Read your bible, go to church.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 December

Yesterday I wrote about resolving to be religious, and how reading one’s bible and attending small groups simply won’t be enough.

Problem is, among American Evangelicals, that’s what we’re taught whenever we talk about getting more religious. “Oh, you wanna get closer to God? Then you need to read your bible and go to church.” And pray, but y’might notice not as many Evangelicals will bring up prayer—partly because they presume you’re already praying for more God; partly because they themselves do the bible thing and the church thing, but not so much the prayer thing. Usually because their prayers are still unidirectional… but that’s a whole other tangent, and best you just read the article on that.

But as you’re fully aware, plenty of Christians already read bible and go to church… for all the good it does ’em. You might already read bible and go to church, and you know firsthand it’s not doing it for you. You know more bible trivia and doctrine, but you want Jesus, and the fan club meetings are fun, but they’re most definitely no backstage pass.

The key, like I said, is obedience. You wanna grow closer to Jesus? Do as he teaches. Don’t just memorize it, then just find excuses for not doing putting it into practice. Do it. Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him.

That said, you know how Evangelicals say we gotta read bible and go to church? They’re right. Read your bible. And go to church.

Because once you’re actually obeying Jesus, you’re suddenly gonna find bible and church become way more useful and profound. See, bible and church can be good in and of themselves, but if you wanna activate them, you gotta start living the Christian life. It’s like buying a microwave oven and refrigerator, but you never plug them in, and you’ve been using them as storage cabinets. “Why is my food never hot nor cold?” Um… y’know that electricity stuff you’ve been using for the lights?

Resolve to be more religious.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 December

Too many conservative Evangelicals have been fed the false idea religion is a dirty word—that it means dead religion, where we only go through the motions instead of loving Jesus. So here’s the obligatory paragraph where I remind you: Religion is all the stuff we do to facilitate loving and following Jesus. If loving Jesus isn’t the whole point, it’s bad religion; if following Jesus isn’t happening, stop doing it!

With this in mind, one of a Christian’s resolutions—not only for the new year, but for all time—is we oughta get religious. Or more religious. Where we are isn’t good enough. Nor should we ever think of it as good enough. We must always strive to follow Jesus better.

Yeah, lemme throw in this caveat for the Evangelicals who get all paranoid about works righteousness: I’m not talking about being good enough for salvation. I’m fully aware salvation is by God’s grace; it’s a free gift we don’t earn. The point of being more religious is not, and never should be, so we can rack up more good-karma points so when we stand before Jesus at the End, we can tell him, “See Lord?—I did this, that, and t’other thing. Jewels please.” Frankly this idea of doing good deeds only to earn heavenly rewards, is just a variant of Mammonism and needs to be denounced more often. We don’t practice religion so we can get stuff. We do it for Jesus—we love him and wanna be closer to him, and the only way to do this is by obeying him.

So we need to obey him! And obey him more often. Not just when we remember, “Oh yeah, didn’t Jesus say something about this somewhere in the red letters?” Not only when the pastor brings up a random Jesus verse in a sermon. Not solely when we already want to behave a certain way, but we need a bible verse to support the behavior, so we’re proof-texting a defense. Preferably we obey Jesus all the time.

But obeying Jesus requires self-control. Self-discipline. Which means we gotta develop self-control… which because it’s self-control, means we gotta do it. Won’t just happen on its own.

We gotta get disciplined about how we follow Jesus. We need to practice the things which encourage good fruit and goodness in general. We need to love our neighbors better; certainly better than the apathetic “Well I don’t wish them harmwe practice more often. Way better than the toxic “tough love” bullpucky which too many Christians fall into.

The usual way Christians encourage us to follow Jesus better, is by getting involved in a small group and following a bible-reading plan. As if going to bible study, and reading lots of bible, is gonna trigger goodness. While I’m all for interacting with fellow Christians and reading lots of bible—the better to get familiar with it!—of course it’s not gonna trigger good deeds. Plenty of Christians go to small groups and read bible… and are the same royal dickweeds they’ve always been. Didn’t make ’em better; it only made ’em think, “Well of course I follow Jesus, ’cause I read my bible and go to a bible study.”

Nope; reading isn’t enough. We have to obey it.

TXAB’s bible-reading plan.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 December

Whenever the new year approaches, Christians resolve to read the bible. The entire bible, not just the parts we like best: Genesis to maps, as the old joke goes. (See, when you buy a bible in print, most of them have maps of Israel and the Roman Empire in the back. Yes, explaining the joke makes it less funny. Yes, deliberately making the joke less funny is ironically funny. Yes, this is metahumor. I’ll stop now.)

Christians tend to pick up a bible-reading plan of some sort, and most of the time it goes through the scriptures in a year. Which, I insist, is far too long. I prefer you do it in a month. Yes it’s totally possible; the bible’s a big fat inspired book anthology, but it doesn’t take an entire year to read. What book do you take an entire year to read?—unless you chop it into bite-size bits so small you’re spiritually starving. No wonder so many Christians lose track and lose interest.

Now if a month seems too extreme for you (especially if you don’t read), y’know what you could do: Read the bible at your own speed. Read it till you’re done. However long it takes you to get it done. Might be three months. Maybe two. Then again you might surprise yourself and finish it in one.

That’s where TXAB’s bible-reading plan comes in. It’ll help you read it at whatever speed you’re going.

Resolutions: Our little stabs at self-control.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 December

Speaking for myself, I’m not into new year’s resolutions.

Because I make resolutions the year round. Whenever I recognize changes I need to make in my life, I get to work on ’em right away. I don’t procrastinate till 1 January. (Though I admit I may procrastinate just the same. But not ’cause I’m saving up these changes for the new year.)

Here’s the problem with stockpiling all our lifestyle changes till the new year: Come 1 January, we wind up with a vast pile of changes to make. It’s hard enough to make one change; now you have five. Or 50, depending on how great of a trainwreck you are. Multiplying your resolutions, multiplies your difficulty level.

But hey, it’s an American custom. So at the year’s end a lot of folks, Christians included, begin to think about what we’d like to change about our lives.

Not that we want to change. Some of us don’t! But it’s New Year’s resolution time, and everyone’s asking what our resolutions are, and some of us might grudgingly try to come up with something. What should we change? Too many carbohydrates? Not enough exercise? Sloppy finances? Non-productive hobbies? Too many bucket list items not checked off?

Since our culture doesn’t really do self-control, you might notice a lot of Americans’ resolutions aren’t really about breaking bad habits, but adding new habits—good or bad. We’re not gonna eat less, but we are gonna work out more often. We’re not gonna cut back on video games at all, yet somehow we’re gonna find the time to pray more often. You know—unrealistic expectations.

True, a lot of us vow to diet and exercise. Just as many of us will choose to learn gourmet cooking, or resolve to eat at fancier restaurants more often. (Well, so long that the fancier restaurants provide American-size portions. If I only wanted a six-ounce piece of meat I’d go to In-N-Out Burger.)

True, a lot of us will vow to cut back on our screen time—whether on computers, tablets, phones, or televisions. Just as many will decide time isn’t the issue; quality is. They’ll vow to watch better movies and TV shows. Time to binge-watch the shows the critics rave about. Time to watch classic movies instead of whatever Adam Sandler’s production company farts out. (I used to say “poops out,” but that implies they’re making an effort.) Sometimes it’s a clever attempt to avoid cutting back on screen time—’cause they already know they won’t. And sometimes they honestly never think about it; screens are a fact of life.

As Christians, a lot of us will resolve to be better Christians. We’ll pray more. Meditate more. Go to church more consistently; maybe join one of the small groups. Perhaps read more bible—even all the way through. Put more into the collection plate. Share Jesus more often with strangers and acquaintances. Maybe do some missions work.

All good intentions. Yet here’s the problem: It takes self-control to make any resolution stick. It’s why, by mid-March, all these resolutions are likely abandoned. So if we’re ever gonna stick to them, we gotta begin by developing everybody’s least-favorite fruit of the Spirit: Self-control.

St. Stephen, and true martyrdom.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 December

You may remember Στέφανος/Stéfanos “Stephen” from Acts 6-7. He’s not in the bible for very long, but he makes a big impact, ’cause he’s the first Christian to get killed for Jesus. Or martyred, as we put it, although properly martyrdom really only means giving one’s testimony. And hopefully not getting lynched for it.

Stephen’s feast day is actually today—26 December, the second day of Christmas. It’s the day good king Wenceslas looked down, if you know the Christmas carol; maybe you do. We have no idea whether Stephen literally died in December, much less whether it’s the 26th (or 27th, in eastern churches); it’s just where tradition happened to stick it. In some countries it’s an official holiday.

If you’ve read Acts, you know how he comes up. If not, I’ll recap.

In the ancient Hebrew culture, tithes weren’t money, but food. Every year you took 10 percent of your firstfruits and celebrated with it, Dt 14.22-27 and every third year you gave it to the needy. Dt 14.28-29 Apparently the first Christians took on this duty of distributing tithes to the needy. But they were accused of favoring Aramaic-speaking Christians over Greek-speaking ones, Ac 6.1 so the Twelve had the church elect seven Greek-speakers to make sure the Greek-speakers were served properly. Ac 6.2-3 Stephen was first in this list, and Acts’ author Luke pointedly called him full of faith and the Holy Spirit, Ac 6.5 full of God’s grace and power. Ac 6.8 Definitely a standout.

The first church still only consisted of Jews. Christianity was a Judean religion—the obvious difference between Christians and Pharisees being we believe Jesus is Messiah, and they believed Messiah hadn’t yet come. Otherwise the first Christians still went to temple and synagogue. It was in synagogue where Stephen got into trouble: The people of his synagogue dragged him before the Judean senate to accuse him of slandering Moses, temple, and the LORD. Custom made slandering Moses and the temple serious, but slandering the LORD coulda got you the death penalty… if the Romans hadn’t forbidden the Judeans from enacting it. But as you know from Jesus’s case, they could certainly get the Romans to execute you for them. So Stephen was hauled before the senate to defend himself.

Unlike Jesus, who totally admitted he’s Messiah, Stephen defended himself. His defense was a bible lesson: He retold the history of Israel, up to the construction of the temple. Ac 7.2-47 Then he pointed out God doesn’t live in a building, of all the silly things. Ac 7.48-50 Oh, by the way, the senate was a bunch of Law-breakers who killed Christ. Ac 7.51-53

More than one person has pointed out it’s almost like Stephen was trying to get himself killed. Me, I figure he was young and overzealous and naïve, and had adopted the American myth (centuries before we Americans adopted it) that if you’re on God’s side, no harm will ever befall you. You can bad-mouth your foes, and God’s hedge of protection will magically defend you when they turn round and try to punch you in the head. You can leap from tall buildings, and angels will catch you. You know, like Satan tried to tempt Jesus with. Mt 4.5-7

And that’s not at all how things turned out.

Stephen’s martyrdom.

Seeing a vision of Jesus at God’s side, and utterly tone-deaf to how he’d enraged the senate, Stephen shared this vision. Ac 7.54-56 But shouting and plugging their ears (yep, exactly like a little kid who does this and yells, “Nah nah nah can’t hear you!”) the senators rushed him, dragged him out of the chamber, dragged him out of the city, and illegally stoned him to death. Ac 7.57-58

The Romans had made it illegal for anyone but Romans to enact the death penalty, remember? That’s why the senate had to go to Pontius Pilate to get Jesus executed. Jn 18.28-32 But lynch mobs don’t care about law. Likely there was later hell to pay with the Romans, but Luke never got into that.

In a stoning, the practice was to drop the victim off a cliff—which would kill you—then drop heavy stones down on the body. If falling didn’t kill you, the stones would finish the job. It’s not like movies depict it, where people just throw fist-size rocks at you till one of ’em finally cracks your skull.

Seems the fall didn’t kill Stephen, because Luke recorded his last words: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” Ac 7.60 KJV Christians tend to self-righteously figure Stephen was in the right, so this was an act of grand forgiveness on his part. Me, I figure Stephen realized some of his own culpability in getting himself killed.

Either way he died, and Stephen’s death triggered the first serious persecution of Christians. It drove most of them out of Jerusalem, where the first church was headquartered. They began to spread Jesus wherever they went—throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Plus it brought Saul of Tarsus into the story as a persecutor—though after Jesus got hold of him and repurposed him into an apostle, we better know him by his Greek name Παῦλος/Pávlos, “Paul.”

To persecutors’ annoyance, they began to discover how killing Christians didn’t stop us from spreading. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” was a famous statement of second-century church father Tertullian of Carthage. Getting killed for Jesus makes heroes of us. People admire heroes.

Stephen’s death was a big deal because Stephen was a big deal. He “did great wonders and miracles among the people.” Ac 6.8 KJV People knew him as a strong, dedicated Christian. His death made an impact because people knew his character.

Contrast this to how people presume martyrdom works. They figure the big deal, the huge impact, comes from making that dying confession; of claiming to trust Jesus right before some gun nut shoots you, or bravely defying the antichrists who threaten to torture the skin off you. Stephen wasn’t any such person. He laid down his life for Christ Jesus a long time before his martyrdom.

’Cause dying for Jesus requires us to live for Jesus. The life makes the witness. The death only draws attention to it.

Bad martyrdoms.

A dying or defiant declaration is the easy way out. You can actually go your whole life long without following Jesus whatsoever… but because you confess him on your deathbed, you imagine this’ll gain you sainthood.

And Christians with this kind of rotten, cheap-grace attitude are largely the reason we have rubbish martyrs throughout Christian history. There are loads of irreligious, may-as-well-be-pagan, lousy Christians who didn’t live for Jesus whatsoever, who assumed (as Christians still do) when we “die for him” it’s like a billion karmic points, and makes up for all our evil. Hey, since we gave our lives for the cause, it should count towards heaven, right?

True, getting killed for any cause—even a wrongheaded or evil cause, as we see with suicide bombers—means certain people are gonna see you as heroes. But don’t assume martyrdom automatically makes a Christian righteous. It doesn’t in the least. Loads of Christian martyrs didn’t die for Jesus so much as die due to their own ignorance, stubbornness, arrogance, and stupidity. Some of ’em were even mentally ill.

We actually see some of this in certain church fathers. Some of ’em pursued death for Jesus’s sake. Sought out persecutors. Did nothing to stop pagans from killing them. Sometimes ’cause they decided a quick death was far better than being sold into slavery, which was the more common punishment. Or—when they were old and gonna die anyway—they figured it was best to go out in a blaze of glory for Jesus. In some cases the Holy Spirit legitimately forewarned ’em they weren’t gonna survive their arrest, so they made peace with the idea and stepped into it. But ordinarily? Those who desire martyrdom have a screw loose.

The words μαρτυρέω/martyréo and μάρτυς/mártys are Greek for “witness.” Your martyrdom isn’t significant because you died for Jesus. It’s because before your death you lived for him.

Look at Stephen: He testified he knew Jesus, saw Jesus, and recognized Jesus as an important influence in his life. What made Stephen’s death relevant was how his short life reflected this relationship. Now if you aren’t known in life for having anything to do with Jesus—if in fact you’re a rotten bastard, and were hoping a glorious death in his name redeems you—it doesn’t; it won’t. People may not recognize hypocritical martyrs for their hypocrisy, but God certainly does. Means nothing to him.

Yep, it’s a mockery of martyrdom, just like the suicide bombers who think blowing themselves up in God’s name will make up for a lifetime of sin, and get them into heaven.

And we don’t even earn heaven! Even Islam, which those ignorant suicide bombers think they’re dying for, teaches this: We’re only saved because God is gracious. You want heaven? He’ll give you heaven, free. You don’t have to die for it; Jesus already did that!

Too many Christians figure we can be jerks and our powerful testimony makes up for it. Really, it doesn’t work that way at all. Anybody remember Samson ben Manoah as a great man of God? Nope; we only remember him for having long hair, for being strong and violent, and for being horny and stupid. You want history to remember you as dumbass who died because your girlfriend nagged you into exposing your biggest weakness? ’Cause that’s Samson’s testimony now; not his trust in God. He had it, but we seldom to never talk about it.

Another phenomenon I’ve seen is when Christians unexpectedly lose a loved one—a kid, a parent, a good friend, whatever—and try to convert the loved one’s death into a martyrdom. The kid got murdered, so the parents begin to claim (sometimes with evidence, sometimes with none whatsoever) the murderer was only out to kill Christians, and their kid died “standing up for Jesus.” Or a Christian’s on vacation, dies in a traffic accident, and because she’s a Christian in a foreign land somehow this gets bent into “she was on the mission field” somehow, and died “in the field.” As happens every time someone dies, all good deeds get eulogized, all sins get forgotten, and they’re made to sound as saintly as possible. True, deaths can be tragic, but swapping real people for fake versions and mourning that? People grieve and seek comfort all sorts of ways, but lies and delusion is hardly a healthy method.

Well. You don’t have to be killed for Jesus in order to be a martyr. Remember, the word means “witness.” Live for Jesus. Share your testimonies. Demonstrate his work and teachings in your life. And if our lives for Jesus happen to irritate others for no good reason, and get us killed, that’s a proper martyrdom.

Working people up till they kill you in a fit of rage? Arguably Stephen wasn’t a proper martyr either. But he’s our first, and he was otherwise a good guy, so he at least merits a day on the calendar.

Pinpointing Messiah’s birthplace.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 December

Matthew 2.3-6.

Because the magi brought Jesus three gifts, Mt 2.11 people presume there were only three magi. We’ve no evidence of that. It seems way more likely there were a lot more magi than three. Three rich foreigners in Jerusalem would’ve caused a minor stir, ’cause rich people came to Jerusalem every day to go to temple. People therefore assume these guys came with massive entourages—dozens of camels per guy, hundreds of servants, as befit an oriental sultan. But again, these weren’t kings; they were magi seeking a king.

The actual king, Herod bar Antipater, wanted to know what this was all about, so he consulted his own wise men—the leaders of the Judean senate. This’d be the head priest, whom he appointed personally: Either Simon bar Boethus, Herod’s brother-in-law, who died that year; or Matthias bar Theophilus, who only served a year before Herod replaced him with Simon’s brother Joazar. The priests, whose field of expertise was the temple, not the Law, brought scribes with them.

Matthew 2.3-6 KWL
3 Hearing this agitates King Herod,
and all Jerusalem with him.
4 Gathering all the people’s head priests and scribes,
Herod is asking them, “Where’s Messiah born?”
5 They tell Herod, “In Bethlehem, Judea,
for this was written by the prophet:
6 ‘You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are in no way the least of Judah’s rulers.
For a leader will come from you
who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” Mi 5.2

For centuries, Pharisees had been collecting bible passages which they considered Messianic prophecies, which they believed foretold a great king who’d take over Israel, conquer the world, and inaugurate God’s kingdom. True, some of these “prophecies” were great big stretches. This one, which comes from Micah, isn’t really a stretch. Yeah, there are gonna be people who insist Micah was really talking about King David ben Jesse, who was also born in Bethlehem; that was the leader—a literal shepherd!—who eventually shepherded Israel. But no, Micah wasn’t speaking of David. He was speaking of a king like David, who’d rule till the end of the world. Mc 5.4 A much greater king.

Pharisees believed in a coming Messiah, but Sadducees didn’t—and the head priest, his family, and the chief priests who worked under him, were almost entirely Sadducee. But they weren’t unaware of what Pharisees believed, so when Herod asked ’em about Messiah, they could easily tell him what the Pharisees claimed: “Oh, he’s gonna be born in the next town over. In Bethlehem.”

The magi show up.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 December

Matthew 2.1-3.

A fact too many Christians forget is our words Messiah and Christ both mean king. We tend to translate these words literally—as “anointed [one]”—and forget what Jesus was anointed to do, and presume he was only anointed to save us from sin. He did that too, but he didn’t need any anointing for that. Anybody can do great things. But Hebrew and Christian custom is to anoint people to lead.

Because Messiah means king, you couldn’t just wander ancient Israel and call yourself Messiah. It’s a loaded title. It means you’re king. It also heavily implies the person who currently holds that job (unless he’s your dad and he arranged for your anointing, like King David ben Jesse did with his son Solomon 1Ki 1.32-40) is not king. Not the legitimate king, anyway. He’ll have to be overthrown.

In 5BC the king of Judea was Herod bar Antipater, and a lot of people were entirely sure he wasn’t the legitimate king. For the past century and a half the head priests had taken over the role of king, but 32 years before, the Romans made Herod king. He was neither a priest nor related to King David; he was an Idumean (i.e. Edomite) whose people had been grafted into Judea, and whose father worked for the Romans. God didn’t anoint him king; Marc Antony had.

And Herod was super paranoid about anyone who might try to overthrow him. ’Cause many had tried, and failed. Herod’s own family members, including his own kids, tried and failed. He knew the Judeans didn’t want him there. It’s why all his palaces were fortresses, in case he had to defend himself from his own countrymen; it’s why most of his bodyguard were Europeans, not fellow middle easterners. So you don’t wanna get on Herod’s bad side. Caesar Augustus used to joke he’d rather be Herod’s pig than his son. (Herod executed three of his sons, and since Judeans didn’t eat pork, Augustus’s comment was quite apt.)

How’d baby Jesus get on Herod’s bad side? Well, you might know parts of the story, and if you don’t I’m gonna analyze the story a bit. It begins with some people whom the KJV calls “wise men.” Contrary to the Christmas carols, these weren’t kings.

Matthew 2.1-3 KWL
1 At the time Jesus is born in Bethlehem, Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
look: Magi from the east come to Jerusalem,
2 saying, “Where’s the newborn king of the Judeans?
For we see his star in the east,
and we come to worship him.”
3 Hearing this agitated King Herod,
and all Jerusalem with him.

Triggering Herod was dangerous, but the magi didn’t know any better. More about Herod later, though if you want his backstory I already wrote about it.

These wise men are magi (Greek μάγοι/máyë) whom our nativity crêches tend to depict them as two white guys and a black guy, wearing either turbans or European-style gold crowns. Matthew states they came from the east, so they were Asian, not European and African. (“But they could’ve been Europeans and Africans who went east study with the magi!” Yeah, unlikely.) There’s also a common western assumption they were kings, but there’s no evidence of this.

King Herod the Worst.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 December

When Jesus was born, Judea was ruled by “Herod the Great,” as he’s commonly called. I don’t know who first gave him the title “the Great,” and loads of people—myself included—have pointed out the man was far from a great human being; he was a murderous tyrant. As achievements go, he did get way more done than the subsequent members of the Herod family. But in terms of character he’s the worst. Hence the title of this piece.

Lemme backtrack through history by way of introduction. So Isaac ben Abraham had two sons, Esau and Jacob. Jacob’s descendants became Israel, and Esau’s descendants became אֱדוֹם/Edom, a nation located just southeast of Judah, which likewise spoke Hebrew and likewise did a rotten job of worshiping the LORD. And yes, they did know and worship the LORD; one of Edom’s more devout examples was Job. Yes, that Job. The guy with the book about him. (No he didn’t live before Abraham’s day; that’s just a weird young-earth creationist belief. All the names in his book are Edomite, and his book was written in sixth-century Hebrew.) Edom had a really long history of being subservient to Israel: First it was conquered by King David ben Jesse, 2Sa 8.14 and made a tributary state to Israel. When Israel split into Ephraim in the north and Judah in the south, sometimes Edom was ruled by one, sometimes the other; either way they weren’t big fans of Israelis. They rejoiced when Babylon conquered Judah in the early 500s BC, and were annoyed when the Babylonian Jews returned to found Judea in the 400s.

In the 300s BC, the Edomites themselves were exiled from their land—shoved out by the conquering Nabatean Empire. They were forced to resettle west of their old land, in southern Judea. This land became Ἰδουμαία/Iduméa—which is simply the Greek word for Edom. In 110BC, king and head priest John Hyrcanus 1 of Judea decided to take the land back, conquered Idumea, and told the Idumeans—who are ethnically the same as Judeans, y’know—they could stay there only if they followed the Law. Historians like to describe it as forcibly assimilating them, but the Idumeans could’ve fled to Egypt you know. But they didn’t; they stayed. By Jesus’s day they had largely assimilated into the rest of Judea. They’re Jews now.

(Yeah, there are various Christians who claim Jordanians are descendants of the Edomites. They’re not. They are descendants of Abraham; just not through Esau.)

Anyway 37 years after the Judean conquest, an Edomite named ܗܶܪܳܘܕ݂ܶܣ/Horódos was born to a former governor of Idumea, Antipater bar Antipas, in 73BC. Herod (Greek Ἡρῴδης/Iródis, Latin Herodes) was Antipater’s second son. His mother was Kyprós, a Nabatean noblewoman related to King Aretas 3 of Nabatea. Historians sometimes call Herod an Arab because they confuse Edomites with Arabs, or speculate the Idumeans weren’t really Edomites, but only claimed to be so they could relocate in Judea. Conspiracy theories regardless, Herod was a descendant of Abraham on both sides.


by K.W. Leslie, 19 December

The Hebrew lunisolar calendar doesn’t sync with the western solar calendar. That’s why its holidays tend to “move around”: They don’t really. Passover is always on the same day, 15 Nisan, but in our calendar it wobbles back and forth between March and April. Likewise Hanukkah is always on the same days, 25 Kislev to 2 Tevet. But in the western calendar, in 2022, this’d be sundown 18 November to sundown 26 December.

Christians sometimes ask me where Hanukkah is in the bible, so I point ’em to this verse:

John 10.22 KJV
And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.

The “feast of the dedication” is Hanukkah. The word חֲנֻכָּה/khanukká (which gets transliterated all sorts of ways, and not just because of its extra-phlegmy kh sound) means “dedication.” Other bible translations make it more obvious—

John 10.22 NLT
It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication.

—because their translators didn’t want you to miss it, whereas other translators figure that’s on you.

Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday which celebrates the Hasmoneans’ rededication of the temple in 165BC.


by K.W. Leslie, 14 December

John 1.1-5.

I wrote about when God became human; now let’s look at God before he became human. Beginning with the beginning of the gospel of John.

John 1.1-5 KWL
1 In the beginning is the word,
and the word’s with God,
and the word is God.
2 This word is in the beginning with God.
3 Everything comes to be through the word,
and not one thing, nothing, comes to be without him.
4 What came to be though the word, is life.
Life’s the light of humanity.
5 Light shines in darkness,
and darkness can’t get hold of it.

“The word” which the author of John wrote of, exists at the beginning of creation, is with God, is God, and is the means by which everything is created.

And round 7BC, this word became a human we know as Christ Jesus of Nazareth.

Why’d the author of John (and for convenience we’ll just figure he’s the apostle John; he probably was) use “word” to describe the pre-incarnation Jesus? You realize this passage is the reason so many Christians are hugely fascinated by the word “word,” and have written endless stuff about the Word of God—some of it extremely profound and useful, and some of it sour horsepiss. I grew up hearing a lot of both.

The John passage tends to get translated in past tense: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” as the KJV has it. Which is fine; the beginning of time and creation of the cosmos did happen in our past. But most of this passage was written in the aorist tense, a verb tense which is neither past, present, nor future. It has no time connected to it; you have to figure its time from other verbs in the passage, or from context. Well for me, the context is καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος/ke Theós in o lóyos, “and the word is God.” He was God at creation, and never stopped being God; he is God—present tense. So, present tense.

Okay, now to the concept of λόγος/lóyos (or as Americans regularly mangle it, “logos”) which literally means “word.” Why’d John use it?

For centuries, Christians assumed lóyos comes from ancient Greek philosophy. Blame ancient gentile Christians: As non-Jews, they had no idea what Pharisees taught about the lóyos of God—or as it’s called in Aramaic, מימרא/memrá. But they did know Greek philosophy, and insisted on interpreting bible through the lens of their own culture. Christians still do the very same thing today… but that’s a whole other rant. Let’s get back to criticizing ancient Christian gentiles.

Ancient Greek philosophers had written a whole bunch of navel-gazing gibberish about the word lóyos. ’Cause they were exploring the nature of truth: What is it, how do we find it, how do we prove it, how do we recognize logical fallacies, and what’s the deal with words which can mean more than one thing? For that matter, what’s a “word” anyway? Is it just a label for a thing, or a substantial thing on its own? Maybe that’s why God can create things by merely saying a word. Ge 1.3 And so on.

Follow the Greek philosophers’ intellectual rabbit trails, and you’ll go all sorts of weird, gnostic directions. Which is exactly what gentile Christians did.

Now let’s practice some actual logic. John wasn’t a gentile; he was a Galilean Jew who grew up attending, and getting educated by, Pharisee synagogues. So let’s look at that culture: What’d Pharisees teach about what a memrá is and means? And it turns out Pharisees had a lot of interesting ideas attached to it.