As modern science has advanced, belief-systems that attribute human welfare and suffering to the scheming of angels and demons have retreated in equal proportion. Few Christians today would procure an exorcist to alleviate a crippled spine, for instance. Even in cases of extreme antisocial behavior, activity traditionally attributed to malevolent spirits, most modern Christians are … Continue reading Diseased demons: spirits as agents of illness
For theologically-minded readers the question is largely closed: breaking bread and pouring wine, Jesus gave his impending execution sacrificial meaning. Here at this final meal the Eucharist was born—Christ's body broken and blood spilled for the forgiveness of sins. In a word, at the Last Supper, Jesus taught the doctrine of atonement. Critical readings, however, … Continue reading What did Jesus teach at the Last Supper?
I observed in my last post that a man's behavior at a feast served to either maintain his father's honor or incur shame upon his family name. By eating and/or drinking to excess, for instance, a foolish son would publicly dishonor his parents and signal to guests and host alike that his father was unable … Continue reading Inverted honor: resurrection as status reversal
Food, sonship, & rebellion The Jewish scriptures associate rebellion against parents with excessive eating and drinking. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 is the seminal text in this regard. There, the "stubborn and rebellious son" is brought before the elders of the town where, prior to being stoned, he is accused of "drunkenness" (οἰνοφλυγέω) and revelrous "gluttony" (συνβολοκοπέω) (21:20, cf. … Continue reading Inverted sonship: Jesus as prodigal son
Although early Christian literature rarely alludes to the story of Noah and the destruction of his antediluvian world, interpreters should not discount the singular hermeneutical importance of Noah's tale for the first Christians. The Flood myth provided the primitive churches with an invaluable narrative framework through which Christian identities were shaped, Christian experiences were rationalized, … Continue reading A world wiped away by wrath and time: Noah in early Christian imagination
Christians generally regard Jesus' resurrection as a Christological sign, as a marker of his deity. By rising from the dead, Jesus disclosed his true identity, not as some condemned preacher from Nazareth, but as the God of Israel, the only one capable of overwhelming death with life. Now recognized as God, believers turn to this … Continue reading Is the Resurrection a proof of Jesus’ deity?
In my last post I argued that Jesus initially presented himself as a spirit-anointed prophet rather than as a spirit-anointed king (i.e. the Messiah). The following lines supported this conclusion. Most people thought Jesus was, or at least claimed to be, a spirit-possessed prophet (Mark 6:15, 14:65, Matthew 21:11, Luke 7:16; 39, 24:19, John 4:19, … Continue reading From prophet to king: how and why Jesus laid claim to David’s throne
As the first traditions about Jesus were disseminated through word of mouth and in written documents, they were refracted through a number of interpretive lenses. One such lens was the spiritual experience of the faithful community. Among these first believers, the same Jesus who had been crucified was alive, teaching and working in and as … Continue reading The prophet returns: Jesus as Elijah redivivus
The account of Israel's sea-crossing contained in Exodus 14-15 is a composite text. At least three disparate sources concerning God's activity at the Sea of Reeds were sown together by a priestly redactor for priestly purposes. For this final compiler, Israel's escape at the sea, however it might have been conceived previously, was reflected through … Continue reading Israel’s escape at the Sea of Reeds
At its core, Jewish apocalypticism represents a form of political protest and historical interpretation. It is not, in the first place, concerned with the heavenly afterlife, fantastical beasts, natural catastrophes, or the collapse of space and time. Looks, in this case, can be deceiving. Instead, as I've argued often, underneath the otherworldly spectacle of Jewish … Continue reading The return of the living dead: the purpose of resurrection in the second temple period