Marriage, Virginity, and Rhetoric for Gregory of Nyssa

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting upon Women and Gender in Early Christianity.

Gregory of Nyssa

Gregory of Nyssa

This post reflects on Morwenna Ludlow’s “Useful and Beautiful: A Reading of Gregory of Nyssa’s On Virginity and a Proposal for Understanding Early Christian Literature”,[1] which argues that Gregory defends both marriage and virginity through employment of artful and poetic expressions of Greco-Roman rhetoric. This article contains three major realms of investigation: Gregory’s references to the ills of marriage, his use of choruses, and his allusions to water. Through this examination, Ludlow suggests that Gregory’s work displays the qualities of both art and theology arguing for marriage and virginity in terms of the common good. Continue reading

Did God Command Genocide? (Part V)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining whether or not God commanded Israel to commit genocide in the conquest of the Promised Land.

The Total Destruction of Ai

Ancient Ai

Ancient Ai

What about those instances where near-total destruction—including women, children, and non-combatants—does seem to be ordered by Yahweh? As an example of this, let’s consider Joshua 8 and Israel’s battle against the inhabitants of Ai. Continue reading

Ephrem’s Scriptural Simplicity

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

Ephrem the SyrianCentral to Ephrem’s scriptural presentation of Christ as beyond investigation (i.e., of the same order as the Father) is the relative simplicity of his arguments. Instead of constructing complex metaphysical arguments, Ephrem relies upon the re-presentation of narratives from the Old and New Testament’s to demonstrate Christ’s Sonship. In this post, I reflect upon the simplicity of Ephrem’s rewriting of scripture, as well as briefly consider the role of Tatian’s Diatessaron in his conception of Christ. Continue reading

Book Review: The Corinthian Body (Martin)

The Corinthian BodyFirst Century Corinth was arguably one of the most important locales for Paul of Tarsus as he propagated his message about Jesus of Nazareth in the first century, as literary evidence suggests that he wrote at least three letters to this Roman city and stayed there for some time when he wrote his letter to the church at Rome. Scholars have long noted that Paul touched on a number of issues within the Corinthian church in the canonical letters of First and Second Corinthians, including a number of issues involving the human body and sexuality. In The Corinthian Body, Dale B. Martin examines Paul’s first letter to Corinth within the context of ancient constructions and ideologies of the human body (xi). In this work Martin argues that the theological differences reflected in Paul’s first letter to Corinth stemmed from conflicts rooted in differing ideological constructions of the human body, and that these differences were between Paul, along with the majority of the Corinthian Christians, who viewed the body as threatened by polluting agents and a minority of relatively elite Corinthian Christians who emphasized hierarchical balance in the arrangement of the body without much concern for bodily boundaries and pollution (xv). Martin links this divide in Corinth to positions on the human body in relation to the socioeconomic status of the majority, the Weak, and the elite minority, the Strong (xv). While Martin does not seek to directly link Pauline thought with Greek medical theories concerning the body, he does argue that discourses concerning the ancient body were driven by ideological constructions that viewed the human body in certain ways due to societal influences and interests (xii). In attempting to discern different ideologies of the body within the Greco-Roman context, Martin purposes to examine ancient concepts of hierarchy and pollution, especially as they are at work within Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (xii). This review will summarize Martin’s work within the paradigms of hierarchy and pollution in the Greco-Roman world and offer an assessment of the strength of his claims that interpretation of I Corinthians should consider the ideological differences between Paul and the Strong concerning the human body. 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

Immediate Reaction: SCOTUS and Hobby Lobby

hobby_lobbyBy now you’ve likely heard: the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby’s (and other companies) contention that it should not be forced to provide certain types of contraception for its employees due to the religious beliefs concerning abortion (click here for the full text of the ruling). Below are some immediate thoughts on this ruling:

First, this is a victory for those in favor of religious freedom. While certain media organizations and the Oval Office have tried to frame this discussion in terms of ‘healthcare’ or ‘basic contraceptive care,’ that’s not what this case is really about. The health insurance which Hobby Lobby already provides its employees actually includes most of the ‘contraceptive’ and birth control options required under the Affordable Care Act. Yes, you read that right: Hobby Lobby already provides its employees with ‘birth control.’ This case was therefore about whether or not the United States government can force companies to provide medical care which may lead to the death of a human being, an important, long-standing issue for people of many religious persuasions across our country.

Second, there will be much said in the next few days (weeks, months, years) similar to this piece by Richard Cizik in the Huffington Post. Pro-life and pro-freedom advocates must take these concerns seriously and respond appropriately. There has already been enough rhetoric surrounding this case; it’s time for sustained clear thinking about how we may continue to defend human life and freedom.

Third, this case is yet another in a long-stream of SCOTUS cases in which the Obama Administration has been on the losing side. There have been exceptions, of course (namely the ruling on the Constitutionality of the ACA itself). But the White House has not had a ton of good news lately, and it will be interesting to see how our President and his supporters respond to this setback.