God’s kingdom among the dogs: Jesus and the gentile beggar

For Jesus' modern admirers the story of the Syrophoenician/Canaanite woman remains a stone of stumbling. It is difficult to assimilate a Jesus who denigrates gentiles as "dogs" into the vision of Jesus as the proto-liberal par excellence. John P. Meier pricks at this modern sentiment perfectly: "Christian exegetes would probably have decried the use of … Continue reading God’s kingdom among the dogs: Jesus and the gentile beggar

Blasphemy against Beelzebul: Jesus and the worship of demons

During the second temple period king Solomon became a legendary exorcist in the minds of many Jews. As traditions relating Israel's king to exorcism proliferated, Solomon established himself as the archetypal Hebrew exorcist and as the ancient expert in all things demonic. Josephus, for instance, gushes over Solomon's God-given abilities: God also enabled him to … Continue reading Blasphemy against Beelzebul: Jesus and the worship of demons

God’s patriarchal kingdom

I argued previously that Jesus viewed slavery—and human hierarchical arrangements in general—as intrinsic to God's orderly design of the world. When rightly honored, these hierarchical structures were believed to thwart the intrusion of chaos and divine wrath into the body politic. Many of the Israelite law codes, for example, are concerned with the proper upkeep … Continue reading God’s patriarchal kingdom

Saved by the bell: Noble pagans in Christ’s kingdom

Prior to the coming of Christ's spirit upon God-fearing gentiles, and before the penetration of Paul's gospel into greater pagan society, Jesus' mission was directed exclusively towards the people of Israel (cf. Matthew 10:5-6, 15:24, Romans 15:8, Hebrews 2:16, cf. Galatians 2:7): "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" … Continue reading Saved by the bell: Noble pagans in Christ’s kingdom

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