About adrmckinney

Previously a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, I am currently a student at Duke Divinity School working toward my second (yes, second) ThM. Hopefully, I will be working on my PhD next year. I am married to Christy and we have three wonderful children. My academic interests are Gospel studies (canonical and non-canonical), Historical Jesus, Paul, Second Temple Judaism, and reconstructing the early Christ-following communities. Contact Info: adrmckinney@gmail.com

Pagan Symbolism in Christian and Jewish Art

So in the process of doing research for a paper, I kept coming across early Christian paintings of Jonah and the Great Fish. The first thing I thought was that these paintings look nothing like the Jonah inscription on ossuary 6 from Talpiot Tomb B. I also noticed that this was a popular story. It is reproduced throughout the vast catacomb networks in Rome and also on sarcophagi. For the most part, the images looked the same. And many of these images told the story of Jonah being eaten by the fish, Jonah being spit out by the fish, and Jonah resting on dry land, usually under a plant/tree or a vine. The theme of this story is the deliverance of God; apropos as it is painted in tombs and inscribed on sarcophagi. There was one particular painting of the story of Jonah, though, that caught my eye. Like the others, the the depiction of Jonah and the Great Fish in the Catacomb of Peter and Marcellinus is told in three scenes, but with one big difference. While Jonah (as an orant) is eaten by the fish in the first scene and Jonah is resting in the third scene, this fourth century artist has replaced the the middle scene with a depiction of Helios riding through the heavens on his horse drawn chariot! This isn’t actually a depiction of Helios, though. This is simply how Helios is depicted in pagan art; he rides his chariot across the heavens during the daily cycle. The nimbus behind the figure on the chariot in the Jonah story suggests there is some type of divine status to be applied to him (although I’m curious why its blue and not yellow/gold). Perhaps this is a painting of Jesus riding the chariot through the heavens. Perhaps the symbolism behind this painting is the hope of apotheosis of the deceased. The Helios symbolism is also found in a tomb under St. Peter’s Basillica. This third-century painting has been dubbed the Christ-Helios.

In the same tomb there is a picture of Jonah being tossed off a boat and into the mouth of a great sea monster. God as deliverer in Christ seems to go well with the Jonah story.

A wall from a later synagogue runs through the zodiac. Notice the resemblance between this Helios and the Christ-Helios beneath St. Peter's Basilica.

The use of Helios imagery was also used in Jewish synagogues (Hammat Tiberias [4th/5th c.], Sepphoris [5th c.], Beth Alpha [6th c.]). In the synagogue, though, Helios is inside the zodiac and the personified seasons occupy the corners. The central figure riding the chariot has been interpreted many ways. Some take it to represent God himself (Goodenough), Elijah (Waden), or Metatron (Magness) Christians also followed suit (or vise versa), though. At the Monastery of the Lady Mary in Beth Shean the 6th century zodiac appears on a floor mosaic, where a personified Helios and Selene are at the center. I would be interested to read the interpretations on that mosaic! In light of all of this, a couple things are striking to me. First, the Jonah and the Great Fish depictions in 3rd and 4th century Christian art look nothing like that which is proposed to be on ossuary 6 at the Talpiot tomb. Second, it is interesting that pagan symbols were borrowed so readily by both Jews and Christians. I say, “readily” because there is a host of other pagan symbols used throughout the Christian catacombs and in synagogues. This has certainly caused me to reconsider the weight of the authority behind written material:

“All images are forbidden because they are worshiped [at least] once a year. So says R. Meir. But the sages say: ‘Only that is forbidden which holds a staff or a bird or a sphere in its hand.’ R. Simeon b. Gameliel says: ‘Anything holding an object is forbidden.’ (m. Abod. Zar. 3.1)

The left hand is holding a sphere or globe

Mark 13.24–27 Revisited: A Proposal for a Corporate Son of Man and Its Implications

There is nothing like mulling over a concept for a few days to engender new ideas. The problem is that sometimes these new ideas conflict with previous thoughts. And this seems to be the case with my new thoughts in relation to my last post on Mark’s apocalyptic discourse, specifically his use of the “coming of the Son of Man.” In that post I argued that the phrase “coming of the Son of Man” represented Jesus’ enthronement and vindication, which portrays Jesus as the new Temple. I further argued that Mark did not anticipate, or at least did not write about, a parousia. However, upon (re)reading Thomas Kazen’s article in JSHJ entitled, The Coming of the Son of Man Revisited, I would like to propose a different (although similar in many ways) view: i.e., the Son of Man should be identified as the holy ones, or the faithful remnant.

Much of this argument rests of the notion that the Son of Man imagery in Daniel 7 speaks of a faithful remnant. Thus, the ascension of the Son of Man is the vindication of the remnant, who receives the kingdom and dominion. This is the view that Kazen promotes in his article, to which he applies to the Gospel accounts, specifically Mark and Matthew. However, before he explicates how this view makes sense of some odd passages in Mark, he first deals with the parousia tradition in Paul. Dealing specifically with 1 Thess 4.13–18, he notes that while Jesus is directly linked to the parousia (v. 15; i.e., Jesus is expected to return), the Son of Man imagery is instead reflected upon the believers[1]. Note that v. 17 envisions the holy ones as being “caught up in the clouds” and so vindicated. Thus, while the Son of Man imagery and the parousia are linked, their only connection is that they are incorporated into the same event, not that they represent the same person! Furthermore, if this is Paul’s understanding of the Danielic “Son of Man” imagery, we are confronted with evidence that at least some Jews interpreted the imagery in a collective sense, representing kingdom restoration for the faithful remnant.

This interpretation alleviates some critical tensions with my previous view of Mark 13.24–27 (although, it may engender other tensions). One major problem was the question of where the parousia tradition began and how to account for its absence or presence in certain NT authors. If the tradition originated with Jesus, we would certainly expect Mark to pick up on it. If it did not originate with Jesus, did Paul invent the anticipation of a second coming and why? But with Kazen’s insight into Paul’s restorative anticipations, Mark’s account becomes clearer and even harmonizes with an early tradition (against my last post)[2]. Thus, what we find in Mark is the destruction of the Temple (13.24–25) followed by the Son of Man tradition (13.26), which, in this view, represents the vindication of the holy ones[3]. Verse 27 alludes to Isa 11.12 as “he” will gather the elect. If the one who sends the angels is to be identified as Jesus, we may find here an expectation of parousia. Mark’s account does not necessarily indicate a descending Jesus as much as an appearing Jesus, but nevertheless, it can easily be seen as referring to the same event. But there is a key distinction to be made, that while Mark does indicate a parousia, Jesus and the parousia are only connected with the Son of Man tradition via an event and not because the latter is personified by former. In this sense, the parousia is not directly identified with the Son of Man tradition but is rather identified with the gathering of the saints and the restoration of kingdom! Therefore, what we find in Mark 13.24–27 is the anticipated restoration of the kingdom to the remnant (Dan 7 and “Son of Man”) and the gathering of God’s people (Is 11.12)[4].

One implication of this interpretation is that Jesus is no longer being set up as the new Temple in and of himself. With the claim of destroying the Temple only to build another in three days (14.58), it is difficult to remove Jesus from the Temple imagery. But this does not mean that the holy ones cannot be assumed into the new Temple at restoration and thus become a part of its structure.

In line with the last consideration the idea of Theosis is prominent in Mark 13.24–27 and certainly applicable to this new Temple ideology. The holy ones are mentioned in a context containing theophanic imagery: “clouds” (Exod 16.9–10; 24.9–17) and “glory” (Exod 16.9–10; 24.9–17; 34.18)[5]. Furthermore, the vindication follows the distress of the “stars,” which fall from heaven, and the “powers” (angels? gods?). Notice also that the shaking “powers” are most likely those who see the holy ones coming in “power” (Mark 13.25–26), possibly emphasizing the replacement of roles and positions. In other words (if I may get back to my main point), it seems plausible that Jesus and the holy ones constitute the new Temple, as the holy ones are portrayed in theotic imagery. Thus, in the same way we see Paul anticipating a future resurrection in light of the resurrection of Jesus, Mark anticipates the believers’ constitution of the new Temple in light of Jesus’ as the already reconstructed new Temple.

Overall, with this interpretation there are many facets to be examined and many more books to be read.


[1] Coming, 159; Contra Plevnik, Paul and the Parousia, who asserts that 1 Thess 4.16–17 is unique in that it is the only passage in which believers are in the clouds. He makes this case by presuming that the Gospel accounts speak of the “Lord” coming in the clouds (60). But this interpretation reflects an a priori assumption that the Son of Man is Jesus in the Gospel accounts.  Edwards Adams also recognizes that the clouds are associated with the believers but fails to make a connection between the cloud imagery of 1 Thess 4.17 and the Son of Man imagery in Daniel 7.13 (“The ‘Coming of God’ Tradition,” in Biblical Traditions and Transmissions, 14). Major commentaries follow suit in affirming Jesus as the Son of Man in the Gospels, which proves seminal for their interpretations of the cloud imagery primarily reflecting Jesus and only secondarily connect to the remnant (Fee, Thessalonians, NICNT, 180; Wanamaker, Thessalonians, NIGTC, 175; Malherbe, Thessalonians, AB, 276–77; Bruce, Thessalonians, WBC, 105).

[2] Coming, 168–69.

[3] This view, in my opinion, removes the tension of Jesus’ double vindication associated with identifying Jesus as the Son of Man, in which he is vindicated following the destruction of the Temple, and his vindication at the resurrection, when he assumes the role of the new Temple (Mark 14.58). In the present view of this post, Jesus’ vindication is at the resurrection and the vindication of the Son of Man is reserved for the holy ones.

[4] While Daniel 7 includes a judgment on the fourth kingdom, Mark does not explicitly reflect a judgment at this time. While it may be assumed, it is Matthew’s account that explicitly emphasizes judgment and identifies Jesus as judge (Kazen, Coming, 169; Sim, David C. Apocalyptic Eschatology in the Gospel of Matthew. Vol. 88 SNTSMS. Cambridge: Cambridge Press, 1996.

[5] Burnett has a good article on Paul’s realized theotic expressions in Colossians, in which he provides many Biblical and extrabiblical references for theophanic imagery involving “clouds” and “glory.” In fact, much of what David suggests is being revealed in Paul’s language could be transferred to Mark’s account.

The Gospel of Mark and the Absence of the Parousia

It is not new to understanding the heavenly portents and the “coming of the Son of Man” in Mark 13.24–27 as referring to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and the enthronement and vindication of Jesus, respectively. For a while now, R.T. France has proposed this interpretation of Mark’s account (as well as Matthew’s parallel).[ref]Jesus and the Old Testament, 229–31)[/ref] Yet, beginning in v. 32 France argues that Mark is speaking of the parousia.[ref]Mark, NIGTC, 541[/ref] While France provides evidence for this interpretation, I am not convinced and find myself asking why we need to find evidence of the parousia in Mark’s account? I found consonance in N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, where he argues that Mark does not anticipate a descending Jesus at restoration and judgment, but rather speaks of the destruction and enthronement throughout ch. 13 (360–67). As far as Mark’s account is concerned, I am in agreement with Wright (I disagree with his assimilation of Matthew into this interpretation).


In line with Wright’s assessment, I found Timothy Gray’s monograph, The Temple in the Gospel of Mark: A Study in its Narrative Role, enlightening, as he argues that the narrative structure of Mark 11–15 focuses on the Temple. From chs. 11–13 the focus is on the earthly Temple and from chs. 14–15 the focus is on Jesus as the new Temple, and Mark 13.24–27 being the climatic turning point from old to new. Think about it: Mark 11 begins the accent into Jerusalem where Jesus pronounces a curse on a fig tree, curses the Temple leadership, and ends it with a withered fig tree. Jesus then returns to the Temple where his authority is impugned (vv. 27–33), which is followed by a parable condemning the Temple leadership (12.1–12) and further questions and teachings within the Temple precincts (12.13–41). Chapter 13 beings with Jesus and his disciples “coming out of the Temple,” looking back at the Temple, predicting the Temples destruction, and locating the group on the Mount of Olives “opposite the Temple” (13.1–3). So far the unequivocal central theme is “Temple,” which greatly suggests that the disciples questions in v. 4 are about the (1) the destruction of the Temple (2) and the signs leading up to its destruction. Thus, it makes sense that Jesus would proceed to answer the disciples questions and only the disciples questions. So when we come to Mark 13.24–25 and read about the sun becoming dark, the moon not given its light, the stars falling from heaven, and the “powers in the heavens” (gods?) shaking, the most natural referent is the destruction of the Temple. What else could he possibly be talking about? Has Mark failed to guide his readers to an unambiguous interpretation of Jesus’ discourse? There have been no clues since ch. 11 that he could be referring to anything other than the Temple.


Yet, against this last statement some may protest that the phrase, “coming of the Son of Man in the clouds” refers to the parousia. Maybe. But how does this relate to the heavenly portents? Taking an interpretation of “coming of the SoM” in vv. 26–27 and imposing it on the portents previously mentioned is tenuous. For one, doing this downplays the role of the Temple in Mark’s narrative and this is hardly endorsed by Mark! Mark is building up to a climactic end of the Temple, and if the portents describe the parousia, the climax for this destruction is removed. Furthermore, if the portents are taken as the parousia, the temporal flow of vv. 24–27 is redundant and resist the flow of the temporal markers καὶ τότε in vv. 26, 27. Verses 24–27 would thus speak of “the return of Christ (vv. 24–25), and then (καὶ τότε) the return of Christ (v. 26), and then (καὶ τότε) the sending of angels (v. 27). This repetition of the Advent is unnecessary and ignores the temporal markers. Thus, however one interprets vv. 26–27, the portents of vv. 24–25 must mark a distinct event.


But how does one interpret the “coming of the SoM?” At this point I do not wish to restate what Wright and France have argued so well concerning how this phrase could readily be understood as the enthronement and vindication of Jesus rather than the parousia.[ref]Wright, JVG, 360–65; France, Mark, NIGTC, 531–32; France, Matthew, NICNT, 923–29[/ref] I feel that their arguments are cogent and present a true portrait of a Jewish understanding of the Danielic text and how it would naturally be interpreted when used in Mark’s Gospel (or from Jesus’ lips). So in foregoing a detailed defense (which I may regret) of why I believe the “coming of the SoM” statement ought to be read as an enthronement oracle, I want to ask a few questions. Why do we feel a pressing need to find a descending Jesus in Mark’s account? Are we that eager to read Mark in light of Paul or (ironically) Matthew? Many of us are willing allow for diversity throughout the NT, but is the Second Advent off limits? Is it really that big of a deal if Mark envisions the restoration scene with Jesus sitting on the throne, while Paul and Matthew envision a descending Jesus? Restoration takes place either way, the only difference is Jesus is sitting or traveling. Granted, the predominant scenario of restoration from the second century to the present is the parousia, but should that be allowed to affect the way we interpret Mark’s account?

In the end I am arguing for a Mark that speaks of restoration but is silent concerning the “second coming” or parousia. For Mark, restoration was to occur at the enthronement and vindication of the Son of Man. This expectation was tightly wound around the destruction of the Temple, as the destruction of the old would inaugurate the new. …However, what are the Jesus followers to think following the Temples destruction and yet still awaiting restoration? In comes the Gospel of Matthew…

Is the Presence of the Criteria of Multiple Attestation and Embarrassment a Contradiction?

Over at the NT Blog, Mark Goodacre posted on a relevant issue regarding an apparent contradiction between the combination of the criteria of multiple attestation and embarrassment. I did however find myself disagreeing with the conclusion. Because my disagreement lies in the way in which the issue is portrayed, I have decided not to respond on his blog, but rather flesh out the issue more thoroughly in a post. Before I continue, though, I need to say that I do not find the criterion of multiple attestation helpful for identifying historical events. It seems that it only demonstrates that a tradition goes back to the early church, not necessarily a historical event. For many this criterion performs double duty by also affirming events that are singly attested, but as soon as a singly attested tradition is deemed historical or plausible (e.g., Mark 8.22–26), the validity of the criterion comes into question (but this is by no means a death knell for the criterion). Furthermore, and more to the point of this post, I believe these shortcomings show that it cannot function on its own, but functions best in corroboration with other criteria. In the same way that (singular) attestation and embarrassment work together to suggest the historicity of Jesus spitting in the blind man’s eyes, so multiple attestation also needs the corroboration of another criterion. Thus, the purpose of this post is not to provide a defense for multiple attestation, but to show that both the criteria in question (attestation and embarrassment) can define the same event without contradiction. In fact, I would hypothesize more strongly that if multiple attestation is isolated from other criteria, it ceases to be a valid indicator of historicity.

Dr. Goodacre’s post can be found here (a followup post can be found here) and can be summed up in this quote:

I can’t help thinking that one cancels out the other. If everyone, Q, an independent Thomas, Mark, Matthew, Luke all have this same material, who is embarrassed about it? The multiple attestation is itself an argument against embarrassment.

This may be the case in some instances, but the example of Jesus’ baptism by John––which Goodacre provides as an example in the same post––I feel does not provide an adequate example of this “cancellation.”

Regarding John’s baptism of Jesus, it is too simplistic to say that everyone has the same material. While this baptism is retained through multiple traditions (Q [maybe], Mark 1.9–11, John 1.29–34 [?]; Acts 1.21–22 [Peter would be the separate source], Gos. Heb. 2 [?], Ign. Smy. 1.1; and possibly others), each retention is altered in some way, which suggests, in this case, that there was something unsettling about the event. While there are three accounts which explicitly identify John as the baptizer of Jesus (Mark 1.9–11; Acts 1.21–22; Gos. Eb. 4), other traditions are not so eager to portray John as directly baptizing Jesus. Matthew (following Mark, Q, or M) alters the event by having John protest the baptism and by failing to explicitly identify John as the one who preformed the act. In Luke’s account John is in prison (narratively speaking) when Jesus is baptized (3.19–21). In the Fourth Gospel Jesus is never really baptized; rather, John functions as a “witness” to the person and character of Jesus rather than a source of his baptism (1:19, 34). The Gos. Heb. 2, like the Gospel of John, forgoes the baptism and focuses on the theophany. Thus, while the baptism tradition is retained in each of these accounts, each account is altered in such a way as to take the focus away from John and place more attention on Jesus and the theophany.

Noticing a trajectory of the baptismal/theophany event, Robert Webb suggests that there is a gradual ennoblement of the theophany while downplaying the baptism (Baptizer and Prophet, 106). If this is the case, it does not follow that the recurrence of the baptismal event in multiple traditions invalidates the criterion of embarrassment, or vice versa. In other words, while the baptism is a retained Jesus tradition found in numerous accounts from various traditions, it is not promulgated or “celebrated” (a word Dr. Goodacre uses in his post, which I find curious), but instead is quietly and sometimes reluctantly remembered as the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Nevertheless, the Baptist must be remembered as he functions as the precursor (Elijah) to Jesus (Messiah).

It seems that the baptism might exemplify other traditions that are multiply attested and ostensibly embarrassing. That is, just because an event is attested by multiple traditions doesn’t mean it is retold in the same way. If, like the baptism, a given event is retold in such a way as to extenuate a particular action or saying within the larger event, then something about the event is demonstrated to be embarrassing as well. Thus, the presence of the two criteria do not necessarily contradict, but rather the presence of multiple attestation can serve (though certainly not always) to define an event as embarrassing. It all depends on how the event is retold.