Merry Christmas! Today, November 18, is Jesus' birthday, according to a few ancient sources.
A few years ago, I came across an interesting article about the date of Jesus' birth by Paul Meier, a prominent New Testament scholar. Here is a summary:
We celebrate Jesus' birthday on December 25, but it is quite unlikely that he was born on that day. That date was picked out in the fourth century, possibly as a replacement celebration for the winter solstice or other pagan holidays.
Paul Meier suggests a birthday in November. This is based on two pieces of data....
The release of the movie Left Behind has again drawn attention to the Christian belief in the rapture. The movie tries to portray the chaos in the world as millions of Christians suddenly disappear. This image has interested Christians for quite a while. I recall watching the Thief in the Night series of movies back in the 1970s (the Antichrist had sideburns!). But I am interested in a question that is often overlooked: what is the point of the rapture in the Bible?
1The teacher said, “Hear now the parable of the foolish weightlifter. 2A certain man wished to become stronger and to run and not grow weary. So he went to the gymnasium, paying the gymnasium-master three obols.a 3The man began lifting bars with weights upon them, first one talent,b then two. But he was not able to lift three talents. 4So the man said to himself, “Soul, your arms are very sore. You are not able to lift so many talents.”
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,