SSP: Why Study Patrick’s Scriptures?

This post is part of an ongoing series on the Scriptures of Saint Patrick of Ireland.

“If we wish to sound the real depths of this great spiritual masterpiece, then, it is not enough to read it; we are advised to come to know, not only the sources, but also the context of its biblical quotations and significant biblical allusions, of which Patrick makes highly effective use in his Confessio.[1]

Major Roman Cities MapBefore proceeding to consideration of the historical Patrick, let us pause to briefly consider the value in studying Patrick’s Bible and his use of scripture. From a historical perspective, coming to better terms with Patrick’s Bible provides insights into the Bible on the edge the Roman Empire during the fifth century. Not only does Patrick offer a unique case study in the midst of a difficult time for the Western Roman Empire, but the situation in Ireland may prove paradigmatic for understanding the form, shape, and influence of the Christian Bible in other “border of the Empire” contexts. Continue reading

Did God Command Genocide? (Part II)

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.

How Do We Read the Bible? : The Importance of Context

Context is EverythingMany Protestant Christians talk about reading the Bible “literally.” But I often don’t understand exactly what that means. Webster’s 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. Consider, 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

Jesus and Crossan (Part II)

This is the second part of a two post-series looking at John D. Crossan’s view of the Historical Jesus as outlined in Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography.

jesus_catacombKey for understanding Crossan’s perspective on the historical Jesus is his understanding of Jesus as a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant.[13] In Crossan’s view, this understanding points to Jesus as a religious, social, ideological, and borderline political revolutionary who defied social norms and practiced “a shared egalitarianism of spiritual (healing) and material (eating) resources.”[14] Connecting Jesus with John the Baptist, and a form of Jewish eschatological thinking, Crossan suggests that perhaps the best approach to understanding and interpreting the historical Jesus would be through the lens of an Ancient Mediterranean Jewish Cynic.[15] For Crossan, such an understanding would explain textual traditions of both calls to poverty, social radicalism, commensality, freedom, kingdom language, and talk of followers as royalty.[16] Only with such an understanding, Crossan argues, can we really understand the methods and message of the truly historical Jesus. Continue reading

ECA: The Canon Debate

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

courtroom-gavelUse of the term “canon” has long been subject to debate among those studying the formation of the New Testament. The word itself comes from the Greek kanonikos, the basic meaning of which is “of one rule.” So a canon is something that other things are ruled by, the “standard” by which all other things are measured. Determining precisely what this “rule” has meant, however, has not been nearly so clear, leading to a series of conversations dubbed the “Canon Debate.” Continue reading

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

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

Rethinking Vinegrowers and Violence (Part Two)

Parable of the Wicked Tenants, Collaert

Parable of the Wicked Tenants, Collaert

Having examined Schottroff’s interpretive concerns in yesterday’s post, we now turn to her reinterpretation of the Parable of the Vinegrowers in The Parables of Jesus (Trans. Linda M. Maloney. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006.), in which she critiques a traditional allegorical interpretation of the parable, and reconsiders its meaning for today’s context. The crux of her reinterpretation argues that this parable speaks not to the allegorical rejection of the people of Israel, but rather cries out against the multilayered forms of Roman violence suffered by Israel. Continue reading

Rethinking Vinegrowers and Violence (Part One)

The Parables of JesusLuise Schottroff, in her work The Parables of Jesus (Trans. Linda M. Maloney. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006.) writes that the parables of Jesus of Nazareth contain a wealth of information concerning the meaning of his proclamation and vision, information that has historically been both influential and misunderstood (1). In as much as there are as many interpretations of the parables of Jesus as there are New Testament and parable scholars, the purpose of this paper is to examine Schottroff’s feminist perspective in her examination and reinterpretation of the Parable of the Vinegrowers found in the Gospel According to Mark 12:1-12. In her interpretation, Schottroff argues that this parable speaks not to an allegorically based rejection of the people of Israel in favor of the Christian Church, but against multilayered forms of violence against the people of Israel that calls those people to endure Roman oppression and seek non-violent forms of effecting demands. Continue reading

NT Canon: Conclusions

This is the final post in our series outlining the formation of the New Testament canon.

BibleHere at the end of our two week examination of New Testament canon formation, what can we conclude? Remembering the distinction between a “formal canon” (an authoritative list of books) and a “practical canon” (a list of authoritative books), we note several important conclusions. First, very early on (if not immediately) the words of Jesus were viewed by his followers as authoritative and equal, if not greater, in status to the Jewish scriptures. This should not be entirely surprising, of course, given the fact that scholars sometimes seem to forget, namely that followers of Jesus followed Jesus. Second, the use of the New Testament writings began very early in the history of Christianity in writings of the Apostolic Fathers. The earliest non-canonical writings of the Christian faith demonstrate reliance upon those writings now included in the New Testament canon. Third, there was a progression of the status of the writings now in the New Testament from the time of Apostolic Fathers to the third century, demonstrating the continuity and development of a “New Testament” tradition among followers of Jesus Christ across the Roman Empire. Continue reading