention of late 1st century or 2nd century Christianity.

Taken collectively, these arguments show, there is good reason to regard the belief in Christ’s resurrection very early and that NT documents including the Gospels were written within a few decades of the crucifixion.

Next week, what did 2nd temple Judaism believe about resurrection.

Written by Pastor Ozzy

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Works Cited

Albright, W.F. 1963. "Toward a More Conservative View." Christianity Today, Jan. 18: 4.
Ehrman, Bart D. 2018. The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World. New York City: Simon and Schuster.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Spiritual Formation and Christ's Resurrection pt3

            A skeptic may say of my blogs so far, “You’re using the Bible and we don’t know that what we have today is what was written back then.  The Bible has been manipulated and changed over the years.”

How did we get the Bible?

            How do you imagine we got the Bible?  Does it involve a room with monks and one big book?  Perhaps one monk is at the front of the room dictating from the big book to all the other monks who are writing what the first monk is reading?  Is that how we got our Bible?  If it was, then you can see how the church could have manipulated the text.  They could have changed it here or there and made it say whatever they wanted it to say, right?

            Well, if there was one ancient Bible, controlled by the church, then this would be possible; however, this is a very inaccurate picture of the Bible’s origins.  You must know that in the first century, the Jesus movement moved from a Jewish sect, and began to include Samaritans and Gentiles.  It also stopped requiring Jewish observances such as circumcision and kosher dietary laws.  During Jesus’s life, some synagogues could put you out if they discovered you were a Jesus follower.  During the first century in Antioch, Jesus followers were first called Christians and eventually the Jesus movement becomes Christianity.

            If you remember from the first blog in this series, Rome is in control and under Rome, second-temple Judaism was tolerated, and Jews did not have to participate in Emperor worship.  However, at some point both Judaism and Rome realized that the Jesus movement was no longer Judaism.  The first official Roman persecution of Christians was under Emperor Nero (c. AD 37-68) who ruled from AD 54-68.  Prior to that, any persecutions were only local and not state ordered.  With Christianity diverging from Judaism, they lost any toleration that Judaism enjoyed and eventually became an illegal religion in the Roman empire.  It remained an illegal religion until the Edict of Milan in 313.  Therefore, you can’t think of Christians as having political power or influence during that first 280 odd years of its existence.

An anachronism is something that belongs to one time period being attributed to a time period where it didn’t exist.  So, if I told you that my great grandpa loved to play Nintendo when he was a kid, you could know that statement was demonstratively false.  Nintendo wasn’t available in the US until the 1980s and my great grandpa was a kid in the 1850s.  In the same way, during that 280 years and even afterwards, to think of monks copying the Bible inside of church buildings and controlling what the text says is an example of anachronistic thinking.

No church controlled all the texts.

            Sometime prior to AD 200 there were Latin copies of most of our New Testament (NT) texts and those copies were used in the western part of the Roman Empire; however, in the eastern part, the church, used Syriac copies.  The Latin copies did not contain Hebrews, James and 1& 2 Peter, whereas the Syriac copies did.  Why?  Because those books were written to churches on the eastern side of the Empire.

            Perhaps you’re confused, wasn’t the NT written in Greek?  So why are these collections of the NT in Latin and Syriac?  Yes, as far as we know, the original NT writings were all in Greek with a few Aramaic words.  As Christianity spread through the Roman world, there was need to translate the NT texts into other languages and these are helpful today as secondary sources in demonstrating the integrity of the NT text.

            So, think about this: I have written these blogs on a computer, the originals are saved on my computer.  I have copied and pasted them to the blog and you are reading them there.  You can copy and paste them, and we know they will still be the same (exceptions being spacing and font sizes).  However, that’s not how a book in the ancient world could be copied.  They were copied by hand, which took time and effort, but once they were copied, if you wanted to change the text, then you’d need to control the original and the copies.  But as I pointed out above, the western churches didn’t have copies of certain books.  In order to change things, you are going to need to have control of all the books and all the copies of those books.  But you’re also going to need to control all the translations of all those copies as well.

            Let’s think of a more recent document, the Declaration of Independence.  If I wanted to change the wording of the Declaration of Independence, what would I need to do?  I need to have access to the original, I’d also need to have access to all the copies and today, all the photographs, digital copies, translations and quotations.  So, would it be possible to change the wording of the Declaration of Independence?

            Let me give you one last example.  What are the sources for translating the Old Testament?  The Septuagint (LLX), Greek copies of the Hebrew texts translated in the 2nd century BC.  The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), collections of Hebrew texts found in caves near the Dead Sea beginning in 1946, many dating to before the time of Christ.  The Masoretic texts (MT), Hebrew and Aramaic texts that come down to us from the Masoretes, most dating from between AD 600-900.  Finally, the Samaritan Pentateuch (SP), which existed in at least the 3rd-century BC but was not available to western Christianity until 1616.  As well as Latin copies.  Note that the Christian church has had access to all these sources only within the last century.  Had the church wanted to manipulate the documents within its control, those differences would be evident today by comparing the LXX and Latin texts with the DSS, MT and SP.  The bottom line is, no one in church history controlled all the NT texts or their copies.  If there were manipulations, those would be evident today by comparing them to the older texts.

Next week, we’ll explore when the NT was written.  Please join us.

Written by Pastor Ozzy

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Spiritual Formation and Christ's Resurrection pt2

At its core, the New Testament (NT) is 27 documents about Jesus of Nazareth, documents that claim He died and rose again.  Therefore, the reality of that event is pivotal to the authority of those documents; if it did not happen, then they are just made up stories, but if it did happen, then their message is nothing short of God breaking into our time, space, matter universe.

The Stage is set II:

The Passion narratives are found towards the end of each of the canonical gospels; in Matthew (Matt.) chapters 26 & 27, Mark chapters 14 & 15, Luke chapters 22 & 23 and finally John chapters 18 & 19.  Each of these gospel sections recounts how during the Jewish feast of Passover, Jesus was betrayed by one of His disciples, arrested, put on trial and eventually executed by crucifixion outside of Jerusalem on Golgotha.  The first three gospels, Matt., Mark, and Luke are known as the synoptic gospels because they contain many of the same narratives and have similar structures.  Each of these gospels, begin the Passion narrative by telling us that it was the first day of unleavened bread (Matt. 26:17, Mark 14:12 and Luke 22:1), which is the 15th day of the first month in the Jewish calendar, Nisan.

Why would this be important?

There are popular theories about shared universes, such as in Disney or Pixar movies.  For example, in the Disney film, Tarzan, his parents died at sea (1999).  There is the theory that his parents were also the parents of Anna and Elsa because their parents died at sea (2013).  Along those lines, people have claimed that Jesus’ resurrection is borrowed from ancient myths that explain the agricultural cycle and involve characters dying or going to the land of the dead and then returning.  However, the gospels ground the resurrection within the story of ancient Israel and second temple Judaism.  In other words, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus are told with the Jewish Passover as its setting; therefore, that is the proper framework for understanding it.

Why is the framework of understanding important?

Above I wrote that there is a theory that in the shared universe of the Disney movies, the events of Tarzan and Frozen are related, but that refers only to their Disney presentations.  Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1920 novel Tarzan of the Apes is unrelated to Hans Christian Andersen’s 1844 fairy tale the Snow Queen.  Therefore, it makes no sense to interpret Tarzan of the Apes through the story of the Snow Queen.
In a similar manner, Jesus’ death burial and resurrection need to be interpreted with the Jewish celebration of Passover as its setting.  A Greek myth such as Hades and Persephone, which is an explanation of the seasonal change from winter to spring [i.e., Hades takes Persephone to the underworld and during that time her mother Demeter the goddess of agriculture won’t let things grow, and so the earth has winter.  When Persephone is returned, Demeter again allows things to grow, and the earth has spring.] is the wrong background to understand a second-temple Jewish messianic figure, such as Jesus of Nazareth.
Imagine a stage performance like Peter Pan.  In the first act, Peter is with the Darling children in the nursery (1904).  Pause the actors and change the background to the Ape City from the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes (1968).  How much since would the Peter Pan story make if you attempted this?  That is precisely what happens when these gospel narratives are read with Greek, Roman or other mythology backgrounds.  The celebration of the Passover in Roman occupied Judea, more specifically Jerusalem and its vicinity is the backdrop for the Passion narratives.

What are the real-world locations mentioned in the text?

Two of the synoptic gospels identify the location of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest as the garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36 and Mark, 14:32), Luke identifies it as having been on the Mount of Olives, and lastly, John identifies the location as being across the Kidron valley.  The Mount of Olives is a mountain that is east of Jerusalem, it’s separated from the Temple Mount by the Kidron Valley.  The precise location of Gethsemane remains debated, although some claim a specific place; however, the word means olive press and fits the known agriculture of Israel and the area around Jerusalem from the 1st-century AD.  Therefore, the gospels site a real-world location.  A place that existed in 1st-century Judea and an area that we can identify now.  Although we cannot with all certainty identify each specific location in and around Jerusalem mentioned in the Passion narratives, the point remains that it happened in a real-world location.  Places that did exist in the 1st century and involved religious and political figures that also existed in history.

Join us again next week as we continue to look at the historical nature of Jesus’ resurrection.

Works Cited

1999. Tarzan. Directed by Kevin Lima and Chris Buck. Performed by Tony Goldwyn .
James, Barrie. 1904. Peter Pan. London: n/a.
2013. Frozen. Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee. Performed by Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Spiritual Formation and Christ's Resurrection pt1

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Many people have asked the question, “What makes Christianity different from other world religions?”  Meaning, what makes that belief system different from other belief systems?  People in this part of the world believe this and people in that part of the world believe that and it has been that way for thousands of years.  So what makes Christianity any truer than other religions?  The answer is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Other religions have their supernatural events, their legends, and their stories, so why would the resurrection of Jesus be any different?  Moreover, since the release of movies like Zeitgeist in 2007, it’s been proven that Jesus’ resurrection is a myth created by borrowing from other ancient religions, right?  Yet, I still answer the question, “What makes Christianity different from other world religions” with Jesus’ resurrection.  Why?

We are going to start a series concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and this series is going to take us through the season of lent and end the day after Easter Sunday 2019.  The reason for this is because Spiritual Formation is the process of us being shaped into the image of Christ (Gal. 4:19).  This process relies on us having a relationship with the resurrected Christ, and in fact, the whole Christian religion is predicated on His resurrection.

Easter Sunday has a special meaning for me because it was on Easter Sunday 2001 at a small church in Great Falls, Montana that I first understood the Gospel message.  And it was from there that I began to look at the question, ‘did Jesus of Nazareth rise from the dead?’  For several years I had considered myself an atheist or an agnostic, but I clearly remember going to church when I was young and hearing the preacher say, “If Jesus is found still in the grave, then that is the end of Christianity.”  I think he was right, because if He didn’t rise from the dead, then all the New Testament (NT) texts that talk about his resurrection are at best myths and at worst lies.  If they are lies, then they are not worth believing or telling others about, and if they’re myths, then they are on par with other stories from world religions.  Therefore, throughout this series, we’ll explore this very topic.  Did the gospel writers invent hopeful myths?  Did they develop lies to gain power and wealth?  Did they borrow the legend from older stories?  What is the context of Jesus’ resurrection and does it fit into history?  Who was Jesus of Nazareth and are there other sources of His life outside of the New Testament?  Join me.

The Stage is set:
Some 330 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, Alexander the Great sought to conquer the world.  Part of that included capturing the Levant and Jerusalem, but before Alexander could rule over his kingdom, he died.  Consequently, his generals fought for control of the occupied lands and this resulted in Judea being ruled over by both the Seleucids and the Ptolemaic.  When the Seleucid king Antiochus IV (c. 215-164 BC) outlawed Judaism and desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem in about 167 BC, an old priest named Mattathias and his sons began what is known as the Maccabean Revolt (c. 167-160 BC).  Their successes were short-lived when in 63 BC, Roman General Pompey conquered Jerusalem and captured the Temple Mount.  Rome now controlled Judea and maintained its control through military force.

That is the world that Jesus of Nazareth was born into.  When His story begins, the Gospel writers also mention rulers like Herod, who is identified as the King of Judea (Luke 1:5).  This would be Herod the Great (c. 47-4 BC), who under Caesar Octavius was appointed to this position.  This is attested to in both Antiquities of the Jews and The Jewish Wars, by the Jewish and Roman historian Flavius Josephus.  Before Jesus was born, the NT tells us that Augustus (c. 63 BC – 14 AD) was Caesar.  He was the first to rule during Imperial Rome, from 27 BC until his death.  None of this information is religious history, it’s part of Roman and world history, all of which can be verified from secular sources.

Before Jesus’ ministry, the NT again identifies several political and religious rulers:
 “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas…”  (Holy Bible: New American Standard Bible, Luke 3:1-2). 
Something notable about this reference is the fact that the Passion narratives of all four Biblical Gospels indicate that Pontius Pilate, Herod the tetrarch, and the high priests Annas and Caiaphas all played significant roles in Jesus’ death.  Tiberius Caesar (c. 42 BC-AD 37) began his rule as co-regent in AD 13 and succeeded his step-father the following year.  Pontius Pilate (c. 12 BC-AD 38) was the fifth prefect of Judea, appointed by Tiberius in AD 26/7, where he served as governor until 36/7.  Herod, the tetrarch, is also known as Herod Antipas (c. 4 BC-AD 39), and his dynastic title Herod, as he is referred to by in the NT, is attested to in the works of Josephus.  The Jewish high priest Annas was appointed by the Roman governor Quirinius in AD 7 but was removed from office by the Judea procurator Gratus in 15.  The Jews didn’t like pagan Romans interfering with their religion, primarily since the high priest was to be in office for the rest of his life; therefore, it is likely that among the Jews, Annas was still seen as the high priest.  Lastly Caiaphas, who held the office from AD 18 – 36.  Therefore, these political and religious historical figures were in place before and during the lifetime of Jesus of Nazareth.  His life, ministry, execution, and resurrection are set within the rules or influences of these figures.  This is important because it grounds Jesus in history.  The Gospels and the rest of the NT do not present Jesus as a figure from ‘once upon a time’ or ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.’  This will be shown to be important as we continue this look into the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection.

Written by Pastor Ozzy

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