Category Archives: Catholicism

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.

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 “Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?: With A Short Discourse on Hell,” by Hans Urs Von Balthasar

Impressions of “Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?: With A Short Discourse on Hell,” by Hans Urs Von Balthasar

Is it acceptable for a Catholic to hope that all men will one day enter heaven?

Bishop Robert Barron not only wrote the forward for Dare We Hope, he also wrote an excellent blog post summarizing the book’s answer: yes.

Catholic doctrine is that Hell exists, but yet the Church has never claimed to know if any human being is actually in Hell. When the Church says that Hell exists, it means that the definitive rejection of God’s love is a real possibility. “Hell” or “Gehenna” are spatial metaphors for the lonely and sad condition of having definitively refused the offer of the divine life. But is there anyone in this state of being? We don’t know for sure. We are in fact permitted to hope and to pray that all people will finally surrender to the alluring beauty of God’s grace.

Think of God’s life as a party to which everyone is invited, and think of Hell as the sullen corner into which someone who resolutely refuses to join the fun has sadly slunk. What this image helps us to understand is that language which suggests that God “sends” people to Hell is misleading. As C.S. Lewis put it so memorably: the door that closes one into Hell (if there is anyone there) is locked from the inside not from the outside. The existence of Hell as a real possibility is a corollary of two more fundamental convictions, namely, that God is love and that human beings are free. The divine love, freely rejected, results in suffering. And yet, we may, indeed we should, hope that God’s grace will, in the end, wear down the even the most recalcitrant sinner.

But the counter-argument seem pretty clear, and was put forward by Christ Himself:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
Matthew 5:21-30

The counter-counter-argues is that Christ speaks of punishment, which includes purgatory, and the danger of Hell, which could still exist even if no one actually goes there.

But is that a hope, and not just wishful thinking?

On social media Bishop Barron has posted a video in favor of the hope that all men may be saved:

While Taylor Marshall, author of The Crucified Rabbi, has an opposing view

So – dare we hope that all men be saved?

The Definition of Hope

While Balthasar takes a number of digs at St Thomas Aquinas, he uses both Thomas’s definition of hope

For, as we have already stated (I-II:40:1), when we were treating of the passion of hope, the object of hope is a future good, difficult but possible to obtain.
Summa Theologica, II.ii.17

And Thomas’s view that hope is a virtue:

Wherefore, in so far as we hope for anything as being possible to us by means of the Divine assistance, our hope attains God Himself, on Whose help it leans. It is therefore evident that hope is a virtue, since it causes a human act to be good and to attain its due rule.

The Scriptures

Balthasar does not claim that all men will go to heaven. Indeed, he urges the spiritually safest position is to consider oneself even more in danger of judgment than Judas, of whom Jesus said. You do not know what weaknesses were in his heart, but you should know your own betrayals of Christ very well:

The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, “Rabbi, is it I?”

He said to him, “You have said it.”
Matthew 26:24-25

Yet Paul writes of the Father’s desire for “all,” and wonders how easily the Father would let His purpose be frustrated by our inclination, all other things being equal, to fail in the faith:

For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.
Colossians 1:19-23

Continuing this theme, it what may have been the darkest period of his ministry, Paul writes:

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.
Ephesians 1:7-12

On the “dispensation of the fullness of time,” Balthasar wonders — or hopes — if perhaps God does not let “all other things be equal.” For instance, might He order things such that even a soul inclined to sin would be saved from temptation and brought to repentance and purification.

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:9-11

The hope that Balthasar seems in the Bible is not a “sure hope” — it is not knowledge — that we are all saved. But that God is willing to lead our free will, using tricks and punishments, to give Christ his due:

Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
John 17:1-3

The Doctors of the Church

Many Saints have had visions of Hell, and great teachers have lectured about who is in there. Balthasar hopes that these visions, by showing us that saints in this world would be willing to atone for the sins of even the damned, show us that Christ would do also. There surely is a Hell, so from the reactions of saints do we see an image of God’s view?

How could I ever reconcile myself, Lord, to the prospect that a single one of those whom, like me, you have created in your image and likeness should become lost and slip from your hands? No, in absolutely no case do I want to see a single one of my brethren meet with ruin, not a single one of those, through their like birth, are one with me by nature and by grace. I want them all to be wrested from the grasp of the ancient enemy, so that they all become yours to the honor and greater glorification of your name.
St Catherine of Sienna, Dialogues

And while the Lord teaches that wide is the gate that leads to destruction, perhaps actually entering destruction is harder than that:

“A long time after the Lord had already granted me many of the favors I’ve mentioned and other very lofty ones, while I was in prayer one day, I suddenly found that, without knowing how, I had seemingly been put in hell. I understood that the Lord wanted me to see the place the devils had prepared there for me and which I merited because of my sins. This experience took place within the shortest space of time, but even were I to live for many years I think it would be impossible for me to forget it. The entrance it seems to me was similar to a very long and narrow alleyway, like an oven, low and dark and confined; the floor seemed to me to consist of dirty, muddy water emitting foul stench and swarming with putrid vermin. At the end of the alleyway a hole that looked like a small cupboard was hollowed out in the wall; there I found I was placed in a cramped condition. All of this was delightful to see in comparison with what I felt there. What I have described can hardly be exaggerated.

“What I felt, it seems to me, cannot even begin to be exaggerated; nor can it be understood. I experienced a fire in the soul that I don’t know how I could describe. The bodily pains were so unbearable that though I had suffered excruciating ones in this life and according to what doctors say, the worst that can be suffered on earth for all my nerves were shrunken when I was paralyzed, plus many other sufferings of many kinds that I endured and even some as I said, caused by the devil, these were all nothing in comparison with the ones I experienced there. I saw furthermore that they would go on without end and without ever ceasing. This, however, was nothing next to the soul’s agonizing: a constriction, a suffocation, an affliction so keenly felt and with such a despairing and tormenting unhappiness that I don’t know how to word it strongly enough. To say the experience is as though the soul were continually being wrested from the body would be insufficient, for it would make you think somebody else is taking away the life, whereas here it is the soul itself that tears itself in pieces. The fact is that I don’t know how to give a sufficiently powerful description of that interior fire and that despair, coming in addition to such extreme torments and pains. I didn’t see who inflicted them on me, but, as it seemed to me, I felt myself burning and crumbling; and I repeat the worst was that interior fire and despair.
St Theresa of Avila, Collected Works

There’s something going on with all these opposite statements, these theological dialectics. We’re in a confusing space. Balthasar’s reaction to this confusion is hope that all men be saved:

Spare in Thy mercy, and take not vengeance in Thy justice. For although it be hard to understand how Thy mercy is not parted from Thy justice; yet is it necessary to believe that it is not at enmity with Thy justice, that it floweth from Thy goodness, that it is not without justice, nay in truth accordeth with Thy justice. For if Thou art merciful only because Thou art supremely good, and art supremely good only because Thou art supremely just: therefore art Thou in truth merciful because Thou art supremely just. Help me, O just and merciful God, for I seek Thy light. Help me, that I may understand what I say!
Anselm of Canterbury. Prologion, IX

On the Pope and Hannibal Lecter

My greatest doubts to Balthasar’s “hope” comes from free will. What if an individual, consciously, rationally, and in full possession of his spirits, chooses damnation?

Balthasar cites future Pope Benedict XVI to this point:

“Christ inflicts pure perdition on no one. In himself he is sheer salvation… Perdition is not imposed by him but comes to be wherever a person distances himself from Christ. It comes about whenever someone remains enclosed within himself. Christ’s word, the bearer of the offer of salvation, then lays bare the fact that the person who is lost has himself drawn the dividing line and separated himself from salvation.
Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, pp 205-206

In the back of my mind is the most Satanic characters I’ve encountered in fiction — Hannibal Lector. I don’t mean the movie version, the guy who eats people, which is bad enough! But in the novel, we hear his eternal narration, and his calm, rational statement preferring damnation in Hell, rather than share Heaven with a God who allowed his little sister’s death. Even if we accept that God is very patient in purgatory, and finds some way to call everyone back who falls into it, what of the Lecters of this world?

Balthasar wonders if every “no” is predicated on a “yes” to God. To go back to my example of Hannibal Lecter, his “no” to salvation” comes from his “yes” to his sister. Might we hope that God uses this right, if out of order, love for his image?

Maybe. Maybe that’s enough for “hope.”

The Catechism

Balthasar’s ambiguous views are reflected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published a few years after Dare We Hope. The relevant portion of the Catechism reads both in ways that imply that most are in Hell:

We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”
CCC 1033

And that it’s a free choice, from now until the end, to get in, with God having a clearly desired outcome:

God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance”
CCC 1037

Thus we should all be very aware of our own sinfulness, and view Hell as a personal possibility. As Balthasar writes:

Even if someone could know himself as being in the “certainty” inherent in Christian hope, he still does not know whether he will not transgress against love and thereby also forfeit the certainty of hope. It is therefore indispensable that every individual Christian be confronted, in the greatest seriousness, with the possibility of his becoming lost.

And the Catechism confirms:

The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where “men will weep and gnash their teeth.” CCC 1035-1036

We do not know the how this all ends. We only know how we should pray:

The Church prays that no one should be lost: “Lord, let me never be parted from you.” If it is true that no one can save himself, it is also true that God “desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4), and that for him “all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).
CCC 1058

Conclusion

Hans Urs Von Balthasar is an important figure of the resourcement — going back to the sources — within Catholicism. I’m glad I read an introduction to his work before beginning Dare We Hope. Instead of focusing on the Summa Theologica as the definitive summary of theology, Balthasar uses church Doctors and Fathers, along with a dramatic sense of the text. Balthasar views some contradictory statements as “mysteries” to fall into, rather than problems already solved, and in some ways is more typical of the Orthodox Church than the Catholic Encyclopedia (1917). But Balthasar’s theologically is fundamentally Catholic, with a focus on the importance of purgatory and clear alignment with recent Popes.

So, dare we “hope” that all men be saved? Balthasar’s answer is yes: yes, we may hope, but to do this we must cooperate with God in the one soul we have the most control over: our own.

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.

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.

The Protoevangelium of James

The Reformation and Counter-Reformation, both well-intentioned, separated much of the Christian world from their heritage. The great Christian debates of the late middle ages were collapsed into a ridiculous dispute over faith and works. Christian festivals and popular culture were lost all over western Europe, as described by Phillip Jenkins in The Many Faces of Christ by Phillip Jenkinks. One such popular work, ironically most Central preserved in Islam, but still remembered in the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, is The Protoevangelium [First-Gospel] of James. I once called it “Joseph/Mary fan fiction.” That’s correct. But the Protoevangelium takes place before the Gospels. Really, it’s a prequel.

Most Christian perspectives separate the Scriptures (that which was written down) and the Tradition (the guide to that which was written down, which itself was not written down). But it’s not always clear where one begins or one ends. Are the Catholic Deuterocanon, “Secondary” Scriptures like Tobit or Maccabees), part of the Scriptures or Tradition? What of prayers (like the Prayer of Mannasseh) and prayer-like works, such as 1 Enoch and 2 Esdras. Books in the above list are considered part of the Scriptures by at least some Christian traditions.

The Protoevangelium is not considered Scripture by anyone. But it captures much of the Tradition of many Christians. The Protoevangelium is something like the script of a nativity play, or a pre-cinematic of Christian films like The Passion of the Christ. Indeed, like Passion, Protoevangelium was written in an explicitly Catholic tradition, takes the Faith seriously, but also incorporates other devout but non-canonical and even imaginary material.

A Prequel

The Protoevangelium is to the Gospels what the Star Wars prequels were to the original trilogy. Like the Star Wars prequels, the Protoevangelium clearly takes place in the same “universe” as the Gospels and includes many of the same characters — to the point of implausibility.

A problem with prequels in general is that if the characters really did have these adventures, why were they forgotten? This happened to the Jedi in Star Wars. In the original film, Luke can hardly believe that Jedi were real. But only two decades before the Jedi were a highly visible arm of the central government with a large office building in the capital and a prominent role in economic rule-making. Is it really credible that everyone forgot this — that the mere existence of a government agency — be forgotten in twenty years?

There are many many articles, videos, and podcasts about this mystery, but the same could be asked of most popular prequels:

Protoevangelium questions might included

  • How did Joseph’s staff become not even a myth in the Gospels?
  • Why did everyone forget about Mary and Joseph?
  • Why did Jerusalem apparently become a much larger city in 30 years?

Of course, people can forget. Especially sick people. This is what distinguishes prequel-style blindness from the mental blindness of a legitimately dramatic figure, like King Saul in the Book of Samuel, where once-renounced individuals appear to be unknown, is the dual introduction of David son of Jesse. He is King Saul’s musician:

But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him. And Saul’s servants said to him, “Surely, a distressing spirit from God is troubling you. Let our master now command your servants, who are before you, to seek out a man who is a skillful player on the harp. And it shall be that he will play it with his hand when the distressing spirit from God is upon you, and you shall be well.”

So Saul said to his servants, “Provide me now a man who can play well, and bring him to me.”

Then one of the servants answered and said, “Look, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person; and the Lord is with him.”

Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” And Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine, and a young goat, and sent them by his son David to Saul.
1 Samuel 16:14-20

yet when David offers to fight Goliath, Saul does not recognize him, and Saul’s assistant Abner does not point this out:

When Saul saw David going out against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is this youth?”

And Abner said, “As your soul lives, O king, I do not know.”

So the king said, “Inquire whose son this young man is.”

Then, as David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand. And Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?”

So David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.”
1 Samuel 17:55-58

But in Samuel this is an example of psychological realism: Saul’s mental decay has already gone, and is now accelerating as even loyal men, like Abner, no longer treat him like a competent actor. The priest’s forgetting of Mary and Joseph does not teach us a lesson though. It simply indicates Star Wars-quality writing.

The Backstories

The Protoevangelium gives back-stories for numerous characters in the Gospels, including Mary, Joseph, and even minor characters.

Mary, Mother of God

The story of uses Mary to parallel the life of Christ. Christ’s humanity is a vital part of the scriptures, and Christ’s shedding of blood is a lesson: God bleeds and suffers with men.

Mary likewise is a woman and not some abstract platonic spirit, and herself the daughter of a real woman.

The midwife said, “A girl.”

Anna said, “My soul exalts this day.” And she put her baby to bed.

After her days were completed, Anna cleansed her menstrual flow and gave her breast to the child and gave her the name Mary.

Day by day, the child grew stronger. When she was six months old, her mother set her on the ground to test whether she could stand. And after walking seven steps, she came to her mother’s breast.
Protoevangelium 5:7-6:2

Mary was raised in the Temple itself and her approaching menstrual cycles were a topic of discussion for the High Priests:

When she turned twelve, a group of priests took counsel together, saying, “Look, Mary has been in the temple of the Lord twelve years. What should we do about her now, so that she does not defile the sanctuary of the Lord our God?”
Protoevangelium 8:3-4

There are two obvious reasons for this. The first, the shocking claim that God was born of a woman, a claim that in much of the Muslim world can still get one killed, doubtless appealed to women. And the second, that Mary herself was a type of Christ, as is every mother.

Blessed Joseph, Her Spouse

Joseph is specifically invited to be part of a Temple marry-a-virgin contest, and wins it by a miracle. No one in the Gospels ever mentions this, or thinks it relevant to events only a generation later.

Throwing down his ax, Joseph went out to meet them. And after they had gathered together with their rods, they went to the high priest. After receiving everyone’s rod, the high priest went into the temple and prayed. When he was finished with the prayer, he took the rods and went out and gave them to each man, but there was no sign among them. Finally, Joseph took his rod. Suddenly, a dove came out of the rod and stood on Joseph’s head. And the high priest said, “Joseph! Joseph! You have been chosen by lot to take the virgin into your own keeping.”
Protoevangelium 9:1-7

Joseph is a widower, and old man, and the perpetual chastity of the Holy Couple is explained and more plausible in that way.

The Protoevangelium also dramatizes the confrontation between Joseph and Mary as the pregnancy becomes obvious. They are the second couple in this work, after Joachim and Anna, to be well textured.

You can hear their shouting:

In the sixth month of her pregnancy, Joseph came from his house-building and went into the house to find her swelling. And he struck his face and threw himself on the ground in sackcloth and wept bitterly,

And Joseph got up from his sackcloth and called her and said to her,

“After having been cared for by God, what have you done?
Did you forget the Lord your God?
You who were raised in the holy of holies, you who received from the hand of an angel, do you know how much you have humiliated yourself?”

Then, she wept bitterly, saying, “I am pure and I did not know a man.”

And Joseph said to her, “Where did this thing in your womb come from then?”

But she said, “As the Lord my God lives, I do not know where it came from.”
Protoevangelium 13:1-2,6-10

The Saints

Prequels often take place in small worlds, where characters who interacted in the original stories meet each other in different circumstances before.

For example Simeon, mentioned in Luke’s gospel..

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law
Luke 2:25-27

… turns out to have been the replacement for the father of John the Baptist!

Then, after three days, the priests deliberated about who they should appoint to take the place of Zachariah. And the lot went to Simeon. For he was the one to whom it had been revealed by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he saw the messiah in the flesh.
Protoevangelium 24:12-14

Likewise, Salome, who in Mark’s gospel was with Mary Magdalene in caring for the body of the murdered Christ and entered the hole — the bomb — he was buried in:

Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him.

Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large.

And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.
Mark 16:1-5

finds herself in the same situation, but for the newborn Christ!

And the midwife went in and said, “Mary, position yourself, for not a small test concerning you is about to take place.”

When Mary heard these things, she positioned herself. And Salome inserted her finger into her body. And Salome cried out and said, “Woe for my lawlessness and the unbelief that made me test the living God. Look, my hand is falling away from me and being consumed in fire.”
Protoevangelium 20:1-4

Artistic Choices

There is beautiful writing in the Protoevangelium that echoes the best of the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible story of Samuel’s parents, and the emotional pain of childlessness

Then Elkanah her husband said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?”

So Hannah arose after they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the tabernacle of the LORD. And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish.
1 Samuel 1:5-10

is echoed here, in the pain of Joachim and Anna:

Then, Joachim was extremely frustrated and did not appear to his wife, but gave himself to the desert and pitched his tent there. He fasted forty days and forty nights. All the while, Joachim was saying to himself, “I will not go down for food or drink until the Lord my God visits me; prayer will be my food and drink.”

Then, his wife Anna mourned and lamented,

“I lament that I am a widow and I lament that I am childless.”
Protoevangelium 1:9-2:1

But there’s a section which simply seems out of place. It happens once, it is very odd, and I don’t know what to make of it. A passage from the journey to Bethlehem…

When they came to the middle of the journey, Mary said to him, “Joseph, take me off the donkey, the child pushing from within me to let him come out.”

So he took her off the donkey and said to her, “Where will I take you and shelter you in your awkwardness? This area is a desert.”

And he found a cave and led her there and stationed his sons to watch her, while he went to a find a Hebrew midwife in the land of Bethlehem.
Protoevangelium 17:10-18:1

… is suddenly interrupted with a bizarre passage when the tone — and narrator! — of the work changes:

Then, Joseph wandered, but he did not wander.

And I looked up to the peak of the sky and saw it standing still and I looked up into the air. With utter astonishment I saw it, even the birds of the sky were not moving. And I looked at the ground and saw a bowl lying there and workers reclining. And their hands were in the bowl. And chewing, they were not chewing. And picking food up, they were not picking it up. And putting food in their mouths, they were not putting it in their mouths. Rather, all their faces were looking up.

And I saw sheep being driven, but the sheep were standing still. And the shepherd lifted up his hand to strike them, but his hand remained above them. And I saw the rushing current of the river and I saw goats and their mouths resting in the water, but they were not drinking. And suddenly everything was replaced by the ordinary course of events.
Protoevangelium 18:2-11

Eventually, the narrative resumes. The Joseph-narrated portions smoothly flow back into the standard third-person narration while talking about Salome, and by the end James is revealed to be the narrator.

I, James, wrote this history when there was unrest in Jerusalem, at the time Herod died. I took myself into the desert until the unrest in Jerusalem ceased. All the while, I was glorifying God who gave me the wisdom to write this history.

And grace will be with all who fear the Lord.

Amen.
Protoevangelium 25:1-4

I do not know what is happening here. The Book of Ezekiel in particular breaks the reader’s expectations for dramatic effect, spiraling out from Jerusalem to Israel, the neighboring countries, and finally the trans-real Gog and Magog. But is this simply a case of pieced-together fragments that were recognized as such at the time? Is this why the Protoevangelium considered “not only to be rejected but also condemned” since A.D. 405? I don’t know.

The Faith Traditions

Three faith traditions contain material that either comes directly from the Protoevangelium, or else from the lost source that inspired by Protoevangelium: Orthodox Christianity, Catholic Christianity, and Islam. The story of Mary under the care of the Priest Zachariah in Islamic scriptures:

Right graciously did her Lord accept her: He made her grow in purity and beauty: To the care of Zakariya was she assigned. Every time that he entered (Her) chamber to see her, He found her supplied with sustenance. He said: “O Mary! Whence (comes) this to you?” She said: “From Allah. for Allah Provides sustenance to whom He pleases without measure.”

There did Zakariya pray to his Lord, saying: “O my Lord! Grant unto me from Thee a progeny that is pure: for Thou art He that heareth prayer!
Qu’ran 3:37-38

Is clearly from the same tradition, with the same affection for the protagonists, as the Protoevangelium:

When she turned twelve, a group of priests took counsel together, saying, “Look, Mary has been in the temple of the Lord twelve years. What should we do about her now, so that she does not defile the sanctuary of the Lord our God?”

And they said to the high priest, “You have stood at the altar of the Lord. Go in and pray about her. And if the Lord God reveals anything to you, we will do it.”

And the priest went in taking the vestment with twelve bells into the holy of holies and prayed about her. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord stood before him, saying, “Zachariah, Zachariah, depart from here and gather the widowers of the people and let each one carry a staff. And the one whom the Lord God points out with a sign, she will be his wife.” So the heralds went out to the whole surrounding area of Judea and the trumpet of the Lord rang out and all the men rushed in.
Protoevangelium 8:3-9

The Catholic affection of the Protoevangelium is not as explicit but widespread. The names of Jesus’s grandparents, Anna and Joachim, come from this work. Much western art doesn’t make sense without it.

An edited version of the Protoevangelium is included in New Advent’s The Fathers of the Church. And more popularly, a priest on the Catholic media site EWTN explains the work this way:

The Protoevangelium is not to be classed with the Gnostic writings of old, which were products of heretical groups, claiming secret knowledge. On the other hand, as you note, we cannot elevate this work to the level of Sacred Scripture, as it has no guarantee of inerrancy. This early work reflects at least some ancient traditions, held by at least some substantial part of the early Church. As to the general preference for the view that the “brothers” of the Lord are likely kinfolk, and not step-siblings from a previous marriage by Joseph, we have likely been strongly influenced by the Western Fathers, including Saint Jerome, who strongly dismissed the view that they were step-siblings. Saint Jerome had a great command of the ancient languages and customs, and while not an infallible source, is worth attending to.
Answer by Fr. John Echert

These thoughts are echoed by a poster at a forum post for Orthodox Christians:

Is it Scripture? No. Is it infallible? No. Is it accurate in all its details? Probably not. Is it worthless? No. Does it preserve the earliest thoughts about the family life of Christ? Yes. Does it seem to be based on the early Church’s traditions? Yes. Is it the earliest coherent source on the Theotokos? Yes.

The full text of the Protoevangelium‘ is available online. I read the Protoevangelium of James in the Kindle edition translated by James Orr.

Impressions of “How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels,” by N.T. Wright

Impressions of “How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels,” by N.T. Wright

N.T Wright’s How God Became King is the best biblical commentary I have read since Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm. This book complements that one. Heiser focuses on the enthronement of God as lord of the world. Wright focuses on the same events, culminating in the enthronement of Christ. Heiser look at God’s defeat of supernatural antagonists; Wright at Christ’s defeat of Casesar and his ilk. And while Heiser discusses God’s organization of his re-made domain, Wright explains Christ’s new-formed Kingdom.

You never thought of “Render under Caesar what is Caesar’s” as a call to divine revenge before, did you?

The King of Israel, the King of the Jews

Wright argues the Old and New Testaments a parts of one story: the triumph of the Jewish Messiah against the so-called rulers in the world. Wright argues that the combination of the personal name “Jesus” (a variation of Joshua) with title “Christ” (the Annointed One) is not an accident of history: following the life of Christ, the most relevant fact about God is that He is the King of the world.

Wright says this may be surprising to Credal Christians whose churches focus their education on the three great creeds, The Creeds, Greco-Roman works written in response to heresies, addressed controversial or not immediately clear aspects of Christianity. Indeed, there is nothing of the ministry of Christ in the Creeds at all! The the Athanasian Creed focuses on the nature or essence, and not the actions, of Christ. And what Christ did in his earthly life in skipped over, in both the Nicene Creed:

who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man;
he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate
,
and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;

And the Apostle’s Creed:

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
Under Pontius Pilate, He was crucified
,
died, and was buried. suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;

Wright (and Heiser) argue the scriptures place as much emphasis on Christ’s teachings his ministry, as the Creeds do His nature. The Scriptures refers to a political story, of the Ancient of Days and the One Like the Son of Man:

“I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,

And they brought Him near before Him.

Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed.
Daniel 7:13-14

N.T. Wright also shows this vision is echoed (prophesied?) by Mary, as recorded by the Evangelist who most attended to the voices of women, Luke:

And Mary said:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,

And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”
Luke 1:46-55

Catholic marionology builds a lot of meaning on the word “magnifies.” But relevant for N.T. Wright is that the Messiah is given dominion, re-organizes the political world, and is Himself enthroned.

A fiery stream issued
And came forth from before Him.
A thousand thousands ministered to Him;
Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.
The court was seated,
And the books were opened.
Daniel 7:10

Mary’s words describing revolutionary strength and “thrones” echo the the verses before the Son of Man passage in Daniel. Wright, like Heiser, sees in this the re-organization (that is, creation) of a Kingdom into one that places the Lord in direct control of the Earth. The Court of the Ancient of Days ruled against the former rulers, and granted dominion to the One like a Son of Man.

Paying Back to Caesar

But if Christ is a worldy ruler, what of “Render under Caesar”? What of “My Kingdom is not of this world”? What of the claims that Christianity, unlike Judaism or Islam, recognizes a separation of church and state as a founding claim?

Wright argues there is no contradiction, because the first quote is a threat, and the second indicates origin, and not maximum extent, of the Heavenly Kingdom.

Take first the “render under Caesar” line, which is more literally translated as “give back to Caesar.” The point is that the word used for “render,” apodote, is cognate with antapodote, pay back, which is also used for revenge.

But having perceived their craftiness, He said to them, “Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?”

And they said, “Caesar’s.”

And He said to them, “Therefore give back to Caesar the things of Caesar, and to God the things of God.”
Luke 20:23-25

Pay-back will come to our world too. Judas Maccabeus lead the Jewish revolt against another foreign invader, and promised pay them back for their atrocities:

“Now behold, I know that Simeon your brother is wise in counsel; always listen to him; he shall be your father. Judas Maccabeus has been a mighty warrior from his youth; he shall command the army for you and fight the battle against the peoples. You shall rally about you all who observe the law, and

avenge the wrong done to your people.
Pay back the Gentiles in full,

and heed what the law commands.”
1 Maccabees 2:68

What form shall this divine retributive justice, taken by men on behalf of God, take?

Matthew, the most Jewish of the evangelists, provides an extended midrash on paying back:

Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.

“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt..So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.

“So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
Matthew 18:23-35

The mercy we show to sinners is pay back God’s enemies. It is through love given to sinners we grind the head of the Serpent into the dirt, as Paul said in the Second Letter to the Thessalonians:

since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Thessalonians 1:6-8

Similarly, Wright argues that Christ’s statement that his kingdom is not of (or, in Greek, ek) this world refers to the His kingdom being from (ek) a victorious realm Heaven, and not the soon-to-be-conquered Earth. In this reading, Christ’s speech recorded by the philosophical John is more an indictment of the weakness of earthly forces than submission to them:

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world; if My kingdom were of this world, My attendants would fight that I might not be betrayed to the Jews. But now My kingdom is not from here.”
John 18:36

Likewise, the Greek-English Interlinear Bible provides uses of ek which clearly mean “out of” or “from”. N.T. Wright rejects the idea the Christian scriptures encourage the separation of church and state. Atheists from Razib Khan to Sam Harris laud “render under Caesar” as implying a necessary distinction between government and religion in Christianity. Wright argues there reading is wrong, and is a reflection not of Biblical teaching but of Enlightenment error.

Creating His Kingdom

Wright’s logic is in keeping with the Canaanite view of creation as proper Ordering or Organizing. Ba’al crafted, or literally contracted out, the crafting of his home when he “made” his Temple — and he made mistakes while doing so. The shocking part of the Genesis narrative is not the mere existence of a creator god — most near eastern cultures had that — but that He is also a competent craftsman. The Jewish Bible subsequently records God organizing Earth as His holy temple and Canaan as His holy land in the same way: by taking existing parts and putting them in a new order, he created them.

As creation is ordering, un-creation is disordering: being placed under the ban or made herem. Pre-Israel Canaan was uncreated to be later remade for Israel. The corrupt Kingdom of Israel itself would be uncreated — the prophet Elijah actually tried to hurry this process along. Ordering-as-Creation occurs in each human life. God’s servants who let themselves be un-created by God’s enemies will find themselves re-created by God Himself:

The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honorable memory. Although she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord. She encouraged each of them in the language of their ancestors. Filled with a noble spirit, she reinforced her woman’s reasoning with a man’s courage, and said to them, “I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of humankind and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.”
2 Maccabees 7:20-23

Yet, if Christ is a King, how can we serve him? The traditional Reformed view is not through own work: Some Reformed theologians even claim that “Davidic kingship was not in fact restored after the exile, nor was such a restoration ever seriously contemplated” and that the promises of a King of the Jews was subverted by “transferal of the Davidic promises to the entire people.”

The polar opposite of this is the Catholic view, arguing that Christ is King, Mary is Queen-Mother, and Peter the first Pope was Prime Minister. Like Judaism, Catholocism provides a ladder of allegiance to God, with an earthly apparatus to guild the follower along.

In keeping with his position as a former Bishop in the Anglican Church, Wright also finds a middle ground between the Reformed and Catholic traditions in how Christ’s Kingship should be manifest in the world. Specifically, Wright adopts Reformed terminology and Catholic practice. His use of “theocracy” to refer to the state of existing under Christ’s kingship and explicit recognition of God as King (without explicitly stating the existence of any intermediaries) recalls the Reformed tradition. But Wright’s attacks on the Enlightenment concept of a separation of the political and theological spheres, not to mention the recall the universal nature of the Catholic faith.

But this creates a difference with Heiser’s Unseen World that is not addressed in the text. Who are the thrones seized from that are given to God, who controlled the separate sphere that was abolished by Christ? Heiser argues that these are supernatural entities, “gods,” who may literally include Ba’al, Ashtarte, and the Canaanite pantheon. That is, the supernatural hierarchy envisioned for man in Genesis, Hebrews, and The Psalms

What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.

You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
Psalms 8:4-6

… is not merely poetic, but refers to Christ’s literal overthrow of supernatural overlords. But here Wright seems to hew to a Reformed — or at least post-Enlightenment — line. While a few brief words about possible supernatural entities are shared, the focus seems to be on men like Caesar who are cast down. (Allegorical or “hyper-real” readings, such as Jordan Peterson’s view that the defeated gods are disorganized aspects of personal psychology, are not addressed at all.)

Final Thoughts

How God Became King by N.T. Wright is an excellent work, focused on the New Testament, arguing that Christ is the real and true King of our world, and that this story is told through the Gospels. Wright looks beyond the Creeds to the enthronement of God on Earth, His command to pay back His enemies, and instructions as to how we should proceed. Became King relies less on the literary and theological background of Second Temple Judaism than Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm, but perhaps because of that, is more accessible.

For those interested, a conversation between Heiser and Wright is available online as audio and in transcript.

I read How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels in the Audible edition.

Impressions of “The Devil’s Bargain” by Joshua Green and “Hacks” by Donna Brazile

I recently read two books focusing on adjunct figures to the 2016 election: The Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency about Trump’s third campaign manager, and Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns that put Donald Trump in the White House by the former Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (Donna Brazile). They are parallel books: Brazile is a media personality and the book is obviously designed to improve her own image. Likewise, Bannon is so transparently the source of Devil’s Bargain the book is essentially written by him, except for some obvious sops designed to expand the book’s reader base.

Both books are more interesting than Shattered, the story about the inside of the Clinton campaign written by two professional journalists. While that book provided additional depth to the decision by the Clinton campaign to embrace identity politics as a campaign strategy, both Bargain and Hacks expand the discussion beyond what was commonly discussed.

I was impressed by the focus of both books on the new opportunities and threats presented by the internet and internet culture. For Bannon, the protagonist of Bargain, it is the communities that exist beneath the sites of the mainstream media. An early business opportunity, trying to professionalize the “gold miner” community in the popular online game World of Warcraft, failed because of an organized customer revolt that spooked the gamer’s manufacturer but never made the news. The shadow of this could be felt years later in the sub-cultural hashtag campaigns #gamergate, #sadpuppies, and even #maga. For Brazile, who was more involved with the operations of the Democratic Party fund-raising machine than the campaign itself, the previously unknown threat was “hacking.” I was impressed by the seriousness Brazile gave to this issue. She’s clearly not an information security professional, but she honestly expresses her fear and bewilderment at this sometimes confusing world. Hacks is the most accurate depiction of the CrowdStrike security I have seen in any book outside of a trade press.

It’s interesting that neither perspective is flattering to Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News anchor whose career at MSNBC is now being covered by Bannon’s news company. “Trump’s toughest opponents in Cleveland were not his fellow candidates but the Fox News moderates, who went right after him” — writes Green — “none with more gusto than Kelly.” Brazile writes of an interview with Kelly, “It was less of an interview than an ambush. She was so eager to get to me that when she saw me approaching, her producers yanked Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway out of the chair almost mid-sentence so I could sit down right away. Megyn was gunning for me.” And Bannon reminisces about wealthy bullies at his old school: “They were the rich snobs. They’d always do the employer-employee joke at us: ‘When you grow up, you’ll work for us,’ And we’d punch them in the nose.”

Both books contain claims that are factually.. questionable. It’s obvious in Bargain the writer is surrounded by secular society and treats religion like an anthropologist would treat a remote tribe: for example, “the Latin-only Tridentine Mass, which was banned by the Second Vatican council.” Likewise, Donna Brazile is often more interesting to read between the lines than at face value, for instance when she was disinterested in building her own base of support: “” But here, Brazile’s book is better constructed. In the places that either leave the literal truth, Brazile’s writing still leaves it clear what message she wants sent (often it is to praise or blame specific allies or enemies). Green’s errors, by contrast, seem lazy. You can read a sentence from Brazile’s book, such as — “When [a Hatian AM radio host asked me when the campaign was going to start a dialogue with his audience, I knew what he meant by that. When were they going to spend a few hundred dollars in advertising there, which would encourage him to urge his followers to get out and vote?” — and it i sclear that so-and-so is asking for a bribe. A sentence like this the Latin mass comment from Bargain, however, just leaves the reader with the impression that the writer is not versed in the relevant subject matter.

This is especially disappointing in light of the fact that both Bannon and Brazile are Catholics. Pope Francis, author of Laudito Si, comes under attack by Bannon: Bargain quotes Bannon as calling Francis “a liberal theology Jesuit” and a “pro-immigration globalist.” Brazile does not discuss theology, but is interested in how Catholic rites can impact the everyday world: she prays for both victory and proper ordering, and uses Holy Water on offices of the Democratic National Committee.

My high-level impression of Bargain is that it is predictable result of a liberal journalist attempting to flatter a conservative source. Hacks, by contrast, is hatchet job by an insider against other insiders, combined with a surprisingly accurate outsider’s discussion of a security incident response operation. You can pass on Bargain. Hacks is great fun.

In an amusing twist, you can read a favorable comment on Hacks from Steve Bannon’s media company. I read both Devil’s Bargain and Hacks in the Kindle editions.

Impressions of “Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King,” by Matthew W. Bates

Summary: The word most Bibles translate as “fide,” “faith,” or “belief” is better translated as “faithfulness” or “allegiance.” Phrases like “repent and believe in me” are offers of amnesty to defeated enemies, who are given the opportunity to join the winning army. Paul was contrasting loyalty to a King with a legalistic parsing of his rules — ain’t no rule of law on the battlefield. The Reformation-era argument over “Faith alone” was a consequence of arguing in Ecclesiastic Latin over translations in Vulgate Latin of Greek terms.

I then called Jesus to me by himself, and told him, that I was not a stranger to that treacherous design he had against me, nor was I ignorant by whom he was sent for; that, however, I would forgive him what he had done already, if he would repent of it, and be faithful to me hereafter.”
Titus Flavius Josephus, The Life of Josephus, circa AD 99

Repent, and believe in me
N.T. Wright’s translation, in The Challenge of Jesus

Faith Alone

“When I asked my counselors how this might be accomplished, Haman — who excels among us in sound judgment, and is distinguished for his unchanging goodwill and steadfast fidelity, and has attained the second place in the kingdom—
Additions to Esther 13:3

Three phrases summarize much of the Protestant Reformation — Faith Alone! Grace Alone! Scripture Alone! But the translation of these Hebrew Greek concepts — especially pistis as ‘Faith’ or ‘Fide’ and charis as “Grace” or “Gracia” — hide as much of the original meaning as they reveal. For example. the word translated as “fidelity” in describing the evil minister Haman — pistis — is the same word that is translated as “faith” or “belief” when used by Paul in the New Testament.

In Salvation by ALlegiance Alone: rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King, Matthew Bates argues that both sides of the debate around the Protestant Reformation were overly reliant on Latin translations of Paul that did not accurately capture his meaning. That the Catholic faith was proclaimed in Latin, and the Protestant battle cries of Sola Fide and Sola Gracia were in Latin (a language that Paul did not write in, even when writing to Rome) and not in Greek (the language Paul actually used) greatly mislead both sides about the actual meaning of the Paul’s letters on faith and grace.

In short, Bates argues that Jesus and Paul use an extended military-religious analogy of a militant church. Christ is a conquering King. He has gracefully offered us not only terms of surrender, but a position in his military. We must be like Marines seperated from our main force by an enemy counter-attack: wise enough to understand the comamnder’s intent of the orders we received, and faithful to our God and our King. Indeed, “faith” or pistis means loyalty in the practical sense. In the Third Book of Maccabees (which whether or not it is Scripture, shows how Greek was written and understood in the classical Near east) is given by Jews to a foreign royal house!

While these plans were being put into action, some people plotted to injure the Jewish nation by circulating a hostile report against them on the pretext that the Jews were hindering others from practicing their own customs. But the Jews were maintaining goodwill and unswerving loyalty toward the royal house. 3 Maccabees 3:2-3

I’ve argued along similar lines before. On a secular level the writings of Paul provide a guide for a Christian insurgency, and the a Covenant is an explicitly military and political document. My thinking along these lines was greatly expanded by Michael Heiser’s focus on a war extending into the supernatural plane, and Taylor Marshall’s description of Peter as the annotated Prime Minister of the Kingdom. Bates further expands this mental world by describing what “faith” and “grace” actually meant in first century Palestine.

Of course, orders can be interpreted in bad “faith” (where the commander’s intent is malicious ignored), in order to provide a corrupted allegiance. Orders might also be followed without understanding (where the literally execution without reference to commander’s intent can lead to a disastrous outcome). In this, Paul (a former rabbi and a student of famous rabbis) would strongly agree with Rabbi Federow’s defense of rabbinical law: the point is not that a dead body, or bacon, or what-have-you is intrinsically evil, but it is ladder that one can climb actual virtue. Which is to say, we go to boot camp before we can follow the King on the battlefield. Or, as Paul said

But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
Galatians 3:23-24

Grace Alone

So Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign. The king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king made a great feast, the Feast of Esther, for all his officials and servants; and he proclaimed a holiday in the provinces and gave gifts according to the generosity of a king.
Esther 2:16-18

Just as the word we read as “Faith” in Greek is pistis, or “Allegiance,” the word we read as “Grace is charis, or gift. But Bates argues that the nature of this “gift” is misunderstood on both a personal and a corporate level. Personally, “faith” is from “grace” precisely because we are offered the opportunity to join a conquering army.

When General Josephus said to the rebel commander, “Repent, and have allegiance in me” he was offering the rebel commander the gift, or grace, of joining his army. This did not mean the rebel had to do nothing. Rather, it mean the alternative to doing the right thing was death. Accept the gift of the opportunity of demonstrating allegiance, or be put to the sword.

Recognizing that Christians are members (distinct specialized units) in the Body of Christ further resolves another Reformation-era controversy. Who is the “us” that is predestined?

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.
In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.
Ephesians 1:3-12

The answer: The Body of Christ, the Church: those that work for him

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
Romans 8:28-30

Bates argues that every New Testament verse that speaks of pre-election is corporate, not individual, and is identifying the Conquering Army which the Conquering King leads. Given either bravery or cowardice, any individual can enter or leave an army as he wishes. But the Army has been chosen. The Body of Christ cannot possibly turn away, the military will not ever be dissuaded. But any individual soldier may come and go.

But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.
1 Corinthians 12:20-27

Scripture Alone

But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command brought by his eunuchs; therefore the king was furious, and his anger burned within him.
Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times, for this was the king’s manner toward all who knew law and justice
Esther 1:12-13

While Allegiance Alone is a fascinating defense and reinterpretation of “Faith Alone” and “Grace Alone,” the equally Protestant demand of “Scripture Alone” is not present. In one way this is because the theology of Matthew Blake is Christ-centered. The entire book is outlined with the key that the Apostles Creed is the key to understanding the entire Gospel. He considers the Creed, it the equivalence of the Pledge of Allegiance, emphasizing that “believe” in contemporary English is best understood as pistis — allegiance. As the Son is the enthroned King of the Universe, our pledge of allegiance to Him is particularly important:

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

If Sola Fide means we are saved only by our Allegiance, and Sola Gracia reminds us we only have the opportunity to be allegiant because the new King invited us to His Army, what might be the resolution to Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone?

Perhaps, that it contains the entirety of our general orders, which kept us under guard until the Transfiguration. The presense of Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, and John for the declaration of the Rule of the Son is the most monumental event in the history of the Kingdom of Israel…

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.”
Matthew 17:1-7

… since the similar announcement about David’s son, Solomon:

Then King David answered and said, “Call Bathsheba to me.” So she came into the king’s presence and stood before the king. And the king took an oath and said, “As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my life from every distress, just as I swore to you by the Lord God of Israel, saying, ‘Assuredly Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he shall sit on my throne in my place,’ so I certainly will do this day.”
Then Bathsheba bowed with her face to the earth, and paid homage to the king, and said, “Let my lord King David live forever!”
And King David said, “Call to me Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada.” So they came before the king. The king also said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord, and have Solomon my son ride on my own mule, and take him down to Gihon.
1 Kings 1:28-33

Christianity did not produce a new religion, but revealed historical changes in the history of the unfolding and divinely ordained Kingdom of Israel. The requirements are the same as they have always been. Allegiance to God. What has changed is the historical circumstances. As the true King announced Solomon was the true King, God Himself commanded the disciples to hear Christ.

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”
Galatians 3:10-11

‘Cursed is the one who does not confirm all the words of this law by observing them.’
“And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’
Deuteronomy 27:26

Bates says what Paul calls “works of the law” are dangerous, because they attempt a legalistic minimal effort to obey the maximum number of orders, ignoring the Commander’s Intent. The problem with a Law-based approach is that perfectly acceptable clarifying questions, such as how we are to determine who is in active collaboration with the Enemy, given the order to deescalate conflicts with both restless locals and irregulars

But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.
Matthew 5:39-42

Yet, any sailor or marine who asked follow-up questions about general orders such as:

  • Regarding ‘fraternizing with the enemy,’ in what circumstance smight I be allowed to regularly communicate with officers on the general staff of the enemy?
  • What, specifically, is the definition of treason? Does it depend on being paid for working against our army? If so, how much?

Such a sailor may not actuall ybe afithful at all!

Earlier I emphasized the same point by a World War II analogy — A “Covenant” is literally an Instrument of Surrender, a “Law” is a “General Order,” and the Conqueror is both the judge and jury over any questions of whether or not you were properly steadfast and followed commander’s intent in executing those orders.

Final Thoughts

Allegiance Alone is a fascinating book. It fits in with a cluster of books which seek a military/political interpretation of the life of Christ without reducing Jesus to a politician. Rather, all argue the certain types seen in the Old Testament — such as the Kingdom, the King, the Prime Minister, the Queen Mother. We are soldiers in a militant church. And our retirement benefits sound pretty good: we may even good cushy jobs managing angels.

We just passed the 500th anniversary of the protestant reformation, specifically the rupturing of communion between a largely Germanic northern Europe and a largely Romance southern Europe. In some areas, like the nature of the miraculous appearance of the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion, it seems there was no real disagreement at all, but differently ways of describing the same mystery. In other areas, of course, there were and are disagreements. The New Perspective on Paul, a largely Protestant movement to better understand Paul by paying attention to the meaning of Greek words and phrases Paul used (instead of relying on later Latin commentaries) may have opened up another area of agreement.

A good interview with Matthew Bates is available on the Shaun Tabatt Show. I read Salvation by Allegiance Alone in the Kindle edition.