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
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
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”?
Shortly after Jesus' execution his followers came to believe that their master had ascended out of the grave as an exalted and heavenly man. In order to explain and justify this newfound conviction, these Jewish believers turned decisively to Psalms 2 & 110. These psalms—or rather, prophecies—confirmed what the earliest Christians believed God had done … Continue reading Melchizedek: Davidic priest-king to the nations
Despite the ubiquity of divinely-sanctioned and divinely-orchestrated capital punishment in the Law of Moses and the Hebrew Bible, many insist that Jesus, ever the enlightened reformer, repudiated capital punishment. The argument usually follows one of two lines. On the one hand, many progressives believe Jesus opposed capital punishment because he, unlike the God portrayed in … Continue reading Capital punishment, righteous Israelites, and the redemption of the adulterous woman
Leading up to and following the overthrow of Greco-Roman paganism by Christian monotheism, Greek-speaking Christian elites gradually transformed Jesus' original apocalyptic message (i.e. the gospel of God's impending and annexation judgement of the nations) into a religion that could sustain the now politically dominant church for centuries to come. Through this process, the New Testament … Continue reading Some hard sayings of Jesus: amputation
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
ὁ Θεὸς ἔκτισε τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἐπ᾿ ἀφθαρσίᾳ καὶ εἰκόνα τῆς ἰδίας ἰδιότητος ἐποίησεν αὐτόν· φθόνῳ δέ διαβόλου θάνατος εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τόν κόσμον, πειράζουσι δὲ αὐτὸν οἱ τῆς ἐκείνου μερίδος ὄντες. God created man for incorruptibility and he made him to be the image of his own being. But by the envy of the Devil death … Continue reading When Cain was the Devil
Behold, I have appointed you today over nations and kingdoms, so that you might uproot and undermine and destroy and rebuild and plant. (Jeremiah 1:10) Just before Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 586 BCE, God enlisted Jeremiah as his prophet. Jeremiah was to prophesy concerning all the peoples of the earth. He would decree … Continue reading The prophet like Jeremiah and the wrath to come
Perhaps in part due to the popularity and success of non-violent liberators like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ghandi, we often assume that early Christian directives regarding love for enemies were motivated primarily by evangelistic concerns. That is, early Christians believed that some of their persecutors would reconsider their actions when confronted with unexpected … Continue reading Why did early Christians love their enemies?