Textual Plurality and Biblical Interpretation

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Ephrem the Syrian and early Syrian Christianity.

BibleThis article reflects upon considerations of textual plurality and biblical interpretation as found in Lucas Van Rompay’s “The Christian Syriac Tradition of Interpretation”, James Kugel’s Traditions of the Bible, and the pseudepigraphal Jubilees. In each of these works there are concerns with how biblical texts were to be understood and how communities argued these texts should be properly interpreted, though this is relatively unsurprising in an era preceding any sort of formal scriptural canon. By my reading of these perspectives, there were at least two motivations in tension with each other during this period: inexact textual plurality and the desire for exact biblical interpretation. Continue reading

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Reflections on Ephrem’s Commentaries

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Ephrem the Syrian and early Syriac Christianity.
Saint Ephrem the Syrian

Saint Ephrem the Syrian

Though said to have written a commentary on every book of the Bible, the only authentic and extant prose commentaries of Ephrem the Syrian are those on Genesis and (part of) Exodus. These commentaries, following the more traditional “text and gloss” approach, represent a distinct departure from Ephrem’s approach in his Hymns to commentary and theology. This essay offers several reflections on these commentaries, concluding that they represent an important part of any attempted reconstruction of Ephrem’s conception of scripture and theology. Continue reading

What Day Did Jesus Die?

This post also  appears this morning at Conciliar Post.

When students are first introduced to the historical, as opposed to a devotional, study of the Bible, one of the first things they are forced to grapple with is that the biblical text, whether Old Testament or New Testament, is chock full of discrepancies, many of them irreconcilable…. In some cases seemingly trivial points of difference can actually have an enormous significance for the interpretation of a book or the reconstruction of the history of ancient Israel or the life of the historical Jesus.”—Bart D. Ehrman1

16018664585_580b37bc3a_oAs this statement from contemporary (and popular) New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman indicates, there those who study Christianity—its scriptures and history—who argue that the canonical gospels2 do not present a historically accurate account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Around Easter every year, scholars and journalists of this perspective often pen pieces on the ”Why the Resurrection Story is a Myth” or ”Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?” In more nuanced versions of these discussions, the credibility of early Christian accounts of Christ’s passion and resurrection is called into question, even on facts as seemingly mundane as the day on which Jesus was crucified.3 Such is the position of Ehrman, who argues that the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and Gospel of John portray Jesus as being killed on two different days, thus revealing their historical inaccuracy and untruthfulness.4 In this post, I will examine this claim and explain why the canonical gospels indicate that Jesus died on the same day, what has been historically called Good Friday. Continue reading

A Brief Introduction to Ephrem the Syrian

“The greatest poet of the patristic age and, perhaps, the only theologian-poet to rank beside Dante.” — Robert Murray

Saint Ephrem the Syrian

Saint Ephrem the Syrian

Over the next several weeks, Pursuing Veritas will be running a series on reflections on the theology and hymns of St. Ephrem of Nisibis (often called Ephrem the Syrian). Before launching into these discussions of Ephrem’s theological mind and literary genius, however, I felt it prudent to offer a brief historical introduction to Ephrem. There are two primary reasons for this: first, because while some Christians may have heard Ephrem’s name associated with early Christianity before, few actually know much about the fourth century poet. And second, Ephrem’s context—ancient Syria—is somewhat different than the typical “Greco-Roman” culture that may be safely assumed for engaging most other early Christian writers. Continue reading

ECA: Gnostic and Anti-Gnostic

This post is part of our ongoing series examining Early Christian Authority.

Nag Hammadi CodicesSome of the clearest indications that the early Church faced disagreements and divisions have been preserved in the writings on Gnostic Christian traditions and writings opposed to such movements. While various strands of Christian thought differed in their use and interpretation of extant Jewish and Christian writings, both orthodox and gnostic groups seem to have claimed for the scriptures as a form of authority. The diverse knowledge of and use of such writings demonstrates that each group sought to preserve the uniqueness of their movement by the utilization of extant texts and traditions. In today’s post, we examine four extant works of the Gnostic/anti-Gnostic genre of literature, including the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, Epistle of the Apostles, Third Letter to the Corinthians, and Ptolemy’s Letter to Flora. Continue reading

Book Review: The Genesis of the Dead (Casberg)

Genesis of the Dead (Casberg)As a PhD student, I read a lot. I read for work, school, and fun—hundreds, sometimes thousands of pages each week. Very rarely, however, do I encounter a book that is uproariously funny. Even rarer are books which are simultaneously hilarious and theologically sound. C. T. Casberg’s Genesis of the Dead: A Zombie Comedy of Biblical Proportions, however, fits this bill perfectly. Continue reading

God, Genocide, and Context

The Ancient Near East

The Ancient Near East

Several weeks ago I was chatting with some friends about the topic of God (Yahweh) in the Christian Old Testament. And, as is often the case, we ventured into the topic of whether or not Yahweh commanded genocide during the Old Testament period. While I am by no means an expert on this topic, I proceeded to suggest that God did not actually command genocide in the Old Testament, or at least what we would consider to be genocide in today’s context [1]. Thinking about this topic led me to think more about how we read and interpret the Bible.

Many Protestant Christians talk about reading the Bible “literally.” But I often don’t understand exactly what that means. Websters defines “literally” as “in a literal manner or sense; exactly.” When applied to the interpretation of a written text, this type of reading would seem to indicate that you take the text at its simple face value. But there are many portions of the Bible that even those advocating a “literal” reading of the Bible do not suggest should be interpreted woodenly. For example, the parables of Jesus. Is it possible that the Parable of the Sower or the Good Samaritan were actual events that Jesus was merely repeating for his followers? Possibly. But most people who have read or heard these stories have understood them as parables–stories that Jesus told to make a point and teach a truth–and not as historical narrative. But parables are not the only parts of scripture that should caution our desire to read the Bible “literally.” The Wisdom literature of the Old Testament (the central portion of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes) and the Psalms are two additional chunks of Christian scripture that most people are hesitant to interpret “literally.” Continue reading