Powered by Bravenet Bravenet Blog

Mallow Castle at night

journal photo

Subscribe to Journal

September 26, 2019

12:47 AM

Engage!

“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.” Captain Jean Luc Picard, Star Trek the Next Generation “The Drumhead”

I expect that this article and subject might make some people uncomfortable but it is something that I need to return to yet again. I fear what is happening to our country, and the agenda of the politically motivated Christian Right and its leaders, especially those who are using what is known as Seven Mountains or Dominionist theology to implement laws at local and state level. These laws damage the fabric of society and encourage discrimination in order to solidify the political power of a minority of conservative Christians.

It is interesting that conservative icon Barry Goldwater both warned us and opposed the these people. Goldwater said: “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” November, 1994, in John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience.

Decades before Goldwater, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson who prosecuted the major Nazi War Criminals at Nuremberg issued a similar warning:

“[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.” — Justice Robert H Jackson, American Communications Assn. v. Douds, 339 US 382, 438; 70 SCt. 674, 704 (1950)

Thus, like Goldwater and Jackson before me, I get very frustrated and tired of the way many leaders of the American Religious Right, that political animal that only thinks of itself, have worked so fervently to poison any sense of unity and community that we might have as Americans regardless of our religious faith, or lack of faith. Back in the 1940’s through the 1970’s that was unity was referred to as “American Civil Religion.” Robert Bellah defined it “at best” as a “genuine apprehension on universal and religious reality as seen in, or as one could almost say, as revealed through the experience of the American people.” (Huntington, Samuel P. Who are We? America’s Great Debate p.103) While I do have a lot of issues with the concept of American Civil Religion, and how it has been used to justify some pretty horrible actions undertaken by leaders of this country, as well as some harmful myths as to our system of government and God’s blessing of our actions, even the immoral ones, it did provide some positives in regard to how Americans of different faiths treated each other with respect in the public square. As Huntington noted: “America’s civil religion provides a religious blessing to what Americans feel they have in common.” (Huntington p.104)

In the decades since the United States has undergone a seismic transformation in terms of religious makeup, and while those faith traditions who dominated the religious history of our first two hundred years are still dominant in many ways, they are in decline, especially in terms of the fastest growing segment of the population, those who identify themselves as The Nones those with no religious preference. In response the more conservative and politically minded Christians of the Christian Right have launched a culture war to ensure their dominance in all areas of society. Known as Christian Dominionism, Reconstructionism, or the Seven Mountains theology it is a blatant attempt to legislate a particular type of Christianity as the law of the land. As Gary North, an adviser to Ron and Rand Paul as well as other conservative Christian political leaders wrote:

“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

You can see the influence of this theology in many of the state legislatures of what are called Red States where laws specifically intended to solidify conservative Christian dominance of government which allow for legal discrimination against others, by public officials and private businesses are becoming law. Likewise, such legislatures pass laws which crush the ability of local communities to pass non-discrimination ordinances against gays. This has happened in both Arkansas and West Virginia and similar proposals are being put forth in other states.

One of the leading proponents of this theology is Dr. C. Peter Wagner who wrote a number of influential books on evangelism used in many conservative evangelical seminaries and churches. Wagner is credited with beginning what is called the New Apostolic Reformation and taught at Fuller Seminary until his retirement from teaching in 2001. Wagner has written:

“Our theological bedrock is what has been known as Dominion Theology. This means that our divine mandate is to do whatever is necessary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to retake the dominion of God’s creation which Adam forfeited to Satan in the Garden of Eden. It is nothing less than seeing God’s kingdom coming and His will being done here on earth as it is in heaven.” Letter dated 31 May 2007

I am a Christian, albeit one with many doubts and concerns. I am a ordained minister and I am a Pastor and theological teacher, I have grown up and seen this transformation of our society, especially over the last twenty years as a chaplain in both within and without the Air Force, I have concerns in the trends I see but mostly I am concerned about this radical theology that has helped turn faith into a war zone and is destroying the fabric of American life. In fact if you wonder why so many of these “Christians” are doing their best to disenfranchise voters and supporting policies that have turned this country from a republic that functioned on the basis of democracy, to an oligarchy controlled by a few one only has to look to the words of the original Dominionist, the father in law of Gary North, R.J. Rushdooney:

“One faith, one law and one standard of justice did not mean democracy. The heresy of democracy has since then worked havoc in church and state . . . Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies.” (R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law p.100)

That being said, with all the change in the composition of the population of this country I really don’t fear that change. But for the most part I fear these politically minded Christians who are bent on imposing their form of Christianity on the people of this country. There are many reasons for this. Some are more general in the way I see Christians treat others; their own wounded as well as non-believers, the political machinations of pastors and “Christian” special interest groups masquerading as ministries. Wagner once said:

“See, the problem is, is that Satan has had too much of his way in our society because he has a government! And the only way to overthrow a government is with a government. It won’t happen otherwise.”

This is radical, for it is the basis of theocracy. Franklin Graham, son of Billy used words of fear to motivate his base saying at the Liberty Counsel Awakening Conference “But we’re going to lose everything if we don’t win in this next election – and we only have this next election, I think for our voice to be heard.” I think that it is pathetic that Graham has to resort to such fear and loathing in order to galvanize people to fight against the rights of others not to be discriminated against.

These groups have turned the Chaplain Corps into a political football. I once found the chaplain ministry to be the epitome of how ministers of various denominations or religions should be able to work together for the benefit of others. Some of the Chaplains that I served with from across the denominational and religious spectrum helped ingrain a respect and care for others that I would never had received working in a civilian parish. While I can do this with some chaplains even today they are few and far between. The highly politicized environment is destroying the effectiveness and community of the Chaplain Corps. While I may help other ministers in their parishes I have no desire to work in any other form of ministry when I retire.

I have been worn down by all of this and sadly the controversies are now unavoidable. As a result I have experienced a lot of pain, heartache and rejection at the hand of many Christians, some of whom I had counted as close friends, and many of whom are pastors, priests or chaplains. To experience rejection or being shamed by people that you thought were friends is very hard, especially when that at one time you trusted them implicitly to care for you. However to be rejected by those that you trusted “in the name of God, ” or rather because you violated supposedly “correct” doctrinal beliefs about God is frightening.

It seems to me that with many Christians and churches that the “unconditional” love of God that they proclaim not really unconditional. It is totally conditional on believing what they believe or behaving in the way they think that you should.

“My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.”

I have always questioned a lot that is taught by the church, but after my crisis of faith I really began to see through the bullshit. I began to not only question things my former church taught, but openly stated my convictions about how we treat others as Christians, the equality of people in general and tolerance for those different than us including gays and Moslems who for some Christians are rather low on the scale of those that God might love. As such I openly support the LGBT community, American Moslems and Arabs in general, as well as those who adhere to other non-Christian religions, are agnostic, or even atheist when they are attacked in the media, or by supposedly Christian politicians, preachers and pundits.

After Iraq I was sickened by the crass politicization of conservative American Christianity and many of its leaders. Men and women who advocate war without end, be it real wars against “enemies” of American, or promote a culture war even against other Christians that they do not like or agree with. Of course this is all done in “Jesus name.”

Likewise I question the opulence and materialism of the church. I question the nearly cult like focus and near worship accorded to the Pastor-CEOs of the mega-churches and the television preachers and teachers. I wonder in amazement about how many of these leaders live like royalty and have devoted followers who despite repeated scandals treat them as the voice of God.

Along with the that I question the preference of many American Christian leaders for the rich and their disdain for the poor, the alien and the outcasts among us. This actually comes from baptizing capitalism and objectivist philosophy as Christian and leaving the Gospel behind.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:

“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening.”

That being said I am thankful that I have a number of friends, including a good number of Christians from various backgrounds and some chaplains who have stood by me even if they disagree with my theology, politics or favorite baseball team.

That being said with the exception of such people who have been with me through thick and thin I am mostly terrified of being around conservative Christians.

Church in most cases is a frightening place for me, and the sad fact is that if I were not already a Christian there is little in American Christianity that would ever cause me to be interested in Jesus. I can totally understand why churches are hemorrhaging members, especially young people whose religious preference is “none,” for I too am in some sense an outcast.

I would like to think that we have come so far in our understanding of people, and of civil rights. But as Jean Luc Picard said, it is threatening to happen again.

 

0 user comments / View Entry

August 22, 2019

12:50 AM

Scripture Institute on Facebook

What Each Area of the Site is Meant For: Blogs - This is your personal space. This is where you should post thoughts that are not intended for extensive further discussion. Observations from personal study and events that have occurred in your life belong here. Unless your post ends with questions or makes it apparent that discussion is to follow, it should probably be a blog. As discussed later, blogs are limited to those who hold to historic Christian beliefs. Forums - This is for open discussion relating to the topic posted. Dialogue is encouraged to stay on topic, so if a side conversation begins, open a new discussion. This is where the majority of the activity has taken place so far. Topics should remain general in nature, while in depth discussion on narrow topics should take place in groups. Groups - This is a place to congregate with people who have similar interests and positions in order to have open discussion. The conversation in here is not required to remain on topic, so it is more ready to follow rabbit trails. This is where you should go if you want to gather with a particular kind of theologian. Before initiating a new group, we ask that you consider posting a question in the discussion forum area to see if there is enough interest to justify a separate group. The reason we encourage such action is that, in the event that a group is inactive for 6 months or more, the moderators of Scriptural Studies reserve the right to close down and delete the group due to inactivity. Events - This is available to anyone that wants to post an event that you think the members of Scriptural Studies may be interested in. Contact Denis, Rabbi Del, Rifkah, or Marti for more details on advertising. Our Attitude of conduct: In case you missed them on your way in, take some time to become acquainted with the conduct we expect on this site. You may find our Altitudes on the main forum page. Our purpose at Scriptural Studies is that the conversations move in a Gracious way. We define Gracious in the following way: 1) Not closed minded 2) Not self-promoting 3) Not characterized by mass amounts of cut-and-paste proof-texting 4) Not characterized by mass amounts of cut-and-paste from other places 5) Irenic 6) Not slanderous 7) No spamming 8) Perpetual venting bitterness 9) Not confusing or disruptive. But in all things you'll be welcome here

 

0 user comments / View Entry

May 14, 2019

8:05 PM

The Principal Pauline Epistles A Collation of Old Latin Witnesses

Preface
Much of the Old Latin evidence for the New Testament has been newly edited
over the last century.The Itala volumes of gospel manuscripts initiated by Adolf
Jülicher in 1938 were completed by Walter Matzkow and Kurt Aland, including
a second edition for each of the Synoptic Gospels.1 The Vetus Latina edition
which began in 1945, combining the text of all surviving manuscripts with an
exhaustive collection of biblical quotations from writers of the first eight Christian
centuries, has so far covered the Catholic Epistles (Thiele, 1956–1969), the
Pauline Epistles from Ephesians to Hebrews (Frede, 1962–1991), the Apocalypse
(Gryson, 2000–2003), John (Burton et al., 2011–) and Mark (Haelewyck,
2013–2018), with work on Acts in progress.2 The only New Testament writings
not to have benefited from a new edition are the four principal Pauline
Epistles: Romans, 1 & 2Corinthians and Galatians. Projects to edit Romans
and 1Corinthians in the Vetus Latina series were abandoned after the publication
of introductory fascicles in the 1990s.3 This means that, notwithstanding
the material gathered in the Vetus Latina Database, the standard edition has
remained Pierre Sabatier’s pioneering work of Old Latin biblical scholarship
from 1743, based on a single manuscript in the Pauline Epistles and pre-modern
editions of patristic writers.4
In 2011, a European Research Council Starting Grant enabled Hugh Houghton
to assemble a team at the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing
(ITSEE) in the University of Birmingham to investigate the earliest commentaries
on Paul as sources for the biblical text (the COMPAUL project). In
order to assist with analysis of the numerous early Latin expositions, full electronic
transcriptions were produced of the four principal Pauline Epistles in
three types of material:
1) Manuscripts identified as having an Old Latin affiliation;
2) Existing scholarly reconstructions of the Pauline text of individual early
Latin commentators;
3) Early collections of biblical testimonia.
These were then automatically collated to provide a representative sample of
early Latin readings which might be reflected in commentaries and their textual
tradition. Although the publication of this data was not part of the original
plan for the COMPAUL project, it soon became evident that—until the appearance
of the corresponding volumes of the Vetus Latina edition—making this
material more widely available would be of service to scholars in a variety of
fields.
The majority of the transcriptions were made by Kreinecker and MacLachlan,
with Houghton also contributing and taking responsibility for proofreading.
After conversion to XML by Smith, these files were published in full online at
http://www.epistulae.org, along with databases of patristic quotations also prepared
by the COMPAUL project. Specific details of contributors and the sources
used are given in the header of each electronic transcription. The preparation
of the apparatus coincided with a major transition in digital editing software.
The preliminary collation of plain text files of 1Corinthians was the last project
in ITSEE to use the COLLATE program,5 while early work on Galatians provided
one of the first opportunities for trialling the online editing environment developed
by Smith, in which the CollateX software developed by Ronald Dekker for
the Interedition consortium was deployed.6 The present collation is based on
the project’s final XML transcription files in this Collation Editor within the
Workspace for Collaborative Editing. Smith was responsible for processing the
transcriptions into the required format and making the initial apparatus available
in an interface which enabled Houghton to edit and check the collation.
These processes are described in more detail in the Introduction.

0 user comments / View Entry

August 7, 2018

6:09 AM

The faith of Jesus

We are used to the idea of people believing in Christ, but did the early
church consider that Jesus also had faith in God? This study/book valuates the evidence, starting with a survey of the meaning of faith in Judaism and Graeco-Roman literature and proceeding to a detailed exegesis of the relevant New Testament material from the Synoptic Gospels, the Pauline and deutero-Pauline epistles, Hebrews and Revelation. Two trajectories of interest in Jesus' faith are identified: the paradigmatic, concerned with matters of discipleship, and the theological, relating Christ to God's gift o salvation. The examination is then broadened to trace the progress of these trajectories through the literature of the first four Christian centuries and concludes by identifying the Arian controversy as the christological development
which rendered reference to Jesus' faith untenable within the
emergent orthodoxy.

To be continued:

0 user comments / View Entry

August 3, 2018

12:29 AM

Where have you been?

I have been locked out for a while but I'm back now! So I'll be posting again soon. Hang in there.

0 user comments / View Entry

October 18, 2017

8:01 PM

First-Century Jewish Monotheism

In recent years a number of scholars have given attention to the question
of "monotheism" in first-century Jewish religion, especially (but not exclusively) scholars interested in the emergence of "high Christology" and
the reverence given to Jesus as divine in early Christian groups. In my book One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism,
I urge that first-century Jewish religious commitment to the uniqueness
of God is the crucial context in which to approach early Christian devotion
to Christ.1 More specifically, I emphasize two characteristics of
ancient Jewish religiousness: (1) a remarkable ability to combine a genuine concern for God's uniqueness with an interest in other figures with transcendent attributes which are described in the most exalted terms and
which we may call "principal agent" figures who are even likened to God in
some cases; and (2) an exhibition of monotheistic scruples, particularly
and most distinctively in public cultic/liturgical behavior.
The readiness of ancient Jews to include exalted figures, especially
"principal agent" figures, in their conceptual schemes of God's sovereignty
provides us with useful (though limited) analogies and valuable background for the early Christian conceptual accommodation of the risen/ex-
1. Larry W. Hurtado, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish
Monotheism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988).

That informed scholars can disagree about whether Greco-Roman
Jewish religion was in fact monotheistic indicates the need for further improvement in our approach to the question. In this discussion, I wish to
strengthen and elaborate my own earlier argument that first-century Jewish
religion characteristically exhibited a strongly monotheistic scruple,
and I also offer some refinements in method and clarifications of key matters that I hope can assist us all in characterizing more accurately the religious setting of the origins of Christ-devotion. I begin with some methodological matters, after which I offer an analysis of the specific nature of first-century Jewish monotheism.
Methodological Matters
The first methodological point to emphasize is the importance of proceeding inductively in forming and using analytical categories such as "monotheism."On both sides of the issue (to varying degrees among the individual studies) there has been a tendency to proceed deductively from a priori presumptions of what "monotheism" must mean, instead of building up a view inductively from the evidence of the thought and practice of ancient Jews (and earliest Christians). It is mistaken to assume that we can evaluate ancient Jewish texts and beliefs in terms of whether or how closely they meet our own preconceived idea of "pure" monotheism.6
Studies?" Journal of Jewish Studies 42 (1991): 1-15; and Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel's Second God (London: SPCK, 1992). Both of them argue that Greco-Roman Jewish religion manifests what amounts to a ditheistic tendency. Christopher Rowland
claims that in Second-Temple Jewish tradition there developed a speculation about a bifurcation
of the divine involving God and his personified glory; see "The Vision of the Risen Christ in Rev. i.13ff: The Debt of an Early Christology to an Aspect of Jewish Angelology," Journal of Theological Studies 31 (1980): 1 11; and The Open Heaven (London: SPCK; New York: Crossroad, 1982), 94-113. Traditions about the divine glory (and the divine name) are certainly important, but I do not find Rowland's case for a bifurcation of God convincing. See my discussion of his view in One God, One Lord, 85-90. On the divine glory, see esp.Carey C. Newman, Paul's Glory-Christology: Tradition and Rhetoric, NovTSup, 69 (Leiden:
E. J. Brill, 1992); and cf. J. E. Fossum, The Image of the Invisible God (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht; Freiburg: Universitätsverlag, 1995), 13-14.

6. E.g., early in his essay Hayman says, "I do not intend to proceed here by setting up a model definition of monotheism and then assessing the Jewish tradition against this yardstick." But unfortunately, he then proceeds to do so, in my judgment, by imposing such definition
from the sphere of theological polemics in an attempt to do historical
analysis. Protestants, for example, might find some forms of Roman
Catholic or Orthodox piety involving the saints and the Virgin problematic
forms of monotheism, and this might constitute a fully valid theological
issue to be explored. But scholars interested in historical analysis, I suggest,
should take the various Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox
traditions as representing varying forms of Christian monotheism. If we
are to avoid a priori definitions and the imposition of our own theological
judgments, we have no choice but to accept as monotheism the religion of
those who profess to be monotheists, however much their religion varies
and may seem "complicated" with other beings in addition to the one God.
For historical investigation, our policy should be to take people as monotheistic
if that is what they profess to be, in spite of what we might be inclined
to regard at first as anomalies in their beliefs and religious practices.
Such "anomalies," I suggest, are extremely valuable data in shaping out of
the actual beliefs of real people and traditions our understanding of the
limits, flexibility, and varieties of monotheism.
To cite one important matter, there seems to be an implicit assumption
on both sides that more than one transcendent being of any significance
complicates or constitutes a weakening of or threat to monotheism.
Those who see first-century Jewish religion as monotheistic tend, therefore, to minimize the significance and attributes given by ancient Jews to any transcendent beings other than God. But it is fairly clear that such figures as principal angels are to be understood as distinct beings that can
sometimes be described as exhibiting and bearing divine attributes and
powers. The descriptions of such beings are not simply rhetorical exercises; they indicate in varying ways the participation of these beings in the operation of divine purposes.Those who question whether Greco-Roman Jewish religion was monotheistic tend to emphasize the honorific ways in which transcendent beings other than God are described and the prominent positions they occupy in the religious conceptions reflected in ancient Jewish texts. It is clear that ancient Jews often envisioned a host of heavenly beings, includthings as a doctrine of creatio ex nihilo as a requirement of true monotheism ("Monotheism," 3-4), and by making the question turn on whether ancient Jews were "truly monistic"
(2) — that is, whether they believed in a plurality of heavenly beings.

 ...To be continued 

0 user comments / View Entry

March 3, 2017

8:10 AM

Worship of Jesus as Evolutionary Development

The first essential observation from which to proceed is that, in the context of ancient Jewish monotheistic scruples (inherited by earliest Christians from the Jewish religious matrix of the Christian movement), the worship of Jesus is truly an extraordinary phenomenon. It is entirely reasonable, thus, that various scholars have seen this devotion to Jesus as conceivablenly as an evolutionary development that was somehow linked to the
changing nature of the Christian movement across the first century C.E.

The specifics vary from one scholar to another, but common to all of the evolutionary proposals is the claim that the worship of Jesus as divine cannot  have been a part of the devotional pattern that characterized earliest strata and circles of Jewish Christians. In order to assess any such proposal, it is necessary to be acquainted with the basic shape of the development of
earliest Christianity. For those who may not be familiar with the matter, I offer a very brief sketch before we proceed farther. What became early "Christianity" originated as a small but vigorous messianic group among Jews in Roman Judea,2 and then quickly spread to
Jewish Diaspora locations where non-Jews, "Gentiles," were also among those recruited/converted (initially, perhaps, among those "God-fearing" Gentiles who had become interested in Jewish religion through contacts
with Jews in the Diaspora).3 Especially (but not exclusively) through the programmatic efforts of the figure known as the Apostle Paul (Saul of Tarsus),
by about 60 C.E. (i.e., within the first three decades after Jesus' execution) small clusters of converts were established in various cities of Roman Asia and Greece, and (through the efforts of other, largely anonymous believers) in other key places such as Antioch, Damascus, Rome, and perhaps also Egypt. As well, especially in these Diaspora sites, the Christian movement included increasing numbers of Gentiles along with a continuing
and influential core of Jewish believers. By the final decades of the first century, however, Gentile converts probably outnumbered Jewish believers by a significant margin, and developments within Judaism of the post-70
C.E. period included an increasingly sharp rejection of Jewish Christians.4


2. In the first century C.E., the Roman province of "Judea" was the area later renamed "Palestine," comprising the traditional component-areas of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea.
3. For a discussion of various responses of Gentiles to Jewish religion in the Roman period,
see S. J. D. Cohen, "Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," Harvard Theological
Review 82 (1989): 13-33. In the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, the stories of Philip
and the Ethiopian eunuch (8:26-40) and of Peter at the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius (10:1 48) reflect the presence of Gentiles whose conversion to Christian faith had been preceded by their interest in Judaism.
4. It is widely thought that in the post-70 C.E. period Jewish Christians were put under on The specifics vary from one scholar to another, but common to all of the evolutionary proposals is the claim that the worship of Jesus as divine cannot have been a part of the devotional pattern that characterized earliest
strata and circles of Jewish Christians. In order to assess any such proposal, it is necessary to be acquainted with the basic shape of the development of earliest Christianity. For those who may not be familiar with the matter, I
offer a very brief sketch before we proceed farther.
What became early "Christianity" originated as a small but vigorous messianic group among Jews in Roman Judea,2 and then quickly spread to Jewish Diaspora locations where non-Jews, "Gentiles," were also among
those recruited/converted (initially, perhaps, among those "God-fearing" Gentiles who had become interested in Jewish religion through contacts with Jews in the Diaspora).3 Especially (but not exclusively) through the
programmatic efforts of the figure known as the Apostle Paul (Saul of Tarsus), by about 60 C.E. (i.e., within the first three decades after Jesus' execution)
small clusters of converts were established in various cities of Roman Asia and Greece, and (through the efforts of other, largely anonymous believers)
in other key places such as Antioch, Damascus, Rome, and perhaps also Egypt.  As well, especially in these Diaspora sites, the Christian movement included increasing numbers of Gentiles along with a continuing
and influential core of Jewish believers. By the final decades of the first century, however, Gentile converts probably outnumbered Jewish believers
by a significant margin, and developments within Judaism of the post-70
C.E. period included an increasingly sharp rejection of Jewish Christians.4
2. In the first century C.E., the Roman province of "Judea" was the area later renamed "Palestine," comprising the traditional component-areas of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea.
3. For a discussion of various responses of Gentiles to Jewish religion in the Roman period,
see S. J. D. Cohen, "Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," Harvard Theological
Review 82 (1989): 13-33. In the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, the stories of Philip
and the Ethiopian eunuch (8:26-40) and of Peter at the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius (10:1 48) reflect the presence of Gentiles whose conversion to Christian faith had been preceded by their interest in Judaism.
4. It is widely thought that in the post-70 C.E. period Jewish Christians were put under great pressure by fellow Jews to renounce Jesus or to sever their connection with their Jewish community. There are references to Jewish believers being expelled from the synagogues in the Gospel of John (9:22; 12:42; 16:2). Scholars debate the question of whether the Birkhat
ha Minim (the "Benedict ion against the Heretics," the twelfth benediction of the synagogue

0 user comments / View Entry

October 24, 2016

4:34 PM

To Live and Die for Jesus

 

Typically, religion involves a significant social dimension. Beliefs, rituals, ethical/moral scruples — these all characteristically find expression socially, whether in participation in the religious acts of a given group, or through interpersonal relations shaped by religious convictions and teachings. Moreover, religion often is part of what comprises and identifies a given social group, such as a people, a nation, or a tribe. We typically are members of such "traditional" social groups by birth, and the religion of such groups is typically "inherited" along with the rest of what it means to be part of them.

Even "voluntaristic" religion — that is, religion that people subscribe to by personal choice (through conversion, for example) — characteristically involves a social dimension. To make this or that religious affirmation typically involves associating with others who share one's particular religious stance. The social entity with which the convert associates might be small, such as a localized circle of fellow adherents, or it might be larger, perhaps a religious movement, a sect, or a denomination.

The geographical extent of such a larger social entity may be local or trans-local, perhaps even international. In some cases, the social composition of a voluntaristic religious group, whether local or broader in scope, may cross lines of ethnicity, gender, age, economic level, and social status.

But, whether a person's religion is an inherited tradition or a voluntary choice, there is a social dimension, and there are social and even political consequences involved that are to be reckoned with in understanding stance of a given group affirms and reinforces it, and each participant also receives, whether implicitly or explicitly, affirmation as part of the group and the benefits of participation in the group. 


On the other hand, to dissent or to withhold participation in the religious stance of a given group can have more negative consequences. In the case of a traditional religion, it can mean that a dissenter, or merely someone who does not openly show observance of the religion, can be regarded by the group as behaving suspiciously, and perhaps can be seen as subversive, a threat to the solidarity and cohesion of the group, or at least a bit of a troublemaker. In the case of a voluntaristic religious group, those who are not adherents are typically considered in some way outsiders, whether they be regarded more kindly as lost souls who might come to see the validity of the group's religious stance, or are viewed more negatively as infidels, unbelievers, enemies of the truth, perhaps even a spiritually inferior form of humans.

If the religious stance or practice from which one is seen to dissent has an official status or is somehow especially linked with the political structures of the setting, then (whether by intention or not) religious dissent can also be taken as having political implications and can have political as well as social consequences. As I will use the terms in this discussion, "political" consequences involve specifically the actions and attitudes of government officials/representatives (whether local or wider), and "social" consequences have to do with the effects of a religious behavior upon relations with family, neighbors, friends, associates, and the rest of those who make up one's social world.
In the following blog pages, I wish to focus on the social and political consequences of devotion to Jesus for earliest Christians, particularly negative consequences, the social and political costs of being a Christian in the early years of the movement that came to be called "Christianity." As we shall see, the social and political costs involved make it remarkable that the young faith proved as attractive as it obviously was for some, and also may help us understand better the limits of its attraction for others.

0 user comments / View Entry

October 21, 2016

8:13 AM

To Live and Die for Jesus: Social and Political Consequences of Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity

Typically, religion involves a significant social dimension. Beliefs, rituals,
ethical/moral scruples — these all characteristically find expression
socially, whether in participation in the religious acts of a given group,
or through interpersonal relations shaped by religious convictions and
teachings. Moreover, religion often is part of what comprises and identifies
a given social group, such as a people, a nation, or a tribe. We typically are members of such "traditional" social groups by birth, and the religion of
such groups is typically "inherited" along with the rest of what it means to
be part of them.


Even "voluntaristic" religion — that is, religion that people subscribe
to by personal choice (through conversion, for example) — characteristically involves a social dimension. To make this or that religious affirmation typically involves associating with others who share one's particular religious stance. The social entity with which the convert associates might be small, such as a localized circle of fellow adherents, or it might be larger, perhaps a religious movement, a sect, or a denomination. The geographical extent of such a larger social entity may be local or trans-local, perhaps even international. In some cases, the social composition of a voluntaristic religious group, whether local or broader in scope, may cross lines of ethnicity, gender, age, economic level, and social status. But, whether a person's religion is an inherited tradition or a voluntary choice, there is a social dimension, and there are social and even political consequences involved that are to be reckoned with in understanding any particular religious affirmation. To join in expressing the religious stance of a given group affirms and reinforces it, and each participant also receives, whether implicitly or explicitly, affirmation as part of the group and the benefits of participation in the group.


On the other hand, to dissent or to withhold participation in the religious
stance of a given group can have more negative consequences. In the
case of a traditional religion, it can mean that a dissenter, or merely someone who does not openly show observance of the religion, can be regarded by the group as behaving suspiciously, and perhaps can be seen as subversive,a threat to the solidarity and cohesion of the group, or at least a bit of a troublemaker. In the case of a voluntaristic religious group, those who are not adherents are typically considered in some way outsiders, whether they be regarded more kindly as lost souls who might come to see the validity of the group's religious stance, or are viewed more negatively as infidels,unbelievers, enemies of the truth, perhaps even a spiritually inferior form of humans.


If the religious stance or practice from which one is seen to dissent has an official status or is somehow especially linked with the political structures of the setting, then (whether by intention or not) religious dissent can also be taken as having political implications and can have political as well as social consequences. As I will use the terms in this discussion, "political" consequences involve specifically the actions and attitudes of government officials/representatives (whether local or wider), and "social" consequences have to do with the effects of a religious behavior upon relations with family, neighbors, friends, associates, and the rest of those who make up one's social world.
In the following blogss, I wish to focus on the social and political consequences of devotion to Jesus for earliest Christians, particularly negative consequences, the social and political costs of being a Christian in the early years of the movement that came to be called "Christianity." As we shall see, the social and political costs involved make it remarkable that the young faith proved as attractive as it obviously was for some, and also may help us understand better the limits of its attraction for others.

0 user comments / View Entry

September 22, 2016

7:23 PM

Early Jewish Opposition to Jesus-Devotion

By the end of the first century, among the matters in dispute between Christians (Jewish and Gentile) and Jewish religious authorities, Christian devotion to Jesus had become prominent.1 In particular, it is commonly recognized today that the Gospel of John (ca. 90-100 C.E.) gives us evidence of sharp conflict in the late first century between Johannine Christians and Jewish authorities over Christological claims, although this
conflict appears in John's narrative as one between "the Jews" and Jesus over claims he makes for himself. Perhaps especially in light of J. L. Martyn's influential study, scholars today commonly see John's Gospel as
reflecting a bitter polemic between Jewish synagogues and Johannine Jewish Christians that led (at some point) to the expulsion of Johannine Jew- 1. The separation of "Christianity" and "Judaism" has received considerable attention especially in recent years. See, e.g., Α. Ε Segal, Rebecca's Children: Judaism and Christianity in
the Roman World (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986); Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways A.D. 70 to 135, ed. J. D. G. Dunn (Ttibingen: J. C. B. Möhr [Paul Siebeck],


1992); Dunn, The Partings of the Ways: Between Judaism and Christianity and Their Significance for the Character of Christianity (London: SCM Press; Philadelphia: Trinity Press,1991); and S. G. Wilson, Related Strangers: Jews and Christians, 70-170 C.E. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995). Scholarship has tended to focus 011 Christian developments, but see C. J. Setzer, Jewish Responses to Early Christians: History and Polemics, 30-150 C.E. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994). See also Setzer, " 'You Invent a Christ!': Christological Claims as Points
of Jewish-Christian Dispute," Union Seminary Quarterly Review 44 (1991): 315-28. 
This  was published as an article in the Journal of Theological Studies 50 (1999): 35-58,
and reprinted by permission of Oxford University Press. I thank the editor and publishers for permission to reproduce the essay here, slightly edited.

 

To be continued ...

0 user comments / View Entry