Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Monday, March 31, 2008

A Possible Source of an Idea for Barnabas

In a blog piece, I wrote March 2nd 2008, I indicated that the unknown author of The Epistle of Barnabas made a radical conclusion based upon his interpretation of the golden calf incident. He suggested that when Moses “cast the two tables from his hands” because the Israelites had turned to idols, they lost the covenant. At the time, I had wondered to myself if this unknown author had reached this radical conclusion on his own or if there was a basis for this idea in an earlier writing.

Ellen Juhl Christiansen has stated: “This idea is actually expressed in the Septuagint text which contains a sentence that is not in the MT. Thus Jeremiah 31:32 LXX reads after ‘not the covenant I made with their ancestors, when I took them by the hand to bring them out of Egypt;’ then the LXX adds: ‘for they did not abide in my covenant and I had no concern for them, says the Lord.’ This means the covenant is not just broken, rather it is no longer valid.”

Thus Barnabas could have based his radical conclusion on the addition to the LXX text appearing in Jeremiah 31:32. This means that the generally accepted view that Barnabas relied upon an anti-Jewish source or tradition needs to be revisited.

Christiansen has recognized the addition to Jeremiah 31:32 appearing in the LXX but is currently of the view that Barnabas may have utilized an ant-Jewish tradition. I am rereading Christiansen’s book and hope to clarify her views.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008

Friday, March 28, 2008

Jealous Competition According to Paul

Paul presents an interesting interpretation with respect to the cause of and reason for this jealous competition. At the end of chapter 10 of Romans, Paul includes in his argument the words of God that Moses repeated to the people in his final instructions in a segment known as “The Song of Moses.” “I will make you jealous of those not a nation.” The jealous competition, according to Moses, as interpreted by Paul, is part of the legacy of Israel and its punishment for worshiping the golden calf.

Paul tells us in Romans 11:11 that “salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous” and two verses later he explains: “Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.”

Copyrighted 2008

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Jealous Competition

In two instances, Luke describes a group of Jews as “filled with jealousy.” In the first instance, the High Priest and the members of his party are jealous of “the signs and wonders done among the people by the hands of the apostles.” People from the communities surrounding Jerusalem came to town and those who were sick were healed. Many believers joined the “messianic congregation.”[1] No wonder the High Priest and his group were jealous.

In the second example, the Lucan Paul speaks to a crowd of people and “some of them were persuaded and joined” “as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.” But the Jews were jealous because the new group was not only gaining new members but also the very type of people who would be patrons of Judaism if they joined their group.

A third example is like the second in that Paul gives a speech and the following week at their request he returns to speak again but this time “almost the whole city gathered together to hear the word of God.” On this occasion recorded by Luke in Acts 17, “the Jews were jealous and taking some wicked fellows of the rabble, they gathered a crowd, set the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the people.”

The competition has turned violence.

Copyrighted 2008

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter 2008

A part of the Easter message we proclaim this day is that Jesus appeared on the first Easter Sunday “not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses.” What we read in Acts 10:34 is a re-affirmation of the preface to the Gospel.

The Hebrew word for “minister of the word” is “huzzan” which is the name of the synagogue official in charge of the scroll.[i] Bailey claims that Luke's use of this word in this context means that these persons in charge of passing the controlled oral traditions are eyewitnesses who have the tremendous responsibility to ensure that the word is accurately transmitted.[ii] This appears to be an important part of Luke's message. These persons were pre-selected by Jesus and trained by Jesus for this special role and include not only the twelve disciples but also the 120.

One criticism of Bailey's theory is that there is no statement in the body of the text that supports his theory. Today's reading does.

Copyrighted 2008

[i] Bailey, “Informal Controlled Oral Tradition and the Synoptic Gospels," Asia Journal of Theology, 5(1): 34-54.

[ii] Bailey.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Importance of the Centurion

The elders of the Jews approached Jesus and requested that he heal the slave of the centurion in Capernaum. They said “He is worthy to have you do this for he loves our nation and he built us our synagogue.” This centurion was a God-fearing patron of the Jews.

When another unnamed God-fearing centurion became a member of a competing religious group, the competition for Gentile sympathizers and adherents ensued. A hundred years ago, William Ramsay noted the importance of Gentile sympathizers and adherents. “One great reason why the Jews so bitterly resented the attraction which Paul exercised on ‘the devout’ was that he drew them and their gifts away from the synagogues.”

The Christian mission attracted the very Gentiles who were the patrons of Judaism. The competition for members was also a competition to recruit the rich and powerful among the Gentiles, men like the centurion, and devout women of high standing.

Copyrighted 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


When we talk of competition, we usually are referring to athletic competition or business competition, not religious competition. Acts of the Apostles is about different religious groups competing against each other for new members among the God-fearers. We see the first hint of this religious competition in Acts 5:17. Jealousy is a normal response to the success of your opponents.

If we recognize the possibility that Acts of the Apostles is about competing groups of true believers, then we can state that Luke may be writing to Theophilus to win him over to a particular way of life. This means that this writing may be a protreptic letter. The first century witnessed the beginning of a struggle for scripture and covenant that continued for several centuries. The writings of Luke were one of the tools used by the followers of Jesus in that struggle.

Copyrighted 2008

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bear Stearns and Barnabas

They made a fortune marketing subprime mortgages as investment vehicles. Is their downfall the last casualty of a failed investment strategy that began with the collapse of their hedge funds or the glimmer of a light that indicates the props of the Federal Reserve still work?

I have been thinking about the role of true believers in the competition between Judaism and Christianity in the first three centuries. True believers are a part of mass movements including the stampedes of the bears and bulls of hysterical markets. They collateralized subprime mortgages and then we realized that the subprimes did not constitute collateral.

Barnabas did not understand why true believers still were fascinated by rituals, sacrifices, new moons and pieces of paper lacking collateral. True believers establish value. But we need to decide for ourselves whether or not the values being marketed are eternal.

Copyrighted 2008

Friday, March 14, 2008

True Believers

The emergence of competing communities of the believers of the covenant was certain to produce a reaction. John the Baptist taught that it was not necessary to be a son or daughter of Abraham to be a member of the covenant community. He said: “Bear fruits that befit repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”

Earlier the Dead Sea Scroll Community had suggested that there were dire consequences for those who reject the covenant. The Habakkuk Pesher called these people apostates. Judean society viewed the members of the communities of the covenant as radical believers and dangerous.

We read about one of the reactions to the true believers in the writings of Paul. According to Dunn, Paul was objecting to Jewish exclusivism not legalism. Paul objected that Judaizers used the “works of the law” to exclude gentiles from membership in the covenant community. The Judaizers were emphasizing “works of the law” as boundary markers for exclusion or inclusion.

However, the language of the covenant tends to be exclusivist because it does create boundary markers. True believers create boundary markers.

Copyrighted 2008

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Why does Lazarus not speak?

In today's gospel reading, the miraculous story of Lazarus is told. When Jesus instructs the people to untie Lazarus and he is untied, the gospel does not record him speaking. Why does Lazarus not speak? I suppose the answer to this question is also the same answer to the question why this story appearing only in the Gospel of John does not appear in the synoptic gospels.

Why does Lazarus not speak?

Lazarus was still alive when the synoptic gospel accounts appeared and his story was not told to protect him from the Jewish authorities! This would mean that John is the last gospel to appear.

Luke 16:19-31 is the only one of Jesus’ parables in which a character bears a proper name. That name, of course, is Lazarus. In Luke 16 the rich man asks that someone be raised from the dead to warn his brothers. In John 11 Lazarus is raised from the dead. In Luke 16 Abraham declares that even if someone were to rise from the dead the rich man's brothers would not believe. In John 11 Lazarus is raised from the dead and the Jewish religious leaders do not believe.

John includes the story after the death of Lazarus to complete the parable which was based on a true event but told as a parable by the Lucan Jesus to protect Lazarus.

Copyrighted 2008

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Strong Man

Herod Antipas was one of many people who speculated about the true identity of Jesus and whether or not he was the Prophet Elijah who had returned. The Prophet Elijah was the subject matter of considerable speculation appearing in many texts of ancient Judaism including Malachi, Sirach and 4th Ezra to name a few.

Recorded history saves memorable impressions of prophetic religious leaders speaking to the centers of power against the king's excesses and religious practices that had gone awry. These events were worth recording. The Herod Antipas made a point of seeing Jesus much like Babylonian King made a point of seeing Jeremiah. There must be a fascination about men like Micah, Jeremiah and Jesus speaking to the centers of power that attract men to them like the Hezekiah, Sennacherib and Herod Antipas.

Jesus tells the Parable of the Strong Man. It is generally agreed by the commentators that the message of the parable is that “The absence of positive attachment to Christ involves hostility to Him.” None of the commentators have suggested that the background to this parable may be one of the Dead Sea Scroll documents.

In the Apocryphon of Elijah (4Q382), Elijah is said to be returning as the Man of Might to conquer the powers of the nations. The return of Elijah was a concept that the people, who went out into the desert, strongly attached to the missions of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth. Each was seen as a threat. Both were executed to eliminate the threat. The nature of the threat may have been based upon the perception that John the Baptist and Jesus were both perceived as Elijah returning as the Man of Might to conquer the powers of the nations.

With this background, one can better understand how Jesus could tell a parable depicting himself as the Man of Might and therefore the stronger man able to overcome the strong man.

The Parable of the Strong Man answered the question that Herod Antipas asked: “‘John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?’ And he sought to see him.” Luke also recorded: “When Herod [Antipas] saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him.”

Herod Antipas was perplexed. Lack of understanding is a theme resonating throughout the Gospel of Luke. Herod Antipas was also a strong man. He was the son of Herod the Great and became tetrarch of Galilee on the death of his father.

We can now offer an explanation of the enigmatic verse in Luke 23:12 which states: “And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.” Herod Antipas and Pontius Pilate apparently agreed that it would be better for them if Jesus were crucified so that the threat to national security would be removed. Little did they realize that their decision made it possible for the stronger man to conquer death and proclaim the feast of victory for all. The final irony needs to be stated: The so-called strong man was eaten by worms.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A Brief History of the Covenant Relationship

Sacred Scripture recorded by Moses tells us that God established a covenant relationship with his people. The competition with the Temple establishment for religious authority constituted one of the core features of biblical prophecy. The prophets were messengers of Yahweh to the people who have breached the covenant with Yahweh. The prophets also announced the consequences of default. The messenger theme carried over to the new covenant announced by Jeremiah and proclaimed by John the Baptist.

Then Jeremiah stated: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” In the Second Temple period, Passover became the occasion of the annual renewal of the covenant.

The followers of Jesus believed He was the Messiah who established the new covenant promised by Jeremiah with His people, all of which is recorded in the writings of Luke and Paul. The Qumran community also understood itself as the fulfillment of the Jeremian promise to Israel that after the exile God shall turn again in mercy to his people and renew the covenant made with the patriarchs. Both Qumran and followers of Jesus made use of the concept of a new covenant which allowed them to redefine the community of the people of God. Serge Ruzer has suggested that the idea of the remission of sins to those belonging to the covenant community is a prominent feature of the Jeremihan promise of the new covenant.

The unknown author of The Epistle of Barnabas made a radical conclusion based upon his interpretation of the golden calf incident. When Moses “cast the two tables from his hands” because the Israelites had turned to idols, they lost the covenant.

Josephus responding to Luke-Acts and Barnabas rewrote sacred scriptures so that there is no covenant relationship. If there is no existing covenant relationship there can be no new covenant and his people could not have lost that which did not exist. Josephus solved a problem.[1]

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008

[1] In Historians’ Fallacies, D.H. Fischer wrote that “history-writing is not story-telling but problem solving.”