Search This Blog

TXAB’s index.

Showing posts with label #Background. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Background. Show all posts

17 October 2018

Nefilim: The mythology of fallen people.

An odd little story in Genesis, and the myths which sprang from it.

NAFAL /nɔ'fɔl/ v. (Hebrew ‏נָפַל , Strong’s 5307) To fall down, fall prostrate, fall into, be thrown down, be removed.
[Nefil /nɛ'fil/ n., nefilim /nɛ.fil'im/ n.pl.]

Every once in a while I get asked about the Nefilim (NIV “Nephilim,” KJV “giants”). And folks, it’s not “a Nefilim,” ’cause it’s a plural noun. One Nefil, many Nefilim. Understandable mistake though; most English speakers can’t get our own plurals right, much less Hebrew nouns.

I don’t pry into why people wanna know about Nefilim, although when they explain, it nearly always has to do with some mythological garbage about half-human half-angel beings. They hear about that, then hear, “And it’s in the bible!” so they check out their bible and find this weird little story. It comes right before the flood story in Genesis 6, so you’d think they’d have read it, but you know people don’t read their bibles. But even when people aren’t checking up on weird myths, they read this story, scratch their heads, and go, “Huh?”

Genesis 6.1-5 KWL
1 It happened that the Adamites began to be many over the face of the earth.
Daughters were fathered by them.
2 God’s children saw the Adamite daughters—that they were good.
They took them for wives—all whom they chose.
3 The LORD said, “My Spirit won’t remain with Adam forever.
Plus he’s flesh. His days are 120 years.”
4 Nefilim were in the land in those days, and also afterward:
God’s children mated with Adam’s daughters, and begat from them
the powerful men who, from antiquity, were men of name.
5 But the LORD saw the Adamites were a great evil in the land.
Every intention and thought in their minds was only evil, all day.

Okay. Lemme start by bluntily saying nobody knows what this passage means. I need to make this crystal clear from the very beginning. NOBODY.

I know; you may think you do, ’cause the myths told you what went down. Or you heard some interpretation which makes sense to you. Or you actually heard or read some bible scholar’s theory, and figure bible scholars are smart people who must know what they’re talking about. But unless they’re really arrogant people, scholars are the first to tell you our theories are nothing but good guesses. ’Cause nobody knows what this passage means. Like I said.

Yeah, this fact bugs people. Since the scriptures are God-inspired, and meant for our instruction and correction and growth, 2Ti 3.16 how can there be such things as scriptures which no one understands? And since we Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit—the same Spirit who inspired the writer of Genesis to drop this story in the book—shouldn’t he have clued us in on what it means?

Fair questions. And there are people who claim the Spirit has told ’em what this passage means. I might even believe ’em… if they weren’t so arrogant about it, and if their interpretations lined up. But they don’t. So I don’t.

True, we can always ask the Spirit what a bible passage means. Sometimes he tells us. And sometimes he doesn’t. It’s up to him how much he cares to divulge, and (as is the case with apocalypses) sometimes he doesn’t care to divulge stuff at all. If he doesn’t see any good coming out of it, he’s not sharing. And we have to learn to be okay with that. We answer to him, remember?

If you don’t like not knowing, join the club. And work on your humility: The Holy Spirit’s under no obligation to tell us all. He’s the LORD. We’re not.

11 September 2018

Scribes: Ancient Israel’s scholars.

It wasn’t just that they knew how to write.

SCRIBE /skraɪb/ n. One who writes [for a living].
2. In ancient Israel, a bible scholar; one with expertise in the Law and theology.

In our culture, we strive for universal literacy: We want everybody to be able to read. ’Cause in a democracy, if the people are gonna run the country, they need to be educated to that level. (Of course, if nobody but private-school kids get such an education, only the wealthy will really run the country… which is a whole other rant, and one I don’t care to go into today.)

But just as democracy has only recently been widespread in human history, universal literacy is also a relatively new idea. Bounce back in time to the Roman Empire, and maybe 15 to 25 percent of the people could read. The rest could not.

Not because they were dumb. Humans are just as smart now as they were then. It’s because they didn’t have access to an education. Only those who could afford literate slaves who’d teach their kids, or those who could afford to send their kids to an academy, had access. Everybody else could’ve learned to read—but their jobs didn’t require it, and a good memory served ’em just fine. So they were illiterate.

The exception was the Hebrew culture. They did strive for universal literacy. Because they had scriptures. God ordered his people to not just learn the commands of his Law, but “write them on your house’s doorframes, and your gates.” Dt 6.9 If you’re gonna obey that command, you gotta know how to write. The culture had to be literate. A written Law required it.

So the Pharisees created synagogues, schools which’d teach Hebrew children to read and write. (I know, you thought they were the Jewish equivalent of church, right? They largely are now. They weren’t in the beginning.) The kids were taught to read, and read the Law. And maybe a little history, math, and other subjects the rabbis found appropriate.,/p>

But for those who felt called to go further in their studies—who wanted to memorize the Law, and study it to the level Pharisees believed it should be studied—these folks became sofrím/“scribes.” Or as the New Testament called ’em, grammateís/“scribes.” (Same meaning.)

23 April 2018

Slavery: How God mitigated and abolished it.

Being in the bible is not the same as endorsement, y’know.

Back in bible times, people had slaves. Slavery was legal.

This is a weird and troubling idea for a lot of Christians. In the United States, slavery is illegal, and we consider it immoral. So it’s troubling to read about slavery in the bible as if it’s normal or okay.

Especially considering our history with slavery. We fought a whole war over it, y’know. Many southerners are in denial about that, and claim the War Between the States was really about states’ rights and local sovereignty… but history doesn’t bear ’em out at all. Confederate politicians and generals proudly declared they were fighting to retain their peculiar institution of slavery—because unlike southerners today, they didn’t consider slavery to be immoral. Hey, it’s in the bible!

Thing is, American slavery wasn’t at all like biblical slavery. What Americans practiced was chattel slavery, in which slaves were considered cattle—a word which evolved from chattel. What the folks in the bible practiced, for the most part, was penal slavery, in which people were enslaved because they broke the law, got themselves deep into debt, or lost a war. What Americans did was try to find excuses to claim what we were doing, was what they had done—then claim the bible permitted, even endorsed, their behavior. They pretended there was no huge difference.

But there was, and Americans were in fact guilty of violating a biblical command:

Exodus 21.16 KWL
“Anyone who steals a man and sells him, anyone found with the victim in their hands:
They’re dead. Put them to death.”

Slave traders, slave buyers, slave owners, their descendants, and every northerner who looked the other way and permitted the southerners to do their thing: All of them were complicit in the divinely-condemned capital crime of kidnapping. As Abraham Lincoln speculated time and again, our Civil War was likely God’s judgment upon us. Southerners who pretend the war wasn’t about slavery and racism, who claim it was really about heritage and self-governance and a noble lost cause: Their pride and willful blindness is just risking more judgment upon them and their people.

Because chattel slavery is kidnapping. It’s entirely immoral. God said so. Had American slaveowners properly interpreted their bibles, they’d discover every last one of them deserved to die. The Civil War is still the bloodiest, deadliest war in American history—and we got off light.

So yeah, keep in mind American slavery isn’t at all what the bible’s depicted. It’s far closer to what we do with our prisons—’cause convicts aren’t free either, and sentenced to various forms of forced labor. Well, in bible times they didn’t have anything close to our prison system. How did convicts serve their time after they committed a crime? Slavery.

04 October 2017

Sadducees: The secular power of religion.

How an ancient Hebrew harvest celebration got turned into giving a tenth of our income to our churches.

Sadducee /'sæd.ʒə.si/ n. An ancient denomination of the Hebrew religion which upheld the written Law alone, and denied the supernatural and the afterlife.
[Sadducean /.sæd.ʒə'si.ən/ adj.]

Protestants seldom know this history, so let me fill you in.

John bar Simon was the head priest and king of Judea from 134BC to 104BC. He was a member of the Hasmonean family; his dad was Simon Maccabee, one of the Maccabees who freed Judea from the Syrian Greeks (the “Seleucid Empire”) in 167BC. His dad had become the first head priest after the temple was restored, and since he was functionally the head of state, he was also recognized as Judea’s king. The Hasmoneans ruled Judea till the Romans deposed them in 41BC and gave the throne to Herod bar Antipater.

John’s also known as John Hyrcanus. He got his nickname Hurqanós/“from Hyrkania” after defeating the Syrian general Cendebeus, and since it’s probably an inside joke which was never recorded, we don’t know why he was called that. He’s known as a great general who doubled the size of Judea to include Samaria and Idumea. He’s also known as the king who forced the Idumeans (i.e. Edomites) to become Jews and be circumcised. And Pharisees remember him ’cause he quit the Pharisees and become Sadducee.

Y’see, when there’s no such thing as a separation of church and state, religion and politics are the same thing. Most Judeans were Pharisee. So were the priests. So was their senate. Sadducees, in comparison, were just this little tiny sect of Jews with some rather faithless beliefs:

Acts 22.8 KWL
For Sadducees say there’s no resurrection, nor angels, nor Holy Spirit,
and Pharisees profess them all.

We don’t know how much, or even whether, Hyrcanus believed as Sadducees did. He didn’t join them for religious reasons. He joined ’em because Pharisees had pissed him off.

Two prominent Pharisees, Eleazar bar Pokhera and Judah bar Gedidim, had publicly declared (right in front of him, according to one story), “If Hyrcanus is really a righteous man, he oughta resign the head priesthood, because we heard his mother had been a captive in Modin under the Syrians”—implying one of those Syrians had fathered him instead of Simon Maccabee, thus making Hyrcanus unqualified to be hereditary head priest. Hyrcanus ordered the claim to be investigated. Once proven untrue, he demanded his false witnesses be thrown out of the senate, just as they wanted him thrown out of office. Dt 19.18-19 But Pharisees in the senate ignored the Law and only had them whipped. So in his ire, Hyrcanus quit the Pharisees.

And to really stick it to ’em, he joined the group Pharisees considered their mortal enemies, the Sadducees. And ever since, he and the head priests who succeeded him—all the way up to Annas and Joseph Caiaphas in Jesus’s day, all the way to the last head priest, Fannias bar Samuel, in 70CE—were Sadduccee. Ac 5.17

16 August 2017

The Deuteronomistic history.

How some of the books of the Old Testament share a theme—and likely an author.

When I was growing up, I was a little curious about who wrote the books of the bible. Supposedly Matthew wrote Matthew and John wrote John and the three letters named for him (plus Revelation) …but Timothy didn’t write Timothy, and since Samuel was dead way before the end of 1 Samuel, it stands to reason he didn’t write 2 Samuel. Naturally I wanted to know who did write the books, but none of my Sunday school teachers knew. One of ’em speculated it was Solomon.

Fact is, people back then people didn’t put their names on their writings. Even David didn’t put his name on his psalms: Whoever compiled the psalms together, added his name to the psalms which had traditionally been ascribed to him. It’s a safe bet David did write ’em. But the other anonymous books of the bible: We don’t know who put them together. They felt the story was way more important than the authors’ names.

Anyway. In 1981, bible scholar Martin Noth theorized the books which Jews call the “former prophets”—Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings—and more than likely the book of Deuteronomy along with them, are all part of one large history, edited together by one person. Or one group of people. Noth named it “the Deuteronomistic history,” named of course for Deuteronomy.

It was a very short period of time before a lot of bible scholars signed on to Noth’s theory. It makes perfect sense. Though many conservative scholars (myself included) don’t agree Deuteronomy oughta be included in the Deuteronomistic history. Even though Deuteronomy does repeat a lot of commands found in the previous three books. There are good reasons Deuteronomy is bundled together with the Law, not the Prophets; and good reasons the Deuteronomistic history is inspired by that book, and not just prefaced by it.

People tend to refer to its author (or group of authors) as “the Deuteronomist.” Since—for no good reason—Christians have traditionally assumed Samuel wrote Joshua, Judges, and Ruth, if not half 1 Samuel, I’ll call the Deuteronomist “Sam” for short.

07 June 2017

Adultery, concubines, and marriage, in the Old Testament.

Adultery has a whole different definition in the Old Testament.

Years ago one of my eighth-grade students asked me what a concubine was. ’Cause he wasn’t familiar with the word, and it was in his bible. It’s in everybody’s bibles: Pylegéš/“concubine,” which Strong’s dictionary defines as “concubine; paramour.” I just went with the 21st-century term for paramour: “It’s a girlfriend,” I told him.

Later that day his mother called me to complain. She heard the story, spoke with her pastor, and he assured her a concubine is a wife. Not a girlfriend. What sort of morality was I attempting to teach her son?

Um… it wasn’t a morality lesson. It’s a definition. The morality lesson comes from whether you think the bible’s references to concubines is prescriptive or descriptive: Whether because the patriarchs did it, we can; or whether the patriarchs simply did it, but Jesus calls us to be better than they. (I’ll save you the guessing game: It’s nearly always the second one.)

The patriarchs had concubines. These were, as my Oxford dictionary defines ’em, “a regular female companion with whom a person has a romantic or sexual relationship.” Our English word comes from the Latin con cubaré/“to lie down with.” A patriarch would lie down with one of the women in his household, making her his concubine. Not necessarily have sex with her, as was the case with King David and his concubine Abishag. 1Ki 1.1-4 (And if you wanna argue Abishag wasn’t a concubine, then it doesn’t make sense why Solomon freaked out when his brother Adonijah asked to marry her. 1Ki 2.13-25 Claiming your father’s women meant you claimed your father’s kingdom. 2Sa 16.20-22)

Why do some Christians insist a concubine isn’t a girlfriend, but a wife? Simple: It’s a culture clash.

When we read the Old Testament, we’re looking into an entirely different culture with an entirely different worldview about sex and marriage. We don’t realize this: We figure since they followed God, and we follow God, we share worldviews. And in our culture, a married man with a girlfriend on the side is an adulterer. Well, all these God-fearing OT saints with concubines, like Abraham, Jacob, Gideon, or King David: We’ll can kinda, grudgingly accept they had multiple wives. But multiple wives plus girlfriends? Beyond the pale. That’d make them, to our minds, adulterers.

So to clear them of the charge of adultery, “concubine” can’t merely mean “girlfriend.” It has to be some ancient kind of wife.

10 April 2017

Passover: When God saved the Hebrews.

And how Christians observe it. Or don’t. Or do, but medieval-style.

“Why don’t we celebrate Passover?” asked one of my students, when I once taught on the topic.

“We do,” I said. “Christians call it Pascha or Pascua or Páques. But in languages with a lot of German words mixed in, we call it Easter. And obviously we do it way different than you see in the bible.”

So different, English-speaking people routinely assume Easter and Passover are two entirely different holidays. I can’t argue with that assumption. Christians don’t bother to purge our homes of yeast or leavening. Don’t cook lamb; nor do we practice the modern Jewish custom of not having lamb, and emphasizing it ’cause there’s currently no temple to sacrifice a lamb in. Don’t put out the seder plate, don’t tell the Exodus story, don’t have the kids ask the Four Questions, don’t hide the afikomen and have the kids search for it. Although both holidays have eggs, and we do have the kids look for eggs.

Well, some Christians observe Passover as a separate holiday. Some of us do it Hebrew-style, as spelled out in the scriptures, in Exodus and Deuteronomy. More often it’s observed as practiced by Jews today.

The Messianic Jewish movement wants to emphasize the Jewish origins of Christianity. As they should. But many Messianic Jews aren’t all that solid on their history, and wind up teaching medieval rabbinic Judaism instead of the stuff Jesus and his first-century followers actually experienced. So when they observe Passover, their haggadah—the order of service—is nearly always adapted from Orthodox or Conservative Judaism. Which means it dates from the 10th century. Not the first.

Yes, some of its customs are in the Mishna, so they do date back to the first century. Still, these weren’t standard practices; not even in the 10th century. Just as Christians celebrate Christmas every which way, Jews then and now got to choose their own customs. Hence families have unique traditions, and various synagogues emphasize various things. Medieval Jewish communities in eastern Europe, north Africa, Spain, and the middle east, all individually came up with their own haggadahs. (As did the Samaritans.)

The point of the haggadah is to teach the Exodus story to the children. But remember, Jesus’s students weren’t children. Teenagers certainly, but still legal adults who knew the Exodus story. If they hadn’t heard it at home, Jesus would’ve taught it to them personally. So, just as some families don’t tell the nativity story every Christmas after the kids get older, don’t be surprised if Jesus skipped the haggadah’s customary Four Questions (why matzot, why bitter herbs, why roasted meat, and why the food gets dipped twice) as redundant.

Christians don’t always realize this. So whenever they attend a Passover seder, or ritual dinner, and hear whatever haggadah the leader came up with, they routinely think it’s so profound how Jesus “practiced” and “brought such meaning and fulfillment” to these customs. Even though it’s highly unlikely he practiced any of these customs. It’s pure coincidence his ministry “fulfilled” them. But y’know, not every Christian believes in coincidence.

28 February 2017

Tithing: Enjoying one’s firstfruits with God.

How an ancient Hebrew harvest celebration got turned into giving a tenth of our income to our churches.

Tithe /taɪð/ n., adj. One-tenth.
2. v. Set aside, or give, a tenth.
3. v. Donate [a tenth of one’s income] to one’s church.

Most Christians define tithe as a donation to one’s church. Usually money, but sometimes our time, and sometimes various other items. The amount doesn’t necessarily equal a tenth of anything, which is why Christian preachers so often feel they should remind us “tithe” comes from the Saxon teóða/“tenth”: If you’re giving less than an actual tenth, it’s not really tithing.

This is because they insist it’s important we bring our whole tithe to church. ’Cause it says to in the bible.

Malachi 3.8-12 KWL
8 “Does any human cheat God like all of you cheat me?
You say, ‘How do we cheat you?’ In tithes. In offerings.
9 You’ve cursed yourselves. The whole nation is cheating me.
10 Bring your whole tithe to my treasury: There’s unclean food in my house!
Please test me in this,” says the LORD of War.
See if I don’t open heaven’s floodgates and pour down blessing till you overflow.
11 I rebuke the blight for you: It won’t ruin your crops.
It won’t kill the vines in your field,” says the LORD of War.
12 “Every nation will call you happy,
and consider you a land of delight,” says the LORD of War.

Most of ’em only quote verses 8–10. They don’t bother with verses 11–12. They should; those verses reveal the context of what the LORD actually meant by mahašér/“tithe.” He wasn’t talking about Christians who don’t contribute enough to our churches. He was talking about Hebrews who didn’t contribute enough to their community food closets. There was teréf/“spoil[ed food]” in his house. A fact most bibles tend to mistranslate “that there may be meat in mine house,” as the KJV has it: Teréf or the modern Yiddish word treyf, means unclean food—and God wasn’t asking for unclean food! But he did want food. ’Cause tithing was about food.

I know: You might never have heard this idea before. You’d be surprised how many Christian pastors are totally clueless about this fact. I grew up Christian, yet hadn’t heard any of this stuff till my thirties. But it’s all in your bible, hiding in plain sight.

08 February 2017

Baalism: The icky religions we find in ancient Israel.

Why’d the Hebrews keep falling into Baalism? They did it for the nooky.

Baal /bɑ'ʕɑl, commonly mispronounced 'beɪ.(ə)l/ n. The title of various middle eastern gods.
2. Lord, master, sir, husband.
[Baalim /bɑ.ʕɑl.im/ n.pl., Baalism /ba'al.iz.əm/ n.]

The main competitors to the ancient Hebrew worship of the LORD were various middle eastern gods which tended to be called by their word for “master.” In Hebrew and Aramaic that’d be bahál; in Arabic and Ugaritic bahl, Amharic bal, Akkadian Belu, and in English it takes the form “Baal.”

Most people assume “Baal,” like “God,” is a proper name instead of a title. It’s not. Every major god was called “Baal.” There were multiple Baals in the middle east and ancient Canaan, which is why the bible refers to them as bahalím/“Baals” (KJV “Baalim”). Jg 2.11, 1Sa 7.4, 1Ki 18.18, 2Ch 17.3, Jr 2.23, Ho 2.13 Rather than refer to these gods by their proper names, middle easterners respectfully called them “lord,” much as we do with YHWH. They used the word bahál—and the Hebrews used its synonym adón, arguably because everybody else was using Baal.

In fact it may startle you to discover even the LORD was sometimes called Baal. Seriously. After David ben Jesse became king over all the Israeli tribes, he fought Philistia at Baal Perachím, and the reason the place was called that name was ’cause… well, I’ll just quote the bible.

2 Samuel 5.18-21 KWL
18 Philistines came, and occupied the valley of Refahím/“Shadows.”
19 Asking the LORD, David said, “Do I go out against the Philistines? Do you put them in my hand?”
The LORD told David, “Go out: I put, put the Philistines in your hand.”
20 David went to Baal Perachím. There, David struck them down. He said:
“The LORD broke through my enemies before my face, like water breaks through a levee.”
Hence this place’s name is Baal Perachím/“Lord of Breakthrough.”
21 The Philistines left their carved idols there,
and David and his men took them away.

We all know David was no Baalist. He didn’t name the site for any of the Canaanite or Philistine gods; he meant his God, YHWH. But he used the title Baal to refer to him. I know; it’s weird.

It’s why we find Hebrew place names, even people, whose names have some form of “Baal” in them. They didn’t necessarily mean Canaanite gods; they often meant the One God. Like David’s warrior Behalyáh of Benjamin, 1Ch 12.5 whose name literally means “YHWH is Baal.” Like Saul’s son Ešbahál 1Ch 8.33, 9.39, and Jonathan’s son Meriv-bahál. 1Ch 8.34, 9.40 You might know these men better as King Ishbosheth 2Sa 2.8 and Mephibosheth. 2Sa 4.4 It’s believed the bible’s editors pulled the “Baal” from their names and replaced it with bošet/“shame[ful]”—sorta their mini-commentary about that word.

’Cause after a point, God got really tired of people calling him “Baal.”

Hosea 2.16-17 KWL
16 The LORD reveals: “That day will come when you call me ‘my husband’
and not call me ‘my Baal’ anymore.
17 I pluck the Baals’ names from your mother’s mouth.
Don’t recognize me by that name anymore.”

God wanted the very word removed. And for good reason. If the LORD is simply Baal-YHWH to you, just another one of the interchangeable Baals in the world, it’s way too easy to mix up our good, benevolent, patient, loving LORD with some other god who isn’t always good, is kinda selfish, impatient, unloving, and otherwise unlike the One God. Like that horny reprobate Zeus in Greek mythology, a god whom the ancient Greeks called “good” only because they were sucking up to him.

Which brings up the reason the Baals were so popular. When people read the bible and don’t know its history, they often wonder why on earth the Hebrews kept falling into Baalism. What was it about these gods? The LORD can speak; why’d they regularly keep falling for gods which can’t?

Two words: Ritual sex.

Oh that got your attention, didn’t it? But yep, that’s what hooked the Hebrews. Nu 25.1-3 Ancient pagans quickly discovered if they made sexual activity part of their worship practices, they’d hook dedicated followers. It’s precisely why the LORD and his prophets regularly compared Baalism to adultery and prostitution: Jg 8.33, Ho 2.13 That’s literally what it was.

01 February 2017

The 13 tribes of Israel. (Yes, 13. I didn’t miscount.)

Hope you’re not triskaidekaphobic. In case you are, the bible usually says 12.

The Hebrews whom the LORD rescued from Egypt during the Exodus, consisted of the descendants of Jacob ben Isaac—whom a man, probably an angel, renamed Israel after their wrestling match. Ge 32.28 Hence they’re regularly called benéi Yišraél/“children of Israel.” Ex 1.1

Since Israel had 12 sons (through four different women), and all the “children of Israel” are descended from the sons, they’re also known as “the 12 tribes of Israel,” each tribe named for each son. In English, the sons are

  • Sons of Leah: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun. Ge 35.23
  • Sons of Rachel: Joseph, Benjamin. Ge 35.24
  • Sons of Bilhah: Dan, Naphtali. Ge 35.25
  • Sons of Zilpah: Gad, Asher. Ge 35.26

They’re listed in various orders, but Reuben tends to come first, ’cause he was firstborn. However, Israel reassigned the birthright, the patriarchal obligations of the eldest son, to his favorite son, Joseph.

Hence Joseph received twice the inheritance of his brothers—and became represented by two tribes, named for Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim. (Manasseh is sometimes referred to as a “half tribe,” Js 13.29 but not because Manasseh was half of Joseph; it’s because half of Manasseh’s land lies east of the Jordan river, and half west.) And since Jacob put the younger son, Ephraim, first, Ge 48.17-20 precedence passed to that tribe. The Prophets regularly refer to northern Israel as “Ephraim” for that reason. Is 7.9, 11.13, Jr 31.20, Ho 5.3, 7.8, Zc 9.13

So… this actually produces 13 tribes (which I’ll list alphabetically): Asher, Benjamin, Dan, Ephraim, Gad, Issachar, Judah, Levi, Manasseh, Naphtali, Reuben, Simeon, and Zebulun. Not 12. Why aren’t they called 13 tribes? Two reasons.

First and foremost: The writers of the bible, and probably God too, really like the number 12. The ancient Sumerians divided the year into 12 months, marked ’em with the zodiac (whatever constellation is highest in the sky at night), and throughout middle eastern culture this became the number of completeness, fulfillment, unity, and perfection. Thirteen? Not so much. Not that it’s unlucky; that superstition came from the Romans. But they liked 12 way better.

And the LORD turned the entire tribe of Levi into a special priestly caste. He gave them “no inheritance”—that is, no land apart from 48 cities. Js 21 Instead of land, Moses explained, the LORD was their inheritance, Js 13.33 meaning whenever people brought food and animals to the LORD, the Levites, in their capacity as the LORD’s priests, got to eat ’em Dt 18.1 and therefore didn’t really need any land for farming and ranching.

So geographically, there are only 12 tribes: Twelve tracts of land, designated for 12 families descended from Israel. The Levite cities were scattered all over these tribes, and really anybody could live in the cities, not just Levites. (Particularly the larger cities, like Hebron, Shechem, or Ramoth-Gilead.)

18 July 2016

Remember the Sabbath day.

Our weekly holiday… and a command we regularly violate.

Believe it or not, we Christians actually have a holiday every single week. You likely forgot about it because it’s so regular.

It’s Sabbath. It’s the day God mandated (in the Ten Commandments, you know) that people take off. We’re not to work on it. We have the other six days of the week for that.

Exodus 20.8-11 KWL
8 “Remember to separate the day of Sabbath.
9 Work six days, and do all your work. 10 The seventh day is Sabbath.
It’s for me, your LORD God. Don’t start any work on it. That counts for you,
your sons, daughters, male slaves, female slaves, animals, or visitors at your gates.
11 For six days, I the LORD made the skies and the land, the sea and everything in it.
The seventh day, I stopped, so I the LORD blessed a day of Sabbath. I made it holy.”

And once again, in Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 5.12-15 KWL
12 “Keep separate the day of Sabbath, as your LORD God commanded you.
13 Work six days, and do all your work. 14 The seventh day is Sabbath.
It’s for your LORD God. Don’t start any work on it. That counts for you,
your sons, daughters, slaves, ox, donkey, animals, or visitors at your gates.
Because your male and female slaves will rest like you:
15 Remember, you were a slave in Egypt’s territory.
Your LORD God got you out of there with his strong hand and extended arm.
This is why your LORD God commands you to do the day of Sabbath.”

Note God said it was ’cause he rested on the seventh day, but Moses said it was ’cause the Hebrews used to be Egypt’s slaves. It’s one of those little contradictions people like to pretend the bible doesn’t have. But really, there’s no reason we can’t accept both interpretations. After all, real life is messy like that.

Sabbath comes from the word shabbát/“stop.” God stopped creating the earth on the seventh day; Ge 2.2 likewise we’re to stop working every seventh day. We’re not meant to work seven days a week. We burn out. Our mental state collapses. God, recognizing this (’cause he made us, of course), put a moratorium on work every seven days: Stop. Rest. That goes for everyone.

16 June 2016

Ritually clean and unclean: Ready for worship!

It’s not literal cleanliness. It just happens to look like it.

From time to time the scriptures talk about tahór/“clean” and tamé/“unclean.” Sometimes it’s meant literally, like when the bible refers to pure gold or silver, or refer to a dirty person or animal.

But most of the time the scriptures use these terms not literally, but ritually—what the LORD defined as “clean” or “unclean” for the purposes of worship. “Clean” things could be used for worship; “clean” people were free to worship. “Unclean” things and people couldn’t. If you were clean, you could go to temple—and the Pharisees would let you go to synagogue. If not, not.

And if unclean things were used for worship anyway, or unclean people worshiped without first purifying themselves, there were dire consequences.

Leviticus 10.1-11 KWL
1 Aaron’s sons Nadáv and Avihú: Each man took his incense-burner, lit it, placed incense in it,
and brought it into the LORD’s presence—weird fire, which God didn’t permit them.
2 So fire came out of the LORD’s presence and consumed them.
They died before the LORD’s presence.
3 Moses told Aaron, “Here’s what the LORD says to those who come near him: ‘I’m holy.
I must be glorified in the presence of all people.’” Aaron said nothing.
4 Moses called Mišahél and Elchafán, sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziél, and told them, “Come in.
Carry your family out of the sanctuary. Take them outside the camp.”
5 They came in, and carried them outside the camp in their tunics, as Moses said.
6 Moses told Aaron and his sons Eleazár and Itamár, “Don’t uncover your heads.
Don’t tear your clothes. Don’t die: Anger will come on the congregation!
Your brothers, and Israel’s house, will weep over the burning the LORD burned.
7 Don’t go out the Meeting Tent door, or you’ll die: The LORD’s anointing oil is on you.”
They followed Moses’s word. 8 The LORD told Aaron, 9 “You and your sons with you:
Drink no wine nor liquor when you come to the Meeting Tent. Don’t die.
This is a rule for every generation. 10 Distinguish between holy and secular, between clean and unclean.
11 Show Israel’s sons all the rules the LORD told them by Moses’s hand.”

The reason the LORD brought up being drunk on the job, is likely ’cause Nadáv and Avihú were drunk on the job. The LORD wanted it crystal clear this behavior wasn’t acceptable. Pagan gods regularly had drunk priests—getting farshnickert was often part of their worship. But the LORD God doesn’t just accept any behavior we categorize as “worship” just because we’re earnest, or we took all the right steps, or followed the right rituals, or said the right words, or feel really good about it. Think about the last time you got a really inappropriate Christmas gift. “A jar of back-pimple cream?” “A rhinestone collar and a leash? But I don’t have a dog.” “A gift card to a steakhouse? But I’m vegan.” And the gifter tried to shrug it off with, “Well, it’s the thought that counts”—when clearly no thought went into it, and they’re either trying to unload something by regifting it, or trying to passive-aggressively give you what they feel is best.

Well, that’s what jerks we’ve become when we try to foist our preferences upon the LORD, but have never bothered to find out—or don’t really care—what he wants. Eating ham on Easter would be an obvious example. Y’ever read God’s views on pork?

The LORD has standards. Expectations. If we really love him, meet them. Otherwise don’t waste his time, or insult him with rotten substitutes. He’s holy.

Some of us Christians get this, try to find out what God legitimately wants, and strive to bring him that. Other Christians… well, they do whatever popular Christian culture figures is holy. And since those folks don’t know the difference between holiness and solemnity, they figure what God wants is old-timey music, old-timey prayers, old-timey bibles, and Christians who wear fine-looking clothes to church. They never stop and think about whether these are clean clothes—literally or ritually. It’s about looking good for others, not what God wants. You know, the hypocrites’ old problem.

Well, here’s a pointer in the correct direction: What does God consider ritually clean?

20 May 2016

Samaritans, and Jesus’s living water.

A bit about the woman Jesus met at the well, and her people.

John 4.1-15.

To give you a better sense of how the ancient Judeans felt about Samaritans, you gotta think about how the average Evangelical in the United States feels… about Muslims.

Yeah, there y’go. Distrust. Uncertainty. Fear. The assumption that because some terrorists claim to be Muslim, all Muslims are terrorist. The assumption that because Muslims in various countries live under strict interpretations of the Quran and Hadith, they wanna implement those customs in this country, and inflict their commands upon us. (Never mind the fact a number of Christians wouldn’t mind inflicting our strict interpretations of the Old Testament upon everyone as well.)

Samaritans had a similar reputation in ancient Judea. The Judeans figured they were right, and Samaritans wrong. Really wrong. Dangerously wrong. They considered them pagans and foreigners, and had nothing to do with them.

And Samaritans believe (yeah, they still exist) precisely the same thing right back at Judeans then, and Jews today. They consider themselves the real descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the real successors and keepers of Moses’s teachings, the real servants of God. The Pharisees and Jews were the heretics, who’d added all these extra books to the bible (the books from Joshua to Chronicles—or in Christian book-order, from Joshua to Malachi) and a whole bunch of rabbinical loopholes which the Samaritans found offensive. Worse, they had all this wealth and political power—and heretics with power is frightening, innit?

Oh, there are parallels aplenty between Judeans and Samaritans then, and Christians and Muslims today. And let’s not forget the hate crimes: Some Judean would get a little political power, and decide to go into Samaria and slaughter a bunch of Samaritans. Some Samaritan would get vengeful and attack Judeans as they traveled through Samaritan territory. Not for cause; solely because they were different from one another, and had old grudges. By Jesus’s day this sort of behavior had been going on for the past 400 years. Like the Israeli-Palestinian situation, but without explosions.

Gotta remember that animosity, fear, and rage they had towards one another, whenever we read about Jesus visiting Samaria.

John 4.1-9 KWL
1 Once Jesus knew the Pharisees heard, “Jesus has many students and baptizes, like John”—
2 though Jesus himself wasn’t baptizing; his students were
3 he left Judea behind and went to the Galilee again.
4 He needed to pass through Samaria.
5 Hence he came a Samaritan town called Sykhár,
near the field Jacob gave his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s Well is there.
Jesus, tired from walking the road, was sitting there by the well the sixth hour after sunrise.
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water.
Jesus told her, “Give me a drink,”
8 for his students had gone into town so they could buy food.
9 The Samaritan woman told him, “How can you be near me, Judean? I’m a Samaritan woman.
You ask me for a drink?—Judeans have no use for Samaritans.”

Many translations have “Judeans have no use for Samaritans” as the author’s commentary on the situation, not something the Samaritan said. The KJV puts it “no dealings with Samaritans,” but I rendered synhróntai/“make use of” more literally.

Obviously this woman didn’t recognize Jesus’s Galilean accent, and assumed he was Judean. Not that Samaritans and Galileans got along any better. But as we already know about Jesus, he did have use for Samaritans; he came to save everybody. Jn 3.16-17 Samaritans included. Jesus doesn’t do racism.

15 May 2016

Pentecost.

The eighth Sunday after Easter, when the Holy Spirit started the church.

I’m a Pentecostal… and weirdly, a lot of us Pentecostals never notice when Pentecost comes round. I don’t get it. I blame anti-Catholicism a little.

Anyway, Pentecost is the last day of Eastertime, the day we Christians remember the start of the Christian church—the day the Holy Spirit gave power to Jesus’s followers. Like so.

Acts 2.1-4 KWL
1 When the 50th day after Passover drew near, all were together in one place.
2 Suddenly a roar came from heaven, like a mighty wind sounds,
and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
3 Tongues, like fire, were seen distributed to them,
and sat on each one of them, 4 and all were filled with the Holy Spirit.
They began to speak in other tongues,
in whatever way the Spirit gave them the ability.
4 The Jews who inhabited Jerusalem at the time
were devout men from every nation under heaven.
5 When this sound came forth, the masses gathered, and were confused:
Each one of them was hearing their own dialect spoken to them.
6 They were astounded, and wondered aloud, “Look, aren’t all these speakers Galileans?
8 How is each of us hearing our own native dialect?
9 People from Iran, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Israel, eastern Turkey,
10 western Turkey, Egypt, the Cyrenian part of Libya, visitors from Rome,
11 Jews and Jewish converts, Cretans and Arabs
—we hear them speaking of God’s might in our own languages!”
12 All were astounded and stunned. Some asked one another, “What caused this?”
13 Others said, joking, “They’ve been drinking port.”

Lots of Christians call this story the “first Pentecost.” It wasn’t. Pentecost comes from the Greek pentikostí iméra/“50th day.” It’s the Greek term for the Hebrew festival of Shavuót/“Weeks,” the first crop of the wheat harvest. Ex 34.22 From the first day the Hebrews began to harvest wheat, the LORD ordered Moses to have ’em count off seven weeks, or 49 days. Dt 16.9-12 On the last day they were to sacrifice some of the grain to God, and take a day off in celebration. Nu 28.26 Somehow, the first day of the wheat harvest became formally shifted to the first day after Passover, meaning Weeks is the 50th day after Passover—6 Sivan in the Hebrew calendar. (In ours, 14 May 2016.)

All male Jews were instructed to go to temple on Pentecost. Dt 16.16 Meaning Jerusalem was full of devout Jews at the time, bringing the LORD their grain offerings—and suddenly a house full of Galileans broke out in every language they knew, spoken as if to them personally. That got their attention.

04 May 2016

Covenant: How God makes our relationship official.

Despite what you may have heard, it’s not just an extra-special contract.

Covenant /'kəv.ən.ənt/ n. Committed, intentional relationship. The parties who enter such relationships spell out the duties of one to the other, made with firm, binding promises.
2. v. To enter such a relationship.
[Covenantal /kəv.ən'ənt.əl/ adj.]

Our culture, including popular Christian culture, seldom understands the significant difference between “covenant” and “contract.” Usually because of marriage.

Seriously. Y’see, back when there was no such thing as separation of church and state, the government formally recognized various religious covenants: Baptisms, christenings, marriages, religious vows, and so forth. After the United States decided it was in our best interest (particularly the church’s best interest) for government to remain neutral, our governments nevertheless still kept marriage on the books. Because it comes in handy to know who is married to whom—for the purposes of inheritance, next of kin and spousal consent, parental rights and responsibility and custody, and so forth. (Plus there are tax breaks.) But the problem is our laws don’t legally define any covenant between the two… because a covenant’s about the nature of their relationship. All government does is recognize the legal contract between them. One which, as you know, our governments can easily dissolve. Or redefine, to the outrage of many.

So when your average Christian tries to define covenant, such as one of the many covenants between God and his people in the scripture, they tend to think of marriage. And tend to forget the concept of “marriage” they have in their brains… ain’t necessarily a covenant. Sometimes it is, because they remember it’s a formal relationship. And sometimes it’s not, because they forget the relationship part, and instead emphasize the idea it’s binding.

Of course it’s binding. The people who covenant together don’t merely intend to work together. They intend to be bound together, for life. Like a proper marriage, not a government-defined marriage.

God is relational. He wants a close personal connection between himself and his creation. But God is love, so he doesn’t wish any of his relationships to be a casual, go-as-you-please, Facebook-style friendship. No relationships of convenience: Those are impatient and self-serving, and neither of those things are love. God wants commitment. He wants to bind himself together with us. Hence he makes covenants.

This is why throughout the bible, heavily emphasized, we’ll find covenants. God makes ’em with everyone. He made one with Noah, Ge 6.18 Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Ge 17 Jacob, Ex 2.24 the entire nation of Israel, Dt 5.2-3 and anyone who joins Israel and willingly adopts the terms of God’s covenant. Is 56.6-7 Really, he’s made covenants with all of humanity, Ge 9.15 which is why he has every right to rule and judge us.

And of course we Christians recognize Jesus’s new covenant, in which God’s relationship with his followers involves giving us his Holy Spirit, and that we follow him instead of the stipulations spelled out in the Law. (Although since the Holy Spirit inspired the Law, 2Ti 3.16 we don’t disregard the Law! We simply recognize he supersedes it.)

God continually initiates these relationships because he wants his creations to become his children. He wants to interact with us, and be our loving God. Lv 26.12 He’s always wanted this. It’s why he created us humans in the first place. Our sin messed things up, and ever since, God’s been trying to put things back together.

20 April 2016

The Judean senate.

The folks who ran Judea… and condemned Jesus to death.

Something Americans need to be reminded of, from time to time: Ancient Israel was never a democracy.

  • Originally it was a patriarchy, run by the male heads of the Hebrew families: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
  • Then the Egyptians took over and enslaved ’em.
  • Then the LORD rescued ’em from Egypt. So it became a theocracy, where God and his commands ruled Israel… with Moses and the judges serving as the LORD’s deputies.
  • Then monarchy here on out: The rule of kings. The people wanted kings; the LORD gave ’em kings. In theory the kings were to function the same as the judges, with the LORD really in charge. In practice they did whatever the heck they wanted.
  • Then foreign kings: The Babylonian emperors, Persian emperors, Greek emperors, Egyptian kings, Seleucid kings. Each of ’em put governors, like Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, over the Galilee, Samaria, and Judea.
  • Back to local kings: The Maccabees overthrew the Seleucids and put the head priests in charge, who accepted the title “king” and ruled till Herod 1 toppled them.
  • Back to foreign kings: Augustus Caesar took over from the Herods, and the Romans ruled till the caliphs conquered Jerusalem in 638. And so we move into the middle ages and Crusades.

In Jesus’s day, the Romans emperor was king. The Caesars appointed governors—military prefects like Pontius Pilate, puppet kings like the Herods, and procurators—to represent Rome’s interests, and make sure the locals didn’t do anything which’d interfere with taxes and “peace,” as the Romans defined peace. Everything else was left in the hands of upper-class locals: The head priests, the leaders of the older and wealthier families, the “elders” of Israel.

In Latin, “elder” is senex, and that’s where they got the word for their council of elders, senatus. It wasn’t an elected body, like our senates. It consisted of Roman nobles. Those who had the most to lose if the fortunes of Rome changed. The Roman Republic was an oligarchy, ran by the upper class. And when the emperors took over, and commandeered many of the senate’s powers, they still sought the senate’s advice and consent.

Well, Judea had a similar senate. After the Persians permitted Jewish exiles to return and rebuild Jerusalem, Persian governors organized the elders into a governing council, loosely based on the 70 elders of Israel in Moses’s day. Ex 24.1 By the first century this synédrion (Greek for “seated together,” which the Mishnah translated sanhédrin) consisted of 71 people: Seventy elders of Judea, supposedly representing the great Judean families; and the head priest, its naší/“president.”

This is the group which ran Judea in the New Testament… under the suspicious eye of the Romans.

08 March 2016

The cycle: The good old days, and the dark times.

Why history repeats itself.

Cycle. /'saɪ.kəl/ n. Series of events, regularly repeated in the same order.
2. [biblical] The repeating history of apostasy, oppression, revival, and salvation.
[Cyclical /'sɪ.klə.kəl/ adj.]

History repeats itself.

Most people figure it’s for the reason philosopher George Santayana famously stated: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” More accurately it’s that people didn’t learn from the past. They remember it just fine. But they think this time, they’ll get it right. The disasters of the past? People were naïve back then. We’re more intelligent, more evolved now. They failed, but we’ll succeed.

Then we don’t. ’Cause history repeats itself.

The usual form of this repetition is an up-and-down cycle. Historians call it all sorts of different things. An economic boom, followed by a period of downturn. An era of good feelings, followed by serious partisanship. A gilded age, followed by a panic. Good times, bad times, you know we’ve had our share.

We see the cycle in the bible as well. Different Christians call it different things. Often it’s the “cycle of sin” or “cycle of judgment” or “cycle of discipline”—something pessimistic. Since it’s an up-and-down cycle, some of us throw in the up side as well as the down: The “cycle of sin and repentance.” Regardless most Christians include the word cycle.

Looks like yea:


Round and round and round ya go.

Again, the steps and titles change depending on who’s making the chart. Sometimes all the phases cleverly start with the same letter, or spell out a word. (I don’t bother.) I have seven.

16 February 2016

Patriarchy: When fathers ruled the earth.

The system of government we find in Genesis—which some try inflicting on their own families.

Patriarchy. /'peɪ.tri.ɑrk.i/ n. System of government where the father, or eldest male, is ruler.
2. System wherein women are largely excluded from positions of authority.
[Patriarchal /'peɪ.tri.ɑr.kəl/ adj.]

When people talk about patriarchy nowadays, they tend to mean the second definition above: Women can’t seem to find their way into any official or significant positions of leadership. They can have unofficial power, like a First Lady; they can have insignificant power, like being in charge of cleaning the break room. (Gee, what an honor.) But never any serious authority; the “old boys’ network” keeps shutting them out.

Because the “old boys” don’t wanna work with women. Especially don’t wanna work for women. Doesn’t matter the reasons; they’re all different forms of sexism. It’s a way-too-common problem in the present day. But actually sexism isn’t what this article is about. (Not primarily. Sexism doesn’t have to be part of patriarchy. Problem is… it nearly always is.)

What I’m writing about is the first definition: The system of government we see among the ancient Hebrews, in the families of Noah, Abraham, and Jacob before the Law was handed down; and to a lesser degree the system we see in families thereafter. Before there were judges and kings, before there were cities and nations and empires, before there was anything, there were families. The families were led and ruled by the father or eldest male: The patriarch.

Now, we Americans grew up under democracy. When we’re in a situation where there’s no leadership, we figure, “Okay, we’ll take a vote”—all of us are equal, so the majority should rule, right? If one of us tries to seize power, we object, ’cause that’s not fair. But that’s because we were raised to be democratic. The ancients weren’t. Popular vote didn’t rule the day; the strongest or loudest or most dangerous did. This is Darwinism at its simplest.

The one best able to strike down his foes was usually the physically strongest; the man. And in order to maintain power, patriarchy was the system these men put into place. The man, the father of the family, the paterfamilias, ruled. They taught their kids this was the way things worked. So whereas our culture falls back on democracy to decide things, theirs fell back on patriarchy.

Not egalitarian, where spouses get an equal say. Not democratic, where the kids get a vote too. It was a dictatorship. What the patriarch decided was how things were. No one to overrule him, no constitution to say he violated civil rights, no legislature to control his behavior, no police to stop him. If he decided he was taking a second or third or hundredth wife, he did. If he forbade his daughter from marrying a certain man, she had to obey. If he ordered his son put to death for disobedience, off with his head. Seriously.

And there are a number of Christians who read about these “good old days” in the bible, and wouldn’t mind returning to them. Oh, I’ll get to them.

24 December 2015

“Silent years”: Did God once turn off his miracles?

What proof do Christians have of an absentee God? Only the lack of books between testaments. Which is hardly enough.

It’s usually round Christmas that preachers start talking about “the silent years,” or “the 400 silent years,” and how the annunciations of John the Baptist and Christ Jesus mark the end of them.

As it’s taught, for roughly four centuries between the writing of Malachi, “the closing of the Old Testament canon,” and Gabriel’s appearance to John’s dad, God was silent. He had no prophets—’cause if he did, the prophet would’ve written a book, but no prophets wrote a book, ergo no prophets. And he did no miracles—’cause if he had, someone would’ve written a book about it, but nobody wrote one, so nothing happened. If those 400 years weren’t silent, we’d have more books of the bible.

(Um… what about the books of prophets, and of divine doings, among the apocrypha, which were written during that 400-year period? Oh, insist these preachers, they’re mythology. They don’t count.)

Okay, first let me clear up one minor little mistake. The last book written of the Old Testament was more than likely 2 Chronicles, not Malachi. It’s what we find in the Hebrew book order: Malachi is bunched together with the middle books, called the Prophets, which the Pharisees accepted as canon before they accepted the last-written books, the Writings (Chronicles included among them). To be fair, they were both likely written round the same time, but still: 2 Chronicles last.

Now the way bigger mistake: The entire idea of “silent years” contradicts the scriptures. You knew I was gonna get to that, didn’tcha?

10 December 2015

The Pharisees: Those in the first century who followed God.

Nowadays it’s just another synonym for “hypocrite.” Just like, all too often, “Christian.”

Pharisee /'fɛr.ə.si/ n. Adherent of a first-century denomination of the Hebrew religion, which emphasized the widespread teaching of the Law.
2. A hypocrite. [Thanks to Jesus’s regular condemnation of hypocrites among the Pharisees.]
[Pharisaic /fɛr.ə'seɪ.ɪk/ adj., Pharisaism /fɛr.ə'seɪ.ɪz.əm/ n.]

People nowadays don’t really know much about the Pharisees—other than that they opposed Jesus an awful lot, and that he called ’em hypocrites right back. Mt 23.13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29 So there’s a lot of false information floating around about ’em. Stuff like this:

  • “But they were hypocrites.” Yeah, some of ’em were. Otherwise Jesus wouldn’t have had to denounce that tendency in them. But be fair: A lot of us Christians are hypocrites. A lot of us humans are hypocrites. Hypocrisy is universal. Singling out the Pharisees just means we’re gonna ignore our own tendencies towards fake behavior.
  • “They were legalists.” Pharisees were all about teaching the Law, and as a result Christians assume they were legalist—that they thought God would save them because they perfectly followed the Law. Thing is, if that were true, John the Baptist wouldn’t have to shout at them to stop sinning, and taking their salvation for granted just because they were Abraham’s descendants. Mt 3.7-10 Because—just like us Christians—some were legalists… and some were libertines, who figured God forgives all, so do as you please.
  • “It’s not a denomination; it’s a political party.” Flavius Josephus called ’em that, and it’s easy to see why: There was no separation of church and state (make that temple and state) back then. When that’s the case, denominations seek power just like political parties do—whether it’s Calvinists and Anabaptists in medieval Geneva, Puritans and Traditionalists in early modern England, Catholics and Protestants in northern Ireland, or Pharisees and Sadducees in ancient Israel. They were both.
  • “They universally hated Jesus.” We all know exceptions, like Nicodemus. We also forget: Every synagogue Jesus taught in was a Pharisee synagogue. His title, rabbí/“master,” was a Pharisee title. His apostle Paul, who wrote a big chunk of the New Testament, continued to call himself Pharisee. Ac 23.6 Many Pharisees didn’t care for him, but we certainly can’t say all.

As you know from your Old Testament, the Hebrews kept falling into the Cycle, a repeating bit of history where God’s followers fall away from him, then return to him. They sucked at passing the Law down to their children. Their next generation would grow up semi-pagan, the generation after that would be full-on pagan: Within 40 years Israel would be lawless, and the LORD would withdraw his protection, and their enemies would take a crack at ’em. Whereupon they’d repent, cry out to the LORD, he’d send them a savior, and they’d follow the LORD and his Law again. And the Cycle would repeat.

Pharisaism was meant to break the Cycle.