Should Christians Be Celebrating the Birth of Paul Rather Than Jesus?

Millions celebrate the birth of Jesus without realizing that it was the Apostle Paul, not Jesus, who was the founder of Christianity. Jesus was a Jew not a Christian. He regularly went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, read from the Torah, observed the Jewish festivals such as Passover and Yom Kippur, and quoted the Shema: “Hear O Israel, The Lord our God is One Lord.” In Jesus’ day the closest holiday to Christmas was the Roman celebration of the Saturnalia.

BirthofJesusRead the rest at The Daily Beast here.

A Married Jesus–Why I Changed My Mind (Part 3)

The reason it is so difficult for people today to think of Jesus as a normally married Jew of his time and culture has little to do with the fact that his wife and child are not mentioned in our meager sources. It is based on an ideal of Christian asceticism that began to develop among the church fathers and mothers very early on in the 2nd century CE.

We are dealing here with a culture in which countless women are largely forgotten and unknown, their voices muted by the dominant male culture in which men are seen as the main players.

A Married Jesus and the Silence of the New Testament

            Even though there is no explicit reference to Jesus being married in any of the four gospels or other New Testament writings the silence might turn out to be less deafening than one would suppose. There are several factors one must consider in making the judgment that he lived a celibate single life.[i]

First, it is important to realize that we know very little about the historical Jesus. What historians are relatively certain about could be written down on a single piece of paper. What we have in the gospels are not biographies of Jesus—far from it—but theological presentations regarding his preaching, healing, and in particular the significance of his death and resurrection. They contain almost no personal information. The gospel of Mark, for example, never names or mentions Jesus’ father while the gospel of John never names his mother. We have one childhood story, when he was twelve years old, and most scholars consider it a standard literary motif, not a historical account (Luke 2:41-52).[ii] We know nothing of his life beyond that point, including his teens and 20s when most Jewish males were expected to marry.

Second, in regards to the Twelve apostles, no wife is specifically mentioned or named for any of them. None of their children are mentioned or named—how many, what they did, or any personal details about them. Most of the Twelve, with the exception of Peter, hardly speak at all in our gospel accounts—a few lines at most.

This silence hardly means that none of them were married. In fact, there is a reference to Peter’s mother-in-law, whom Jesus healed of a fever in Mark 1:30—but her name is never given. Paul refers to the wives of the other apostles and the brothers of Jesus, but again, no names are given (1 Corinthians 9:5). He even mentions that these women accompanied their husbands on their missionary travels. We are dealing here with a culture in which countless women are largely forgotten and unknown, their voices muted by the dominant male culture in which men are seen as the main players.[iii]

Third, celibacy was not considered an ideal or valued lifestyle among Jews in the Greco-Roman period. Even though it is mistakenly believed that the Essenes, who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, valued and practiced celibacy, this notion is a pure invention. They were one of the three major Jewish groups of this period, along with Pharisees and Sadducees. This misunderstanding stems from the reports of Josephus the Jewish historian (37-100 CE), Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish Hellenistic philosopher (20 BCE-50 CE), and Pliny, the Elder, a Roman official (23-79 CE) about the Essenes. Each of these writers projected their own admiration of celibate idealism onto the Essenes, though, ironically, each of these writers was married. Josephus, for example, in writing of the sect of the Essenes, makes the following observation about women and marriage:

They [the Essenes] do not absolutely deny the value of marriage, and the succession of the human race is thereby continued; but they guard against the lascivious behavior of women, and are persuaded that none of them preserve their fidelity to one man.[iv]

Such a negative attitude toward women commended here by Josephus, who was unhappily married three times has no basis in history. Philo writes:

[the Essenes] repudiate marriage; and at the same time they practice self-control to a remarkable degree; for no one of the Essenes ever marries a wife, because a wife is a selfish creature, addicted to jealousy and skilled at beguiling the morals of her husband and seducing him by her continued deceptions.[v]

Pliny the Elder says that the Essenes “have no women and have renounced all sexual desire.[vi] We know that what each of these men claim about the Essenes is untrue. What is most telling here is that none of these three were celibate, all were married.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, representing over 600 texts of the period before and after the time of Jesus, were discovered hidden away in caves along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1956, never hint at celibacy, but quite the opposite. Like other pious Jews of the time, they strictly adhered to the first commandment in the Torah: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). The Scrolls are full of instructions about marriage, divorce, and avoiding fornication, or sex outside of marriage.[vii]

Jesus as well as John the Baptist have been rightly connected to the apocalyptic and messianic ideas in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Though neither was likely a formal member of the Dead Sea community, there are common ideas they share. Since the Dead Sea community is most often identified as Essenes, and it is mistakenly assumed that the Essenes practiced celibacy, the argument is often made that Jesus’ own celibacy arises out of this context

It is true that the New Testament says nothing about either Jesus or John being married, but such silence is part of the cultural norm. It is the same with the rabbis that we know from this period. There are few explicit statements about rabbis being married in the rabbinic sources, but we can be sure that marriage was the norm and not to be married an anomaly. Entire tractates of Jewish Law deal with marriage, divorce, and what is forbidden and allowed in terms of sexual behavior. As a Jew of his time we should assume that Jesus was married unless we have some statement to the contrary.

Finally, the apostle Paul is the major Jewish figure of the time who does in fact commend, but not require, celibacy, based primarily on his notion that the apocalyptic end of the age has drawn very near (1 Corinthians 7: 26, 29, 31). His was a “situational” celibacy; a practical choice one might make in view of the stressful times that he believed were imminent. Paul recommends celibacy for those who can handle a non-sexual life, but he knows most simply cannot and end up falling into fornication (1 Corinthians 7:2).

It is entirely possible, even likely, that Paul had been married earlier in his life.[viii] He says that he “advanced in Judaism beyond many of his own age,” indicating that he had formal training as a Pharisee, presumably in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:14). Since for Paul the end of the age was at hand, he thought it inopportune to invest one’s life in a gendered humanity that was soon to be transformed into a state where there would be “neither male nor female.” Paul expected to live to see a cosmic transformation—a new creation in which birth and death, and mortal states of life in general would pass away.

One of the strongest indicators that Jesus was married comes from Paul directly.   He quotes Jesus freely on the prohibition against divorce, but fails to use a celibate Jesus as his major model to back his position on celibacy (1 Corinthians 7:25). In fact he says quite the opposite, that when it comes to celibacy: “I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 7:25). Had Jesus been unmarried he would have undoubtedly said that all men should live like him, following the celibate ideal espoused by the Lord, but he says nothing of the kind. In this case Paul’s silence indicates that he certainly did not think Jesus was unmarried. Given these considerations one can conclude with some degree of confidence, that Jesus was most likely married, and married people at that time usually had children, as the first commandment required.

The reason it is so difficult for people today to think of Jesus as a normally married Jew of his time and culture has little to do with the fact that his wife and child are not mentioned in our meager sources. It is based on an ideal of Christian asceticism that began to develop among the church fathers and mothers very early on in the 2nd century CE.

This was not based on any historical memory of an unmarried Jesus but rather upon Paul’s commendation of celibacy—now removed from its apocalyptic conditional context.

The celibacy these Christian leaders embraced was based on an aversion to the material world and the body, seen as inferior to the unseen spiritual realities of the heavenly realms. Christians rejected this world, even hated this world, with all its imperfections. They turned their attention wholly toward the heavenly, nonmaterial world beyond. This dualistic view of the cosmos owes little to the historical Jesus the Jew and everything to Hellenistic philosophy and its ascetic ideal.[ix] Unfortunately, the negative view of women already so rife in the dominant cultural norms of the time was radically advanced by the Christian philosophers and theologians since women, and the sexual temptations they represented for men, were shunned as the ultimate obstacle to a higher spirituality. Tertullian, often called the “father of Latin Christianity,” best represents this radically misogynous trend that remains deeply ingrained in Western Christian culture to this day. Although he believed that even women could be saved by God’s grace, he warned them that the whole responsibility for the human condition lay with Eve and her successors:

You are the gateway of the devil; you are the one who unseals the curse of that tree, and you are the first one to turn your back on the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the devil was not capable of corrupting; you easily destroyed the image of God, Adam. Because of what you deserve, that is, death, even the Son of God had to die.[x]

The brilliant 4th century Augustine of Hippo carried forward  Paul’s  perspectives and pressed their implications to the limit. He faced sexual temptations his entire life, even fathering a child with his lover, but he sought to suppress his lust by choosing a rigorously ascetic life. His famous dictim; inter faeces et uriname nascimur—“We are born between feces and urine,” yet with an immortal soul, lay at the root of his attraction and aversion to women.  Perhaps the most notorious example of this unfortunate development in Christianity was the 5th century Latin theologian Jerome, the most learned of the Church Fathers. His savage condemnation of women and human sexuality was only matched by his disparagement of the “Old Testament” Law and those Jews who did not respond to Christ. He connected the two by arguing that the Old Testament was “carnal,” of the flesh, whereas Christ was spiritual and pure, from above. The virginal Christ, removed from the filth of sex, showed humankind the way to escape their fleshly bonds and achieve heavenly perfection. He even went so far as to state that a husband can best show his love of his wife by abstaining from all sexual intercourse, even in marriage. He opposed bathing, makeup, and female adornment, and saw sex, symbolized by the female temptress, as fit for pigs and dogs. Jerome wrote openly about his bouts with sexual temptations.[xi] Given this dualistic orientation towards the heavenly world and denigration of sex and birth—and therefore women as the vehicle of both, one can readily see how Mary Magdalene, Jesus, Mary the mother of Jesus, and even Joseph her husband had to be cast as living a non-sexual life. The belief that Jesus must be a perpetual virgin is firmly grounded in 2nd and 3rd century CE asceticism, not in Jesus’s own life and times.

Mary Magdalene as Sinner and Whore

            It is an easy step from this stream of dualistic misogynist thinking, the core of emerging fourth and fifth century Christianity, to recasting the New Testament figure of Mary Magdalene as a sinner and even a whore. None of eleven New Testament texts that mention her present her in any negative light whatsoever. On the contrary, as we have seen, she is the leader of the band of faithful Galilean women who stand by Jesus at the cross.  Even when the men have fled in fear she prepares spices and perfumed oils in order to complete the Jewish rites of burial, and she becomes a first witness to the empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection. She enters and exits the scene in the space of a few pages of our texts—never to appear again in any New Testament text.

There are three scenes in Mark, Luke, and John respectively that recount how Jesus was anointed with a flask of costly scented oil by a woman. As they now stand in our texts they are not the same narrative, yet their core elements are so similar they appear to be three versions of the “same” story—namely of a woman anointing Jesus.

In the gospel of Mark the scene takes place in Bethany, a small village on the backside of the Mount of Olives, just east of the city of Jerusalem, two days before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion (Mark 14:3-9).[xii] Jesus is dining as a guest in the house of one called Simon the leper, otherwise unknown. A woman arrives with a flask of pure nard ointment, broke it, and poured it over Jesus’ head. Some at the dinner protested that such a costly ointment had been wasted and could have been sold and given to the poor for 300 denarii—which would be a year’s wages for a day laborer. Jesus defends the unnamed woman’s action, saying “You always have the poor with you. She had done a beautiful thing.” He then declares:

She has done what she could. She has anointed my body for burying. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her (Mark 14:8-9).

The gospel of John seems to know a very similar story (John 12:1-8; 11:1-3). Again the scene is in Bethany, but six days before the crucifixion, and at dinner in the house of the two sisters, Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Martha is serving but Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair. Judas Iscariot, who was to betray Jesus, objected that the ointment could have been sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor. The text points out that he did this out of greed not care for the poor, for he served as bursar of the group and used to pilfer the funds. Jesus replied:

Let her alone; let her keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me (John 12:7).

In both texts the woman has a prophetic role—anointing Jesus’ body beforehand as if he were already dead; she is commended for her actions, as if she somehow “knows” more than the others, perhaps without even realizing it herself, while the others miss the point of her actions entirely. In John the woman is named—Mary of Bethany, and her family has already been introduced (John 11). In Mark she is unidentified, with the irony that her story will be told perpetually “in memory of her.” John’s account is more shocking, since the anointing of the feet, and especially the wiping of the feet with her hair, either implies a shockingly inappropriate intimacy, or a familial bond, since men and women who are not married would never touch in this way. The hair of a woman is considered sexually provocative and was to be covered, as in conservative Middle Eastern societies today, both Jewish and Muslim.[xiii] In that sense the story is scandalous, foreshadowing the attempt of Mary Magdalene to prepare spices and anoint the corpse of Jesus when he is dead. The problem is, Mary of Bethany is not Mary Magdalene—or is she? Mark had emphasized that Mary Magdalene and her entourage came from Galilee, whereas John introduces her at the crucifixion scene as an intimate family member, standing with Jesus’ mother.

It is impossible to reconcile these differences in any forced harmony. Mark and John clearly have the same story, but their details are simply different. The strong implication in John is that Mary of Bethany is otherwise known as Mary Magdalene, and she is either married to him or otherwise considered like a sister, a part of the family. Mark knows nothing of this and never mentions Mary of Bethany.

Luke’s story recasts everything (Luke 7:36-50). The setting is in Galilee, not Jerusalem, weeks if not months before Jesus’ death. Jesus is dining at the house of a man named Simon, though it is not said he is a leper. A woman comes in off the street, unnamed, uninvited and unannounced, but known to the village as a “sinner,” which implies she was a whore. The diners are reclining, in Greco-Roman banquet style, and she stands behind Jesus at his feet and begins to weep, wetting his feet with her hair, kissing them, and anointing them with oil. Nothing is said about the cost of the oil and the objection is not the waste but that Jesus would permit himself to be touched by such a sexually promiscuous woman and not realize, were he a prophet, her sinful status. Simon objects and Jesus rebukes him, commending the woman for her uninvited hospitality in welcoming him, washing his feet, and loving him. He declares:

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.

He then turns to the woman and says to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The dinner guests were even more scandalized that he could claim the right to forgive sins.

Some have doubted the parallel accounts in Mark and John are related to this one, but most scholars, knowing that Luke is using Mark as his narrative source, are convinced he is deliberately recasting the scene to disparage Mary Magdalene. He drops the anointing scene entirely from the last days of Jesus’ life, moves it to Galilee and puts it much earlier. Why would he do this?

The answer is most likely that he wants to subtly disparage Mary Magdalene. Immediately following his anointing story he introduces her by name but presents her as a terribly deranged woman, possessed with seven demons that Jesus had cast out! (Luke 8:2). Later, when he introduces the women from Galilee who stood by at Jesus’ crucifixion, he does not mention their names or put Mary Magdalene at their head. He records no appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, as do Matthew and John.  Knowing how deeply embedded she is in early Christian tradition, Luke can not write her out of the story completely, he can minimize and disparage her role. Later in his narrative, as a further way of distancing himself from the anointing story in the gospel of John, he presents two sisters, Mary and Martha, but has them living far outside of Jerusalem, somewhere in Galilee to the north (Luke 13:22).

The Gospel of Peter, discovered in fragments in Egypt in the 1890s, adopts and further appropriates Luke’s marginalization of Mary Magdalene. In this text Peter is prominent, narrating the events surrounding Jesus’ empty tomb, but no women are mentioned at Jesus’ crucifixion scene, standing faithfully while the men fled. Although Mary Magdalene is mentioned, and even called a mathetria—a female disciple of Jesus, who comes early Sunday morning with her friends to mourn inside the tomb, most significantly Jesus never appears to the women and they receive no commission to go and spread the good news of the resurrection to the male disciples (Gospel of Peter 12:50).

Luke’s strategy had a lasting effect. Readers of the gospels later found it easy to conflate the stories. First, it became common and accepted to identify Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and brother of Lazarus. As early as the late 2nd century, Tertullian had already equated Mary Magdalene as the “woman who was a sinner.”[xiv] This salacious identification stuck. The image of Jesus as the all forgiving one—the friend of prostitutes and sinners—was both irresistible and sexually provocative. The idea of the sinful woman, like Eve, seduced by the Devil, but now redeemed, could serve as the story of all women.[xv] It was Pope Gregory the Great (540-604 CE) who sealed her fate. He conflated John’s story of Mary of Bethany with the sinful woman who anoints Jesus in Luke, and declared both women were Mary Magdalene.  He waxed on as to how Mary the whore, who once perfumed herself to seduce men, flirted with her eyes, arranged her hair, and made use of her lips, now turned all those elements in chaste service to the Lord—anointing him, weeping and wiping the tears with her hair, and kissing his feet.[xvi]

In the Middle Ages Mary Magdalene became wildly popular with legends growing up regarding her missionary travels to Europe. She became the penultimate model of the hopeless sinner, transformed from a sexually fallen woman to a chaste and forgiven saint. All over Europe there are hundreds of shrines and churches dedicated to her with her supposed relics. Her feast days are among the most popular on the church calendar. It was not until the late 1970s that the Roman Catholic Church officially repudiated the connection between Luke’s sinful woman and Mary Magdalene. Ironically, on a more popular level, the myth continues and most people still think of Mary Magdalene as the deranged whore whom Jesus redeemed, spurred on by films, plays, and books such as Martin Scorsece’s The Last Temptation of Christ (based on Kazantzakis’s novel), and of course Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar. It’s an image too hard to resist and yet if the Talpiot tomb is the tomb of the Jesus family and Mariamene can be identified with the historical Mary Magdalene, then the alternative untold story is perhaps even more compelling.

The fourth and final installment is here: http://jamestabor.com/2014/11/18/a-married-jesus-why-i-changed-my-mind-part-4/

For a complete treatment of Mary Magdalene, especially understood in the context of the two Talpiot tombs and their latest findings, see our book, The Jesus Discovery.


[i] For a typical defenses of the idea Jesus was not married by an evangelical Christian writer see, http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/2003/11/Was-Jesus-Married.aspx.

[ii] Josephus mentions a similar story about his own precociousness at age fourteen, see Life 9.

[iii] See Sarah Pomeroy, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity (New York: Schoken Books, 1995).

[iv] Josephus, War 2. 121.

[v] Philo, Hypothetica 11. 14

[vi] Pliny the Elder, Natural History 5. 73.

[vii] See the excerpt on celibacy among the Essenes by Lawrence Shiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, The Anchor Bible Reference Library  (New York: Doubleday, 1995), pp. 127-144, available on-line: http://cojs.org/cojswiki/Celibacy_of_the_Essenes,_Lawrence_H._Schiffman,_Reclaiming_the_Dead_Sea_Scrolls,_Jewish_Publication_Society,_Philadelphia.

[viii] Like Jesus Paul forbids divorce, reflecting a primordial ideal, but his assertion that a Christian abandoned by an “unbelieving” mate was free from the bonds of marriage might well reflect his own experience (1 Corinthians 7: 12-16).

[ix] See Daniel Boyarin, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (Berkely: University of California Press, 1997) pp. 158-179.

[x] Tertullian, On the Dress of Women 1.1.

[xi] Elizabeth Clark, Women in the Early Church (Willmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1983.

[xii] Matthew 26:6-13 has the same story, based on his source Mark, but he specifies that the objection to the waste came from “the disciples.”

[xiii] See Paul’s insistence on covering the hair in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.

[xiv] Tertullian, Against Marcion 4:18.9, 16-17.

[xv] See Gregory of Nyssa, the 4th century bishop, who equated Mary Magdalene with Eve, Against Eunomius 3. 10. 16.

[xvi] Homily 33 on Luke 7.

Apple Latest: Actually Believable

Okay, watched the Apple Keynote on the latest rollout of products, downloaded Yosemite and love it, will upgrade devices to iOS8.1 on Monday…life is good. For now I am sticking with our iMac, this Mac Book Air on which I am typing, the iPhone 5s, and my iPad Mini…but in 2015–I can see upgrading the devices. I just like what I have so much I am not ready to change. This story is so true…and the photo is absolutely classic. What a time we live in. There is no comparison to Apple in terms of design, function, and integration. Here is a nice review of the event and what’s new from Fortune magazine: http://fortune.com/2014/10/17/apple-tim-cook-iphone-ipad/

Apple 2014

 

Spanking Children: The Bible Tells Me So?

The indictment of NFL player Adrian Peterson by a Texas grand jury for reckless or negligent injury to a child has generated an extensive discussion in the media on the topic of disciplining children by “spanking,” or corporeal punishment, as commonly practiced in our society. Recent polls indicate that up to 70% of Americans, both Black and White, approve of some form of corporeal punishment of children–with Evangelical Christians coming in at over 85%. 19 States in the USA allow some form of “paddling” in public schools, see a listing here–with Texas leading the pack, having recorded a total of 49,000 incidents in a recent report–and a new kind of “red State” map here.

Max Ernst Virgin Spanking

Max Ernst, Virgin Spanking the Christ Child with three Witnesses 1926

The Peterson case is, of course, extreme–but not necessarily uncommon. He used a “switch,” a slim, leafless tree branch, to beat his 4-year-old son, raising welts on the youngster’s legs, buttocks and scrotum, but millions of Americans–by far the majority of the over-40 generations–can testify to being “spanked,” or in some cases “beaten,” with belts, switches, cords, and other objects that left their markings on legs and buttocks.

Spanking in one form or another is as American as apple pie–and the practice is deeply rooted in, and most often defended by, a reading of traditional translations of the English Bible. The oft-quoted quip “Spare the rod and spoil the child” never appears in the Bible but in the book of Proverbs one finds a string of passages that seem not only to condone spanking, but also direly warn parents that unless they use the “rod” on their children they will utterly fail in their upbringing. Here are the quotations in the traditional King James Version translation:

Prov 13:24: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him often.” Prov 19:18: “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.” Prov 22:15: “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” Prov 23:13-14: “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell (i.e. death).” Prov 29:15: “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.”

These six verses in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible, as well as a single passage in the New Testament, that speaks of God’s disciplining of us as a father disciplines his son (Hebrew 12:6-7), have become the flimsy foundation for justifying a world of harm and abuse to children over our 300 year cultural history–often with lifelong detrimental consequences, see for example here. Sincere parents, who love their children, but are stuck with a literal reading of badly translated verses taken out of context, are utterly convinced they are doing the right thing.

On the one hand we have testimonials from the majority of us who were “spanked” or disciplined with corporeal punishment growing up, with seemingly no psychological damage, and on the other hand Christian Evangelical preachers and teachers regularly assure parents that spanking will not harm a child, it is positively commanded by God! This Christian reinforcement of “spanking,” based on a misreading of these verses of the Bible, is undoubtedly what continues to convince parents of the younger generations, who might have more of a cultural aversion to such practices, that they are carrying out God’s will. Here are the cautious instructions on the popular the Focus on the Family web site:

When you spank, use a wooden spoon or some other appropri­ately sized paddle and flick your wrist. That’s all the force you need. It ought to hurt — an especially difficult goal for mothers to accept —  and it’s okay if it produces a few tears and sniffles. If it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t really discipline, and ultimately it isn’t very loving because it will not be effective in modifying the child’s behavior. Have the child lean over his bed and make sure you apply the discipline with a quick flick of the wrist to the fatty tissue of the buttocks, where a sting can occur without doing any damage to the body. You want to be calm, in control, and focused as you firmly spank your child, being very careful to respect his body.

spanking_1-620x320Presumably this “calm” and “loving” beating of a child is to be administered to the naked buttocks of a child–which surely raises some other issues in terms of shame, dignity, and personal respect. Accordingly parents are told that such a practice should not be carried into the pre-teen-aged years!

The fact is these very verses in Proverbs have not only been poorly translated but they have been irresponsibly read out of their historical context and misapplied. For example, the word translated “rod,” that might have inspired an Adrian Peterson, or perhaps my grandmother, to go outside and “cut a switch” off a tree in the backyard, is used by King David in an entirely different way in Psalm 23–The LORD is my Shepherd–where we have the line: “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me…” (v. 4). The Hebrew word translated “rod” (Shevet) clearly does not have to refer to physical beating but can be a metaphor for general discipline and “leading,” as with sheep and a shepherd. It is also the word that refers to a tribal leader–who carries a staff or sceptre of leadership–not to beat his fellow clan members, but to lead and direct them. It is used over 180 times in the Hebrew Bible–never with the connotation of beating. These and other verses, as well as the overall teaching about disciplining children in the Bible is ably discussed by Jerusalem-based Christian biblical scholar Samuel Martin, who has produced a wonderful book, Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me: Christians and the Spanking Controversy, available as a free PDF download here with no cost or obligation. Martin has been joined by a significant number of other informed Christian scholars and commentators who are questioning the both the traditional translation and interpretation of these overly quoted verses from the book of Proverbs, see for example, here. I recommend Martin’s work for those biblically oriented folk out there who have wondered about what the Bible really says regarding using corporeal punishment of any kind to discipline children–or for that matter anyone who wants to be more informed on this controversial topic.

Watching the TV Series “I Claudius”

I wonder who remembers the BBC/PBS television series “I Claudius” that was based loosely on Robert Graves 1934 novel by the same name. It aired serially in the UK to record audiences (2.5 millions viewers) in 1976 and subsequently in the US on PBS “Masterpeice Theater.” I remember well being riveted to each episode, much like some of us have been to a program like “The Sopranos” or “Homeland” in more recent times.

I ClaudiusII have the DVD boxed set with all 13 episodes plus lots of “Bonus materials” and have in begun watching it over this Memorial Day weekend. It is great fun watching with my complex chart of the Julio-Claudian Family Tree in hand–trying to get straight the likes of Marcellus, Marcus Agrippa, the thrice-married Julia, daughter of Augustus, Drusus, Germanicus, Tiberius, Julia Livilla, and of course Claudius and Gaius Caligula–but most of all the ubiquitously ever-active Livia, 2nd wife of Augustus, the real woman behind the “throne” for 50 years!

Even though the HBO series “Rome” is much more up to date in terms of modern production and “realism,” I find that the compelling story that unfolds in “I Claudius” holds up just fine after all these years. I wish I had time to require my Christian Origins classes to watch the entire series of both “I Claudius” and “Rome” before we even cracked open a New Testament–but alas, our 15 week semesters would never allow that luxury. I have made one major decision for my fall RELS 2105: Christian Origins class in that direction–I am having the Penguin editions of Josephus, Jewish War and Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars as required readings–along with all the documents on my thickly packed “Jewish Roman World of Jesus” university web site. And I think I will show clips of “I Claudius” and “Rome” along the way.

 

As In the Days of Noah

Darren Aronofsky’s film “Noah,” starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, and Anthony Hopkins opens today with lots of publicity, expectation, anticipation, and mixed preliminary reviews. I am anxious to see it though I know there will be things I will both love and hate about it.

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 11.10.05 AMThe excellent review in the  New York TimesRain, Heavy at Times,” by A. O. Scott covers things well. The website “Internet Movie Data Base” (IMDB.com) has a slew of good materials, links, and a really nice slide-show, all well worth browsing, see here. Today’s issue of Bible History Daily is titled “Examining Noah’s Flood,” with lots of links as well. A colleague just pointed out to me a really impressive web site: floodofnoah.com that has a wealth of material on ancient flood stories, forums on various topics, and so forth–this one is not to be missed.

What many readers of the Bible fail to notice is that if you read through the Flood account in the Bible, Genesis 6-9, the chapters contain an single story based on two accounts, now harmonized and interwoven, see the comparison side-by-side here, and a clear exposition of the differences by a former more conservative Christian reader here. Both account preserve specific perceptions and emphases that overlap and intertwine when read as the single narrative that comes down to us.

This film “Noah,” not the least because it is by Aronofsky, is truly a fascinating cultural phenomenon. First, it probes one of the core ancient stories of our culture, highlighting themes of apocalyptic doom and ecological disaster that parallel our own times. Indeed, the NY Times has stories on its front page today discussing the phenomenon of the rising seas and disappearing lands around the globe, see here and here. Ironically, those who might be most inclined towards apocalyptic thinking in our own day are precisely the ones who deny “global warming” and the impending disaster that most scientists see for the planet in the next hundred years.

How the Jews Invented Hollywood: Somewhere Over the Rainbow Dreams Do Come True

At the 2014 Oscars, they celebrated the 75th anniversary of the release of the “Wizard of Oz” by having Pink sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, with highlights from the film in the background. But what few people realized, while listening to that incredible performer singing that unforgettable song, is that the music is deeply embedded in the Jewish experience.

Wizard DorothyA remarkable by Simcha Jacobovici “Pink, the Oscars, and the Rebirth of Israel?” in the Times of Israel this week.  How Jewish dreams, American films, and three visions of the future of the Jewish people–Communism, Zionism, and Americanism, are all related.

The Top Seven Fateful Passages in the New Testament

I originally had in mind doing a kind of “Top Ten” list of fateful New Testament passages that have been both understood and misunderstood over subsequent ages in ways that enforce and foster incalculable harm to our lives. I have revised these categories into “Seven” and clustered some together so that the results are more comprehensive. I did not try to order these into any kind of priority and I think that would be a difficult thing to determine. These “affirmations” have so direly effected so many billions of people over the past two thousand years I would not want to even attempt to put one above the other in terms of fateful impact. I ask my readers to keep in mind that this series is not about what any of these passages in fact mean but rather how they have been understood and applied to our personal, social, civil, and spiritual lives with great consequence and effect. The simple phrase–“The Bible tells me so” has justified and covered a multitude of sins!

I could have just as easily chosen passages from the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible but in terms of application and impact I think there is no question that the New Testament, considered by the dominant culture as superseding the “Old,” has taken first place in influencing our culture in these areas. So below are my Top Seven listed in chronological order with links:

new-testament1. Let His Blood Be on our Heads

2. It Is Good to be Alone

3. Let Women Keep Silent

4. Slaves Obey Your Masters

5. Rulers  are God’s Servants

6. Look to the Things Unseen

7. Salvation only in Jesus

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Top Seven Fateful Passages in the New Testament (2) “It Is Good to Be Alone”

The New Testament has been the most influential collection of documents in history. Taken by both commoners and those in power as the inspired and infallible  “Word of God,” and interpreted ofttimes outside its historical context, its fateful influence has often emerged from single passages with far-ranging consequences:

Adam & Eve

It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. . . . I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:1-9)

The apostle Paul recommends living a single but non-sexual life–sometimes referred to as “celibacy.” He puts this forth as a broad recommendation, not just for priests but for all human beings–male and female. In contradiction to Genesis 2:18, where God declares that “it is not good that man be alone…” Paul recommends the single life as spiritually superior and holy. In fact, in this passage the reason he gives for marriage is that it is an antidote to “lust” or sexual desire. As with his instructions on women, slaves, obeying civil rulers as God’s agents, and other social, economic, and civil relationships he is convinced that “the form of this world is passing away,” and therefore even human sexuality and marriage are a passing and obsolete phenomenon.

He also, in practice, insists that gays and lesbians live a single or celibate life, since their expressions of same-sex love and sexuality are inherently wicked, perverted, and evil, and accordingly subject to the exclusion and punishment of both God and society:

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:26-28)

 

Two Weeks Digging at Mt Zion

Last Thursday we finished our 2nd week of the Mt Zion excavation. It has been an amazing time. It is remarkable what one can accomplish with the proper organization and over 40 dedicated participants throwing heart and soul into a project. The site itself is surely one of the most significant in Jerusalem, both in terms of its central location and its well preserved material remains, as I explained in my post two weeks ago which you can read here. We have a chance to get down to the early Roman/2nd Temple period of Herodian Jerusalem–Jerusalem in the time of Jesus–with substantial remains of a residential area that will capture of snapshot of the last days of the city before the Roman destruction in 70 CE.

We were delighted to have a stream of distinguished visitors to our site from the archaeological community the past two weeks, among them Shalom Paul, Biblical Scholar from Hebrew University, Gerald Finkelstein of the Israel Antiquities Authority who excavated the New Gate in Jerusalem, Dan Bahat, who knows the site well from the 1970s and Hillel Geva who is publishing the results of the excavations in the nearby Jewish Quarter that has many parallels to our site–plus quite a few more. All seemed impressed with both our methods and our site. We are the only university that is running an archaeological field school at an excavation in Jerusalem.

We have been working in three main areas this season, each with its own objectives: Area 1) Extension of the eastern edge by the entrance gate where we found a mosaic floor with an archway that dates to the Byzantine period. Area 2) Removal of the ancient fill where we found our stone inscribed cup in 2009. This is just above the mikveh, cistern, and bread ovens that are part of the basement area of a substantial residence dating to the late 2nd Temple period–or the time of Jesus. Area 3) Removal of the modern fill in the deep pit area dug in the 1970s on the northwest of the site to allow us to excavate through the Ayyubid (12-13th century) and Byzantine layers down to the 2nd Temple period. Here is the top plan of the excavation with the three areas shaded in and labeled:

 

Overview of the site at the beginning of the dig

Here are some “before and after” shots of the progress we have made in each area the past two weeks with a few comments:

Area 1 with new area to be taken down marked by sandbags

 

Area 1: West side at end of week two

 

Area 1: East side at end of week two

Here our intention is to take this whole area down to the Byzantine level where we know there was a significant building with a mosaic floor and archway that we found in the center probe area in 2009. We were surprised to find this early Roman corner of a wall with a tabun or “oven” in the corner in the east end of the area and are still sorting out how it might fit into the main structure we are in the process of uncovering.

Area 2 at the beginning of the dig with walls and significant Byzantine period fill rich with early Roman remains. This is the area where the inscribed stone cup was found in 2009

 

Area 2 at the end of second week

This complex of Byzantine and Islamic walls is poised directed over the remains of 2nd Temple rooms including the mikveh, cistern, and ovens which we have now exposed. The cistern, about which I will write separately, is most exciting as it contains remains dating to the early Roman/Herodian period when the defenders of Jerusalem were surrounded by the Romans prior to the city’s destruction in 70 CE. It could very well be that we have our very own “Priestly Mansion” right on the slopes of Mt Zion, near the traditional house of Caiaphas.

Area 3 at beginning of excavation

 

Area 3: End of the second week with all modern layers removed

When this area was begun two weeks ago it was little more than a rough “hole” left from the 1970s. In plastic identity card dated to 1978 came out of the modern fill. After two weeks of hard work the archaeological areas have been exposed and the balk squared off.  Several walls just above the 2nd Temple rooms with the ovens have now been exposed and can be excavated.

We have numerous important finds that have surfaced in all three areas and I will write more about them in a subsequent post as well as a full report on the contents of the cistern which we are still in the process of clearing out. An assortment of photos of our various activities and participants from the second week of the dig are posted on my Facebook page here.