Gnosticism, Women, and Elaine Pagels

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

GnosticsFor today’s reflection, I outline and reflect on Elaine Pagels’ “What Became of God as Mother? Conflicting Images of God in Early Christianity.”[1] In so doing I argue that while Pagels’ approach to the question of the divine feminine remains an important aspect of early Christian thinking, her characterization of the category “gnostic” remains unhelpful for framing the study of these documents. Continue reading

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Did God Command Genocide? (Part VI)

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

A Way Forward

Fall of JerichoGiven Ancient Near East warfare terminology, “driving out” language, and an emphasis on the destruction of the heads of state, it seems that the vast majority of Israel’s wars recorded in Joshua are non-genocidal wars against the wicked tribes of Canaan who are being punished in order to stop their crimes. This is not to suggest that God did not command the people of Israel to fight against the Canaanites. Nor is it to advocate that God did not use language of total destruction when telling the people of Israel how to conquer the land. Nor does it mean that the people of Israel always appropriately followed God’s commands during the conquest. And finally, it does not mean that it is not possible that God actually deemed total destruction appropriate in some instances. What I really want to emphasis from this study is that when trying to understand the Israelite Conquest of Canaan, we must consider the warring context of the Ancient Near East and carefully examine the biblical record before coming to conclusions about the possibility of genocide recorded in Joshua. 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

Did God Command Genocide? (Part IV)

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 Context of Conquest

Lego MosesSeveral texts can be submitted as examples of where Yahweh seems to have commanded the people of Israel to commit genocide. One such place is Exodus 23:23, which reads: “When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out….” Here the implication seems to be that Israel and Yahweh will wipe out these nations. But let’s step back and read the wider context of this passage, beginning in verse 20: Continue reading

Did God Command Genocide? (Part III)

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.

Ancient Near East Warfare Terminology

Relief of Assurnasirpal II Killing LionsMost important for our purposes is considering the language of the conquest narratives in Deuteronomy and Joshua, especially in light of other passages which can be interpreted as a command to wipe out everything that breathes. When reading passages such as this, I would argue that it is especially important to situate oneself in the context of the original audience. As Paul Copan argues in numerous places[1], it is of the utmost importance to recognize that in the Ancient Near East context, especially when discussing war and military conquest, language of total domination was the norm. For example, there are ancient military records that, if not read in the milieu of ANE warfare language, would suggest that after a conquest no one was living and no brick stood on top of another, whereas historical and archeological records suggest that this was not at all the case, that people were left alive in these locations and cities remained. 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

Did God Command Genocide? (Part I)

Fall of JerichoThe Rock Church of Saint Louis–our church home–is in the midst of reading through the entire Bible narrative as a church community. The past two weeks we have been reading the book of Joshua, which is all about Israel’s conquest of the promised land of Canaan. One feature of this conquest that contemporary Christians are often hesitant to discuss (or that they are curious about) is whether or not Yahweh commanded the people of Israel to commit genocide as they entered the land. This question often rears its head after reading passages like Exodus 23:23, Deuteronomy 20:16-18, and Joshua 6:17-18. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be running a series reflecting on whether or not God commanded Israel to commit genocide as they took possession of the Promised Land. But before considering whether or not Yahweh commanded genocide, we must first begin to answer two important questions: How was the Bible written? And how do we read the Bible? Continue reading

The Marcion Problem: Tertullian (Part II)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Marcion of Sinope and his influence on the development of the New Testament canon.
Tertullian of Carthage

Tertullian of Carthage

From Tertullian’s writings emerge several implications for Marcion’s conceptions of scripture, canon, and authority. First, from his Prescription against Heresies it seems that Marcion in some way undermined the existing authority structures of the Catholic Church by appealing to sources of authority outside those which were typically employed. These sources at least appear to be sources imbued with philosophical thought that moves away from what Tertullian references the teachings of Christ and ‘rule of faith.’ Second and also from Prescriptions, Marcion appears to have used and distorted existing Christian scriptures. This could mean a number of things, but from Tertullian’s claims that Marcion rejected the apostolic and Jewish roots of Christian faith it seems to indicate that Marcion had rejected some writings and manipulated others in an attempt to present a unified authoritative corpus of some sort. Continue reading

The Marcion Problem: Irenaeus

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Marcion of Sinope and his influence on the development of the New Testament canon.
The Early Church Fathers

The Early Church Fathers

In some ways Marcion was a rather popular figure among Christians during the mid to late second century, as numerous writers and apologists made reference to his beliefs and churches. These treatments of Marcion, however, were far from positive in their understandings of his theological system. We are fortunate to have extant several major writings of the Early Church Fathers concerning Marcion. Of these, Irenaeus of Lyon’s Against Heresies appears to have been the earliest written, sometime around 180 CE.[12] This was followed later by Tertullian of Carthage’s anti-Marcionite writings, of which at least six books are extant.[13] Also available to us are the writings of Hippolytus of Rome[14] and several references by Eusebius of Casarea to works of Marcion and his followers, as well as several references to works against Marcion that are no longer extant.[15]  As is often the case concerning sources in antiquity, it remains unfortunate that the writings of one of Marcion’s direct contemporaries, Justin Martyr (d. 165),[16] have not survived the perils of time although numerous ancient authors reference his work.[17] Continue reading

Second Treatise of Great Seth

Nag Hammadi CodicesThe Second Treatise of the Great Seth is one of the “G/gnostic” texts found at the Nag Hammadi Library in Egypt.[1] Generally dated in the third century by scholars, the name and origin of this text remain a mystery,[2] though it has been speculated that the name Seth originated from the son of Adam and Eve from Genesis 4.[3] In this treatise, the gnostic Christ is speaking to the “perfect and incorruptible” ones and describing a true understanding of his life story, crucifixion, relationship to the Father, and his teaching. This document contains both elements of both a pro-Gnostic message and an anti-Christian message, as Christians are said to proclaim the teachings of a dead man while persecuting the true gnostic church. While gnosticism is an oft discussed phenomena of late antiquity and the early Christian age, there remains a certain amount of ambiguity and uncertainty as to what gnosticism actually was, perhaps mostly because the Christian apologists and writers of the gnostic age did not discuss the actual theology of their opponents aside from what was wrong with it.[4] In this text, Christ seems to be advocating a form of mind-body dualism that seems to be fairly pervasive among certain branches of gnosticism in the early Christian era. It is important to note that most scholars have failed to place this specific gnostic text within any specific genre of gnostic literature, further evidence of the uncertainty of its origin and writing.[5] Continue reading