Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pyramid Scheme

I read a very interesting article by Patrick Rapa in Philadelphia citypaper, a local weekly newspaper explaining the proposal of a Drexel professor about how pyramids were built. As I understand the article, Professor Barsoum published a paper indicating the pyramids were built with two components: “rough stone quarried and hauled into place” constituting 80% of the material used and concrete for the “smooth uniform arrangement of the outer blocks” and possibly the inner walls for the remaining 20%.

This concrete material was made on site from materials locally available: “water, lime (by heating limestone), diatomaceous earth (a crumply, porous rock made of fossilized algae) and limestone rubble and limestone rubble (ground to powder).” Professor Barsoum does not claim to be the first to propose a concrete solution. His proposal explains how the Egyptians could have made concrete from materials locally available that would have be stronger than Portland Cement.

Obviously I need to think about this.

Copyrighted 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sacred Space

The phrase “sacred space” does not appear in Purity and Danger yet there is no question that the concept of sacred space derives in part from the rules about purity found in the Book of Leviticus. In this Book, Yahweh addresses Aaron: “You must distinguish between the holy and the profane and between the clean and unclean.” When Ezekiel attached the Jerusalem priesthood, he said: “They have not distinguished between the holy and profane; they have not made known the difference between the unclean and clean.”

The concept of sacred space is also derived in part from the idea of the land as a theological symbol of Yahweh’s benevolence. Land is more than a place to live. In Judaism, land always involves the concept of sacred space that god provides his chosen people. Since the sanctuary was built to house the divine presence, it was a holy place where certain standards of purity had to be maintained.

Somehow from these rules about purity and the idea about the land, a notion of sacred space developed. Richard D. Nelson said: “Sacred space provided the human mind with a fixed center, the solace of formed order in the midst of chaos.” That center was the “holy of holies” at the center of the sanctuary of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Sacred space is not permanent. God could choose to withdraw the divine presence from the Jerusalem Temple and the Temple would no longer be sacred. The Qumran community believed that the divine presence had already departed from the Temple in Jerusalem. Others believed that the idea that God lived in a house build by human hands was idolatrous. Josephus recorded that in the spring of 66 C.E. the “Shekinah” (divine presence) departed from the Temple.

These ideas and beliefs no doubt influenced the recipients of the Epistle to the Hebrews and no doubt caused them to waiver in their faith. The author of Hebrews provides solace for those concerned about the high priest they left behind and the sacred space they no longer enjoy. The author made Jesus the new High Priest and his heavenly abode the sacred space. In Hebrews, there is no sacred space on earth; sacred space is to be found in the heavenly sanctuary. When they respond to the call to go “outside the camp,” they move toward the sacred and their heavenly city.

The Epistle synthesizes the atonement beliefs of Judaism, Luke-Acts and Pauline theology by providing that Jesus Christ is the new High Priest and that heaven is the sacred space why Jesus resides. Why does the author of Hebrews equate Jesus Christ with the Jewish High Priest? Because the recipients of the Epistle are Jewish followers of Jesus and believe that the duties of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement and his death have atoning value. They perhaps were disturbed by the implications of Lucan and Pauline theology. They are comfortable with the theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews because its inclusive approach using imagery drawn chiefly from the Levitical cult and Day of Atonement meant that they are no longer orphans. The idea of sacred space is retained in a new setting, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.”

This work in progress draws in part upon The Cross and Atonement from Luke to Hebrews and further elaborates my ideas published ten years ago.

Copyrighted 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Samaritans

Outside the Camp suggested that the unknown author of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote to the Jewish Christian communities in Jerusalem served by the ministry of meals. One of those communities was the Samaritans. There are a number of points favorable this identification noted by Knox (1927) and Scobie (1973). Manson observed that Acts 6-7 and Hebrews have eight common elements. Knox and Scobie have nine points which have been critiqued by Hurst (1990).

None of these scholars considered the possibility that the recipients of Hebrews represented a mixed audience each attempting to remain exclusive. Both groups had been excluded from the Temple and its alms distribution program yet they were unable to share the community meals provided by the followers of Jesus.

The Hellenists complained that their widows were neglected in the distribution of food. The surviving spouse had been a member of the community by virtue of marriage. That the surviving spouse was no longer a member suggest that the surviving spouse was not Jewish and further suggest that intermarriage was the issue lurking in the background that had resulted in the problem described in Acts.

The author is not talking about the sharing of food or the economy. He was talking about sacred space and the inclusion of outsiders.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2009

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Outside the camp

In my 1999 article, The Cross and Atonement from Luke to Hebrews, I suggested that the unknown author of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote to Jewish communities who were “stranded from Judaism and they were uncomfortable associating with and engaging in religious services with Gentiles.” I identified this unknown author as Luke. Now ten years later, I return briefly to suggest that Luke wrote to the Jewish Christian communities in Jerusalem.

In Waiting on tables, Part 4, I asked, “Why would two groups not accepted by Judaism be unable to work together and share the resources of the kitchen ministry?” Prior identification of these two groups of Hebrews and Hellenists as Jews and Greek speaking Jews has not solved the puzzle.

The ministry of meals on wheels served two separate communities, neither of which were accepted by Judaism. The seeds of these advances had been planted earlier by the Lucan Jesus and the ministry of the seventy. Josephus provides an additional clue: The Samaritans called themselves Hebrews from the third century BCE [Ant. XI viii 6] but in the first century Jews did not call themselves Hebrews.

This same clue must mean that Luke wrote his Epistle to the Hebrews to Samaritans. There are some additional clues. Luke’s casual usage of the Greek word νηστεα is an indication that Luke and his audience consider the Fast as part of their religious experience because they observed it.[1] This is important in considering the next clue wherein the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews uses the verse, “Let us go forth to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured.”[2] The author includes himself in the message by his use of the words, “let us”, and includes himself as a member of the Jewish audience being addressed.

The Greek word παρεμβολ translated in Hebrews as “camp” occurs 10 times in 10 verses in the Greek New Testament, UBS 3rd edition: 6 times in Acts, 3 in Hebrews and once in Revelation. The “camp” is frequently seen by commentators to be Judaism and the summons to go understood as a call to leave Judaism and join the followers of Jesus. Four verses earlier, there is a warning “Do not be carried off by strange teachings” which is a reference to doctrines and practices.

The ministry of meals in Acts 6 served at least two groups not accepted by Judaism but unable to accept each other. The exclusivism that these groups developed with their doctrines and practices was criticized by the author of the Epistle even as he urged them to commit more fully to the followers of Jesus by accepting the abuses of persecution that membership entailed. The author is asking the audience to give up the comforts of their exclusivism and move away from temple Judaism with its corrupt priesthood and accept Jesus as the new High Priest.

These two groups were the Samaritans and the Jews who had adopted Greeks ways.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008

[1] Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra has stated in The Impact of Yom Kippur on Early Christianity that “In the late Second Temple period, νηστεα had become the most common Greek name for Yom Kippur.” The author also notes that Yom Kippur appears in Lev. 23:27; 25:9 and Isa. 1:13-14 LXX as “day of atonement.”

[2] Hebrews 13:13.