Book Review: Fields of Blood (Armstrong)

Fields of BloodFor many people living in the West, an assumption exists that religion is inherently violent. After all, they say, just look at the evidence: religion has caused wars, the Crusades, terrorism, religion has made people hate and kill others for nothing more than the ideas that were in their heads. According to this view, religions are not only necessarily violent, but they are responsible for much (if not all) of the violence in recorded human history. However, an explanation of the history of violence is not so simple, argues Karen Armstrong in her latest book Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. 512 pages). According to Armstrong, though violence is an unfortunate reality of human history, evil and warfare are not necessarily religious in nature nor does violence always arise from religion. In the impressive and exhaustive tome that is Fields of Blood, Armstrong traces the relationship between religion and the history of violence, arguing that “We cannot afford oversimplified assumptions about the nature of religion or its role in world.” Continue reading

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Reflections on Vatican II

Vatican II (Calnewman.org)The Second Vatican Council (1962-5) stands apart as one of the single most important events of modern Church history, not only because of the number of Christians that the Church at Rome influences, but also because of the magnitude and depth of the canons of the council. While a thorough examination remains outside the parameters of our course, here we examine three of the most interesting and impactful sections of the Vatican II documents, those decrees on Indulgences, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Non-Christian Religions. Through our examination of these sections we will note the interesting connection of the Vatican II statements to the history of the Catholic Church. Continue reading

Messianic Expectations of Second Temple Judaism

Model of the Second Jewish Temple

Model of the Second Jewish Temple

Since the earliest days of the Jesus Movement, Christianity has proclaimed Jesus of Nazareth as the long-awaited Messiah of the Jewish people. What exactly did this proclamation mean to those who heard it in the context of the Roman Empire and Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem? Much recent scholarship has attempted to assess the theological and political expectations of the Jewish idea of Messiah in the immediate context of Jesus of Nazareth and his follower’s claims to his place as the “Anointed One” of Israel. This paper will examine the general contours of scholarship surrounding the general view of the Second Temple Jewish people concerning the coming Messiah. In examining this issue, one will see that throughout the diversity of Jewish expectations and contexts, there emerged expectations of a messianic figure from God who would restore Israel in some fashion. Continue reading

Book Review: Galilee in the Late Second Temple and Mishnaic Periods (Ed. Fiensy and Strange)

Galilee in the Late Second Temple and Early Mishnaic PeriodsA longstanding problem for those attempting to study early Christianity involves the obscurity of the first centuries of the Common Era. Though nearly constantly reflected upon and studied since those years faded into the past, there remain numerous gaps in our understanding of the world and context of Jesus and his earliest followers. Unfortunately, this fact becomes especially noticeable when examining conceptions of how Second Temple Judaism and those living in Ancient Palestine impacted the subsequent shape of early Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. To help address this gap and to introduce the recent textual and archaeological findings from this important period comes Galilee in the Late Second Temple and Mishnaic Periods: Life, Culture, and Society: Volume One (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014), edited by David A. Fiensy and James Riley Strange. Continue reading

Predestination and Freewill: Scholarly Consensus

This post is part of our ongoing series examining Romans, Predestination, and Freewill.

Apostle Paul WritingAs one can easily see from our previous posts, there exists no common consensus interpretation of Romans 7-9 among scholars and commentators today. However we can note several important factors as well as some of the more widely accepted interpretations of Romans 7-9 and their application to soteriological concerns. As noted in our general review of several Pauline, context, and Romans scholars, the general tendency of modern scholars is to consider Romans 7-9 with regard for its original written context. This includes considerations of the general ancient Mediterranean context as Malina and Pilch noted, Paul’s Jewish context of Remnant theology as Longenecker writes, Paul’s practical missional context as Jewett reminds us, and the over-arching theme of the Letter to the Romans as emphasizing God’s righteousness.[1] The greatest critique of Luther and Erasmus both on this point consists of the fact the neither paid much attention to the context of Paul’s writings or purposes in a broad sense. Verse-bites and proof-texts from various passages of scripture (not just Romans 7-9) are used by both Erasmus and Luther for their theological constructions, usage that would be frowned upon by scholars today. Continue reading

Book Review: Religion in Human Evolution (Bellah)

Religion in Human EvolutionRobert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution stands as magnum opus of breathtaking proportions. Developed from the Merlin Donald’s work on cultural evolution, Karl Jasper’s insights on the axial age, and drawing upon a range of historical, anthropological, and biological sources, Bellah traces the evolution of religion within human culture from its origins in primordial play to the theoretical turns of the Axial Age. Central to this argument is that nothing is left behind during the evolution from episodic to theoretical culture through the mimetic and mythic. As a result of this massive study, Bellah argues that the evolution of human religion, which culminated in theoretical religious discourse in axial cultures and refigured preceding mimetic and mythic culture, continues to influence human religion and culture today. Bellah’s latest monograph stands as in-depth treatment of the evolution of human culture that is a must read for those involved in the study of the history and sociology of religions. Continue reading

Cultural Differences and Biblical Interpretation

The Colosseum, Rome

The Colosseum, Rome

One of the biggest challenges for those studying the Bible involves reading and interpreting the scriptures in a manner consistent with their original context. Modern readers are distanced from the earliest written messages of the Christian tradition not only by time and space, but also by key cultural differences. In their book Understanding the Social World of the New Testament, Dietmar Neufeld and Rochard E. DeMaris compile a number of sources from scholars concerned with discovering the cultural understanding and context of the social world from which the writings of the New Testament came.[1] In this post, we outline some of the most important differences between ancient Mediterranean culture and the modern North American life, as well as some examples of how this cultural understanding can contribute to the interpretation of the New Testament. Continue reading

Luther on Secular Authority

Martin Luther
Martin Luther

No one even somewhat familiar with the life and work of Martin Luther would deny either that he wrote massive amounts of material over the course of his life or that he was extremely vitriolic and opinionated in some of these writings. For all of Luther’s famous reformation ideals and his seemingly deep pastoral intentions, for many scholars, Luther’s greatest legacy remains his darkest, namely the Lutheran heritage of Christian antinomianism and hatred for Jews that he bequeathed the German people. While few draw clear lines of connection between Luther and Hitler’s Third Reich, almost no serious scholar denies that some form of connection between the two most famous German men in Western history. Luther’s themes of Christian antinomianism and hatred for the Jewish people come across most clearly in On Secular Authority and On the Jews and Their Lies, respectively.  Throughout both of these writings, Luther speaks with characteristic zest and rhetorical flair, demonstrating his opinionated stance on both the relationship between sacred and secular authorities as well as the Jewish people. Determining an overarching theme to both of these works remains difficult, though one finds an interesting contrast between the uses of scriptural references in these two works. Overall, Luther’s main argument in On Secular Authority and On the Jews and Their Lies appears to be the clear superiority of Christ and His Church to any competing claims of authority, either on the secular level or among another religious group such as the Jewish people. Continue reading