Ben Witherington is beginning a multi-part review of Gary Hoag’s Wealth in Ancient Ephesus and the First Letter to Timothy: Fresh Insights from Ephesiaca by Xenophon of Ephesus. Along the way, he makes an impassioned case for Neutestamentlers to dig deeper into the classics:
Here I want to talk about the value of reading NT documents in light of both Greco-Roman and Jewish sources, not just one or the other. The problem of course is that most NT scholars were not, and are not students of the classics first, which makes me a rarity. I did Latin and Greek classics in junior high, high school, and college, and this helped me immensely to be prepared to be a good student of the NT, which after all, is all in Greek, and more often than not addresses people who do not live in Palestine but for whom the Greco-Roman world is their reality. So, when someone finds a Greek document that nobody previously had compared to the NT, and does the hard work of comparing it to a relevant relatively contemporary NT book— this is a good thing.
I look forward to what Ben has to say about what Gary has to say about what Xenophon might tell us about 1 Timothy.
I truly appreciated this post by Eve Levavi Feinstein that leads the reader through the many possible interpretations of the commandment in Exodus 22 for Israelites to offer their firstborn sons to God. As Dr. Feinstein notes, it is not at all obvious what this commandment originally meant for Israelites to do, and the Bible itself offers support for a number of different possibilities. She writes,
In the end, the biblical evidence does not point to a single conclusive interpretation of the law in Mishpatim. On one hand, it may express a requirement (albeit aspirational) that every Israelite family sacrifice its firstborn son. While it is difficult to accept that the Torah commands the ritual slaughter of children, we can at least see in the commandment’s development an attempt to modify a bad law (as Ezekiel put it) by requiring monetary redemption in place of actual sacrifice (Exodus 34:20).
If, on the other hand, what the law required was service at a sanctuary, it calls for an expansion of our understanding of sacrifice in biblical thought. Indeed, the very plausibility of this interpretation — and the fact of its apparent acceptance by P — argues for a view of sacrifice that is not centrally about slaughter but is equally, if not more, about the act of giving.
In either understanding, the law in Mishpatim expresses the idea that the first of all life properly belongs to God. Underlying its cryptic and challenging mandate we can detect a conviction that every birth, human or animal, is a gift from God, which is to be recognized through a partial, symbolic return of life to its Maker.
New book sighting courtesy of Scot McKnight:
I endorsed Rabbi Evan Moffic’s book as a good example of civil discourse and dialogue. I hope that we can engage in public discussions about Jesus.
Today Rabbi Evan Moffic releases a new book about the Jewishness of Jesus. Rabbi Moffic is a well-known congregational rabbi outside of Chicago whose first book answered the question What Every Christian Needs to Know About Passover. This second book, What Every Christian Needs to Know about Jewishness of Jesus: A New Look at History’s Most Influential Rabbi grapples with the bigger and more controversial questions: What do Christians need to know about Judaism, and what do Jews need to know about the Jewish Jesus? This book will challenge and enrich you. Here’s an intriguing excerpt from it.
Bosco Peters discusses a recently discussed (and probably not going anywhere) proposal to get Christians of various communions to celebrate Easter on a fixed date on the Gregorian calendar. Working toward this common date are Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby, Roman Catholic Pope Francis, the Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I (of the Greek Orthodox church).
Bosco provides an excellent, brief summary of why figuring out the date of Easter can be such a headache, and why Catholics and Protestants celebrate on a different date than the Orthodox. Along the way, he makes a number of important points about the nature of calendars and how they tie us to the natural world. He writes,
Although I won’t oppose a fixed Easter date, I do think there is quite a loss in doing so. We mix two calendars: A nomad’s calendar, (represented by Abel in the Bible); nomads follow a lunar calendar (with the four lunar phases the most probable source of the weekly cycle that has never been broken for millennia). The solar calendar would be Cain’s calendar, with its annual sowing and harvesting. Christmas is a purely solar celebration. Our planet is essentially in the same spot on our solar orbit each Christmas Day, December 25.
Easter, on the other hand, is essentially lunar – and when we walk out to go to the Easter Vigil, the slightly waned Full Moon shines down, and does so as we gather around the sacred new Easter Fire.
We live in a world where most are increasingly losing touch with nature. Without looking, could you tell someone what phase the Moon is in? Most cannot. Most cannot even tell me which way the Moon waxes and wanes, or identify stars or planets. Fixing the date of Easter will be convenient for our world and its focus on the god of commerce, but we will lose yet another connection with nature, our planet, its moon, and our place in this amazing solar system.
I would love for all Christians everywhere to celebrate Easter (or Pascha) on the same date, but I’m skeptical that this plan, which would place Easter on a set Sunday in the month of April every year, will gain much traction. Though the lunar calculations take a bit of effort, I wonder what we would lose by disconnecting Easter not only from its relationship to the lunar cycle but also its relationship to the Jewish faith—which connection is already lost on many in the church!
If I could wave a magic wand (or crozier), I would decree that Easter always be celebrated on the Sunday after Passover. Period. This rule would have the added benefit of underscoring Christianity’s indebtedness to our Jewish neighbors, with whom we share large portions of our spiritual traditions, not to mention our Scriptures.
Scot McKnight brings glad tidings to all who are interested in the so-called “new perspective on Paul”:
In 1977 E.P. Sanders wrote Paul and Palestinian Judaism and unleashed what, in the expression originally of N.T. Wright and then more forcefully J.D.G. Dunn, is called “the new perspective.” Sanders, however, put far more pressure on how we understand Judaism than how we understand either Jesus (he did wrote Jesus and Judaism) or Paul (only a small book on Paul, and a long section in P&PJ)….
What we needed from Sanders was something more than the last sections of P&PJ and more than we got in his little book on Paul in the Past Masters series. I’m happy to announce we have that book now. To use the words of my father in law, it’s a “ming” (his term for something big and heavy). It’s got to be connected to the Ming dynasty but I don’t find this meaning in urban dictionaries. Anyway, E.P. Sanders now has a book called Paul: The Apostle’s Life, Letters, and Thought (Fortress, 2015).
This is a very nice post from Pete Enns, who is consistently insightful and entertaining. You would do well to read it. But I swear, the first thing that sprung to mind when I read it was, “Good Lord, they actually made a He-Man and She-Ra Christmas Special??”
Readers today might assume that these injunctions were more or less universally known to your average Joe-Sixpack and Sally-Housecoat Israelite (pretty sure that’s a partially correct Simpsons reference.) So we read the biblical stories about the failure to worship God properly as stories of out and out rebellion—“Geez Louise, Israelites, when in the world are you going to learn to obey God?! How many times do you have to be told?!”
But it may be that your average Jimmy-Lunch pail and Susie-Soccer mom Israelite had no real conception of how God is “supposed” to be worshiped. Or they had an idea, but, like a lot of American’s singing “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” or “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” they effortlessly and unknowingly mix together some vague awareness of what it all “really” means and just going with the cultural flow.