Reza Aslan’s new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random House, 2013), is in most ways a typical attempt to paint a new picture of Jesus. Because so many hundreds of books of this type have been published, Aslan’s book would most likely not have received significant attention at all, except for two factors. First, a botched interview of the author on Fox News caused a huge surge of interest, making his book an overnight best seller. And second, Aslan is a very good writer. His primary teaching role, after all, is as a professor of creative writing at UC Riverside. Aslan is able to take a lot of important historical background and present it in a riveting manner, accessible to most readers.
Recently, while reading through the minor prophet Haggai in the LXX (the Greek Old Testament), I noticed a phrase that looked familiar: “before a stone was laid on a stone (λίθον ἐπὶ λίθον) in the Temple of the Lord…” (Hag 2:15). Hmm… where had I seen λίθον ἐπὶ λίθον before? Yes: in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, when he describes the coming destruction of the Temple buildings: “Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth: there will not be a stone left on a stone (λίθος ἐπὶ λίθον) here; all will be torn down” (Matt 24:2; see parallels in Mk 13:2, Lk 19:44).
The latest news on historical Jesus research can now be found in… Popular Mechanics? I’m used to perusing Popular Mechanics to see flying cars, homemade submarines, and ads for power tools. But Popular Mechanics published a reconstructed picture of Jesus (quite a while ago, but I just noticed it!). I’ll show you the picture and explain it in just a bit. But first, I want you to see some of my favorite portraits of Jesus. My students have become accustomed to seeing these non-traditional pictures of Jesus decorating my powerpoint lecture notes.
This picture of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman (from the Via Latina catacomb, ca. 340-350) was painted by a Roman, so Jesus and the woman both have Roman hairstyles and clothing. No beard on Jesus!
This morning, I began teaching Greek sentence diagramming to my students in Introduction to Exegesis. Some students love diagramming, but probably more dread it, at least at first. I picked some sentences to diagram from John 1, mainly because the students had just translated this passage a few weeks ago.
One sentence in particular, John 1:12-13, reveals that nerdy analytical approaches such as Greek diagramming can help understand passages of Scripture better. Here’s the diagram (with a translation below for non-Greek readers)
ὅσοι δὲ ἔλαβον αὐτόν,
ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς ἐξουσίαν τέκνα θεοῦ γενέσθαι,
τοῖς πιστεύουσιν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ,
Last week, I posted my initial take on the so-called "Gospel of Jesus' Wife." My first point was that it was "too early to tell" whether the manuscript was genuine. In the last twenty years, forgers have produced some amazingly convincing forgeries, so scholars have become cautious about all archeological finds.
According to an article in the Washington Post, an ancient manuscript claiming that Jesus had a wife has just been discovered. I’ll tackle this new discovery with some Q&A.
What is this new find?
Karen King, the Gnostic scholar who published the manuscript, has titled it the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (see the scholarly article here). It is a very small fragment, only 12 partial lines, of an ancient Gnostic book. The fragment, written in Coptic, dates from the fourth century, but it is a copy of an older book, perhaps written in the late second century. According to the fragment, Jesus refers to “my wife.”
Earlier this semester, my good friend Ken Berding and I were discussing the different views on Romans 7:14-25 and decided that we would each write a blog post summarizing our reasons for holding opposing views on the passage. Last week, Ken gave a great defense of the view that Romans 7:14-25 is autobiographical and is thus about the Christian struggle with sin. I found Ken’s reasons 3, 6 and 7 very strong (Ken also gave a fine experiential discussion of that struggle in an earlier post). As Ken pointed out, there are many smart people on both sides of this issue, so this is not a “slam-dunk” interpretational problem.
Throughout Christian history, there have been several opinions about what Paul meant in this passage. The two main options are 1) Paul is referring to his own experience as a Christian, and therefore the general Christian experience; or 2) Paul is referring to the experience of a pre-Christian Jew trying to obey the Law.