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Showing posts with the label #Background

Timekeeping in ancient Israel.

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The calendar most of the planet uses, called either the western calendar or the Gregorian calendar, originated in 1582 when Pope Gregory 13 introduced it as an update of the Roman calendar adopted by Julius Caesar in 45 BC . Since Gregory introduced it right after the Protestant split, it took a while before all Protestant countries adopted it. Various Orthodox churches still haven’t adopted it, preferring to stick with Caesar’s calendar, ’cause it’s not Catholic. Meanwhile nations which aren’t even predominantly Christian—’cause of western influences or trade— do use it. As well as their own local calendars. Japan, fr’instance. Israel likewise uses the western calendar. And its local calendar, the one which predates the western calendar by centuries: The Hebrew calendar. That’s the calendar we find in the bible. It’s what we call a lunisolar calendar : It’s lunar, in that months start on the new moon. But it’s adjusted to sync up with solar years, so that the year always

Pentecost.

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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 sp

Messianic prophecies.

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Messianic prophecies are the scriptures in the Old Testament which are about messiah. And by messiah (Hebrew מָשׁיִחַ / mešíyakh , “anointed [one]”) the scriptures mean somebody who’s put in a high authoritative position. Like head priests Ex 40.15 or the king. 1Sa 9.16 But over time messiah simply came to mean king —the guy the L ORD chose to lead Israel, or at least Jerusalem and Judea. And when he became king, there’d be a ritual ceremony where someone dumped a hornful of oil (maybe about a liter) all over the new king, representing the L ORD pouring out his Spirit upon the king… assuming the king bothered to listen to the L ORD any. Most didn’t. So since messiah means king , every king of ancient Samaria and Jerusalem—yes, even the rotten ones like Ahab ben Omri, Jeroboam ben Nabat, and Saul ben Kish—was a messiah. Seriously. In fact every time David ben Jesse was given the chance to kill Saul, or have him killed, he’d refuse—because Saul was messiah. 1 Samuel

The legality of Jesus’s trial.

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When you read the gospel of John , but skip the other three gospels, y’might get the idea Jesus never even had a trial. In that book: Jesus gets arrested. He’s taken right to the former head priest Annas’s house for an unofficial trial. From there, to Joseph Caiaphas’s house. Then to Pontius Pilate’s fortress. Then to Golgotha. No conviction, no sentence; just interviews followed by execution. Same as would be done in any country with no formal judicial system: They catch you, they interrogate you, they free or shoot you. But both Judea and Rome did have a formal system; John doesn’t show it because the other gospels do, and John was written to fill in the gaps in their stories. They have the story of Jesus’s formal trials. There were two: The one before the Judean senate, and the other before the Roman prefect. The senate, presided over by head priest Caiaphas, found Jesus guilty of blasphemy and sedition. In contrast Pontius publicly stated he didn’t f

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

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It’s usually round Christmas when 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 that era. 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, the Holy Spirit was silent. He stopped talking to prophets, and had none. ’Cause if he did, these prophets would’ve written a book, right? But no prophets wrote a book, ergo no prophets. And during these “silent years,” it’s claimed the Spirit likewise stopped doing miracles. ’Cause if he had, again, someone would’ve written a book about it. But nobody wrote one, so nothing miraculous musta 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 the Spirit’s activity, in the apocrypha? You realize they were written during that 400-year period. But the

Pseudepigrapha: Influential ancient Jewish fanfiction.

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PSEUDEPIGRAPHUM su.də'pɪ.ɡrə.fəm noun . A document definitely not written by the author it claims, nor in the time it claims. Sometimes fraud; sometimes fanfiction. 2. A Jewish writing ascribed to one of the patriarchs or prophets of bible times, but actually written after 200 BC . [Plural, pseudepigrapha su.də'pɪ.ɡrə.fə noun ; pseudepigraphic su.de.pɪ'ɡræ.fɪk adjective .] The bible isn’t the only ancient Israeli book in history. Same as today—though certainly not in the same volume as today—tons of books were written, distributed, and became popular. And same as today, many were about God. Were they as Spirit-inspired as the bible? Nah. That’s why they’re not included. For some, like the apocrypha, for a while they were included in the bible. Ancient Christians certainly thought they were bible, ’cause they were in the Septuagint and in the Vulgate, i.e. their bibles. In the article on the apocrypha, I went over why Protestants don’t include ’em in our

Kings.

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So I wrote about how human government in the bible started with patriarchy. So where’d kings come from? Simple: One powerful patriarch got all the other families in the area to acknowledge his rule and his family’s rule. Maybe by bullying and conquering them. Maybe by doing them massive favors, like rescuing them from raiders, helping them survive famine, Ge 47.13-26 building a walled city and letting ’em live in it, being the priest of the local god; stuff like that. Hence we see kings all over the bible. Properly defined, a king is simply a hereditary ruler. Nothing more. ’Cause every so often I hear some preacher claim the Hebrew word מֶ֑לֶךְ / melékh , “king,” means something more different or profound than Eurasian or African or Pacific kings. Sometimes ’cause they notice it’s a similar word to מַלְאָךְ / malákh , “angel,” and think there’s a connection there. There’s not. There is no deeper meaning to melékh ; it means “king” whether it’s describing Israeli kings, Canaa

Passover: When God saved the Hebrews.

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“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 this 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, ’cause there’s no temple in Jerusalem to ritually 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 even celebrat

The Judean senate.

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The Judean senate. 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, Joseph, and their descendants. That is, till the Egyptians took over and enslaved ’em. Then the L ORD rescued Israel’s descendants from Egypt. So Israel became a theocracy , where God and his commands ruled Israel… with Moses and the judges serving as the L ORD ’s deputies. Of course, since the judges weren’t proper kings, Israelis fell back on patriarchy, ruled as they pleased, didn’t obey God, and triggered the cycle time and again. Read Judges . It’s a mess. Then monarchy , the rule of kings. The people wanted the stability of human kings (such as it is), so the L ORD gave ’em kings. In theory these kings were to function the same as judges, with the L ORD really in charge. In practice they ruled as they pleased, same as the patriarchs. Then forei

Jesus’s crucifixion.

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Ever bang your funny bone? That’s the ulnar nerve. The equivalent in the leg is the tibial nerve. About 26 to 24 centuries ago, humans in the middle east figured out the most painful way to kill someone: Take four nails. Put one through each of these nerves. Then hang a victim, by these nails, from whatever—a wall, a tree, a pole, a cross. If you stretch out their limbs, it’ll squeeze their lungs. They’ll find it extremely hard to breathe. Can’t inhale unless they actually push themselves up by their pierced ankles, and pull themselves up by their pierced wrists. And each pull feels like they’ve taken these nerves and crushed them with a hammer, all over again. Leave ’em like that, to die slowly, by asphyxiation. It might take all day. Multiple days, if the person has a strong enough will to live. But they’ll die eventually, in agony. There’s no real way to stop the constant pain. It’s so intense, Latin-speakers had invented a new word to describe it: Excruciare , from which

“Suffered under Pontius Pilate.”

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In both the Nicene and Apostles Creed, a Roman governor gets mentioned by name—specifically so the creeds can cement Christ Jesus’s death at a specific point in history: Σταυρωθέντα τε ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἐπὶ Ποντίου Πιλάτου / stavrothénta te ypér epí Pontíu Pilátu , “and he was crucified for us under Pontíus Pilátus.” This was the guy who ruled Jerusalem and Judea on behalf of Rome for a decade, from the years 26 to 36. The way Romans did names was family name ( nomen ) first, so in English he’d actually be Pilatus Pontius. But English-speakers just tend to call him by his cognomen , his nickname: Pilate. Pontius was the fifth governor of Judea. The reason we know so much more about him than his predecessors or successors, is obviously ’cause Jesus was executed under his rule. We know of him from the gospels, from Flavius Josephus, from Philo of Alexandria, and from Publius Cornelius Tacitus. The Pilate stone, on display in Jerusalem. Wikimedia Plus in 1961 archaeologist Antoni

When’d the events of the bible take place?

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Humanity largely uses the Gregorian calendar, Pope Gregory’s 1582 update of the Julian calendar, which was Julius Caesar’s 46 BC update of the old Roman calendar, which according to legend was an update of Romulus’s 10-month 360-day calendar. So, y’know, it’s clearly not the calendar Moses used. Add to this the fact the bible’s authors didn’t really tie their events to specific dates. They rarely said, “On the , such-and-so gave this prophecy….” Didn’t occur to them to be this kind of exact. That’s a western priority, and one a lot of today’s middle easterners share. But it’s not an ancient middle eastern one. Doesn’t make a story more true, or feel more real and less mythological or fairy-taleish, when you can begin with an exact date instead of “Once upon a time.” This lack of dates makes westerners bonkers: We wanna know when these events happened! What year did the Exodus take place? What year did Abraham die? When’d Noah’s flood happen? We want details , dangit. But hon

Tithing: Enjoying one’s firstfruits with God.

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TITHE taɪð noun One-tenth. 2. verb. Set aside a tenth of something, either as savings or as a charitable donation. 3. verb. Give [either a tenth, or any variable amount] to our church. Most Christians define tithe as a donation to one’s church. But what we donate is pretty variable. Might be $20 a week, or $100 a month, or two hours of volunteer work (i.e. cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming the carpets, sterilizing the toys in the nursery… you do sterilize the toys regularly, right? Babies put ’em in their mouths ). It’s whatever we regularly donate, although some of us aren’t all that regular about it. But for small churches, what we collectively donate isn’t always enough to cover our church’s expenses. Nor does it allow us to give pastors a stipend, or do much charity work… or pay the utilities or rent. Which is why Christian preachers so often feel they should remind us the word “tithe” comes from the Saxon teóða , “tenth”: It means a tenth of something. And t

Did Paul write all his letters in the bible?

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Most figure yes. A minority say no. Here’s why. There’s a type of ancient literature called pseudepigrapha su.də'pɪ.ɡrə.fə which means “fake writings.” Basically it’s stuff which claims it’s written by someone, namely someone from the bible… and it’s not; it’s Jewish or Christian fanfiction. It’s like the book of 1 Enoch , which was supposedly written by Enoch ben Methuselah, and obviously wasn’t. (Couldn’t have been. Dude didn’t speak Hebrew!) And yet people knew of the book; Jesus’s brother Jude straight-up quoted it. In the bible . In our bible. Why did people write such things? Well like I said, fanfiction. They wanted to teach their ideas, and figured the best way to do it was with a book supposedly written by an Old Testament or New Testament saint. Sometimes they wanted people to really believe it was written by that saint, so they’d take the book seriously. Sometimes they were okay with people knowing better. Problem is, people would believe that saint wrote tha

Who wrote “the books of Moses”?

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The first five books of the bible are commonly called “the books of Moses.” They’re also called תּוֹרָ֣ה / Toráh , meaning “Law,” because the Law’s in them; Greek and English speakers also call them Pentateuch , which comes from πέντε τεῦχος / pente téfhos , “five tools.” (I know; people regularly claim “Pentateuch” means “five books”—and they don’t know Greek, so of course they get that wrong. “Book/scroll” in Greek is βίβλος / vívlos , the word we got “bible” from.) I tend to call these books Torah, as I will throughout this article. They are: ENGLISH NAME WHICH MEANS HEBREW NAME WHICH MEANS Genesis beginning Berešít at the beginning Exodus mass departure Šemót names Leviticus of the Levites Vayiqrá and he called Numbers numbers; duh Bamidbár in the wilderness Deuteronomy second law Devarím words Hebrew names tend to come from the first word of a book or psalm, and the Torah’s book titles come from verse 1 of each book. The English names are translations of

The Deuteronomistic history.

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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. The authors felt the story, and God, was way more important than their own names. Anyway

Who wrote the bible?

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A lot of times, we don’t know. And that’s okay. No, the answer’s not “God.” The bible was written by prophets , people who heard from God and shared what they heard. Out of humility, some of ’em didn’t necessarily describe themselves as prophets, but all the same, that’s what they are: Their God-experiences inspired them to write about him, and thus we have the books and letters which make up our bible. “God wrote it” is the short answer people give when we’ve no clue how God works. We assume God did with his prophets the same as he did with Moses: He stated a bunch of things, and the prophets took dictation like a secretary. Or they assume how the Holy Spirit “inspired” the authors was to work the prophets’ hands like a puppeteer with a marionette, and made them write the bible. Generally they’ve got micromanagerial ideas about how God works, and figure had to take absolute physical control of the circumstances to guarantee we have the bible he wanted… ’cause he didn’t tru