The historian Josephus records that various 1st century messianic leaders promised to perform public Exodus-style signs so as to inaugurate God's powerful reign over Israel and the world. Many Jews were persuaded to follow such figures "into the wilderness," hoping to participate anew in the liberation and founding of the nation.1 For such Jews the … Continue reading Prophets of the new Exodus: Loaves and fishes as military provocation
In an effort to interpret history through a Christian lens the evangelists sometimes indulge in anachronistic portraiture of Jesus; that is, they retroject the experience of the believing community back into Jesus' ministry. John's depiction of Jesus as a master of extended discourse and debate, for instance, is more reflective of the late 1st century … Continue reading The demonized Gerasene and the paganized Greek: eschatological allegory in Mark 5:1-20
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?
The prophets of Biblical legend functioned as conduits of divine energy and might. They conducted God's power, whether that power was to save or to destroy. Moses tore open the waters for Israel but shut them upon their pursuers. Elijah multiplied oil and meal to sustain the lives of his friends but called forth fire … Continue reading Jesus, fiend of sinners
A Christian fluke I'm currently watching a Great Courses lecture series entitled The Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity with professor Kenneth W. Harl of Tulane University. Dr. Harl spends much of the course tracing the development of Christianity from a marginal and marginalized Jewish apocalyptic kerygma under the first Christians to … Continue reading Like a thief in the night: Constantine and the sudden death of paganism
While many are familiar with the ways Christian doctrine has changed over time, few recognize just how novel modern evangelistic practices are. Just as the Christian message developed and evolved, particularly with the blunting of its apocalyptic edge, so too have the ways in which Christians transmit their message to the outside world. This shift … Continue reading How did the first Christians spread the gospel?
Apocalyptic hope After the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, the Jewish people witnessed and experienced the conquest of the known world by successive pagan empires. Under these idolatrous oppressors, the Jewish people grappled with confusion and hopelessness as their convictions about the sovereignty of their God were viscerally challenged and subverted. Was YHWH unable … Continue reading Psalm 82 and the Christian apocalypse: the Greco-Roman Ragnarök
The kingdom among Jews I previously made the case that the kingdom of God as understood by the first Christians was not fundamentally a place, a polity, or a period of time; it was rather a process by which God's will became manifest on the earth in history. This process would at first be sudden … Continue reading Another look at God’s kingdom in second temple context
Among those Jews in the Greek and Roman periods who expected a Messiah, most expected him to be a son of David. This Davidic Messiah would be a new and better David; he would obey God, judge among the people of Israel, and take control of the surrounding nations. Israel would finally be safe, prosperous, … Continue reading Son of David: healer extraordinaire?
Crises in heaven and earth The coupling of political realities with spiritual realities is a hallmark of Jewish apocalyptic. In such works the heavenly stage is reflected upon the earthly stage. Examples of this relationship are numerous: disturbances in the heavens spell disaster for the earth, the unrolling of heavenly scrolls ensures the pouring out … Continue reading Signs of the kingdom: the dispossession of Legion