Category Archives: Faith

Impressions of “A Companion to the Book of Enoch: A Reader’s Commentary, Vol. I — The Book of the Watchers,” by Michael S. Heiser

Michael Heiser’s commentary of 1 Enoch is fantastic. His commentary ties together scholarly criticism of the first part of Enoch, The Book of the Watchers, and reveals the context of the book’s composition. The closest I can compare it to is Gabriel Said Reynold’s commentary of the Qur’an. Central to the Book are the “Watchers,” fallen angelic beings who may be allegories of Temple Priests. In the book God condemns the Watchers and their sons as he condemned the House of Eli in the Hebrew Bible. But God also promises a renewed world, a Tree, a Throne, a the path of the Holy Mountain required to get there.

A Brief Note

I first read The Book of Enoch after exposure to Canaanite mythology and Robert Alter’s’ Biblical literary criticism.

Since then my reading has expanded to cover more of the allegorical sense of scripture. Augustine of Hippo and Jordan Peterson focused on experientially real meanings of concrete symbols, like with fish or snakes. I read Michael Heiser on the Second Temple supernatural context of the Bible, and N.T. Wright on the politico-religious context of Jesus and Paul. And I read works that derive from the Book of Enoch, like Jubilees and the Qur’an

This effected how I read Enoch. In my previous impressions I was basically lost, except for the “Animal Apocalypse” — an enjoyable retelling of the adventures of the Jewish people, but with all the characters being animals. What was going on, with “Watchers” and giants and the angelology? Now, I think I know.

Allegories and Angels

The rebellion of the sons of God is mentioned in Genesis:

Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, 2 that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose.

And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.
Genesis 6:1-4

The Book of the Watchers takes this as a point of departure. And we immediately get characterization. In Hebrew scriptural literature] the first quoted line from a character indicates the character. And the collective character of them are of men seeking women:

And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, 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.”
1 Enoch 6:1-2

But then, somewhat surprisingly for a divine being, we see the character of their leader. And it’s not lust-incarnate or even family-incarnate, but fearfulness mixed with consensus-seeking. He’s acting like a middle-level manager, or a mildly successful politician. Why?

And Samjaza, who was their leader, said unto them: “I fear ye will not indeed agree to this deed, and I alone shall have the 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 hundreds, 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.
1 Enoch 6:3-6

A clue is the number of theophoric names — names ending with “-el” (meaning “of God”) among this leadership of the falling angels. The names are Jewish, or at least Canaanite.

And these are the names of their leaders: Samlazaz, their leader: Arakiba, Rameel, Kokabiel, Tamiel, Ramiel, Danle, Ezeqeel, Baraqijal, Asael, Armaros, Batarel, Ananel, Zaqiel, Samsapeel, Satarel, Turel, Jamjael, Sariel.
1 Enoch 6:7

And why, after God commands Enoch (a human being!) to be a prophet to the watchers (angels!)…

Enoch, thou scribe of righteousness, go, declare to the Watchers of the heaven who have left the high heaven, the holy eternal place, and have defiled themselves with women, and have done as the children of earth do, and have taken unto themselves wives: Ye have wrought great destruction on the earth: and ye shall have no peace nor forgiveness of sin.
1 Enoch 12:4-5

… Do the Watchers ask him to intercede for them?

Then I went and spoke to them all together, and they were all afraid, and fear and trembling seized them. And they besought me to draw up a petition for them that they might find forgiveness, and to read their petition in the presence of the Lord of heaven. For from thenceforward they could not speak with Him nor lift up their eyes to heaven for shame of their sins for which they had been condemned.
1 Enoch 13:3-5

The Watchers

Here’s why, at least according to scholars cited by Heiser: “Watcher” is a thin allegory for Temple Priests, who serve in the presence (literally, face) of God. Presuming the author meant the Temple Priests of his own era, then his target were Sadducees:

And He answered and said to me, I heard His voice: “Fear not, Enoch, though righteous man and scribe of righteousness; approach hither and hear my voice.

And go, say to the Watchers of heaven, who have sent thee to intercede for them: ‘You should intercede for men, and not men for you.Whereof you have you left the high, holy, and eternal heaven, and lain with women, and defiled yourselves with the daughters of men and taken to yourselves wives, and done like the children of earth, and begotten giants as your sons.

And though ye were holy, spiritual, living the eternal life, you have defiled yourselves with the blood of women, and have begotten with the blood of flesh, and, as the children of men, have lusted after flesh and blood as those who also do who die and perish..
1 Enoch 15:1-4

The Sadducee Temple priests were targeted by Zealots (as collaborators), Pharisees (for the lack of belief in angels and the resurrection), and early Christians (also for the lack of belief):

But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!”

And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both. Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, “We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.”
Acts 23:6-9

The “Watchers” focused on women and power instead of service to God, and used their skills and position for all sorts of schemes not properly focused on God (according to the Zealots, Pharisees, and early Christians):

And all the others together with them took unto themselves wives, and each chose for himself one, and they began to go in unto them and to defile themselves with them, and they taught them charms and enchantments, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants. And they became pregnant, and they bare great giants, whose height was three thousand ells. Who consumed all the acquisitions of men. 1 Enoch 7:1-3

To emphasize the point, and bite a bit more, the Sanhedrin of the Sadducees claimed succession to the helpers of Moses, organized in line with advice from Moses’s father-in-law, from the most trusted (Moses and the Rulers of Thousands) to the lowest level of managers, the Rulers of Tens:

So Moses heeded the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. So they judged the people at all times; the hard cases they brought to Moses, but they judged every small case themselves.
Exodus 18:24-26

The “Watchers” are the lowest, and presumably least competent, in this hierarchy:

These are their chiefs of tens.
1 Enoch 6:8

The fate of the “Watchers” is to see the children, who they raised without fear of God, die.

And inasmuch as they delight themselves in their children, the murder of their beloved ones shall they see, and over the destruction of their children shall they lament, and shall make supplication unto eternity, but mercy and peace shall ye not attain.
1 Enoch 12:6

This is the same fate that befell the High Priest Eli, an ancient days:

Then a man of God came to Eli and said to him,

“Thus says the LORD:

‘Did I not clearly reveal Myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt in Pharaoh’s house? Did I not choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be My priest, to offer upon My altar, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod before Me? And did I not give to the house of your father all the offerings of the children of Israel made by fire? Why do you kick at My sacrifice and My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling place, and honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people?’

Therefore the LORD God of Israel says:

‘I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever.’

But now the LORD says:

‘Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed. Behold, the days are coming that I will cut off your [u]arm and the arm of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house. And you will see an enemy in My dwelling place, despite all the good which God does for Israel. And there shall not be an old man in your house forever. But any of your men whom I do not cut off from My altar shall consume your eyes and grieve your heart. And all the descendants of your house shall die in the flower of their age. Now this shall be a sign to you that will come upon your two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas: in one day they shall die, both of them.'”
1 Samuel 2:27-34

And as Enoch’s petition for the “Watchers” would fail:

I wrote out your petition, and in my vision it appeared thus, that your petition will not be granted unto you throughout all the days of eternity, and that judgment has been finally passed upon you: yea your petition will not be granted to you. And from henceforth you will not ascend into heaven unto all eternity, and in bonds of the earth the decree has gone forth to bind you for all the days of the world.
1 Enoch 14:1-5

The High Priest Eli also believed the judgment was irrevocable:

Then Samuel told him everything, and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to Him.”
1 Samuel 3:18

The Future Priests

But God is the God of Hope. Even the condemnation of Eli’s sons came with a promise:

Then I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed forever.
1 Samuel 2:35

It is easy enough, when we read Scriptures, to see the priestly predilection for power and sin:

Then the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people assembled at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and plotted to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”
Matthew 26:2-5

Yet God will heal this. Both the To understand the Qur’anicand the Enochian authors promise this:

And heal the earth which the angels have corrupted, and proclaim the healing of the earth, that they may heal the plague, and that all the children of men may not perish through all the secret things that the Watchers have disclosed and have taught their sons. And the whole earth has been corrupted through the works that were taught by Azazel: to him ascribe all sin.
1 Enoch 10:7-8

While the Watchers, standing in for the Priests, seek a legalistic procedure of asking forgiveness through a formal petition, they don’t offer the repentance — the turn of the heart — advocated by the Prophet Isaiah:

But your iniquities have separated you from your God;
And your sins have hidden His face from you,
So that He will not hear.

For your hands are defiled with blood,
And your fingers with iniquity;
Your lips have spoken lies,
Your tongue has muttered perversity…

For our transgressions are multiplied before You,
And our sins testify against us;
For our transgressions are with us,
And as for our iniquities, we know them:

In transgressing and lying against the Lord,
And departing from our God,
Speaking oppression and revolt,
Conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood.
Isaiah 59:2-3,12-13

This is also the meaning of the Qur’anic author: repentance is not a legalistic formula, but a turn of heart made manifest in works:

I indeed forgive those who repent, become faithful, act righteously, and thereafter follow guidance.
Qur’an 20 (Ta Ha):83

The Enochian writer sees this. The resolution to our story is not political games that can be won by Temple insiders, but a world free of oppression:

And cleanse though the earth from all oppression, and from all unrighteousness, and from all sin, and from all godlessness: and all the uncleanness that is wrought upon the earth destroy from off the earth. And the children of men shall become righteous, and all nations shall offer adoration and shall praise Me, and all shall worship Me. And the earth shall be cleansed from all defilement, and from all sin, and from all punishment, and from all torment, and and I will never again send them upon it form generation to generation and forever.
1 Enoch 10:20-22

And as the Letter to the Hebrews urge its audience to be (non-Sadducee!) priests for Jesus Christ

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:14-16

So the author of Enoch urges continuous blessings of God by the (non-Sadducee!) righteous in his audience:

And as often as I saw blessed always the Lord of Glory, and I continued to bless the Lord of Glory who has wrought great and glorious wonders, to show the greatness of His work to the angels and to spirits and to men, that they might praise His work and all His creation: that they might see the works of His might and praise the work work of His hands and bless Him forever.
1 Enoch 36:4

The Mountains of the Lord

The way from the corrupted priesthood to to a renewed world leads up a mountain.

Non-Sadducee Jewish writing during the Roman empire saw an explosion of messianic writing, foreseeing the Lord enthroned on the Holy Mountain:

I, Ezra, saw on Mount Zion a great multitude, which I could not number, and they all were praising the Lord with songs. In their midst was a young man of great stature, taller than any of the others, and on the head of each of them he placed a crown, but he was more exalted than they. And I was held spellbound. Then I asked an angel, “Who are these, my lord?” He answered and said to me, “These are they who have put off mortal clothing and have put on the immortal, and they have confessed the name of God; now they are being crowned, and receive palms.” Then I said to the angel, “Who is that young man who places crowns on them and puts palms in their hands?” He answered and said to me, “He is the Son of God, whom they confessed in the world.” So I began to praise those who had stood valiantly for the name of the Lord. Then the angel said to me, “Go, tell my people how great and many are the wonders of the Lord God which you have seen.”
2 Esdras 2:42-48

Likewise, Enoch looks forward, to the Tree, and to the Throne of the Lord, on the High Mountain

And he said unto me: “Enoch, why dost thou ask me regarding the fragrance of the tree, and why dost though wish to learn the truth?”

Then I answered, saying: “I wish to know about everything, but especially about this tree.”

And he answered saying: “This high mountain which thou hast seen, whose summit is like the throne of God, is His throne, where the Holy Great One, the Lord of Glory, the Eternal King, will sit, when he shall come down to visit the earth with goodness.”
1 Enoch 25:1-3

This is a prophecy looking back, towards Eden, and forwards, toward Golgotha. Thinkers from the Qur’anic author to Thomas Merton have seen the path to paradise going through the a mountain.

Between Eden and Paradise, the beginning and the end, is Purgatory:

The inhabitants of paradise will call out to the inmates of the fire. ‘We found what our Lord promised us to be true; did you find what your Lord promised you to be true?’ ‘Yes,’ they will say. Then a caller will announce in their midst, ‘May God’s curse be on the wrongdoers!’ — Those who bar from the way of God, and seek to make it crooked, and disbelieve in the Hereafter.

There will be a veil between them. On on the Elevations will be certain men who recognize each of them by their mark. They will call out to the inhabitants of paradise, ‘Peace be to you!’ They will not have entered it, though they would be eager to do so. When their look is turned toward the inmates of the Fire, they will say, ‘Our Lord, do not put us among the wrongdoing lot!

The occupants of the Elevations will call out to certain men who they recognize by their marks, ‘Your rallying did not avail you, nor what you used to disdain. Are these the ones concerning whom you swore that God will not extend them any mercy?’ Enter paradise! You shall have no fear, nor shall you grieve.
Qur’an 7 (The Elevations):47-49

Between Eden and Paradise is Jerusalem, the vision predicted by the Prophet Zechariah:

Thus says the LORD:

‘I will return to Zion,
And dwell in the midst of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth,
The Mountain of the LORD of hosts,
The Holy Mountain.’

“Thus says the LORD of hosts:

‘Old men and old women shall again sit
In the streets of Jerusalem,
Each one with his staff in his hand
Because of great age.

The streets of the city
Shall be full of boys and girls
Playing in its streets.’
Zechariah 8:3-5

Te Enochian writer describes the geography of Jerusalem, a location with such significance (Mount Zion, Gehenna) that it transcends the merely topographical…

And there I saw a holy mountain, and underneath the mountain to the east there was a stream and it flowed towards the south. And I saw towards the east another mountain higher than this, and between them a deep a narrow ravine: in it also ran a stream underneath the mountain. And to the west thereof there was another mountain, lower than the former and a ravine between them,: and another deep and dry ravine was at the extremities of the three mountains.
1 Enoch 26:1-5

Within this cosmos geography is the Throne Room of God

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.
Revelations 22:1-5

A geography that is in fact a cosmology — fire, lighting, and stars:

And the floor was of fire, and above it were lightnings and the path of stars, and its ceiling also was flaming fire. And I looked and saw therein a lofty throne: its appearance was of crystal, and the wheels thereof as the shining sun, and there was a vision of cherubim. And from underneath the throne came streams of flaming fire so that I could not look thereon. And the Great Glory sat thereon, and His raiment shone more brightly than the sun and was whiter than any snow.
1 Enoch 14:17-20

And the promise of New Earth:

Then shall they rejoice with joy and be glad, And into the holy place shall they enter; And its fragrance shall be in their bones, And they shall live a long life on earth, Such as thy fathers lived: And in their days shall no sorrow or plague Or torment or calamity touch them.
1 Enoch 25:6

Conclusion

The Book of the Watchers, the beginning of 1 Enoch, seems to be an allegory of the Sadducee priesthood. The “Watchers” have access to the presence of God and have Jewish-style names, but intentionally choose to band together and ignore God. Whatever personal virtue they had during their rebellion is lost on their children, who become even worse. The Enochian author promises the Watchers / Sadducees are not the end of the story though, but promises all things (including, presumably, the priesthood) are cleansed. In this Watchers echoes both the Old Testament renewal of the priesthood after Eli, and foreshadows the Qur’anic call to Catholic religious centuries later.

I read A Companion to the Book of Enoch: Reader’s Commentary Vol. 1 — The Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36) in the paperback edition.

Impressions of “The Trial of Jesus Christ: And the History Behind It,” by David Shaneyfelt

“The Trial of Jesus Christ” is technically a podcast, but really is an audiobook. It is as long as many popular history books, about six hours. It covers similar topics with equal seriousness as popular history books, such as Pitre’s Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist or Ratzinger’s Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. Shaneyfelt is closer in quality to Ratzinger than Pitre, as where he acknowledges a limit to his knowledge (what Mary’s response to the angel implied about her marriage in Ratzinger’s book; what the inexplicable judgment of Caiaphas means in Shaneyfelt’s) stay with the reader as long as what is known. “Trial” is free to download, and I recommend doing so.

“Trial” begins around the Last Super, and continues through the triple execution of Christ with two violent criminals. The narrative is essentially chronologically, taking the reader through the arrest, Trial before the Sanhedrin, Trial Before Pilate, hearing before Herod, and then death. These are described vividly, with a focus on procedure. So for instance, the author notes multiple times that the early Christians never accused the Sanhedrin of procedural unfairness, implying that whatever methods were taken were within the letter of their authority, if nonetheless unjust.

Trial before the Sanhedrin

“Sanhedrin” is a Greek word for the local leadership or Senate of a community. In Jewish tradition the Sanhedrin is a successor to the elders of Israel, that advised Moses (when he would listen).

At the time of Christ the Sanhedrin was headed by a High Priest, a political office regularly controlled by Annas and family in the first century. While the office of High Priest was singular it was no longer the custom to serve for life. The Archbishopric of Canterbury, and the Bishopric of Rome, likewise have only one Bishop at a time, though multiple living Bishops have headed the city. Thus, there were at least two “High Priests” present during the trial of Jesus: Caiaphas and his father-in-law, Annas.

(Annas had been high priest when Jesus asked questions of the religious scholars at age 12. )

Yet while we know a lot, it’s possible to jump to the wrong conclusions. Many authors (including Pitre) take the Talmud, written by Pharisees (and later, Rabbinical Jews), and apply its traditions and rules onto the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin and the Temple Priests. But the Pharisees and Sadducees were rival traditions with Judaism. The system of Oral Law that factored so heavily into the Christiani-Nahmanides disputation in Barcelona would have been unintelligible to Sadducees. Pharisees and Sadducees differed in basic religious questions:

But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!”

And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.
Acts 23:6-8

To attempt by other authors to use Pharisaic rules to judge a Sadducee trial would like like judging am American courtroom according to British law. Or, because of its religious connotations, like evaluating a Catholic canon lawsuit by Jewish custom! Fortunately, Shaneyfelt does not do so, and reminds the reader of where we simply do not know what the Sadducee customs were at several points.

Here’s an example. The Sanhedrin is regularly calling up witnesses in pairs, and dismissing them.

Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none. But at last two false witnesses came forward and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'”
Matthew 26:59-61

This probably because of the clear meaning of Jewish Law, where two witnesses can establish a judicial fact:

One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.
Deuteronomy 19:15

But then we have this oddity: immediately after this the Law states that false witnesses should be given the penalty that would have been given to the guilty party. Yet there’s no record of the witnesses found to be false by the Sanhedrin being crucified or brought to Pilate!

And the judges shall make careful inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you.
Deuteronomy 19:18-19

There’s also the section on Adjuration and Blasphemy. Caiaphas places Jesus under oath, and asks him if he asserts a title:

But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!”

This appears to be Adjuration, the power of a political leader to compel testimony. This does not occur in the Torah, but is witnessed elsewhere in the Jewish scriptures:

So the king said to him, “How many times shall I make you swear that you tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?”
1 Kings 22:16

Yet neither “Christ” nor “Son of God” were titles exclusively reserved for God. Likewise, in Christ’s response:

Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy! What do you think?”

They answered and said, “He is deserving of death.”
Matthew 26:64-66

We encounter a non sequitur. Christ is clearly saying something meaningful, but it’s unclear what. Yet for both Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin the implications are clear. We are missing something. But we are left with the lack of any criticism over the procedural fairness from early Christian writers. So whatever we are missing must have been clear to them, too.

Perhaps, I wonder, was the “High Priest” mentioned is actually Christ, and presuming to put Caiaphas under oath was the blasphemy?

Trial before Pilate

Following the Jewish trial, the Sanhedrin presented Jesus to the Romans. The reason, and obstacle, are both clear. Jesus was convicted of blasphemy, which has a penalty of death under Jewish law. But under Roman law, only Roman courts could use capital punishment. Roman law was supreme to Jewish law. And, frustratingly for the Sanhedrin, blasphemy was not a capital crime under Roman law.

Compared to Sadducee process, we have a a more detailed understanding of the Roman legal system. We have centuries of written reports of how it functioned and change over the ages. In the case of Christ’s trial before Pilate, the outline is clear: while a non-Roman had remarkably few rights in Roman court in an occupied province, one of a governor’s primary public-facing duties was to adjudicate disputes, and a perception as a competent and wise judge was useful politics.

There are later written accounts of trials similar to Christ’s, but with different outcomes. One, of a man proclaiming himself a prophet, accused by the Jews, scourged — and then released, on account of insanity is intriguing because of the implied motives (did people remember a mess after a different outcome to a nearly identical process)?

As with the Sadducee trial, there’s mystery. Pilate appears to find Jesus not guilty and end the trial.

Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, “””Behold the Man!”

Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”

Pilate said to them, “You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.”
John 19:5-6

Or… perhaps not. Is the remark wholly sarcastic, as Pilate also sarcastically remands Jesus back to the Sanhedrin. Is the execution itself irregular, or was Pilate bullied by the mob? Or perhaps there was a new charge and a new trial — that of claiming to be Caesar, or abrogating a title (“Son of God”) belonging to Caesar:

The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.”

Therefore, when Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid, and went again into the Praetorian, and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer.
John 19:7-9

In any case, Pilate tried to avoid responsibility for the whole affair by hoping Herod Antipas would take jurisdiction:

But they were the more fierce, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place.”

When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked if the Man were a Galilean. And as soon as he knew that He belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.
Luke 23:5-7

Hearing before Herod

The only section that seemed light was the section on Herod Antipas.

From the Gospel he has some kind of complex relationship with Pilate:

That very day Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for previously they had been at enmity with each other.
Luke 23:12

Shaneyfelt praises Herod’s skill as a survivor. This may be true (I am not a historian), but my impression is that Herod survived because of a lack of ability. Herod the Great had killed or attempted to kill a number of competent successors or pretenders, including the last Hasmoneans, Aristobulus III and Hyrcanus II, and even Christ himself, so being able and surviving Herod the Great seem almost contradictory. In the narrative itself, Herod Antipas seems more interested in Christ as an actual magician than either as a rebel or as a spiritual leader:

Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him. Then he questioned Him with many words, but He answered him nothing. And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused Him. Then Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate.
Luke 23:8-11

(To my mind, the Gospel writer is having fun with poor Herod here, as his puppet dynasty was hardly backed by his own “men of war”)

In addition, the Gospels present us a picture of a weak Antipas, afraid of his own court and being manipulated by females:

But when Herod’s birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask.

So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.”

And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her. So he sent and had John beheaded in prison.
Matthew 14:6-10

What’s true? I don’t know. But I would have liked to know why Shaneyfelt makes the conclusions he does about Antipas.

Final Thoughts

The book ends with a section on the two robbers, lestai, ??????, criminals who take by force.

Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.

And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
Matthew 27:38-40

Robber, the same word in Greek, is the description of the attacker of the Samaritan

Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves [???????], who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves [???????]?”
Luke 10:30-36

And it is a den of robbers — again the same word — that is the current state of the deformed Temple:

Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves [??????].'”
Matthew 21:12-13

That “Jesus” — unadorned with titles or descriptions — is only used by a robber in our oldest Greek Bibles — is striking

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
Luke 23:42

At the end of our journey to the trials of the classical near east, and the early life of Jesus, we are quietly left with this. Jesus, remember me. Shaneyfelt does not make it explicit, but as I finished the podcast I realized the Fatima prayer (which is also inexplicably echoed in the Qur’an!), helps us recognize that we are in the same state as that robber, that attacker of travelers, that desecrator of the Temple:

O my Jesus,
forgive us our sins,
save us from the fire of hell,
lead all souls to heaven,
especially those who are in most need of Thy mercy.

Jesus, remember us, when you come into your Kingdom.

I listened to “The Trial of Jesus Christ” in its podcast edition.

Qur’an 19: Mary

The nineteenth chapter of the Qur’an, “Mary,” contrasts Mary with the Bishops. The unparalleled access to Christ provided by Mary is contrasted to the Bishops, the successors of the Twelve Apostles. The Qur’anic author urges the God-wary to turn away from the successors to the Apostles, and look to Mary’s example of making Christ manifest.

Readings

Entrance Antiphon:

“Sing to the Lord,
For He has triumphed gloriously!
The horse and its rider
He has thrown into the sea!”
Exodus 15:21-22

A Reading, from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel

Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the front of the temple faced east; the water was flowing from under the right side of the temple, south of the altar…

When I returned, there, along the bank of the river, were very many trees on one side and the other. Then he said to me: “This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes. It shall be that fishermen will stand by it from En Gedi to En Eglaim; they will be places for spreading their nets. Their fish will be of the same kinds as the fish of the Great Sea, exceedingly many.
Ezekiel 47:1,7-10

A Psalm, from the Psalms:

They do not know, nor do they understand;
They walk about in darkness;
All the foundations of the earth are unstable.

I said, “You are gods,
And all of you are children of the Most High.
But you shall die like men,
And fall like one of the princes.”

Arise, O God, judge the earth;
For You shall inherit all nations.
Psalms 82:5-8

A Reading, from the Acts of the Apostles:

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.
Acts 1:12-14

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
Luke 1:52

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A Reading, from The Holy Gospel According to Matthew:

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.”

Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Luke 1:26-38

Communion Antiphon

And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.
Revelations 22:17

A Qur’anic Homily

Moses, Aaron, and Mary

Consider that holy family, the children of Amram. Wee see the way that Jews over the centuries honored Moses and Aaron. But perhaps Miriam — Hebrew for “Mary” — was the greatest sign for us:

For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
I redeemed you from the house of bondage;
And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
Micah 6:2-4

Paul spoke of many gifts of the spirit, including prophecy and priesthood. But Mary is greater than any of these gifts. Follow Mary!

Jesus and Mary

God could have granted Jesus an earthly foster father named Moses or Aaron. God didn’t. Think if this was a sign to what is Real — to what it means to really know what is Real:

That is Jesus, son of Mary, a Word of the Real concerning whom they are in doubt.
Qur’an 19:34

Mary is the prototypical submitter-to-God. Mary sister-of-Moses sung of God’s glory when horse and rider were thrown into the sea. And Mary mother-of-Jesus said “Yes!” and did not demand any honor or praise, beyond what was given to her by God. The Qur’anic author elides even Mary’s response — “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” — to emphasize Mary’s lack of pretension or demands on God:

She said, ‘How shall I have a child seeing that no human being has ever touched me, nor have I been unchaste?”

He said, ‘So shall it be. Your Lord says, “It is simple for Me, and so that We may make him a sign for mankind and mercy from us, and it is a matter already decided.”
Qur’an 19:20-21

Mary points to Christ the real in a way beyond how Moses and Aaron could, because she is more perfect than them. The Qur’anic author makes this point by having townspeople (who are accusing Mary of fornication) call her “kinswoman of the Aaronites.” Her namesake Miriam was kinswoman of Aaron. But As Christ’s priesthood is more perfect than Aaron’s, treating Mary as second to Aaron is just absurd.

Then, carrying him, she brought him to her people. They said, ‘O Mary, you have certainly come up with an odd thing! O kinswoman of the Aaronites! Your father was not an evil man, nor was your mother unchaste.’
Qur’an 19:27-28

Here’s another way to think of Mary’s priesthood. Consider that which makes Christ’s presence real — the Sacrament. While the Eucharist is the source & summit of the Catholic faith, Christ’s presence was even more complete and more manifest when Mary gave birth. Likewise, the true presence requires words from a priest’s mouth:

Take this, all of you, and eat of it:
for this is my body which will be given up for you.
Take this, all of you, and drink from it:
for this is the chalice of my blood,
the blood of the new and eternal covenant.
which will be poured out for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in memory of me.

But when Mary made Christ manifest, he spoke for himself. The Qur’anic author emphasizes the closeness of Mary to Christ, by noting that a purpose of the Incarnation was itself kindness to Mary:

Then she pointed to him.

They said, “How can we speak to One who is yet a baby in the cradle?

He Said, “I am indeed a servant of God.

He has
given me the Book and
made me a Prophet.

He has
made me Blessed,
wherever I may be,

and He has enjoined me to the

The Prayer, and
The Alms-Giving (as long as I live), and To be good to my Mother.

And He has not made me self-willed and wretched.

Peace to me the day
I was born,
the day I die, and the day I am raised alive.
Qur’an 19:29-33

The Apostles and Mary

Now consider two groups: the bishops — the successors to the Apostles — and Mary. Which is a surer hope. The ones with worldly power and riches?

When Our clear signs are recited to them, the faithless say to the faithful, ‘Which of the two groups is superior in station and better with respect to company?’ How many a generation We have destroyed before them who were superior in furnishings and appearance!
Qur’an 19:73-74

The Bishops — especially in the middle east, and for three centuries before the Qur’anic author — insisted they were to be treated as “earthly gods.” Is this how we would expect Mary to demand to be treated? Does it give us a clue who is the surer hope?

The bishop, he is the minister of the word, the keeper of knowledge, the mediator between God trod you in the several parts of your divine worship. He is the teacher of piety; and, next after God, he is your father, who has begotten you again to the adoption of sons by water and the Spirit. He is your ruler and governor; he is your king and potentate; he is, next after God, your earthly god, who has a right to be honored by you.

For concerning him, arid such as he, it is that God pronounces,

“I have said, Ye are gods; and ye are all children of the Most High.”

And,

“Ye shall not speak evil of the gods.”

For let the bishop preside over you as one honored with the authority of God, which he is to exercise over the clergy, and by which he is to govern all the people. But let the deacon minister to him, as Christ does to His Father; and let him serve him blamelessly in all things, as Christ does nothing of Himself, but does always those things that please His Father. Let also the deaconess be honored by you in the place of the Holy Ghost, and not do or say anything without the deacon; as neither does the Comforter say or do anything of Himself, but gives glory to Christ by waiting for His pleasure.
The Constitution of the Holy Apostles, c. 325, II.IV.XXVI

The Qur’anic author has a number of criticisms of the Catholic Church. He seems to have been a heretic — at the time of the writing, his “Arian” beliefs that Christ was created at the beginning of all ages (instead of begotten before all ages) was in its last breaths, and Arian sacraments mediated by the successors of the apostles were nearly impossible to obtain. But were the remaining successors — who called themselves gods — the appropriate thing for the community take?

They have taken gods besides God so that they may be a might to them. No Indeed! Soon they will disown their worship, and they will be their opponents. Have you not regarded that We unleash the devils upon the faithless to urge them vigorously?
Qur’an 19:81-83

But Mary’s goal was not might among men, but quietly allowing her body to do the work of God. Thus did God send the Holy Spirit to Mary, and thus was the perfect child, Jesus, born:

And mention in the book Mary, when she withdrew from her family to an easterly place. Thus did she seclude herself from them, whereupon We sent to her Our Spirit and he became incarnate for her as a perfect human. Qur’an 19:17

Mary is a perfect imitation to and a perfect sign to Jesus, suffering in her birth pains as Christ would suffer in her passion, but while Christ was guided directly by God, it is Christ who even in the womb announces the gospel to His mother (in words that echo the Prophet Ezekiel, who notes that springs will flow from the Temple, in keeping with the traditional view that sees Mary as the perfect Temple).

Thus she conceived him, then withdrew with him to a distance place. The birth pangs brought her to the trunk of a date palm. She said, “I wish I had died before this and become a forgotten thing, beyond recall.”

Thereupon he called her from below: “Do not grieve! Your Lord has made a spring to flow at your feet. Shake the trunk of a palm tree, freshly picked dates will drop upon you. Eat, drink, and be comforted. Then if you see any human, say, “I have indeed vowed a fast to the All-beneficent, so I will not speak to any human today.”
Qur’an 19:22-26

The Qur’an’s view of Mary is very close Taylor Marshall‘s, who emphasizes Mary’s special and greater relationship, not just with Christ but with the Holy Spirit as well:

While the Holy Apostles were generally ignorant of the Holy Ghost, the Immaculate Mary knew Him intimately. Mary had already experienced the descent of the Holy Ghost at her Immaculate Conception since at that moment she was not merely preserved from all sin, but also filled with grace and the Holy Spirit. She was perfectly possessed by the Holy Ghost from the first moment of her existence. This is why Saint Francis of Assisi and other great saints have called Mary “Spouse of the Holy Spirit.” The analogy of matrimony is the strongest and best way to signify a union of two persons in their mission.
The Spirit and the Bride,” by Taylor Marshall

It was obvious in the day of the Qur’anic author, and in our own day, that legitimate apostolic succession is not a guarantee of a shared communion. Today Catholic and Orthodox bishops recognize each others succession, but deny communion to each other. Even dire heresies — like the Arian divide, the Nestorian divide, and so on — had bishops on each side. Following the successors of the twelve men who made up the Apostles have not given us a united community.

[Jesus said,’ “God is indeed my Lord and your Lord. So worship Him. That is a straight path.

But the factions differed among themselves. So woe to the faithless at the scene of a tremendous day. How will they will hear and how well they will see on the day when they come to Us! But today the wrongdoers are in plain error.
Qur’an 19:37-38

Even worth, it has often not given us a gracious community. [Many bishops in the late classical world gave the Sacrament of Reconciliation only once or twice a lifetime. But does anyone believe that Christ would not forgive a repentant sinner the second time? Or that His mother would spurn such a contrite heart?

But they were succeeded by an evil posterity who neglected the prayer and followed appetites. So they will soon encounter perversity, barring those who

repent, believe, and act righteously.

Such will enter paradise and they will not be wronged in the least.
Qur’an 19:59-60

What good is the Sign of Peace from a bishop who will not cooperate with Christ to forgive sins? To be with Mary, to follow the signs to Jesus, means knowing a Sign of Peace that is without vanity, without pretension, but full of grace.

Therein they will not hear vain talk, but only “Peace!” Therein they will have their provision morning and evening. This is the paradise that We will give as inheritance to those of Our servants who are Godwary.
Qur’an 19:62-63

In Conclusion

Arian heretics considered themselves catholic, and professed the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. They believed that Christ was created at the beginning of all ages, while the rest of the church taught that Christ was begotten before all ages. The successful obliteration of he Arian heresy among Bishops made it impossible for remaining Arian communities to receive the sacraments from an Arian bishop. At the same time, many Catholic bishops in the near east considered themselves “gods” and refused granting the Sacrament of Confession more than once or twice per lifetime — views both well documented and now considered bizarre. The Qur’anic author, caring for an Arian community in this context, urged the faithful to abandon the idea of the “church” and apostolic succession. He urged those who feared God to turn from the bishops and instead seek Mary as a sure way to God.

Impressions of “The Memoirs of St Peter: A New Translation of the Gospel According to Mark,” by Michael Pakaluk

My brother and sister-in-law gave me this translation of the Gospel According to Mark for Christmas. The work is great, and made me think about Mark’s gospel in a new way. In these impressions I’ll share some background of Mark’s gospel, my impressions from the first translation I read, and my impressions now. I’ll also comment on the quality of the translation as well as translator’s note.

As I said almost four years ago, “The Gospel of Mark is so fast it leaves you dizzy.” What I now see is, The Gospel of Mark shows you the reality behind the reality.

Mark’s Gospel

According to tradition (which on its face is so boring that it’s hardly worth commenting), Mark was Peter’s personal secretary, in the way that Baruch was the secretary to Jeremiah, or as Titus was the secretary of Paul.

However much the Apostle Paul possessed knowledge of the holy Scriptures, and had a gift of speaking and abilities in various languages… he still was incapable of expressing himself, in eloquent Greek words, in such a way as to match the majesty of the divine meanings of things. Therefore, he employed the services of Titus as his interpreter, just as St. Peter employed the services of Mark, whose Gospel was composed by Peter narrating and Mark transcribing.
Excerpted by Pakaluk from St Jerome, “To Hebdia,” Question 11

As the first Pope and Christ’s Prime Minister it stands to reason that Peter was a good speaker, and (as a fisherman) it makes sense that Peter’s written works would be mediated by someone he trusted.

Mark’s Gospel is considered to be stories told by Peter, but arranged by Mark. It is shorter than either, and feels written in a rush. In the New Testament, Mark’s gospel sits between the very Jewish Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, which focuses on women and gentiles. When read in order, Mark serves to underline the basic themes introduced by Matthew, giving depth to Luke’s re-contextualization of them. Or, one could view the entire Hebrew Bible and Matthew as part of one color palette — Mark representing Matthew’s material in black and white — and Luke presenting it again, with a different color palette.

What’s Now Obvious

Pakaluk’s notes begin with an observation that the tenses (past, present, and future) in the Gospel of Matthew are all over the place. A scene will begin in the past tense, shift to present tense, and shift to another tense in Greek. Most translations view these as errors — perhaps Mark was not that good at Greek, or perhaps he was trying to preserve Peter’s stories word-per-word — and smooth them out.

Pakaluk’s “gimmick” is to preserve the confusion of tenses. They make the story come alive. Like a mobster’s confession in The Irishman — “then i tell him,” “he says,” “you guys knows what he had done” — and so on — the narrator becomes a character. Mark is not a presented as a chronology of events — they are presented as a fisherman’s testimony to these events.

But this roughness is used by Mark to emphasize the allegorical and archetypal events of the Gospels. Christ is confirmed in terms by the Holy Spirit and the Father, emerging from the chaos:

Well, as for John, he was clothed in camel hair, with a leather belt around his waist. And for food he ate locusts and wild honey. And he cried out, “Right behind me comes someone greater than I! I am not worthy to stoop down and loosen the tie on his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he himself will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.”

So it was in this setting that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. And immediately, as he was emerging from the water, he saw heaven opened up and the Spirit coming down upon him as a dove. And there was a voice from heaven, “You are my son, my beloved one. I delight in you.”
Mark 1:6-11

And immediately Christ returns into the Chaos:

So right away, the Spirit carries him out into the desert. And he was in the desert for forty days, where he was put to the test by Satan. He faced dangerous animals. And the angels ministered to him.
Mark 1:12-13

In another of these cycles near the beginning of the text, another symbol of chaos and death — the Sea — is emphasized three times:

He began to teach again besides the sea. Such a large crowd gathered around him he had to get into a boat and take his seat there in the sea. The entire crowd was right up to the sea.
Mark 4:1

In the next verse the Narrator reminds the reader of the importance of understanding the real meaning of the story — of listening carefully — and reading between the lines:

He used to teach them many things by drawing comparisons. When he taught, he would say the following to them: “Listen carefully. Look. The sower went out to sow.”
Mark 4:2-3

The parable ends with a hermenutic key of the entire book:

So he says to them, “So you do not grasp this comparison — and how will you grasp every comparison?”
Mark 4:2-3, 13

And after the parable, after the Sea, the Sea, the Sea — what’s on the other side of the sea? Tombs. “Burial caves.” Hills. Death. The devouring mother.

So they arrived on the other side of the sea, in the district of the Gerasenes. As soon as he got out of the boat, a man with an unclear spirit came out of the tombs and confronted him.

This man had made his home among the burial caves. There was no longer any possibility of anyone trying him up, even with chains — he had been repeatedly tied up with chains and shackles, and the chains were pulled apart by him, and the shackles crushed. No one had strength to overpower him. Constantly through the night and during the day he would be among the burial caves and hills, shouting out loud and cutting himself with rocks.

So when he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran to him, and kneeled down in front of him. Shouting in a loud voice, he says, “What do you have to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High? God!! Swear by God that you will not torment me!” (The reason is that Jesus was saying, “Come out, unclear spirit, from the man.”) Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” So he says, “Legion is my name, because we are many.” He begs and begs him not to send them out of that district.
Mark 5:1-10

Christ establishes this pattern — entrance of death, salvation of man — and his disciples are slow to pick it up. Seen analogically, the miracles of the loaves introduces an almost identical theme — wilderness — and the need re-order it. This story begins with a statement that there is a teaching, once again emerging from the watery chaos:

He saw the vast crowd as he got out of the boat. He felt compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, he started teaching them many things.
Mark 6:34

You are in the crowd. But He feels compassion for you. He is teaching you.

Even in this desolate place. You will not need to buy yourself food.

Come together, like a dinner party. There is more than enough.

When it was already very late, the disciples went up to him and were saying, “This place is desolate.” “It is getting very late.” “Send them away That way they can go to the surrounding farms and towns and buy themselves something to eat.” He replied to them, “You give them something to eat yourselves.” They say to him, “We are supposed to go out and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give it to them to eat?” He says to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go find that out.” They make a determination and say, “Five. And two fish as well.” So he told them to have everyone sit down and form as it were dinner parties, side by side, on the green grass. As they sat down in groups of a hundred and groups of fifty, looking like flower beds set side to side. So taking the five loaves and two fish, he looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to serve to them. He also divided the two fish among all the disciples. Everyone ate and was full.
Mark 6:35-42

Christ expects his disciples — including the reader — to take a lesson, as the scene ends as Christ entrances begin — to be with Him in the sea. While he ascends to the sky:

Immediately after, he made his disciples get into the boat and go across to Bethsaida while he dismissed the crowd. After he sent the crowd away, he went off to a mountain to pray. When the evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake. He was alone on the dry land.
Mark 6:45-47

The roughness of the speech emphasizes the allegorical reality.

And the pattern this creates while reading Mark — that the events have meaning, make it easier to notice variations on a theme

Calling together the crowd, along with his disciples, he told them, “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself. Let him take up his cross. Let him follow me.”
Mark 8:34

I say to you, get up, take your pallet, and return home!”
Mark 2:11

What to one man is denying himself, is to another doing the opposite of his life: standing instead of sitting. What to one man is a cross to another is a pallett: the instrument of humiliation. What to one man is a journey away to another is a journey home: facing danger.

Pakaluk’s rough-and-ready translation of Mark makes the archetypal themes more vivid. Mark is not just a reset of Matthew, not just black-and-white, but “HDR” – the allegorical reality behind the physical reality bright shining as the Sun.

But sadly, this is not explored. The archetypes present in Mark alert us to an allegorical sense of these scriptures. It is not Pakaluk but Jordan Peterson who best describes this type of language:

It is primordial separation of light from darkness — engendered by Logos, the Word, equivalent to the process of consciousness — that initiates human experience and historical activity, which is reality itself, for all intents and purposes. This initial division provides the prototypical structure, and the fundamental precondition, for the elaboration and description of more differentiated attracting and repulsing pairs of opposites…
Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning, pg. 228-229

and presents its conclusion:

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, it is the Logos — the word of God — that creates order from chaos — and it is in the image of the Logos that man [“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26)] is created.
Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning, pg. 87

An Aside: Peter Across the Texts

The beauty of this translation of Mark’s gospel, and the way it reinforced the Traditional understanding (that these are Peter’s thoughts, and Peter’s monologue, expressed through Mark’s pen) helps me see two inter-related themes across his works: the growing nature of faith, and the role of proclamation in faith.

Mark’s gospel expresses this truth didactically:

[Jesus] questioned the father, “How many times years has he been like this?”

]The boy’s father] said, “Since he was a child. Many times it even throws him into fire or into water, to destroy him. But if if you can do anything… have mercy on us and help us!”

Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’?! Everything is possible for a man who believes.”

Without missing a beat, the father of that little boy cried and out said, “I believe! Help my unbelief!
Mark 9:21-24

The same reality is expressed in narrative form, showing Peter himself believes through proclamation, but has unbelief through his actions:

So while Peter is below the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the chief priests comes up. Seeing Peter warming himself, she looked right at him and then says,”You too were with Jesus of Nazareth.” But he denied it and says, “I neither know nor even understand what you are asking. So he left to go outside the courtyard, to the anteroom. Then a cock crowed. So the servant girl, watching him, started saying again to the men standing there, “This man is one of them.” But he denied it again. So, after a little while, again the men standing there said to Peter, “You are definitely one of them. You are a Galilean, You speak like a Galilean. He began to curse and swear, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” Right then and there a cock crowed for a second time. Peter remembered the statement Jesus had spoken to him, “Before a cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down crying.
Mark 14:66-71

The same theme of dynamic faith is made explicit in Peter’s second letter to the Catholic Church:

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
2 Peter 1:5-9

And the same theme is preserved in the eleventh Qur’anic chapter, which itself is a commentary on 2 Peter:

It was revealed to Noah: ‘None of your people will believe except those who already have faith; so do not sorrow for what they used to do.
Qur’an 11:36

Faith means allegiance, and it can be greater or lesser, but if we judge by the lack of any of it, we may miss God’s patience with us as we desire to have all of it.

Translation and Notes

Given all this praise, it’s inexplicable that Pakaluk does not translate the actual words Mark writes. Throughout the work he translates, and then in a footnote states the actual translation is something else…

So Jesus said to them: “Come, follow me, and I will turn you into fishers of men.”
Mark 1:17

but then as a translator’s note, Pakaluk writes:

The point is reinforced by Lour Lord’s language “I will turn you into” is literally “I will make it so that you become.” Their becoming Fishers of Men will be the result of some kind of effective action on Our Lord’s part.

I have no idea when I can trust the words on the page to be what they mean. An interlinear Greek-English Bible implies the word-for-word translation is:

And said to them, Jesus: “Come after Me and I will make you to become fishers of men.”

But why did Pakaluk add “turn” and remove “make.” No explanation is given.

Robert Alter’s translations of the Hebrew Bible, and Gabriel Said Reynold’s translations of the Qur’an add much to the text. One gets a sense of the significance of the words used, the linguistic subtext to the phrase, and cross-references to other works (including the Bible) with similar themes or phrases. Pakaluk provides some of this, but most of the footnotes are didactic Catholic theology. I appreciate this as a Catholic, but the reader definitely receives what Pakaluk believes to be the correct ideas to believe, and not a fully appreciation for the Word of God in human language.

Here’s a specific example. Note how Pakaluk opens a fascinating door (why do some people have nicknames), and closes it immediately after getting a pre-determined answer (Peter was important, ignore the others). First, the setting:

So he goes up a mountain, and he summons the men he himself had decided upon. They left and came to him. He created Twelve (whom he also named “apostles”), who would be with him; and he would send them out to preach; and they would have authority to expel evil spirits. He appointed the Twelve men: Peter (the name he gave Simon), and James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (he gave them the names Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder), and Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, the son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon from Cana, and Judas Iscariot (the man who actually betrayed him)
Mark 3:13-19

And in the notes…

Peter
Peter is mentioned first, implying priority. By mentioning the conferral of the name Peter, or “Rock,” in connection with the appointment of men to the Twelve offices, Mark suggests that the role of Peter, too, is an office. In the case of the Twelve, the offices are established first and then men are appointed to them. In the case of Peter, however, the man is first chosen and given preeminence, and then the name is conferred on him. The name “Peter” indicates the offices itself is identified with Simon Peter. If it can be passed down, it must be as the office of this man, Peter…

and

Sons of Thunder
This seems a nickname with no juridical significance: Why isn’t Peter, then, also a mere nickname? For two reasons:

Listing the apostles, Mark uses the conferred name Peter and mentions incidentally tat this is the man originally referred to in his narrative as Simon. That is, the conferred name has supplanted the original name. His name as an apostle is Peter, not Simon. Nicknames don’t have that kind of priority.

We do not know with certainty why Jesus called James and John “Sons of Thunder” or why only those two apostles had a special name. So we do not know that it was only a nickname. Yet certainly it has no juridical import, because the names of these apostles remained James and John, not Sons of Thunder, whereas the name of the first apostle becomes Peter.

To me this makes no sense.

  1. Why is the name Peter obviously an office, but “Sons of Thunder” “obviously” not
  2. In what other cases in context of the first century Near East is an Office established this way?
  3. How does “Peter” being an office accord with Christ establishing Peter as Prime Minister?

We don’t know, and the translator doesn’t tell us. Instead we are told what to think.

Conclusion

I am so grateful for having received “The Memoirs of St Peter: A New Translation of the Gospel According to Mark,” by Michael Pakaluk. The preservation of the original tenses is a great gift, and makes Mark’s gospel vivid. It has a distinct narrator and has a clear presence. It’s true that the “message of Mark is that Jesus is for everyone,” but Mark also uses constrast in narrative styles (archetypal settings, approachable dialog) to describe who Jesus is and what He does in ways beyond words. I do not think the translator fully rises to the challenge presented by Mark, but the scope of the work Pakaluk comments on transcends the human.

I read The Memoirs of St Peter is the hard-bound edition.

Impressions of “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper,” by Brant Pitre

How can Christ order his followers to eat his flesh? Would that make them cannibals?

Would it be possible outside a natural human lifetime? No wonder the most disastrous moment in Jesus’ ministry — in the sense of being rejected by the people because of a teaching — is after Christ’s commandment to partake in the Lord’s Supper:

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”

The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?”

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.
John 6:51-53

Jewish Roots is a typological book that identifies four shadows of the Last Supper. Three of these are in the Old Testament: Manna, the Passover Lamb, and the Bread of the Presence. For the first three Pitre presents both biblical evidence, but also references from the Jewish Talmud. This was frustrating because the Talmud was written after the New Testament, and in many case references personalities and events of the New Testaments. But later the reason for this became clear. Using the Talmud, Pitre argues the Last Supper was also a Passover Seder.

The first three — the manna, the Passover lamb, and the show bread — all are referenced in the Books of Moses, the Prophets, the Gospels, and the Epistles.

The Books of Moses

Manna, the supernatural bread from heaven, came down to teach men that normal bread was not enough for them:

“Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers. And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you.
Deuteronomy 8:1-3

Show bread is introduced as the climax of the description of the Table within the sanctuary. The Hebrew is often translated as “Bread of the Presence,” though literally means Bread of the Face:

“You shall also make a table of acacia wood; two cubits shall be its length, a cubit its width, and a cubit and a half its height. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, and make a molding of gold all around. You shall make for it a frame of a handbreadth all around, and you shall make a gold molding for the frame all around. And you shall make for it four rings of gold, and put the rings on the four corners that are at its four legs. The rings shall be close to the frame, as holders for the poles to bear the table. And you shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, that the table may be carried with them. You shall make its dishes, its pans, its pitchers, and its bowls for pouring. You shall make them of pure gold. And you shall set the show bread on the table before Me always.
Exodus 25:23-30

While the Passover lamb is introduced is introduced as a sacrifice to be consumed as it is slaughtered:

Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it. Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.
Exodus 12:5-8

Pitre emphasizes that Christ is a Passover lamb. This is important because Christ is not a sin offering. Christianity has been struggling with Christ’s incompatibility with the basic gender requirements of sin offers:

And if we brings a lamb for a sin offering, he shall bring it a female without blemish.”
Leviticus 4:32

Yet the focus on a male lamb does fit the requirements for a peace offering.

‘If his offering as a sacrifice of a peace offering to the Lord is of the flock, whether male or female, he shall offer it without blemish. If he offers a lamb as his offering, then he shall offer it before the Lord. And he shall lay his hand on the head of his offering, and kill it before the tabernacle of meeting; and Aaron’s sons shall sprinkle its blood all around on the altar.
Leviticus 3:6-8

Which are evocative of Christ and the ongoing celebration of mass in other ways:

‘The flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offering for thanksgiving shall be eaten the same day it is offered. He shall not leave any of it until morning. But if the sacrifice of his offering is a vow or a voluntary offering, it shall be eaten the same day that he offers his sacrifice; but on the next day the remainder of it also may be eaten; the remainder of the flesh of the sacrifice on the third day must be burned with fire.
Leviticus 7:15:17

Pitre argues Christ’s use of these Mosaic themes in his ministry were a purposeful attempt to teach that he was the New Moses.

The Prophets

Following the Torah, much of the rest of the Old Testament is composed of the prophets, beginning with Joshua and ending with the Minor prophets. These signs, already introduced by Moses, are referenced during the waiting for the Gospel:

You also gave Your good Spirit to instruct them,
And did not withhold Your manna from their mouth,
And gave them water for their thirst.

Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness;
They lacked nothing;
Their clothes did not wear out
And their feet did not swell.
Nehemiah 9:20

And into the conflict between Saul and the son of Jessee is the show bread:

And the priest answered David and said, “There is no common bread on hand; but there is holy bread, if the young men have at least kept themselves from women.”

Then David answered the priest, and said to him, “Truly, women have been kept from us about three days since I came out. And the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in effect common, even though it was consecrated in the vessel this day.”

So the priest gave him holy bread; for there was no bread there but the show bread which had been taken from before the LORD, in order to put hot bread in its place on the day when it was taken away.
1 Samuel 21:4-6

And the role of the peace offering, to be given by the prince:

“Now when the prince makes a voluntary burnt offering or voluntary peace offering to the Lord, the gate that faces toward the east shall then be opened for him; and he shall prepare his burnt offering and his peace offerings as he did on the Sabbath day. Then he shall go out, and after he goes out the gate shall be shut.

“You shall daily make a burnt offering to the Lord of a lamb of the first year without blemish; you shall prepare it every morning.
Ezekiel 46:12-13

Pitre argues the Lord’s Supper — and Christ’s taking on of the roles of Passover Lamb, Show Bread, and Manna, propagate backwards into time. Thus, when Davis eats the show bread, or the prince sacrifices Lamb, in some mysterious way Christ is present in those actions.

Gospels

The signs are also explicitly used by Christ himself, identifying the Manna with “my Flesh”:

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.
John 6:53-59

Christ also references the show bread, and how David ate it when he was hungry. This discourse in Matthew ties together with John’s description of the Son’s flesh. If you are hungry for eternal life, be like David, and eat the bread:

But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the show bread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?
Matthew 12:3-4

For his part, Mark ambiguously uses the phrase “when they killed the Passover Lamb” to refer both to a foodstuff which is conspicuously missing from the written descriptions of dinner, as well as to Christ:

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb, His disciples said to Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare, that You may eat the Passover?”

And He sent out two of His disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him. Wherever he goes in, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”‘ Then he will show you a large upper room, furnished and prepared; there make ready for us.”
Mark 14:12-15

Christ incorporates the Books of Moses and the Prophets into his life by reference. Just as the Qur’an assumes the reader has read the Bible, Christ is assuming knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures to identify himself as Lamb, as Show Bread, and as Manna.

The Letters

The letter writers who explained the Gospel after Christ’s life also picked up the same themes. Manna is given to believers who overcome:

Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”‘
Revelation 2:17

While the anonymous author of Hebrews emphasizes the show bread as the final part of the sanctuary:

Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lamp stand, the table, and the show bread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
Hebrews 9:1-5

The same author explicitly compares Christ to the offerings:

We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
Hebrew 13:10-16

Christ is presented not just as the end of the Hebrew Scriptures, but as the beginning of what happens next. Christ-as-manna is present, after Christ-as-show-bread. Some kind of dimensional folding is happening here. Pitre argues another method of folding is responsible for a fourth sign: the Last Supper as a Passover Seder, when He was sacrificed.

The Passover Seder

Like the Dominican Monk Paul Christiani, Pitre seeks to support Christian belief with the Jewish Talmud. Documented, after Christ, in the sometimes anti-Christian Talmud, the liturgy of the Seder is a method of the celebration of the Jewish religion in the absence of a validly operating Temple. Christ had stated that He was greater than the Temple. In a passage that immediately follows Christ reminding of David’s eating the Bread of the Presence:

Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet ‘I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Matthew 12:5-8

The liturgy of the Passover Sedar includes numerous steps, and Pitre argues that several of these are explicitly described in the Gospels. Within the Seder itself are four ritual cups:

  1. The Cup of Sanctification
  2. The Cup of Deliverance
  3. The Cup of Redemption
  4. The Cup of Restoration

At table, Christ drinks from two cups, identified by Pitre as the second and third cups of the liturgy, the Cup of Deliverance and the Cup of Redemption:

Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. But behold, the hand of My betrayer is with Me on the table. And truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”
Luke 22:17-22

The Seder should not end until a fourth cup is drunk. And it is here that the Last Supper, when the Lord instituted Holy Communion, merges into the Passion — as Christ intentionally does not drink wine during the Passion itself

And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink.
Matthew 27:33-34

but only upon its completion

After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.
John 19:28-30

Conclusion

Pitre presents four types for the Last Supper, three of which precede it in the Bible: the Bread of the Face, the Manna, and the Passover Lamb. A fourth type, the Passover Seder, is only attested after the Last Supper had happened. Nonetheless, the Seder may have been contemporary with Christ, and presents a sort of grammar for otherwise arbitrary statements made during that holy weekend.

While discussing the first three types, Pitre presents not only Biblical evidence but evidence from the Talmud. By itself this is weak, because the Talmud was written after the Bible. But because the Seder argument depends entirely on the Talmud, its earlier introduction makes that section (and the identity of the “fourth cup” with the wine that Christ drank on the cross) less jarring.

Also at the end Pitre introduces the catechism of the Catholic church, and passages which further supports his arguments. For instance:

In the Old Covenant bread and wine were offered in sacrifice among the first fruits of the earth as a sign of grateful acknowledgment to the Creator. But they also received a new significance in the context of the Exodus: the unleavened bread that Israel eats every year at Passover commemorates the haste of the departure that liberated them from Egypt; the remembrance of the manna in the desert will always recall to Israel that it lives by the bread of the Word of God; their daily bread is the fruit of the promised land, the pledge of God’s faithfulness to his promises.

The “cup of blessing” at the end of the Jewish Passover meal adds to the festive joy of wine an eschatological dimension: the messianic expectation of the rebuilding of Jerusalem. When Jesus instituted the Eucharist, he gave a new and definitive meaning to the blessing of the bread and the cup.
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1334

these are sensible, and support his arguments, at least for the first three types.

I enjoyed reading Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. In particular, Pitre’s introduction of the Seder view of the Last Supper, and the way it extends the Last Supper thru the passion and the crucifixion, help me understand how Christ could have instituted Holy Communion at the Last Supper.

I read Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist in the Audible edition.

Impressions of “Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives,” by Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

Generally there’s a gap between people great at explaining what the words of the Bible mean (its cultural, linguistic, and genre contexts), and what the Bible means (the transcendent, spiritual worth of the text). Thus Michael Heiser, N.T. Wright have excellent works explaining the original plain meaning of the Old and New Testaments, while C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton are great at explaining what the Bible means and what Christianity is.

Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI, is a rare man who can do both.

This short volume primarily focuses on the Gospel’s Christmas accounts, as well as Luke’s retelling of Jesus being found in the temple. In this book Benedict uses the text to show not just how Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled, but the meaning of the magi, the reaction of Jerusalem, the apocalyptic nature of the event, and so on.

This book is short, easy to read, and great. Ratziner displays a mastery of textual analyses on par with Heiser and Wright. That he wrote this being the public face of the largest religion in the world is astonishing,

The Apocalypse

When I wrote my impressions of the Gospel According to Matthew, I noted it began with an ending — with a genealogy that normally serves to close a section of the Torah. I did not catch how Luke did the same thing. Near the beginning of Luke’s gospel is reference to the Book of Enoch — the gospel opens with a genealogy containing 77 generations (70 from Enoch on):

Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Janna, the son of Joseph, the son of Mattathiah, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, the son of Maath, the son of Mattathiah, the son of Semei, the son of Joseph, the son of Judah, the son of Joannas, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmodam, the son of Er, the son of Jose, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonan, the son of Eliakim, the son of Melea, the son of Menan, the son of Mattathah, the son of Nathan, the son of David, the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Salmon, the son of Nahshon, the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.
Luke 3:23-38

This mapping of 77 generations to forever is derived from Enoch:

To Michael likewise the Lord said, Go and announce his crime to Samyaza, and to the others

who are with him, who have been associated with women, that they might be polluted with all their impurity. And when all their sons shall be slain, when they shall see the perdition of their beloved, bind them for seventy generations underneath the earth, even to the day of judgment, and of consummation, until the judgment, the effect of which will last for ever, be completed.

Then shall they be taken away into the lowest depths of the fire in torments; and in confinement shall they be shut up for ever.
1 Enoch 10:15-16

The implication of is even greater than I had imagined. The message is not simply, the previous chapter is over. Rather, the previous world is over. All things are made new in Jesus, for He is the beginning and the end.

The Adoration of the Magi

Another reference I missed is how Luke comments on Matthew’s magi. Luke’s later magi, a wicked man, is named bar Jesus, as if to drive the point home. Compare Matthew’s account of Christmas:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Magoo from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
Matthew 2:1-2

To Luke’s of the early church age:

Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the Magus (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.
Acts 13:6-8

Benedict explicitly notes that magi had a range of meanings in the time, from expert scientist to devious fraudster. But the double use, plus the name reported of the wicked magi, is interpretted by Benedict as making the point that religion can open or close one to God, depending on the nature of the religion and how one receives it.

Gentiles and the Bible

Benedict seems aware of the stories from ancient Canaan. He identifies the Star of Bethlehem with a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter that occurred around 6 BC. Throughout the Mediterranean and near-east Saturn a longer was associated with the Creator God Cronos or El, and Jupiter with the presiding god of a younger generation, Zeus or Ba’al or Marduk. Thus a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter could be read as the Ba’al-of-El or the Zeus-of-Cronos. At the time of the first Christmas many peoples recognized the existence of the Creator God, but the Jews were conspicuous in worshiping him.

Benedict argues the Magi went to Jerusalem as the recognized Temple of the Creator God, familiarized themselves with ‘local’ relevant prophecies (such as of the King of Israel to be born in Bethlehem), and proceeded accordingly. I find this treatment brilliant, as it both incorporates Christianity as the completion of astrology, while also deeply humanizing the motives of the magi themselves.

The Scholastics of the Time

A major development in the 20th century was a move away from Scholasticism (which viewed Christianity primarily as a set of truth-propositions to be accepted) to the current period of re-utilizing the Bible and the Church Fathers as sources, which sees Christianity primarily as a relationship between the believer and God. Benedict was a major champion of the re-utilization or resourcement, as an academic, as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope John Paul II, and as Pope. The current, Benedictine, era thus can see critical references to “experts of the law” as applicable to the now-defeated Scholastics.

Benedict discovers an additional dig, as the magi are leaving Jerusalem

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
Matthew 2:3-5

apparently none of the “Chief Priests and scribes” bothered to apply their intellectual knowledge of the signs and of Herod’s nature, to preventing the massacre in the Bethlehem. Perhaps they simply couldn’t. As my friend Michael Lotus noted, it was Christ’s acts which took a cynical statement of politics:

And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.”
John 11:49-50

and turned it into a religion of salvation.

The Tradition and the Bible

I have Protestant friends who struggle with the Catholic and Orthodox doctrine of the Bible and Sacred Tradition. Instead of defensively arguing for Tradition from the Church’s authority, Benedict does so on a textual basis. It is clear, he states, that the story of Christmas derives from a family Tradition — of Mary’s recollections.

But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Luke 2:19

Benedict does not push this point, but I think it is meaningful. The Bible itself is derived from the knowledge of people who knew Jesus for years or decades. That the Bible was the total, complete, and only method of transmission of this memory is not a natural claim.

But this introduces an unresolved question. Benedict says Mary’s reply to the angel is not explicable in the text, and is a “riddle” (or “mystery”). The text itself states that Mary is betrothed to Joseph, and the regular mechanism of conceiving a child in the near term seems pretty obvious. What is going on?

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. …

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
Luke 1:26-27,31-34

According to Benedict, we don’t know.

Conclusion

It’s interesting comparing The Infancy Narratives to Pope Francis’s Laudato Si or On Heaven and Earth . Francis is thought provoking and moves the reader to action. But Benedict can explain complex issues in more detail in a clear and thoughtful way.

I am very glad I read this book. I indirectly owe it to Fr. Harrison Ayre and Fr. Anthony Sciarappa whose Clerically Speaking podcast often discusses Ratzinger’s writings in very approachable terms. Even with that recommendation, though, I didn’t expect the clarity of writing or the masterful handling of the biblical text. This book is excellent reading for anyone wanting to learn more about what the Bible says about the first Christmas.

Qur’an 12: Joseph

So many of the chapters of the Qur’an are interpretive mash-ups — of Mary and Miriam, of Abraham and Peter, Moses and Joshua — that I wonder if the mash-ups are the essence of the chapters, and not just a feature of them. Specifically, I wonder if the chapters of the Qur’an are literally homilies, which follow a two-readings, a psalm, and a gospel as in most liturgical churches. So for the twelfth chapter, Joseph, and perhaps others, I will begin by presenting a list of readings that implicit in the chapter, and then discuss the particular narrative of the chapter itself.

Readings

A Reading, from the Book of Genesis:

And it came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.”

But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”

So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her.

But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. And so it was, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and fled outside, that she called to the men of her house and spoke to them, saying, “See, he has brought in to us a Hebrew to mock us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. And it happened, when he heard that I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me, and fled and went outside.”

So she kept his garment with her until his master came home. Then she spoke to him with words like these, saying, “The Hebrew servant whom you brought to us came in to me to mock me; so it happened, as I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me and fled outside.”

So it was, when his master heard the words which his wife spoke to him, saying, “Your servant did to me after this manner,” that his anger was aroused. Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined. And he was there in the prison
Genesis 39:7-20

A Reading, from the Acts of the Apostles:

“Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come— that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”

King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.”

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”

And Paul said, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.”

When he had said these things, the king stood up, as well as the governor and Bernice and those who sat with them; 31 and when they had gone aside, they talked among themselves, saying, “This man is doing nothing deserving of death or chains.”

Then Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
Acts 26:13-23,23-32

A Song, from the Psalms:

Give the king Your judgments, O God,
And Your righteousness to the king’s Son.
He will judge Your people with righteousness,
And Your poor with justice.
The mountains will bring peace to the people,
And the little hills, by righteousness.
He will bring justice to the poor of the people;
He will save the children of the needy,
And will break in pieces the oppressor.
Psalms 72:1-4

A Reading, from the Gospel according St. Matthew:

Then Jesus said to His disciples,

“If anyone desires to come after Me,
let him deny himself,
and take up his cross,
and follow Me.

For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
Mark 16:24-28

A Qur’anic Homily

The Qur’anic author believes there is a “Book” or Heavenly Scrolls with God, but the Qur’an itself is not this book. It is a collection of talks, elaborated stories, that highlight the best of the Torah and the Gospels:

We will recount to you the best narratives in what We have revealed to you of this Lectionary and prior to it you were indeed among those who were unaware of it.
Qur’an 12:3

This Qur’an was written to more clearly express the morals in Torah and the Gospels:

There is certainly a moral in their accounts for those who possess intellect. This is not a fabricated discourse; rather, it is a confirmation of what was before it, and an elaboration of all things, and guidance and mercy for people who have faith.
Qur’an 12:111

The twelfth chapter of the Qur’an, “Joseph,” explains how judgment works. Good judges and bad judges are described, both in public matters and private.

For instance, in the Bible and the Qur’an Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph, and then frames him for rape.

They raced to the door, and she tore his shirt from behind, and they ran to her husband [Potiphar]. She said, ‘What is to be the requital of him who has evil intentions for your wife except imprisonment or a painful punishment? He said, ‘It was she who solicited me.’

A witness of her own household testified: “If his shirt is torn from the front, she tells the truth and he lies. But if his shirt is torn from behind, then she lies and he tells the truth.’

Joseph, let this matter alone, and you, woman, plead for forgiveness for your sin, for you have indeed been erring.
Qur’an 12:29

Yet the next we see Joseph, he is in prison. The judge has ‘compromised,’ like Pilate, leading to an unjust outcome.

Somewhat better is the king, who at least demands the truth, and gets it:

The king said, ‘What was your business, women, when you solicited Joseph?’ They said, “heaven be praised! We know of no evil in him.’

The prince’s [Potiphar’s] wife said, ‘Now the truth has come to light! It was I who solicited him, and he is indeed telling the truth. This, that he may know that I did not betray him in his absence, and God does not further the schemes of the treacherous. Yet I do not absolve my soul, for the soul indeed prompts to evil, except inasmuch as my Lord has mercy. My Lord is indeed all-forgiving, all-merciful!’
Qur’an 12:51-53

A wise judge, such as Joseph during his evaluation of his brothers, seeks evidence and considers it wisely.

“When he had furnished them with their provisions, he put the drinking-cup into his brother’s saddlebag. Then a herald shouted: O caravan! You are indeed thieves!.. The said, ‘The requital for it shall be that he in whose saddlebag it is found shall give himself over as its requital. Thus do we requite the wrongdoers.’
Qur’an 12:70,75

Joseph also judges — or balances — in theological matters. For instance, he uses dreams of bread and grapes (the raw material of the transubstantiation) to emphasize the need for absolute Monotheism and a lack of intercessors:

There entered the prison two youths along with him. One of them said, ‘I dreamt that I am pressing grapes.’ The other said, ‘I dreamt that I am carrying brad on my head from which the birds are eating.’ ‘Inform us of its interpretation, for indeed we see you are a virtuous man.’

He said, ‘Before the meals you are served come to you I will inform you of its interpretation. That is among things my Lord has taught me. Indeed, I renounce the creed of the people who have no faith in God and who also disbelieve in the Hereafter. I follow the creed of my fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

It is not for us to ascribe any partner to God. That is by virtue of God’s grace upon us and upon all mankind, but most people do not give thanks.

O my prison mates! Are different masters better, or the God, the One, the All-paramount?
Qur’an 12:36-38

And likewise Joseph prays for his brothers, not of his own initiative (Which would have been arrogant in the Qur’anic author’s eyes) but as a response to a request (which was to help those of weak faith)

They said, ‘Father! Plead for forgiveness of our sins! We have indeed been erring!.’

He said, ‘I shall plead with my Lord to forgive you; indeed He is the All-forgiving, All-merciful.’
Qur’an 12:97-98

Joseph is a type of Christ, calling others to follow him:

They said, ‘Father! Plead for forgiveness of our sins! We have indeed been erring!.’

He said, ‘I shall plead with my Lord to forgive you; indeed He is the All-forgiving, All-merciful.’
Qur’an 12:97-98

And even using his clothes to mediate his presence to others:

Take this shirt of mine and cast it upon my father’s face, he will regain his sight, and bring me all your folks.’

As the caravan set off, their father said, ‘I sense the scent of Joseph, if you will not consider me a dotard.’
Qur’an 12:93-94

Joseph is an icon of what a judge, a balances, a man should be. “Are you really Joseph?” in the reunion between Joseph and Benjamin could be replaced with, “Are you really what I should be?”

They said, ‘Are your really Joseph?”‘

He said, ‘I m Joseph, and this is my brother. Certainly God has shown us favor. Indeed, if one is Godwary and patient, God does not waste the reward of the virtuous.’

They said, ‘By God, God has certainly preferred you over us, and we have indeed been erring.’

He said, ‘There shall be no reproach on you today. God will forgive you and He is the most merciful of the merciful.
Qur’an 12:90-92

The cause of these though is the Lord, and it is the Lord’s power without intercession which allows any of this to work.

And as with Christ, Joseph leave us with a prayer, a variation of the Our Father.

My Lord! You have granted me a share in the kingdom, and taught me the interpretation of drams. Originator of the heaven and earth! You are my guardian in this world and the Hereafter! Let my death be in submission, and unite me with the Righteous.
Qur’an 12:101

Unites his father with his brothers:

And he seated his parents high upon the throne, and they fell down prostrate before him. He said, ‘Father! This is the fulfillment of my dream of long ago, which my Lord has made come true. He was certainly gracious to me when He brought me out of the prison and brought you over from the desert after that Satan had incited ill feeling between me and my brothers. My Lord is indeed all-attentive in bringing about what He wishes. Indeed, He is the All-knowing, the All-wise.’
Qur’an 12:100

And as with Genesis, in all of this, there is a shock.

The first book book with a Bible ends with the last of the Patriarchs, entombed, a mummy:

So Joseph died, being one hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
Genesis 50:26

To any who know typology, and what Egypt represents, the penultimate lines of Joshua are no less shocking:

When they entered into the presence of Joseph, he set his parents close to himself, and said, ‘Welcome to Egypt, in safety, God willing!’
Qur’an 12:99

The only thing more shocking in the Bible, perhaps, is the next Joseph who enters Egypt:

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”

When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”
Matthew 2:13-15

Impressions of “Hans Urs von Balthasar: Rediscovering Holistic Christianity,” by Kevin Mongrain

Hans Urs von Balthasar is a short summary. I don’t have a firm grasp of the man Balthasar. But at a high level, it appears that Balthasar is similar to GK Chesterton in his focus on the codependency of mysticism and theology. That is, Balthasar sees Thomas Aquinas’s system view of God to be as true and valid as Francis of Assisi’s mystical vision. He also sees the Church Fathers as a “source” of the faith which has been neglected in favor of Aquinas’s “summary” of theology. Balthasar focuses on Glory as a goal of worship. The book does not spend enough time on Balthasar’s seemingly odd ideas about the Son, or his role in Catholic intellectual history.

I’ve become more aware of Balthasar over the last year, primarily from social and new media. Taylor Marshall, author of The Crucified Rabbi, greatly dislikes Balthasar. On his show he dedicated an episode to criticizing Balthasar and his ideas:

Meanwhile, Robert Barron, author of To Light a Fire, admires Balthasar greatly. He’s also put out his own videos — shorter but punchier, praising the man. A similar view has appeared on Catholic podcasts like Clerically Speaking* and Credal Catholic

Balthasar focuses on the “Glory” of God. Doxa, or “Glory,” is a form of belief that contrasts with (and complements) episteme. Thus the relationship between Glory and Theology is more obvious in Greek than it is in translation in Latin and in the West. Indeed, the demand that Aquinas’s theology have a mystical pairing is close to the Orthodox criticism of Catholicism.

The word doxa picked up a new meaning between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC when the Septuagint translated the Hebrew word for “glory” (????, kavod) as doxa. This translation of the Hebrew Scriptures was used by the early church and is quoted frequently by the New Testament authors. The effects of this new meaning of doxa as “glory” is made evident by the ubiquitous use of the word throughout the New Testament and in the worship services of the Greek Orthodox Church, where the glorification of God in true worship is also seen as true belief. In that context, doxa reflects behavior or practice in worship, and the belief of the whole church rather than personal opinion.
Doxa,” Wikipedia

But more often than “Glory,” Balthasar uses the word “Beauty.” I don’t understand what Balthasar means by using “Beauty” as a strict synonym, or his purpose in seeming to adopt the German romantic tradition into Catholicism. I am unsure if this is a culture touchstone that Balthasar uses to demonstrate his point, or indicates goals beyond the recovery of Glory into Christianity.

According to the book, Balthasar also shared ideas that fit less well with the Catholic or Orthodox traditions. He seems to see the Son as inferior to the Father, and insists that it was the Father who raised the Son, and not the Son who raised Himself. This changes the view of Good Saturday away from the Harrowing of Hell and towards the suffering of Christ in hell. Yet Balthasar’s insistence that the Christian re-presents the procession of the Trinity may fit with the Shepherd of Hermas.

I would have enjoyed a greater discussion about Balthasar’s role in Catholic intellectual history. Balthasar gives an important focus to Mary and prayer, in a way that’s presented as a change from neoscholasticism. This fits with what I have heard before, that it was Balthasar influence (and those with similar views) influence on the Second Vatican Council that helped center these in the Church’s teachings, and pivot away from the specific scholastic process that had been common before. Yet how his thoughts related to others in that council, what was the cause and what was the effect, is left unanswered in this short volume.

I read Hans Urs von Balthasar: Rediscovering Holistic Christianity in the Audible edition.

Impressions of “Paul: A Biography,” by N.T. Wright

Recently I read Paul, N.T. Wright’s biography of The Apostle. Paul fits within other books I have read that emphasize the Kingship of Christ in the Kingdom of Israel, the Kingdom of Heaven. Wright emphasizes faithfulness to this King, and the freedom that following the King gives to His subjects. Along the way N.T. Wright reconstructs Paul’s journeys, creating a chronology that is both traditional and revisionist.

Heaven and Earth

The oldest Christian creed we have is the Apostle’s Creed. Paul’s missionary journeys took place about halfway between the first of Christ and the writing of the Creed, in A.D. 120. It concludes:

I believe in the Holy Ghost,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting
.
Amen.
The Apostles Creed

Christians look forward to a resurrected body and everlasting life. Heaven is not promised as a place of living. Though having one’s own body, a physical existence, is promised.

This brings up a distinction between C.S. Lewis, who Wright reminds me of, and Wright himself. Both were Anglican, both had a knack for talking to a Catholic and Reformed audience simultaneously, and both have a delightful British writing style. But there’s a striking difference. Lewis focuses on Christianity as a philosophy, or even cosmic worldview.

The Weight of Glory focuses on dimensional projection, and The Great Divorce on an image of heaven, hell, and purgatory. Yet if there’s a central difference between Wright and Lewis, it’s that Wright emphasizes Christ’s mission in this world, and not a platonic understanding of the next world. Our home is earth, the Kingdom of Heaven is already here in part, and the promise of the future is the resurrection of the dead on a new earth, and not eternal souls living in Heaven. I suspect Wright would state that Lewis’s Christianity was less bodily and more abstract than anything written in the Bible, and that such Platonism was not a legitimate development of doctrine, but a forgetting of the good news of the Bible: the Heavenly Kingship of Jesus Christ. To give a brief illustration, the first mention of “Heaven” in each of the gospels is either announcing Heaven breaking into earth, or Heaven as the location that God lives:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
Matthew 3:1-2

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Mark 1:9-11

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”
Luke 2:13-15

And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’
John 1:32-33

Heaven is not promised as a location for us to live in either the Creed or the gospel text. But the invasion of Heaven into this world, a royal brigandry against the forces of darkness, is:

But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.
Matthew 12:25-30

By Faithfulness to the King You Are Saved

The Bible was written for us but not to us — it was written to the Jews and later Romans of the near east thousands of years ago. Understanding its message for us requires understanding how it’s message would have been understood by the people to whom it was written.

This is the approach taken by thinkers like Michael Heiser (Reformed), Taylor Marshall (Catholic), and N.T. Wright himself (Anglican). All argue that it is clear that Christ established a Kingdom during his earthly ministry, and his teachings (and those of other early Christians) should be read in that context. What Christ brought was not a philosophy called Christianity, but a Kingdom that reorganized the Kingdom of Israel into the Kingdom of Heaven — the Kingdom of God. In this way Mormonism — at least in its corporal understanding of the importance of Jesus — is onto something.

A consequence is an sudden ending of the debate around “justification by faith alone” or “justification by faith and works” — the great dispute between the Catholic and Protestant faiths. If Christ’s Kingship is literally true, then the Biblical term “faith” is better translated and “allegiance” or “faithfulness,” and the distinction between “faith” in Christ and working for Christ melts away. The Greek word translated as ‘faith’ — pistis — refers to the faithful obedience of a subject to a king, or a soldier to a commanding officer. Consider the two passages that had been held up by these rival groups of Christians — the message is the same:

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has pistis but does not have works? Can pistis save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also pistis by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have pistis, and I have works.” Show me your pistis without your works, and I will show you my pistis by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that pistis without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that pistis was working together with his works, and by works pistis was made perfect?
James 2:14-22

and Paul’s justification “by faith” becomes

We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by pistis in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by pistis in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
Galatians 2:15-16

Faithfulness in bad faith is not faithfulness. Faith in God is not like the Chinese Imperial Religion where the relationship between fully transactional. And faithfulness without obedience is not faithfulness. Though the purpose of works is to climb the ladder of faithfulness to a closer relationship with God.

According to Wright, Paul argue that God’s righteousness refers to His continued upholding the covenant with Israel. God is a conquering Sovereign who upholds a terms of surrender with a lesser party, in spite of repeated breaches by the lesser party. When Paul speaks of righteousness, Wright argues, is not speaking of individual entrance into heaven — but that in spite of Covenant breach by the inferior party (Israel), but superior party (God) would remain loyal. This makes sense to me. The Old Testament description of Covenant is clearly along the lines of an Status-of-Forces or Instrument-of-Surrender, so it makes sense this theme is continued in the New Testament as well.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by pistis.”

For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)
Romans 1:6,5:17

Freedom in the Kingdom

A “kingdom” reading of the Bible involves at least two offices Christ establishes — the Queen Mother (Mary) and Prime Minister (Peter). Wright elides the issue, noting that (whatever was said in the Gospel itself) by the time of Paul’s ministry a de facto office of “pillar” had been established that included Peter, as well as James and John

And when James, Cephas [Peter], and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.
Galatians 2:9-10

This trio was the group that had witnessed the Transfiguration, or in other words were present at the apparent Constitutional Reform of the Kingdom of Israel into the Kingdom of Heaven, and seemed already at that time to be part of an inner circle:

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”
Matthew 17:1-9

Paul though at least seems to subvert the new Christian government, whether based on Peter’s Prime Ministership or these “pillars.” He derived his apostleship directly from Christ, and not from the Twelve. This is a challenge to a fully incarnate understanding of the Kingdom, as Paul emphasizes the Sovereign is still God in Heaven:

But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Galatians 1:11-12

Though Paul argues that in doing so he is not subverting the government, but enjoying his “right” as a subject of Christ:

Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we have no right to eat and drink? Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?
1 Corinthians 9:1-5

It is this sort of “freedom” — not a reading of Reformation-era concerns against the Curia, but Paul’s actual position within the Kingdom of Heaven, that he talks about when he speaks of freedom from the law. The Kingdom of Heaven does not have a rule of law but rule by the Man-God, Christ:

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:2-4

This is a profound point I did not grapple with before. God is greater than the Covenant, and greater than the Prime Ministership he appointed. Whether in the old or new Israel, the reality of the Covenant and the Papacy are confirmed and not undermined by the righteousness of God in upholding them along with the direct access of the believer to God. Thus when Elijah tried to lift the Covenant, he emphasized the superiority of God over the merely human King of Israel. With Christ, we now have a righteous King, but are left with merely human Prime Ministers — Popes. This is a view — that the Pope is Christ’s Prime Minister, but a Prime Minister who presides over free subjects, is perhaps best reflected in a document Wright does not mention — the Second Vatican Council. Note how the Council not only restates Paul’s message on freedom, but insists on God’s “righteous” upholding of the terms of His kingdom, as God upholds His covenant.

It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.
Dignitatis Humanae, A.D. 1965

The Journeys of Paul

Wright reconstructs Paul’s travels in terms of major political cities in the Empire. A typical pattern of Paul was first to appear in the Jewish synagogue, and then elsewhere in the city:

But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.”

Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen:

So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.
Acts 13:14-16,42

This is in keeping with the literal Kingship of Jesus Christ, whose arrival is announced to the country he is king of — Israel — and then to the newly liberated areas of the gentiles. While Heiser emphasizes Christ’s kingship over supernatural forces and powers — the Canaanite gods and the like — Wright emphasizes that it is Caesar himself who is now subjugated. Caesar had been called…

A Savior who has made war to cease
and who shall put everything in peaceful order;
and whereas Caesar,
when he was manifest,
transcended the expectations of all who had anticipated the good news,
not only by surpassing the benefits conferred by his predecessors
but by leaving no expectation of surpassing him to those who would come after him,
with the result that the birthday of our God signaled the beginning of Good News for the world because of him
Priene Calendar Inscription, 9 B.C.

From the beginning, the Church used this rhetoric to make an identical but opposite point: the King is here, but the King is Christ.

Wright also addresses the question of the order of Paul’s travels, and where documents were written. The imprisonment traditionally ascribed to Paul’s stay in Rome, Wright places in Ephesus. If so, this is only obliquely referenced as part of the “uproar” mentioned by Luke:

And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen…

But when they found out that he was a Jew, all with one voice cried out for about two hours, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”

And when the city clerk had quieted the crowd, he said: “Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus? Therefore, since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly. For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess. Therefore, if Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a case against anyone, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly. For we are in danger of being called in question for today’s uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering.” And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.

After the uproar had ceased, Paul called the disciples to himself, embraced them, and departed to go to Macedonia
Acts 19:23-24,34-41,20:1

Wright also identifies the Letter to the Ephesians (whose initial line “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus” does not occur in the oldest surviving manuscripts) as a catholic letter, and the same as the supposedly lost Letter to the Laodiceans. Wright’s new chronology of Paul has other implications too. He does not find room in this chronology for some of the pastoral letters, leading the possibility open that either Paul traveled extensively during his pre-trial imprisonment in Rome (possible, as he was a citizen) or even was acquitted. The earliest extra-biblical mentions of Paul are ambiguous here:

Through envy Paul, too, showed by example the prize that is given to patience:
seven times was he cast into chains;
he was banished;
he was stoned; having become a herald, both in the East and in the West,
he obtained the noble renown due to his faith; and having preached righteousness to the whole world,
and having come to the extremity of the West,
and having borne witness before rulers,
he departed at length out of the world,
and went to the holy place,
having become the greatest example of patience.
1 Clement 5:5-7

Another example is Paul’s fundraising efforts to Jerusalem. The Apostle repeatedly mentions this effort in his letters:

But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things. Therefore, when I have performed this and have sealed to them this fruit, I shall go by way of you to Spain. But I know that when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.

Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you.
Romans 15:25-32

but their reference to it by Luke in Acts is brief, does not address the raising of the money, or how the money was received. The brief mission is bracketed by Paul (at trial) saying he had a clean conscience and no one disputed his mission.

This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.

“Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation, n the midst of which some Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with a mob nor with tumult. They ought to have been here before you to object if they had anything against me
Acts 24:16-19

So what does this mean? I don’t know. Its interesting Paul refers here to the “pillars” as Holy Ones, the same terms used for high-ranking functionaries of God in Daniel when translated to Greek:

‘This decision is by the decree of the watchers,
And the sentence by the word of the holy ones,
In order that the living may know
That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men,
Gives it to whomever He will,
And sets over it the lowest of men.’
Daniel 4:17

This is both a high praise (being compared with angels!) and a subtle knock (like the angels, subject to a higher power). What’s the purpose of including this reference in such a moment? As I said — I don’t know.

Final Thoughts

N.T. Wright’s biography of Paul made The Apostle a fascinating man for me in a way he wasn’t before. I knew the focus on Christ’s Kingship, Paul’s dual identity as both Jew and Roman, and about his travels. But I hadn’t thought to consider the chronology of Paul’s actions, or how the events in Paul’s letter interact with Luke’s recording of similar events.

I read Paul: A Biography in the Audible edition.

Impressions of “Introduction to Patristics: Learning from the Church Fathers,” by David Meconi

Sometimes you get exactly what you ask for.

In my impressions of When the Church was Young by Marcellino d’Ambrosio, I said how much I enjoyed the work, but wish I could read a more academic companion to it. Introduction to Patristics by David Meconi is that companion. And When the Church was Young is the superior book.

There are no substantial disagreements between the texts. Both begin with the apostolic fathers like Justin Martyr and Polycarp. Both end before John of Damascus. Both reference the Shepherd and the Protoeveangelium The fundamental difference is that the Church was Young attempts to presents a narrative church history and emphasizes memorable personal anecdotes or events in the lives of the Fathers, and how their lives intersected. Patristics is organized in a rough chronological order but primarily around major academic themes. But except for the slightly deeper discussion of heterodoxy, the Church was Young provides more memorable information than Patristics.

While Patristics (unlike the Church was Young) is more about what now-heterodox ideas were believed by some Church Fathers, that benefit does not overcome the other burdens in the text. For instance, take Origin (AD 184 – AD 253), a teacher of the saints who himself was never canonized.  Both books addressed major moments of his life, including the arrest of his father, his rivalry with his bishop, and his arrest and torture by the Romans.  And from Patristics (but not from the Church Was Young) I learned that Origen believed that even demons could come to repentance and salvation. But the Church was Young provides more context around the catechatical school in Alexandria, the continuity of Origen with other Fathers before and after, a  more vivid description of the man in general.

The situation is even worse with another heterodox church father, Tertullian (AD 155 – AD 240). Both books credit Tertullian with coining the term Trinity (in Latin “Trinitas”) to refer to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Both conclude with Tertullian all but leaving the Catholic Church. The Church was Young establishes Tertullian’s belief in rigor and confessed impatience. It concludes with Tertullian joining the Montanists, “a rigorist sect.” This is implied to be a pattern in North Africa, and the implications for the Islamic conquest are left to the reader. Patristics does not establish Tertullian’s personality or reasons for leaving, aside from to joining a “gnostic” sect.

Yet neither of these are, perhaps, fully true! Certainly Tertullian seems like a kill joy — Wikipedia’s description of “public amusements, the veiling of virgins, the conduct of women, and the like” certainly matches The Church was Young‘s description of him. But Wikipedia’s description of Montanism implied something more:

Montanism held similar views about the basic tenets of Christian doctrine to those of the wider Christian Church, but it was labeled a heresy for its belief in new prophetic revelations. The prophetic movement called for a reliance on the spontaneity of the Holy Spirit and a more conservative personal ethic.

Neither book nor Wikipedia make the comparison, but the focus on the Holy Spirit’s new age of revelation recalls the Blessed Joachim of Fiore, a personal favorite of Jordan Peterson:

There are three states of the world, corresponding to the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. In the first age the Father ruled, representing power and inspiring fear, to which the Old Testament dispensation corresponds; then the wisdom hidden through the ages was revealed in the Son, and we have the Catholic Church of the New Testament; a third period will come, the Kingdom of the Holy Spirit, a new dispensation of universal love, which will proceed from the Gospel of Christ, but transcend the letter of it, and in which there will be no need for disciplinary institutions.
Joachim of Fiore,” Catholic Encyclopedia

There are a lot of lose ends, and neither work is a complete overview. But from When the Church was Young I can at least ask the question. Patristics, despite being more dry, provides less depth

Reading Introduction to Patristics probably helped me re-encode information I already learned in When the Church was Young. It was not very long, and along with The Orthodox Christian Church helped orient me to better understand this stage of the Church’s history.

I read Introduction to Patristics in the Audible edition.