Hades thrown into fire: corpse desecration at the close of the pagan age

Ancient peoples dreaded the prospect of improper burial. To die without any burial at all was seen as more terrible still.1 Such a fate, while no doubt humiliating—a sign of divine displeasure (cf. Psalm 53:5)—also carried effects beyond the grave and into the underworld. It is to these postmortem effects that we will turn in … Continue reading Hades thrown into fire: corpse desecration at the close of the pagan age

Skeletons in God’s closet: Jesus and the crusader king

To the chagrin of many Christians, the Hebrew Bible occasionally depicts Israel's God as a "man of war" who leads his people into battle, often for the cause of vengeance. Even more troublesome for modern readers are the wars of herem (חֵרֶם) in which God instructs Israel to exterminate the enemy—man, woman, child, and goat, … Continue reading Skeletons in God’s closet: Jesus and the crusader king

Suffered under Herod Antipas: Jesus in the hands of an angry king

Christians tend to place the responsibility for Jesus' death upon either the Jewish crowds (as symbolic of fallen humanity) or upon Israel's cultic elite (as symbolic of oppressive and politically-compromised religion). In so doing they follow the general picture offered by the Gospels. Historians, on the other hand, tend to shift the onus in the … Continue reading Suffered under Herod Antipas: Jesus in the hands of an angry king

No rest for the wicked: Jesus as Satan’s Sabbath-breaking son

As many scholars have maintained, the Sabbath dispute stories in the Gospels lack historical verisimilitude. Few if any 1st century Jews were so strict in their observance of the Sabbath day as to reprimand deeds of healing upon it. In fact, according to the Gospels themselves, most took no issue with Jesus' Sabbath activity at … Continue reading No rest for the wicked: Jesus as Satan’s Sabbath-breaking son

Paul the slave-master: how early Christians leveraged slaves and their households

The Classical world of Jesus and Paul was decidedly hierarchical. Individuals depended upon the benevolence of socially-superior benefactors—fathers, husbands, masters, patrons, rulers, and gods—both to meet physical needs and to secure social status. To threaten this order by rebellion or abandonment of one's post meant certain disaster—punishment, shame, exposure. Few could therefore transcend the duties … Continue reading Paul the slave-master: how early Christians leveraged slaves and their households

Slavery and God’s hierarchical kingdom

Despite numerous attempts to find in Jesus' teachings an anti-slavery ethic, Jesus appears to have viewed the institution in ways typical for his time. By all accounts his apocalyptic message neither challenged slavery in the present evil age nor envisioned an egalitarian eschaton. Consider the following. Jesus honored the Law of Moses as God's word … Continue reading Slavery and God’s hierarchical kingdom

Did early Christians interpret Old Testament violence “through Jesus”?

Christians have long viewed Jesus as a hermeneutical key of sorts to the Old Testament. Because of this, the whole of the Hebrew Bible, and indeed the whole of Israel's story, is made to serve Christian ends. Behind every passage, behind every event in the history of the Jewish people, there must lie Christ's sacrifice … Continue reading Did early Christians interpret Old Testament violence “through Jesus”?

The man who would not be god: Jesus as deified king

I argued last time that when the Johannine Jewish establishment stigmatizes Jesus as a man who "makes himself God" (John 10:33, cf. 5:18, Mark 2:7, 14:67) they do so with certain self-aggrandizing pagan emperors in mind; the king of Tyre (Ezekiel 28), the king of Egypt (Ezekiel 29), the king of Babylon (Isaiah 14), and, … Continue reading The man who would not be god: Jesus as deified king

The king who would be god: Jesus as blasphemous pagan king

Was Jesus accused of blasphemy? Those who are committed to a low or human Christology sometimes argue that the charges of blasphemy leveled against Jesus in the Gospels are late and fabricated additions to the Jesus-tradition. Just as claims to deity were artificially ascribed to Jesus, so too were accusations like those found in John … Continue reading The king who would be god: Jesus as blasphemous pagan king

Israel’s Davidic gospel

The Greek word "gospel" (εὐαγγέλιον) enjoyed popular usage in both pagan and Jewish spheres long before early Christians appropriated it as a summary of their preaching. Though Christians have since emptied the word of its political content—leaving only the gospel of personal, otherworldly salvation—the first Christians chose to deliver their message as "gospel" because of—not … Continue reading Israel’s Davidic gospel