Ancient Heroes as Paradigms of Vicarious Sacrifices for the Maccabean Martyrs?

Fourth Maccabees is a philosophical treatise intended to show how reason can overcome pain and adversity (chs. 1–3). By enduring through adversities––as in the case of the martyrs in 4 Maccabees––God rewards such an individual with apotheosis. It is in this light that the author of 4 Maccabees tells the story of the martyrdom of Eleazar, the priest, and the mother and her seven sons. Throughout the tortures and coaxing of Antiochus and the torturers, none of the martyrs succumbed to the pain and the desire for “instant deliverance” (15.3). In so doing, they rejoiced in their postmortem hope of immortality (see 7.18–19; 9.8–9, 21–22; 10.15; 14.5; 15.3 16.13, 25; 17.5, 11–12; 18.3).

But the deaths of the martyrs represent more than their own immortality, their deaths were also viewed as vicarious sacrifices, providing forgiveness of sins for the nation and purifying the land from the tyrant (i.e., Antiochus IV; 6.27–29; 17.20–22). Thus, the martyrs deaths were efficacious for both their own immortality and the deliverance of the nation from sin and impurity.

The martyrs are repeatedly compared to and encouraged to imitate past heroes who endured bravely through trials. The four most prevalent heroes are Abraham and Isaac (7.13–14; 13.8–12; 16.18–20; 18.11; cf. Gen 22 [Akedah]), Daniel (13.9; 16.3, 21; 18.12–13; cf. Dan 6), and the three youth in the furnace (13.9; 16.3, 21; 18.12–13; cf. Dan 3). These past heroes are consistently evoked as those who courageously and willingly offered their lives but they are never evoked as paradigms as those who died as an expiation for sins or the deliverance of a nation from oppressive powers.

While some argue that expiatory value is attached to the Akedah in 4 Maccabees, I am not convinced. For one, the two passages in 4 Maccabees where the expiatory nature of the martyrs’ sacrifices is evinced (6.27–29; 17.20–22) no allusion to the Akedah appears. The allusions to these past heroes are always evoked in context courage, willingness, and immortality. The author of 4 Maccabees has, therefore, given no indication that he is reading these paradigmatic stories in any other way.

I am also not convinced by the arguments that state that the expiatory nature of the Akedah is implicit in that it is ambiguous whether Isaac lived or was sacrificed (cf. 13.8–12; 18.11) and (thus) by comparing Isaac to the martyrs’, the conclusion that Isaac’s death was vicarious would naturally follow. Concerning the latter, this argument conflicts with the author’s habitual reflections of the martyrs’ being encouraged to behave like their ancestral heroes. In other words, the ancestral heroes are always presented as paradigms for the martyrs’, not vice versa. Concerning the former argument, it would appear that the author of 4 Maccabees is dealing with the obvious tension between the martyrs and their heroes, in that while the martyrs’ die, their heroes, whom they emulate, are delivered prior to their deaths. Because of this, the author of 4 Maccabees emphasizes the areas in which they are similar (e.g., bravery, willingness, rational) but stops short of creating a new Akedah tradition in which Isaac is actually sacrificed but also does not say that the sacrifice was stopped. Thus, it is difficult to even say that the author implies that Isaac died on the altar. The most that can be said is that the author of 4 Maccabees has refrained from explicitly stating how the offering of Isaac ended and, thus, has created an ambiguity, which alleviates the inherent tension in the comparisons that are made between the Akedah and the Maccabean martyrs.

Although the Akedah fails to be persuasive, both the Old Greek and the Theodotion versions of the three youth contain additional material that relates to our conversation about vicarious sacrifices (LXX Dan 3.22–96). Of particular interest is the first prayer made by Azarias, one of the three youth.

While this addition is primarily about God’s deliverance (cf. LXX Dan 3.95–96), Azarias’ speech reveals that the imminent (although never completed) death of the three youth would have been viewed as a meritorious sacrifice, efficacious for the nation. Azarias begins by praising God, then confesses the sins of the nation, and acknowledges the justness of God’s judgment. He then pleads to God not to forget his covenant, which he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (vv. 34–35). After they acknowledge that there is no burnt offerings or sacrifices in the land, they ask God:

But rather with a broken life and a humbled spirit may we be accepted, as though it were with whole burnt offering or rams and bulls and with tens of thousands of fat lambs; thus let our sacrifice come before you today… (vv. 39–40)

Following this, Azarias asks God to deliver them (v. 43). This is an odd request when he just finished asking God to accept their sacrifice. Thus, perhaps Azarias is requesting a postmortem deliverance. Nevertheless, Azarais views their deaths as something that should deserve merit. In this case, the merit is expiation of national sins; they would serve as vicarious sacrifices for the sins of the nation. With the nation being purified from their sins via the sacrifice of the three youth, their hope seems to be that God will deliver the nation from exile and oppression (vv. 40–45). (There does not appear to be any appeal to a hope of future immortality.)

Assuming that this tradition preserved in these Greek translations predates 4 Maccabees (first half of the first c.–early second c.)––which I think is a safe assumption––it is interesting that the author of 4 Maccabees does not appeal to this tradition when he is ascribing expiatory value to the martyrs deaths (cf. 6.27–29; 17.20–22). Perhaps this silence suggests that the author was unaware of this tradition. Or perhaps the author did not like these additions to the Hebrew/Aramaic texts and chose to ignore them altogether. Nevertheless, I find it fascinating that there is yet another martyrology that ascribes nationalistic merit to the (would-be) deaths of the martyrs’. Perhaps, in our examinations of 4 Maccabees, if we are looking for ancient heroes whose deaths exhibited merit, we should look to the three youth. In the end, though, I think this would be about as tenuous as looking for expiatory value in the Akedah as it is presented in 4 Maccabees; the author simply does not make this connection.

Jesus Tells a Lie and Breaks the Sabbath: Festival Attendance and Sabbath Controversy

Painting on west wall in Dura Synagogue. Possibly a depiction of the midwives before Pharaoh, receiving order to kill the male babies. In the narrative they lie to Pharaoh and are blessed by God. – Exod 1.15-21

I derive the title of this post from John 7, where Jesus first tells a lie (7.1–10) and later defends his right to heal on the Sabbath (7.20–24; cf. 5.1–15). I would imagine, that for many readers of this post, the first of these transgressions is much more shocking than the latter. Interestingly, though, while Jesus breaks two commandments of the Decalogue he only defends himself against Sabbath breaking. In fact, the evangelist is not at all concerned that Jesus lies.

In this post, I want to briefly examine both transgressions and then offer a hypothetical retelling of the Sabbath controversy, where we replace Sabbath breaking with lying. This will be an attempt to explicate the severity of Jesus’ actions to those who are typically not troubled by Jesus’ actions on the Sabbath.

{Update (7/7/13): When I first wrote this post it seemed to me evident that Jesus was indeed lying. I therefore did not include a defense of this conclusion but simply stated it as fact. I have received a couple of responses challenging my statement that Jesus was lying and, while I have responded to them below, I feel that I ought to provide a formal defense within the post of why I believe Jesus is lying in John 7.

It seems to me that Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem to celebrate Succoth anon after telling his brothers that he is not going to Jerusalem leaves us with two options: Jesus changed his mind or he lied to his brothers. If we entertain the former, we need to find something in the text that reveals (whether explicitly or implicitly) that Jesus changed his mind. Thus, we need to know why Jesus decided not to go. In v. 6 Jesus tells his brothers that the reason does not want to attend Succoth is because his “time has not yet come,” which means it is not time for Jesus to die. Thus, in light of his opposition that is waiting to kill him at any opportunity (v. 1), Jesus’ reason for not wanting to attend Succoth is more than understandable. It is odd, however, that Jesus does attend the festival even though his hour had not yet come (see 8.20) and indeed will not come until the end of his public career (17.1). It does not seem, then, that Jesus changed his mind, for the very reason why he told his brothers he was not attending had not yet occurred.

In order to examine the second option––i.e., Jesus lied––we need to find a motivation to for Jesus to lie. The narrative reveals that there was an opposition to Jesus waiting in Jerusalem in order to kill him (v. 1), thus Jesus can not enter into Jerusalem conspicuously. Although his brothers are probably not intending to enter Jerusalem behind a marching band announcing their arrival, they are also not concerned about stealth. Jesus, on the other hand, wants to remain unseen until his speech. Thus, it is quite plausible that Jesus lied to his brothers that he was not going to attend Succoth so that he could surreptitiously enter Jerusalem on his own (v. 10) and remain their under the protection of his supposed absence (a pretense his brothers would have unknowingly spread).

In the end, the argument that Jesus changed his mind is weakened by the fact that the reason Jesus gave for not attending Succoth is not fulfilled until ch. 17. In other words, there appears to be no explicit or implicit reason in the text for Jesus to have changed his mind. On the other hand, the argument that Jesus lies coincides well with Jesus’ knowledge that his opponents want to kill him, which provides a clear motivation as to why Jesus would have lied to his brothers.}

*     *     *

Growing up, lying was always considered one of those absolute sins; that is, there was never a time when lying was justified. It’s a sin. Period. You don’t do it. It was also common to play the “what if” game, where we would place ourselves in difficult scenarios, which would engender a discussion about whether it was appropriate to lie or whether the truth was the appropriate response. As far as I remember, 100% of the time, no matter what situation in which we found ourselves, it was always wrong to lie. We justified this by saying that when we tell the truth, we leave matters in the hands of God.

While I am no longer an “absolutist” about the sinfulness of lying, it was still a bit shocking when I came across a lie told by Jesus. In John 7.8, Jesus tells his brothers, “I am not going to this festival, for my time has not yet fully come.” Once his brothers go off to the festival, however, we are told that “Jesus himself also went up [to the festival]” (v. 10).

Jesus certainly has his reasons for lying to his brothers; namely, that he desires to attend the festival secretly, for his time (i.e., arrest/death) has not yet come (v. 6). Regardless of the reasons, though, Jesus is portrayed as a liar. What’s more, the evangelist does not seem to be too concerned about Jesus’ lie. Rather, the evangelist is much more concerned with defending Jesus’ other sin: healing on the Sabbath (7.20–24; cf. 5.1-15; 9.1–14).

Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath was first taken up by the evangelist in ch. 5. Jesus defended his actions by stating that he will work on the Sabbath because the Father works continuously (v. 17). In ch. 7, though, Jesus takes a different approach. He defends himself by pointing out the already established rule that when the eighth day of an infants life falls on the Sabbath it is permitted to break the Sabbath to perform circumcision. Basically, circumcision was determined by the Jewish leaders to be weightier than the Sabbath. So when these two regulations came in conflict with each other, the weightier law (in this case, circumcision) was to be observed. Jesus’ conclusion is that healing someone on the Sabbath is not a sin because deliverance from oppression is a weightier command than keeping the Sabbath.

If you are not a Jew, the fact that Jesus would break Sabbath regulations to heal someone probably does not cause you any concern. However, keeping the Sabbath has always been a hallmark of Judaism. As such, Jesus actions on the Sabbath would come across as shocking and incredible for many Jews. This was certainly true for Jesus opponents in the Gospel accounts.

So why are non-Jews less troubled by Jesus actions on the Sabbath? I can only imagine it is because there is no emotional tie to the Sabbath. Gentiles might be aware of the importance of the Sabbath for Jews but this awareness is nothing more than intellectual knowledge. The Sabbath does not significantly impact the lives of gentiles.

Lying, on the other hand, has a more significant impact. For many Christians (and Jews?) lying is a sin that is never justified. If this is the case, I would argue that if these Christians want to get a better understanding of how unimaginable Jesus’ Sabbath actions would have been to those around him, perhaps it would be worthwhile to replace “Sabbath” with “lying.” As mentioned at the beginning of the post, this is a hypothetical scenario. Nevertheless, it bears some veracity because we have already seen that Jesus does tell a lie.

If we insert “lying” in place of “Sabbath,” then in John 5 and 9 Jesus delivers a man from oppression by lying. (Perhaps a fitting scenario would be that the man is being oppressed and Jesus lies about his whereabouts in order to deliver him from his oppressors. There are certainly other occasions in the Scriptures where someone lies to deliver someone from oppression and in return are blessed by God because they are doing his will [Exod 1.15–21; Josh 2]. More recently, those who lied to protect the Jews from the Nazis would be an appropriate illustration.) To put this in an accusatory form, Jesus is a liar. If this strikes you as blasphemous, then you get the point. It would be similar to the accusatory statement, Jesus breaks the Sabbath. One might respond that, “God would never command someone to lie; thus, clearly a man who lies can not be from God.” Now your starting to react like Jesus’ opponents (9.16). For Jesus, though, his actions are not his own, but those of the Father (4.34; 5.17, 19–22, 30, 36; 8.28; 10.25, 37; 14.10; 17.4, 14). Thus, Jesus is vindicated when he breaks the Sabbath and when he lies, for God has commanded him to do both.

Cherry Picking Fool?: A Response to Dr. Cargill and Others

In a recent blog post, Dr. Robert Cargill, took his turn in throwing a young and admittedly zealous young man under the bus for tattooing his Lev 18:22 to his right arm in support of his anti-homosexual marriage stance while somehow missing that Leviticus 19:28 forbids the tattooing. I have seen this meme around for quite a while (even on Dr. Daniel Kirk’s FB) and each time I see it I think that I should interject but I don’t due to my fear of looking like a fundamentalist prick. I am over this fear now. Before I get into the main part of my critique I would like to make a few things crystal clear so that my view is not reject for the (wrong) reasons: a) I do not oppose gay marriage as a law of society. b) I do not think that the Scriptures insist that Christians have a view on marriage outside of the Church. c) I strongly oppose the ordination or “legalization” of any type of sexual practice that does not fall within the one-man and one-woman view. d) I do not think homosexuality is any worse than greed, malice, etc. e) I would feel just as comfortable attending church with a homosexual as I would with a thief, drug addict, racist, or whoremonger because the gospel that I participate in and proclaim involves initial acceptance without excluding the demand to change. I am not scared of homosexuals and I do not think “they” are any more dangerous to society than those despicable thieves parading themselves around on TV and calling themselves “preacher” or “apostle.”


With all that being said I would like to say that Dr. Cargill and others are wrong. Period. Yes, the young man appeared to be guilty of overzealousness and (maybe) ignorant but it is not so clear that he is inconsistent. If it can be shown that his hermeneutic was the same as the NT writers *and* it can lead to his current view it is not inconsistent — even if one wishes it were. My argument will follow the following path: I) I will question the rhetoric of Dr. Cargill’s post to see if it is guilty of “poisoning the well” or misunderstanding Christian hermeneutics toward the Torah for Gentiles. II) I will demonstrate that, in Acts, James and those at the Council, used laws from that very section of Leviticus to show that the Gentiles must only keep some of the Torah (i.e., they must be a particular type of “cherry picker”). III) We will examine the verse in question to see if it may be properly used to support his stance as being God’s will.

I. Hate Crimes, Civil Rights and Inerrancy

The first questionable piece of rhetoric used by Dr. Cargill is found when he claims that this young man, “is a friend of a suspect in a brutal hate crime in Queens, N.Y. He insists that the assault was, in fact, not a hate crime, but that the openly gay victim deserved what he calls a “beat down.” So, the logic of the two sentences is that A.) the young man’s friend (admittedly) attacked a gay person B) the young man did not disapprove. C) Therefore the attack was a hate crime. Uh, no not necessarily that still has to be proven. It is the same sort of twisted (il)logic that convicts someone of a hate crime because they described the other person in the attack by their ‘race.’ False. (It seems here the problematic aspect of this young man’s actions is that he approved of violence — we are not sure of the assailants religious orientation.)

Next, Dr. Cargill says, “One argument I make consistently to those who would seek to use the Bible* to suppress the civil rights*…” (emphasis mine) Opposing homosexual marriage may be a civil rights question to Dr. Cargill but I do not believe that it can be described as that per se. The issue is very complicated and should not be reduced to such pejorative labeling. I will use my own situation as an example of how Dr. Cargill’s assumption is false and therefore unloving. I am a minister who does not oppose the civil unions of persons who are of the same sex. The government is by the people for the people and I am fine with that. If I were in the position to vote on the legality of this issue I would vote to allow it if, and only if, it were clear that clergy were free to reject performing marriages (as they can now for couples living in flagrant sin of other sorts). By Dr. Cargill calling it a Civil Rights issue he is implicitly saying that for me to take a stand within the Church for heterosexual marriage that I would, “seek to use the Bible to suppress the civil rights of modern Americans.” Nope. Just doing what I am supposed to do Dr. Cargill and, in a perverted sort of way you seek to prevent my ‘freedom of religion.’

Finally, we turn to the tired case of inerrancy. On this topic Dr. Cargill says, ” there is a very high correlation between people arguing against same-sex marriage and a belief in biblical inerrancy…” Am I the only one who finds this statement as laughably false? So, we are to believe that when Prop 8 was passed in ’08 we are to believe that it was because of the inerrantists in California? Doubtful. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of those who voted for Prop 8 were not even Christian. This is not a fundamentalist-religious-person vs. the-rest-of-the-enlightened-world debate like many would like to frame it but, of course, I forward as much evidence for my supposition as Dr. Cargill did for his. Nada. So, what we have here is a bunch of rhetoric used (misleadingly) to poison the well. [The following has been added for clarity’s sake.] Let’s take my family for example. I grew up in Maryland which is an extremely (maybe the most) liberal state. My father’s family, though, is not liberal but extremely conservative yet, they are not religious. In fact, when my grandmother heard I was going to seminary she wondered why I would waste my money. They all oppose homosexual marriage as not being good for society. The way I understand their view it very similar to what I know of the Romans who permitted the practice but didn’t allow it for marriage.

II. Cherry Pickin’ Fool!

The real problem Dr. Cargill has, in this post, with this errant young man is that he is guilty, as are many who disagree with his stance, of “cherry-picking” verses. In this section I will demonstrate that Acts 15 does this very dastardly thing in establishing the Torah requirement placed on Gentiles. Here is the relevant section:

Acts 15:22 Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church, decided to choose men from among their members and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers, 23 with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the believers of Gentile origin in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, 25 we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” (NRSV)

It has been shown by many scholars (R. Bauckham, C.H. Talbert, E. P. Sanders, etc.) that the Apostles here are elevating four commands that come from Leviticus 17 & 18 that pertained to the “alien in the land” and how they could live in YHWH’s land, Israel, without becoming an Israelite and without offending YHWH. Here are the four commands:

1) Things sacrificed to idols Lev 17:8-9
2) Prohibition of ‘blood’ Lev 17:10, 12
3) ‘Things strangled’ Lev 17:13
4) ‘fornication’ Lev 18:26

III. Inconsistant Hermeneutic or …?

The last command that the Gentiles had to follow was found in Leviticus 18:26 (that is four verses away from the zealous young man’s tattoo). About this verse Bauckham states, “These [immoral acts] include “all the forms of sexual relations specified in Leviticus 18:6-23. Now I go to DTS so I may not know much but I do know that verse 22 falls within that range. One suspicious absence (i.e., verse that fall outside of that range) in the Apostles’ decree is the tattooing reference. Hmmm. It seems that the Apostles are guilty of precisely the same bad hermetical practice — “Cherry picking.” Whether this practice seems right to you or not, I do not see how Dr. Cargill can say, “I know of no New Testament command countermanding or otherwise “trumping” this law against tattoos,” or, “Sheer and utter hypocrisy.” Well here is one big example of exactly what you say you don’t know. So, I don’t think hypocrisy is the right word.

Now, let’s be honest, I do not think that this young man possessive the hermeneutical sophistication to explain this hermeneutical move. Better yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if the tattoo is a result of straight up homophobia. Of course, I can only suspect since I don’t know. What I just did was falsify Dr. Cargill’s claim that anyone who ‘cherry-picks’ is being unacceptably inconsistent hermeneutically since this view can be demonstrated to be precisely the same as found in Acts.

IV. Conclusion

My hope for this post is that the out of control rhetoric will stop — at least amongst those who should know better. We may disagree with each other and still be civil and not resort to comparing homosexual marriage with slavery or women’s right to vote. This is a difficult issue with an uncertain path heading forward. Can we please, those of us who are mature, act that way in thought and in deed? Dr. Cargill I respect your work and am a routine visitor on your blog but this post needs to amended or taken down.


Edit: I have fixed some of this post for clarity and tone. The things that I said which were out of line with an irenic tone I crossed out. The things added are underlined.

Douglas Campbell and Romans 1:16-17

I just finished watching “Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul,” which was a conference held a King’s College in London. I am particularly interested in this conference because its purpose was to engage with the work of Douglas Campbell who is, in my mind, currently one of the most important scholars in Pauline Studies. I have read his two books cover to cover and simultaneously agree and disagree with much of his work. One of my favorite proposals in his most recent work regards the translation of Romans 1:16-17. Here is the text, then the current accepted translation and then his translation.

Rom. 1:16-17 ¶ Οὐ γὰρ ἐπαισχύνομαι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, δύναμις γὰρ θεοῦ ἐστιν εἰς σωτηρίαν παντὶ τῷ πιστεύοντι, Ἰουδαίῳ τε πρῶτον καὶ Ἕλληνι. δικαιοσύνη γὰρ θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ ἀποκαλύπτεται ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν, καθὼς γέγραπται· ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται.

Rom. 1:16-17 ¶ For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” NRSV

Rom 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel for the power of God is salvation to all who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the right act of God is revealed by faith for faith as it is written, “The Righteous One will live by faith(fulness).”

I absolutely love this translation. Campbell has helped me see that Paul’s emphasis was not on the Gospel (i.e., the thing that is opposed to the Law) but on the act of God in Christ. It is not that Paul didn’t preach the Gospel; it is just that he didn’t see it as being defined by being the antithesis of something else. The act of God in Christ is the means by which all other aid from God flows. God has rescued all those who have turned to him due to Christ’s faith — not our own.

Maybe Campbell’s work won’t be accepted in many circles but I think that his work will end up having a much greater and more lasting effect on Pauline scholarship (and hopefully preaching) than most people think. Here is a short exempt of his justification for the translation.

This noun phrase precedes the verb and therefore is best construed in the first instance as that verb’s subject Moreover, in so preceding, it parallels exactly the following sentence, which has a similar substantive phrase concerning God in the first position — a phrase that is invariably read as the sentence’s subject. If “righteousness of God” is read in the predicate, then both these apparent signals are being ignored. Such a reading is not impossible, but it would need supporting reasons, and it is difficult to know what they might be (that is, other than a priori ones). At first glance it seems that the “righteousness of God” and the “power of God” in w. 16b-17a are parallel acts of God. Indeed, 1:18 also fore- grounds an act of God — there his wrath — in the position of subject, although not in the sentence’s first position.” DOG 702




Jesus Kept Kosher

What follows is a review of chapter 3 in Daniel Boyarin’s new book The Jewish Gospels. I intend to review all the chapters but this was the first chapter review I finished. In this chapter Boyarin’s thesis is simple: Despite centuries of interpretation otherwise Jesus did not, in any way, abandon the Torah and not only that but, he is representative of an older more conservative Judaism not a heretical liberal spin-off. The old misinterpretation, he claims, results from the misreading the controversy story found in Mark 7.

¶ Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

9Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God)— 12 then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.”

14  Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” 17   When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, 19 since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Traditionally, this text has been thought to teach that Jesus was abandoning the Torah’s restrictions on food. This interpretation has seemed unavoidable due to the interpretive gloss found in v. 19 “Thus he declared all foods to be clean.” Boyarin quotes a few top scholars to give a sense of the consensus but he then proposes in contradistinction, “Jesus was…not fighting against the Jews or Judaism but with some Jews for what he considered to be the right kind of Judaism.” Not only does Boyarin’s view claim that Jesus was Torah observant he takes it a step further and claims that the Pharisees were the “dangerous innovators” of the day.

His argument rests on two major observations: 1) Scholars have not often distinguished between the forbidden and allowed paradigm and the clean and unclean paradigm. 2) Christianity is not, as has traditionally been thought, an anti-Jewish movement. It is a movement from within Judaism and is in opposition to a current view within their religion (that of the Pharisee’s).

As for the first point, I must say that this is a brilliant distinction that makes complete sense. The argument is not about the legality of food but about purity. Jesus’ remarks are not changing scripture by allowing what it had not allowed but they are meant to attack the “traditions of the elders” which contradicted the original intent of the deeper meaning of the instructions. Jesus is simply stating that food cannot make one impure since food does not operate within that sphere of understanding. Food is either allowed or it is disallowed. To eat from the forbidden foods would be an act of rebellion i.e., a moral act. Purity did not connect to morality in the same way. One may become impure through no fault of his own and would not be guilty of sin. (Of course, to partake in ritual while unclean is a moral issue but that is not what Jesus is talking about.) Scripture did not teach that food could effect purity. So, when Jesus is said to “declare all foods clean” he is only saying that Scripture has not said that food should be thought of in those categories and not that now all food is “allowed.”

Jesus is not anti-Jewish he is anti-Pharisee. He also points out that this dispute is not a dispute over Halakah (how to apply the commands of the Torah) but is a dispute over the purpose of the Torah. Jesus wants the “deeper” truths that the Torah points toward to be fundamentally involved in the application while the Pharisees desire to focus on only the outward reality. So, Jesus’ claim that only things that come out of the body can render one impure (i.e., bodily fluids, etc.) is rightfully applied to actions since the also originate “inside” and are completed “outside.”

The second observation, that Christianity was originally conceived as true Jewish religion, is not new but Boyarin adds an interesting twist to this view. He claims that Christianity was not, as many Christian and non-Chritian interpreters have sought to demonstrate, a liberal view but instead is the conservative view in distinction from the ultra conservative view of the Pharisee’s. That is why the passage on foods being “clean” (or, unable to make one “impure”) is connected to the teaching on Qorban. The Markan Jesus is claiming that these so-called “traditions of the elders” (the Qorban) are in opposition to God’s commands (honoring father and mother) and therefore are wrong as they do not understand or sustain the teaching of Scripture. So, this Pharisaic movement, which would eventually (as is supposed) from into the Rabbinic movement, was being exposed by the Markan Jesus as being the too-far-to-the-right Scriptural interpreters and thus enemies of YWHW.

(This observation, according to Boyarin, also helps shed light on Jesus’ claim, in Matthew, that they sought to “convert [other Jews]” since they were not the “only” form of Judaism in the day but they merely were in the ascendent in the certain geographical parts of Judea.)

My takeaway from this chapter is that it just another example of Boyarin’s brilliance − whether his view is accepted or not. Jesus was Jewish, Christianity was/is Jewish. The division between the two religions only exists because of later Creeds. The only thing that would have made the chapter better is if he had engaged with the word of Crossley on this. The rhetoric of the chapter makes the reader believe that this view has not been proposed when it has, by Crossley*. Beside that minor quibble I must commend this chapter for its intriguing thesis.
* Crossley, J G. The date of Mark’s Gospel: insight from the law in earliest Christianity. Vol. 266. T&T Clark, 2004.




Attempts to Harmonize Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity

Personifications of Church and Synagogue at the Strasbourg Cathedral, depicting the triumph of Christianity over Judaism

Typically, when I think about the relationship between early Christianity and Judaism, I picture binary opponents. That is, there are two extreme positions, each one deeming the other a heresy and, thus, self-identifying in relation to their extreme counterpart. More specifically, I picture Christians who viewed Judaism as antiquated, erroneous, or simply insufficient. On the other side, I picture non-Christian Jews viewing the Jesus movement as a heretical and defunct sect of Judaism, erroneously attesting to have certain ties to Judaism. Within this latter group I would also place Jewish Christians who would view Jesus and the movement associated with him as completely harmonious with Judaism and any Christian suggesting otherwise demonstrates in their beliefs that they are, in fact, not followers of the God of Judaism, and thus, not followers of Jesus.

This default picture of extreme parties having it out against their mirror opposites is a product of the common view that the NT authors represent such binary conflict. While I do not doubt that James and Matthew would have liked to punch Paul in the face (and vica versa), there seems to be evidence that there were “bipartisan” groups, who viewed the extremist’s as valid in their own way.

Finding this voice of a middle group is not always easy, for it is buried beneath the voice of its louder opponents. Nevertheless, it seems that we first hear of such a mediating view from Barnabas (late first–early second c.).

For Barnabas, the Jews never obtained the covenant. Just when they were about to receive it, they permanently lost it when Moses smashed the stone tablets on the ground. From that point on, according to Barnabas, the covenant was established for the Christians (4.6–8). “Christian” for Barnabas is strictly of a non-Jewish persuasion. In fact, to believe otherwise––that is, to believe that the Jews qua Jews also receive the covenant––is sinful. He writes:

Watch yourselves now and do not become like some people by piling up your sins, saying that the covenant is both theirs [Jews] and ours [Gentiles]. (4.6)

This statement reveals to us that there was a group of believers––whether of Jewish or Gentile origin––who believe that the Jesus movement is not an either/or but (perhaps) a both/and. In other words, there are some who do not see Jesus as a divisive line between Jews and Gentiles, but rather, Jesus was a mediator of a shared covenant.

This mediating position emerges again later in the second century in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho. In the middle of Justin’s defense of the virgin birth, Trypho retorts:

Let you who are of Gentile origin…who are all named Christians after Christ, profess him to be Lord and Christ and God, as the Scriptures signify. But we Jews, who adore the God who made him, are not obliged to confess or worship him. (64.1)

Despite Justin’s excoriating response to Trypho’s inability to understand his argument, Justin is fairly “flexible” in what he views as acceptable conduct for Jewish converts to Christianity. For instance, when Trypho asks whether a Jew who confesses Jesus to be the Messiah and yet continues to observe the Mosaic Law, would still be saved, Justin responds:

In my opinion…I say such a man will be saved, unless he exerts every effort to influence other men [Gentiles]…to practice the same rites as himself, informing them that they cannot be saved unless they do so. (47.1)

Justin then speaks of “some Christians who boldly refuse to have conversation or meals with such persons [Jewish-Christian law observers]” (47.2); thus, showing that there was diversity in Gentile Christianity about the validity of Law observance for Jewish Christians. For Gentile Christians who observe the Mosaic Law, Justin is uncertain of their final outcome. For these, he can only say that they “will probably be saved” (v. 3). Finally, Justin states what he assumes to be the correct (“orthodox”) belief of the time, that Jews or Gentiles who only practice Jewish Law and deny Jesus, forfeit salvation (v. 4). There is no uncertainty in Justin’s tone here. Justin’s uncompromising tone (and the fact that he brings the issue up at all) suggests that there were Jews and/or Gentiles who argued that the “covenant is both theirs and ours” (Barn 4.6). In other words, it seems that Justin is reacting against a group who believes that Jesus is good for the Gentiles, Moses is good for the Jews, and both are from God; thus, both are acceptable.

At the beginning of the fourth century we find a text that stands between the extremes. The author/editor of the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies and Recognitions appears to be a Jewish Christian and sees no conflict between Jesus and the Torah or Moses. He writes:

If anyone has been thought worthy to recognize by himself both [i.e., Moses and Jesus] as preaching one doctrine, that one has been counted rich in God, understanding both the old things as new in time and the new things as old. (Hom. 8.7; cf. Rec. 4.5)

From this selection, the author/editor is similar to Matthew, in that Jesus is the like Moses and speaks and teaches in harmony with Moses. However, in the Recognitions we find a flexibility that we do not see in Matthew. In Matthew, those who reject Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah will be damned at judgment. In the Recognitions we read:

By which it is certainly declared, that the people of the Hebrews, who were instructed out of the law, did not know him [Jesus]; but the people of the Gentiles have acknowledged Jesus, and venerate him; on which account also they shall be saved, not only acknowledging him, but also doing his will. But he who is of the Gentiles, and who has it of God to believe Moses, ought also to have it of his own purpose to love Jesus. And again, the Hebrew, who has it of God to believe Moses, ought to have it also of his own purpose to believe in Jesus; so that each of them having in himself something of the divine gift, and something of his own exertion, may be perfect by both. (Rec. 5.5)

For the author/editor of the Recognitions, each group “ought” to recognize the validity of the other, but it is not commanded. It would seem that, for this author, the Gentiles are in good standing if they do not acknowledge Moses and the Law and the Jews are in good standing if they do not acknowledge Jesus. Perfection, though, is attained when the extreme parties acknowledge the beliefs and traditions of the other as acceptable before God.

I can only imagine that this group found itself getting beat over the head by both extremes (similar to the way bipartisan candidates today receive criticism from both Republican and Democrats). In the end, the extreme groups are often the loudest and most prolific in writing; thus, we find ourselves inundated with literature from the extreme parties. Perhaps, though, the best way to see the legitimacy of the work of God is through the eyes of the author/editor of the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies and Recognitions, who views the extreme factions as factions and perfection is attained when these factions cease and harmony among God’s people is realized.

Larry Hurtado and Review of Pauline Scholarship

Over at his blog, Hurtado summarizes Tom Wright’s review of Pauline scholarship in what seems to be the first post of two on the state of Pauline scholarship. The following post will summarize Douglas Campbell’s approach to Paul, Duke’s own most recent thorough investigations into the question of Paul and Justification with a fresh, yet some might find odd, reading of Romans 1-3. The review of Wright is certainly worth a quick read, and we look forward to a helpful summary of Campbell (especially those of us who haven’t made our way through the entirety of his door-stop-of-a-tome, The Deliverance of God). Check it out here.

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