Theological rants
of a liberal Christian

Book review: The Synoptic Problem

Thursday, July 31, 2014 in Book Reviews | 0 comments

Book review: The Synoptic Problem

by Mark Goodacre

★★★★★

This is an excellent overview of the Synoptic Problem with a proposed solution which bypasses the need for a Q document. Goodacre is intrigued by this mystery, stating that the “Synoptic Problem is probably the most fascinating literary enigma of all time.” He provides a fair analysis of why scholars tend to favor Q as a solution, but then dismantles the arguments in favor the Farrer Theory.

The Synoptic Problem seeks to explain the similarities between Matthew, Mark and Luke, which are simply too similar to have been written indepently. But what is the relationship between the three? Which gospel(s) copied from which, why did portions of the gospel story get left out in the copying, and where did any new material come from?

While Q is the assumed missing link in the Two-Source Theory (which states that Matthew and Luke relied on Mark and an as-yet unfound sayings gospel known as Q), the Farrer Theory also assumes Markan priority but then goes in a different direction. It proposes that Luke actually relied on Matthew and Mark, with no need for another source. The idea is that Luke found Matthew’s work largely unacceptable and picked over those additions to Mark that he found in line with his own emphasis while discarding other material. After admitting that the solution is far from proven, Goodacre appeals to Occam’s Razor, choosing what he feels is the less complex solution. If you’re familiar with the divisions titled Mark, Q, M and L, the idea here is that M and Q are Matthew’s additions to Mark, but Q doesn’t derive from an earlier source … it merely represents that portion of Matthew’s additions that Luke chose to retain in his own rewrite.

Written with clarity and numerous examples, but without digging deeper than necessary to portray the issues, this is the best book I’ve read yet about the Synoptic Problem.

Originally published in 2001 by T&T Clark International, this book is now placed in the public domain and made available by the Internet Archive.

T&T Clark International, © 2011

ISBN: 0-567-080-560

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Acts 1:12, A Sabbath Day’s Walk

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Acts 1:12, A Sabbath Day’s Walk

Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day’s journey.

//The book of Acts tells us that the allowable distance an observant Jew could walk on the Sabbath without violating the law was about the distance from Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives. That’s about 3,000 feet, or 2,000 cubits. This distance is derived from Joshua 3:4, which is the distance specified between the people and the Ark of the Covenant as they travelled to the promised land:

Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go: for ye have not passed this way heretofore.

Now let’s talk about the Essenes, an ultra-strict community of Jews who held rigid purity laws. In their scrolls, they insisted that the community latrines must be a distance of 2,000 cubits away*. This leads to an interesting conclusion: It appears that it was illegal for the Essenes to empty their bowels on a Saturday! The latrines would be further away than they could legally walk on the Sabbath. See the research of Robert Feather in the New Dawn Magazine, 12/23/2010.

* Different texts record different distances, from 1000 to 3000 cubits, and one archaeological discovery seems to locate a latrine area only 1640 feet from the Qumran site. So, take this post with a grain of salt!

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John 3:6, Born of the Female Holy Spirit

Tuesday, July 29, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

John 3:6, Born of the Female Holy Spirit

That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

//I’ve written before about the feminine aspects and qualities of God throughout scripture, and of the correspondence between Wisdom (Greek: Sophia, a feminine name) and the Holy Spirit. But C. D. Baker points out something interesting in his wonderful book, Becoming the Son:

Today’s words were written in Greek. The Greek word for the Spirit is Pneuma, a genderless word. Today’s verse quotes the Gospel of John, and in that gospel, Jesus is closely associated with the Spirit, so in my own book about this gospel, I refer to the Spirit in the same gender as Jesus. A male.

Baker points out the error in this thinking, by referring to the Aramaic word for the Spirit that Jesus himself would have used: Rauch, the native Aramaic word, is grammatically feminine. Jesus would have naturally spoken of the Spirit as a she … we are born of her.

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Book Excerpt: Revelation: The Way It Happened

Monday, July 28, 2014 in Book Excerpt | 0 comments

Book Excerpt: Revelation: The Way It Happened

In 70 CE, the Romans overpowered Jerusalem in a war that would set the stage for Christianity to emerge from the ashes of Judaism.

Josiah stood atop Mount Zion, the Temple mount, gazing out over the city of Jerusalem. A skyrocketing population in the weeks before the Passover feast had transformed two months later into a rising death toll; fewer and fewer Jews could be seen in the streets south of the Temple. The northern half of the city had fallen to the Romans, and only a single wall, running east to west through the middle of the city, separated the legionnaires from the hapless citizens and visitors.

For two months Josiah had been battling the Roman legions in Jerusalem, and the Jewish army had eventually been forced to retreat back to the Temple mount. Titus, the son of Caesar, now paraded his legions below, doing his best to demoralize the remaining Jews. Yet Josiah much preferred fighting the Romans to the lawlessness of the preceding civil war. Zealot factions had been killing other Jews for three years, filling the streets with piled bodies. Most families died slowly of hunger or disease, choosing at sword point to relinquish their food and possessions to the Zealots, who responded by isolating the young men of the family and skewering those unwilling to join in the war effort. They lay unburied as a deterrent to the disobedience of others; no one was allowed to remove them for burial under threat of the same punishment. Josiah knew what the scriptures said: At that time, friends shall make war on friends like enemies. Portions of the city began to stink so badly that people avoided many of the streets.

Josiah dug another piece of dried fish out of his pouch and began chewing on it. He glanced up at the Temple where the priests performed ritual sacrifices, even while the war continued. Many of the Jewish citizens still trudged up the south stairs that led to where Josiah stood on the 35-acre Temple courtyard and then up another flight of stairs to the great Temple itself. One of these travelers had been kind enough to share his meat, or Josiah would have gone hungry today.

He plodded over to the east side of the courtyard and peeked over the city wall to where the Roman encampments once sprawled outside Jerusalem. The city’s vineyards lay trampled. Most of the Romans had relocated inside the walls, but Jerusalem remained surrounded, leaving no escape. Catapults still hurled stones as big as Josiah’s torso over the Temple fortifications.

–Revelation: The Way It Happened, 2010, pp. 21, by Lee Harmon

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1 Chronicles 22:14, Solomon’s Temple Walls

Sunday, July 27, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

1 Chronicles 22:14, Solomon’s Temple Walls

Now, behold, in my trouble I have prepared for the house of the LORD an hundred thousand talents of gold, and a thousand thousand talents of silver; and of brass and iron without weight; for it is in abundance: timber also and stone have I prepared; and thou mayest add thereto.

//I had a little fun with my calculator today. This verse tells us that Solomon’s temple was comprised of roughly 7.5 million pounds of gold, and 75 million pounds of silver (depending upon how you measure the weight of a talent). That would be 75,000 cubic feet of gold and 750,000 cubic feet of silver.

The temple itself was 90 x 30 feet. Let’s give it a height of 30 feet as well, resulting in a volume of about 81,000 cubic feet. That means we couldn’t possibly house all of this gold and silver inside the temple; it must have been used to overlay the walls.

Including both the silver and gold, that would make the walls over 100 feet thick with precious metals.

No wonder it took seven years for 153,300 people to build it! (1 Kings 5-6)

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Judges 20:16, The Left-Handed Advantage

Saturday, July 26, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Judges 20:16, The Left-Handed Advantage

Among all this people there were seven hundred chosen men lefthanded; every one could sling stones at an hairbreadth, and not miss.

Ever wonder why left-handed pitchers are proliferant in Major League Baseball? Turns out it has nothing to do with them being hard to hit. It’s because they have an unfair advantage.

The Bible tells us so. Right-handers were given swords to fight with, but left-handers, presumably because of their special skill, were selected to throw rocks with a sling.

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Deuteronomy 25:9, Your Brotherly Duty

Friday, July 25, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Deuteronomy 25:9, Your Brotherly Duty

Then shall his brother’s wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother’s house.

//Suppose you have a brother who marries a woman, but then dies before he can father a child. According to Old Testament law, it then becomes your responsibility to take his widow as your wife, to “perform the duty of a husband’s brother unto her.”

This duty isn’t to satisfy her needs. It’s to help her bear a child, which will be in the name of your brother, so that his name will survive.

If you refuse to give her a child, then this is your punishment: She can call the elders of the city together, rip the shoe from your foot, and publicly spit in your face. From that point forward, your own family will be called The House of the Unsandaled.

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Leviticus 11:20, An Easy Law To Keep

Thursday, July 24, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Leviticus 11:20, An Easy Law To Keep

All fowls that creep, going upon all four, shall be an abomination unto you.

//This verse is talking about which animals may be eaten and which may not. Most translations don’t read “fowl”, they read “flying insects.” The law says don’t eat anything that flies and walks on all fours.

This is quite an easy law to keep because there is no such creature! Birds have two legs, insects have six or eight. I can think of a few legendary beasts with four legs that fly, but nothing real.

Can we rename the law for simplicity? Do not eat imaginary animals.

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Book review: Lost Christianities

Wednesday, July 23, 2014 in Book Reviews | 0 comments

Book review: Lost Christianities

by Bart D. Ehrman

★★★★★

One of Ehrman’s best, I think. Thought-provoking and speculative, yet grounded, this book explores alternative early Christianities before “Proto-Orthodox Christianity” won the battle and shoved the rest aside. You’ll read about the Ebionites, the Marcionites, Gnosticism, and the evolving orthodox church. Ehrman puts all on even ground so that each has an equal voice, because recent discoveries such as the Dead Sea Scrolls have proven just how diverse Christian practices really were back in the first and second centuries.

Ehrman doesn’t mince words when he discusses the “forgeries” both in and out of the Bible, so do be aware the topic gets plenty of ink. This does lead to some interesting conversation, though. The Secret Gospel of Mark, the Pastoral letters in Paul’s name, and the Gospel of Thomas come under scrutiny. Small wonder that in the battle for supremacy between the various Christian branches, the claim for apostolic succession played a central role. In orthodox church tradition, the 27 books of the New Testament are all tied directly to the apostles or companions, while other Christian writings are denounced as inauthentic.

So what are the repercussions of the victory of proto-orthodox Christianity? How has our world been shaped by this? Ehrman feels the significance of this victory can scarcely be overstated. Christianity would surely have no doctrine of Christ as both fully divine and human, and of course no Trinitarian doctrine. But the effects would have been felt far further than Christian debates, and the book’s final chapter left me with much to think about.

Definitely recommended.

Oxford University Press, © 2003, 294 pages

ISBN: 0-19-514183-0

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Deuteronomy 25:19, Don’t Forget To Forget!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Deuteronomy 25:19, Don’t Forget To Forget!

Therefore it shall come about when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget.

//What do you think about this curious verse? God promises victory over Israel’s enemy, Amalek, and says when the victory is achieved, Israel should blot out all memory of them.

So what do they do? They write it down in their chronicles, and it becomes part of the Bible, preserving a permanent record of those whom they were to forget.

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