The Way It Happened

Revelation 11:3-14, The Two Witnesses, I of V

One of the most fascinating passages in Revelation is the beginning of chapter 11, where two witnesses are introduced. I’d like to cover this topic in several parts; let me give just a brief introduction today, starting with the verses about these two men. Here is how the NIV reads:

//… And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”  These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.  If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies.  This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die.  These men have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.

Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them.  Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.  For three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial.  The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.

But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them.  Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.”  And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on.

At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed.  Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.

The second woe has passed; the third woe is coming soon.//

John writes to the seven churches of Asia, and speaks without introduction of God’s two witnesses (often translated not as “witnesses” but as “martyrs”). Who are these two people, and why does John write of them as if they are already well-known to the churches? Over the next few days, I’ll discuss various interpretations, none of which are “wrong,” but all of which are different aspects of the same scripture. Like looking at different colors of a prism as the light shines through. I must caution you, though: It is not light reading.

Mark 16:1-8, the First Easter Story

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Salome brought spices so they could embalm him. Very early on Sunday morning, as the sun rose, they went to the tomb. They worried out loud to each other, “Who will roll back the stone from the tomb for us?”

Then they looked up, saw that it had been rolled back—it was a huge stone—and walked right in. They saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed all in white. They were completely taken aback, astonished.

He said, “Don’t be afraid. I know you’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the One they nailed on the cross. He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer. You can see for yourselves that the place is empty. Now—on your way. Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You’ll see him there, exactly as he said.”

They got out as fast as they could, beside themselves, their heads swimming. Stunned, they said nothing to anyone.

–The Message Bible

(So ends the first written resurrection story, as recorded in the book of Mark. The remainder of Mark’s Gospel was added to the scripture at a later date.)

Joshua 6:20, The Battle of Jericho

So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.

//In perhaps the most famous conquest of the Israelites, Jericho fell in miraculous fashion around the year 1200 B.C. For six days, Joshua’s army marched around the city, parading the Ark of the Covenant and blowing their trumpets. On the seventh day, they trudged around the city seven more times, and as the trumpets blared one final time, the city walls came tumbling down.

This was the first battle Israel fought as it began its conquest of Canaan. The story goes that Israel destroyed every one of the enemy, both young and old, with all their animals, setting a precedence of utter genocide for battles yet to come. For this was the command of God, as they entered the promised land: [T]he LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them.

One wonders how Israel could honor such a heartless God? Had they learned nothing from 400 years of mistreatment in Egypt? Thankfully, the evidence argues against the biblical version. Archaeological data shows that the walls of Jericho were destroyed over 300 years before Joshua arrived. Jericho was first destroyed in about 2300 B.C., then rebuilt, and destroyed again by fire in the sixteenth century B.C. As archaeologist Bill Dever says, “if you want a miracle, here’s your miracle: Joshua destroyed a city that wasn’t even there.”

John 20:19-21, Shalom

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again, Jesus said, “Peace be with you!”

//These words are spoken by the resurrected Jesus to his disciples. Luke agrees in his account: See Luke 24:36. The Matthew version is a bit different, perhaps because in Matthew, Jesus’ message differs: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

The message of peace is so important to John, however, that in the Fourth Gospel Jesus twice blesses the disciples with this promise. Why the double emphasis on the gift of peace?

Because peace implies the age of the Messiah. The Christ has arrived! His age-old greeting, “peace” or “shalom,” was a wish of well-being, but between believers it came to mean the deeper, worldwide peace that God would grant in the age to come. In Ezekiel’s famous dry-bones vision, God says to the army he revives, I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.

John’s Gospel repeatedly preaches realized eschatology: The age has arrived. John does not look forward to an Armageddon to come. He repeatedly emphasizes Jesus as victor already over the world and the Devil. For this Gospel, at least, the age of peace has begun.

Would John be disappointed in the next 2,000 years?

Matthew 7:12, The Golden Rule

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

//If there is any universal teaching among religions, it is human respect and the Golden Rule. Today, let’s celebrate our common denominator:

Brahmanism: “This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.”

Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.”

Jainism: “The essence of right conduct is not to injure anyone.”

Taoism: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.”

Islam: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”

Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”

Confucianism: “Is there one maxim which ought to be acted upon throughout one’s whole life? Surely it is the maxim of loving kindness: Do not unto others what you would not have them do unto you.”

Matthew 2:21, When was Jesus Born?

So [Joseph] got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth.

//Have you ever tried to harmonize the two stories of Joseph and Mary? You may feel such an exercise entirely misses the point of either birth parable, but humor me for a few moments. The story seems to run something like this, starting first with what Matthew narrates:

  • Joseph and Mary are living in Bethlehem when persecution by King Herod forces them to flee to Egypt.
  • King Herod dies in 4 BC, and the two of them decide to return.
  • Arriving in Judea, they find Herod’s replacement, his son Archelaus, to be no improvement. They forego Bethlehem and continue on to Galilee, settling in Nazareth.

Now we come to Luke’s history:

  • Perhaps ten years later, on or after 6 CE, while Cyrenius is governor of Syria, Caesar Augustus mandates a tax census.
  • Being registered in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary travel there to fulfill the required census.
  • While in Judea, they visit Jerusalem for a few days, offering sacrifice.
  • Joseph and Mary then return to Nazareth.

Amazingly, the two stories not only fit nicely side-by-side, but actually complement one another! Luke’s story of a census suddenly makes sense, in light of Matthew’s explanation that Joseph and Mary hailed from that town.

Just one little detail remains: When was Jesus born?

Luke, too, mentions King Herod in his birth story. But Herod died before Cyrenius arrived. Luke then tells how, twelve years after Jesus is born, his parents bring him to Jerusalem. One naturally wonders: Did Luke confuse two stories, and the taxation occurred when Jesus was twelve?

Isaiah 34:14-15, Lilith

Wildcats shall meet with hyenas, goat-demons shall call to each other; there too Lilith shall repose, and find a place to rest. There shall the owl nest and lay and hatch and brood in its shadow.

//Here is the perfect verse if you enjoy idle speculation. The Hebrew word Lilith in this verse is a hapax legomenon-that is, it occurs just once in the Bible, so its meaning can’t be determined by comparison to other passages. Scholars are forced to interpret its meaning by resorting to related languages, other early translations of the text, or Jewish tradition.

And what is Jewish tradition? Lilith is generally thought to be related to a class of female demons. This isn’t far from the Assyrian word “lilitu,” a nasty female spirit. Jewish folklore tells us Lilith was the first wife of Adam, but Adam’s domineering ways proved to much for her, and she left him for an angel. This paved the way for Adam’s second wife, Eve. The resulting Lilith legend still finds its way into various occult and fantasy settings.

Naturally, tradition is unacceptable. We can’t have a mythical figure meandering around in our Bible. A plethora of Bible interpretations render the word in different ways, from “screech owl” to “night creature” to “night hag” to “night monster,” most of them playing on its similarity to the Hebrew word “laylah,” meaning “night.”

All of which is quite unconvincing. I think this is one of those mysteries of the Bible we’ll never uncover.

(If you’re interested in a fun, tongue-in-cheek introduction to the Lilith of mythology, you might check out this Dubious Disciple book review: For obvious reasons, this book, while “religious” of sorts, didn’t quite fit the genre of my blog.)

Psalm 137:8-9, How can we sing in a foreign land?

O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us—he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.

//In my book about Revelation, I suggested that this psalm may be the both the most heartrending and the most disturbing passage in the Bible. Can you imagine being so consumed by hatred for your captors, that you dream of dashing their babies against rocks?

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?

This psalm provides a testament to the suffering the Jews endured through the centuries, as the Bible was being compiled. If not for such hardships, our scriptures would perhaps be lifeless.

Exodus 20:2-17, The Ten Commandments

You know the story. God called Moses up the mountain, and there transcribed a series of commandments upon stone tablets:

I am the Lord your God

You shall have no other gods before me

You shall not make for yourself an idol

Do not take the name of the Lord in vain

Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy

Honor your father and mother

You shall not murder

You shall not commit adultery

You shall not steal

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife

You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor

Moses came down the mountain, found the Israelites worshiping a golden calf in his absence, and flung down the tablets in anger. They broke, and he trudged back up the mountain for a new set. This new set can be read in Deuteronomy chapter 5 (Jewish tradition holds that the original instructions in Exodus were the broken tablets, and the new instructions in Deuteronomy are the replacements). The two sets of commandments roughly agree.

Inexplicably, however, the Deuteronomy reprint indicates that there are only ten commandments. Bet you didn’t notice: there are twelve listed above, and careful reading of the text may uncover as many as fourteen or fifteen separate directives.

What to do? Various faiths began combining the twelve basic instructions in different ways, to get the count down to ten. The Jewish Talmud combines 2 and 3, and 11 and 12. Anglican Christians write off 1, and combine 11 and 12. Orthodox Christians combine 1 and 2, 11 and 12. Roman Catholics combine 1, 2 and 3.

Can we at least agree on these twelve? Unfortunately, no. The Samaritan version makes room for a new tenth on the sanctity of their holy Mount Gerezim. Islam teaches that the Bible has been corrupted, and honors a different ten. Jesus, in Matthew 10, found only a few commands worthy of attention: “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and,You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”Now, you may ignore the Sabbath, worship whom you please, and covet your neighbor’s wife, as long as you love her as yourself.

Mark’s Gospel provides only two final commands: Love your God, and love your neighbor. In a way, these two embody all of the original twelve, but John’s Gospel drops one of Mark’stwo, leaving us only with the instruction to love one another. This omission seems to jibe with the series of commandments Jesus dropped in Matthew.

In the end, we’re left with one command: Love. Maybe that one will take care of the rest.

John 18:28, When did Jesus die?

Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.

//In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus shares a final Passover meal with his disciples. Thus the first three Gospels imply that Jesus died on or after the Passover, but John’s Gospel provides a different time line. In John, Jesus dies on the “day of Preparation” (see John 19:42). All four Gospels indicate that Jesus’ body was rushed to the burial site before the Sabbath begins (6pm Friday evening), and this is where we get Good Friday and the idea that Jesus died on a Friday, but John’s Gospel has changed this from a Saturday Sabbath into a “High Sabbath.” John’s “Sabbath” (day of rest) is the feast day of Passover, not Saturday. Nowhere is this more clear than in today’s verse, which indicates that the trial of Jesus occurs before the Passover. Jesus is crucified that same day. There is no final Passover meal in John’s Gospel; the Passover had not yet begun. So, in trying to figure out when Jesus died according to John, we must figure out the day of the week on which Passover occurred.

This is not as simple as it sounds, and there will not be universal agreement, but most scholars suspect that Jesus died in the year 30 CE. This agrees with Luke, who dates John the Baptist’s public baptism to the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius–29 CE on our present Calender–and then, like the other two Synoptics, narrates about a year for the ministry of Jesus. Computer analysis of the Hebrew calendar places the Passover on a Thursday for the year 30 CE (though any such calculation is not a certainty). Thus John’s Gospel indicates Jesus died the day before, which would be Wednesday, before 6 pm. (On the Hebrew calendar, the day always began and ended in the evening, as indicated in Genesis of a “day” being “an evening and a morning.”)

Now comes a very interesting fact. John, you may recall, is the Gospel that says when Jesus spoke of the Temple being rebuilt, he spoke of his own body. This is one of John’s most fascinating contributions to Christian theology. The book of Daniel indicates that the rebuilding of the Temple will be over a period of three and a half “days,” which most theologians interpret to mean three and a half years. But if Jesus died just before sundown on Wednesday, and rose from the dead just before sunup Sunday, he was in the grave … precisely three and a half days! According to John, we may lay to rest all of the ideas about the Temple being rebuilt in three and a half days/years as described in the book of Daniel, for Jesus has already fulfilled that scripture!

Genesis 6:4, the Nephilim

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

//In this verse, “sons of God” (usually understood as fallen angels) mate with human women, and produce a race of people known in the Bible as Nephilim. Who were the Nephilim, and what happened to them? The New Living Translation renders the name Nephilim as simply “giants.” The name appears in the Bible in only one other location, in Numbers 13:33, when the Israelites arrive at the land of Canaan, and send spies in to scout the land. The report comes back of giants in the land:

We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

It’s little wonder the spies were terrified of the Nephilim. The presence of giants in the land of Canaan is verified by Amos 2:9, where God describes “the Amorite” as being “as tall as the cedars and strong as the oaks.” Jude, verses 6-7, may also refer to the Nephilim when it compares the sin of fallen angels to the promiscuity of Sodom and Gomorrah. More can be learned about the Hebrew tradition of the Nephilim from the popular books of 1 Enoch and Jubilees. Both of these books are quoted as scripture in the New Testament; in particular, the book of Revelation can hardly be understood without tracing its many references to 1 Enoch. Here is a portion of what we learn from Enoch:

And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: ‘Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.’ And Semjaza, who was their leader, said unto them: ‘I fear ye will not indeed agree to do this deed, and I alone shall have to pay the penalty of a great sin.’ And they all answered him and said: ‘Let us all swear an oath, and all bind ourselves by mutual imprecations not to abandon this plan but to do this thing.’ Then sware they all together and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. And they were in all two hundred; who descended in the days of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon, and they called it Mount Hermon, because they had sworn and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it…

So where are the Nephilim today? Jubilees explains that the majority of them were swept away in the flood of Noah’s day. Indeed, they were part of the reason for sending the flood. However, God allowed a portion to remain alive, as demons (disembodied spirits), to try and lead the human race astray, and these demons will remain until the Judgment Day.

John 7:41-43 Was Jesus Born In Bethlehem?

Others said, “He is the Christ.” Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.

//Two of the four Gospels, Matthew and Luke, provide birth stories for Jesus, and both describe Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. In Luke, Jesus’ parents travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for a census,  and have the baby there. In Matthew, they appear to be living initially in Bethlehem, and only later settle in Nazareth. The two stories differ in other fundamental ways, but they agree on the most important point: Bethlehem.

A number of noted Historical Jesus scholars, however, insist that Jesus was more likely born in Nazareth. They find the two birth stories unconvincing, and suggest that both were crafted to explain how Jesus of Nazareth somehow fulfilled the prophetic expectation of birth in David’s city of Bethlehem. Jesus was, after all, the proclaimed Messiah, the warrior figure promised through the ages, with the blood of the Hebrew hero David surging through his veins.

Enter today’s verse. John’s Gospel disagrees, and points out that Jesus’ origins are in Galilee. The “people” are troubled, knowing Jesus’ true origins, and knowing he didn’t come from Bethlehem. This is one of many places where John contradicts the other Gospels, but this is one of the more serious contradictions. So implanted is the Bethlehem birth story among Christians today that we invariably read the Johannine verse sideways; we pity the poor “people” who didn’t know the truth: That Jesus really did hail from Bethlehem! But John provides absolutely no hint of irony or contradiction in his story, and instead bolsters his argument by having the Jews say they know Jesus’ Galilean origins!

The question is, why? Why does John take such pains to point out the fallacy of the Bethlehem birth? The answer, I believe, is rooted in John’s theology of the Messiah. John is simply not interested in a Davidic warrior-type Messiah. John repeatedly compares Jesus not to David, but to Moses. John’s Gospel, written some 20-30 years after Jerusalem was leveled by the Romans, has given up on a political uprising and the restoration of the Jewish nation; he is ready to move on with his life.

Numbers 21:25-26, The Conquest of Heshbon

And Israel took all these cities: and Israel dwelt in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all the villages thereof. For Heshbon [was] the city of Sihon the king of the Amorites.

//While the Israelites were led through the wilderness by Moses, messengers were dispatched to Sihon, king of the Amorites, requesting permission to pass through their land. But Sihon refused the request, and formed an army to fight with Israel. Moses and the Israelites won the battle, and occupied the city of Heshbon.

Archaeological excavations at the site of Heshbon, however, show no habitations before 1200 B.C. Any establishment of a local empire would have to have occurred long after Moses passed through. This battle over Heshbon simply could not have happened.

What’s most odd about this particular myth is that eleven chapters later, this same book of Numbers confirms the mythical nature of its earlier story by telling how, after the conquest of Canaan, the city of Heshbon was built by the tribe of Rueben!

Numbers 32:37, And the children of Reuben built Heshbon, and Elealeh, and Kirjathaim

Matthew 25:35, the slaying of Zacharias

That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.

//In this verse, Jesus curses Jerusalem for stoning the prophets, and in the next, promises that the prophecies of bloodshed will come upon “this generation.” If you know your first-century history, you know Jesus was right. The Jewish historian Josephus describes this very act of slaying Zacharias, perhaps 35 years after Jesus made the proclamation: “So two of the boldest of them fell upon Zacharias [the son of Baruch] in the middle of the temple, and slew him.” This occurred in the court of the priests, which is between the temple proper and the altar, just as Matthew relates.

Can you imagine being poor Zacharias, hearing this prophecy? If I were him, I’d stay the heck away from the Temple for the rest of my life!

But why does Jesus make this claim in the past tense? “Whom ye slew,” rather than “whom ye will slay.” Is it because, at the time the Gospel of Matthew was written, the event had already happened? Most scholars estimate that Matthew was written around 80-85 A.D.

Which naturally begs the question: Did Jesus really utter this prophecy, or did Matthew put the words on Jesus’ lips after it had happened? As always, there are two ways to read and date the Bible; historical-critical scholars will invariably date the books of the Bible after the events they predict, and conservative believers will invariably date the books of the Bible before the events they predict. No wonder Bible scholars can never agree.

John 4:26, The I AM

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

//The Messianic claim behind this verse has been lost in translation; the word “he” has been added by translators. Actually, Jesus says simply “I am.” John will drill this phrase into us seven times (4:26; 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5), always as an expression of Jesus’s claim to be God, until finally, we relate it to the mysterious name of God given to Moses: I am that I am.

You won’t find this reference in any other Gospels—only in John—and in this Gospel, The Jews have no trouble recognizing Jesus’ claim to be God. During the Festival of Tabernacles the priests recited the divine formula “I am” from Isaiah, and at this festival, Jesus shows up and leaves no doubt of his meaning when he says, “Very truly I tell you, before Abraham was born, I am!” Immediately, the Jews take up stones to stone him for blasphemy.

In John, Jesus will never admit to being the Messiah in the traditional form expected by the Jews. He is far more than a military savior. He is … the I Am. With this divine claim fully established, John now methodically reveals the mystery of God with seven more “I am” statements:

I am the Bread—John 6:35

I am the Light—John 8:12

I am the Door—John 10:7

I am the Good Shepherd—John 10:11

I am the Resurrection and the Life—John 11:25

I am the way, the truth and the life—John 14:6

I am the true vine—John 15:1

If only we could approach this Gospel as if reading it for the first time! How exciting, how fresh and startling a revelation it is! How far beyond the first three Gospels John carries us!

1 Corinthians 15:6, the Pentecost according to Paul

After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

//In this curious verse, Paul mentions how the resurrected Jesus was seen by 500 people at the same time, an event mentioned in none of the other writings of the New Testament. An event, were Jesus truly spied in the flesh, we most definitely would have corroborating writings for. More likely, Jesus was “seen” in the same manner as Paul saw him: in a vision, perhaps as a light from heaven.

Could this event possibly have really happened? I’d like to call your attention to a passage in Acts, chapter 2, 50 days after Jesus resurrects:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Could this be the event, and the crowd of 500, Paul describes?

Let’s break down the Pentecost experience according to Luke. He relates back to the scripture read by the Jews each Pentecost, where Ezekiel describes a great rushing of wind and fire (see Ezekiel 1:4). Moreover, on the first ever Pentecost, at Mount Sinai, God spoke to Moses in every language of every land, seventy languages in all. Thus in Luke’s version of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit arrives with a rush of wind and fiery tongues speaking in many foreign languages, filling a room full of many nations. It’s certainly a midrashic story, and quite a creative one at that, not meant to be interpreted literally. Once we scoop the supernatural frosting off Luke’s writings, we see underneath a match to Paul’s description of Jesus appearing to 500.

What do you think?

Revelation 8:8, The Eruption of Vesuvius

The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth.  A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up. The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea.  A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

//Revelation describes several cataclysmic events. Most had already happened by the time John wrote his apocalypse—for example, these verses surely describe the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the first century. Luckily, or perhaps not a coincidence, much of the top half of the mountain blew southwest into the sea, but the resulting mass of dead and dying marine life from the poisoned coastal waters would not easily fade from one’s memory.

Pliny the Younger wrote: The sea was sucked away and forced back by an earthquake; at any rate, it receded from the shore so that quantities of sea creatures were left stranded on dry sand.  And the waters were violently disturbed.  Of his uncle’s rescue mission with warships, he wrote: By now, ash was falling on the ships, hotter and thicker the closer they approached; then pumice and blackened stones, burnt and fractured by the fire.  He also described a cloud rushing down the flanks of the mountain and blanketing everything around it, including the surrounding sea.  Known today as a pyroclastic flow, this cloud of superheated gas, ash, and rock erupts from a volcano.  Ash from the eruption reached Africa, Syria, and Egypt, causing pestilence.

Nature’s hiccup completely devastated three hundred square kilometers around Vesuvius, the death toll unknown.  Archaeologists uncovered the remains of 1,150 people in Pompeii and 350 in Herculaneum, out of a total estimated population in the two cities of 15,000 to 30,000.  In Herculaneum, death arrived so suddenly by heat and asphyxiation (it all happened in a fraction of a second) that many bodies there froze in agonized contortions, everything buried so deep in ash that the city’s location became a mystery, a first-century Atlantis swallowed by the earth, to be found later only by a chance discovery in the early eighteenth century!

If you’d like to learn more about the true-life events behind the book of Revelation, please check out my book: Revelation: The Way It Happened

Luke 23:44, Jesus in Agony

And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

//Scholars continue to argue about the Gnostic bent of John’s Gospel. Is John a Gnostic text or not? John’s Gospel was embraced by Gnostic strands before it ever made headway into traditional Christianity.

But even with the other Gospels, the dividing line between Gnostic and Catholic (traditional) Christianity is not so clear. Luke insists, for example, that the Kingdom of Heaven has already arrived. It is “within you.” This better jibes with Gnostic thinking than futuristic Christianity. Another feature of the Gnostic Christ is the inability to feel pain, and Luke, throughout the entire ordeal of Jesus’ death, gives no hint that Jesus is ever in agony—save today’s verse, where sweat falls to the ground like drops of blood.

Problem is, this verse is not in all variants of Luke. And worse, we don’t know which is more original: the version of Luke with agony, or the version without agony. Its addition, or subtraction, radically alters the picture of Jesus between Gnostic (where Jesus is non-corporeal, sent from heaven) and traditional (Jesus is of the flesh, able to feel pain). Which is the original flavor of Luke’s Gospel? We don’t know.

Genesis 35:10, Jacob becomes Israel

God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel.

//There are two stories in the Bible of how Jacob’s name is changed to Israel. In the first, mentioned in a post a while back, Jacob wrestles with “God”, and holds tight to Him until blessed. Genesis: 33:10 That blessing occurred at Penuel, just before Jacob’s reunion with Esau.

Sometime after this reunion, God directed Jacob to Bethel, the place where he dreamed of a ladder. There, God blesses Jacob again, and again names him Israel. Today’s verse is this second blessing.

Why two different stories, in two different places and two different times? I can present two theories:

There may be some competitiveness between the two stories. Bethel sits at the southern border of Israel, Penuel at the northern border. King Jeroboam built a governmental center and city at Penuel, but the Shiloh priesthood remained centered in the south and associated with Bethel. Jeroboam initially had the support of the Shiloh priesthood, but ruined the relationship when he began proclaiming that a formal priesthood was unnecessary. Jeroboam felt anyone could become a priest.

Thus, Jeroboam and Penuel claimed Israel’s name and blessing for the north, and the priesthood and Bethel claimed Israel’s name and blessing for the south.

A second explanation may be that the two stories complement each other. If the stranger that Jacob wrestles with is not God, but his brother Esau, then the first blessing comes not from the mouth of God but from his brother. Esau’s blessing is, therefore, is only a prophecy of God’s blessing to come.

Luke 24:27, Moses wrote the Torah

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

//Moses did not write the first five books of the Bible. The Documentary Hypothesis in one form or another is nearly undisputable, as I described a few days ago in a book review: The Bible With Sources Revealed. Moses died three hundred years before the first verse of the Torah was written. These five books reflect multiple strands of material that were put together over a period of at least five hundred years. One of these books even contains the account of Moses’ death and burial; a remarkable thing for Moses to write about!

Yet, Jesus himself makes the traditional claim for Mosaic authorship of the Torah in several places. Here are two, each found in multiple Gospels:

Mark 1:44, “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”

Matthew 19:7-8, “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.

What can we conclude? That Jesus didn’t really say these things? That Jesus was wrong about the Torah’s authorship? That Jesus knew better but found no reason to contradict popular belief? Or could current scholarship be wrong, and Moses did write the Torah?

Page 43 of 46« First...4142434445...Last »