Digital Resource

31 03 2008

There is a resource that I should have been aware of but slipped under my radar. It is found on the American Theological Library Association (ATLA) website and is called the Cooperative Digital Resources Initiative. Perhaps it is the title that caused me to overlook this link, but it contains a wealth of resources. Many seminaries and divinities school become closets for an eclectic accumulate of donated collections. Many of them are of limited value; however, many contain interesting resources. These collections, until recently, have been only accessible to those in the seminary/divinity school community or those who made the effort to go and visit the collections (if these collections were even known). ATLA has digitalized a variety of these collections for ready access. These include numismatic collections, archaeological artifacts, art, iconography, manuscripts, books, and a variety of other collections. It is an interesting site to explore.

Good Friday

21 03 2008

Leander Keck in his book Who is Jesus?:  History in Perfect Tense (University of South Carolina Press, 2000) lists the various individuals who participated in the events surrounding “Good” Friday:  “disciples, temple traders, priest, scribes, Sadducees, an unnamed widow, a leper named Simon, a woman with a jar of ointment, a man (!) carrying a jar of water, crowds, the high priest’s slave, a young man fleeing naked, the Sanhedrin, the high priest’s servant girl, Pilate, Roman soldiers, Simon from Cyrene in North Africa, women at the cross, Joseph of Arimathea–to mention only those that appear in Mark” (p.126). 

I had never seen and reflected upon a list of individuals touched by that Friday in Judea.  On the one hand, it is a strange group of individuals gathered together in one basket:  women, men, powerful, weak, obscure, well known, the diseased, the confused, the naked (!), local folk, international folk, individuals just trying to make a buck, religious folks dedicated to God, owners and the owned.   On the other hand, it is a revealing window onto how the event of that Friday cuts across all lines and touched all, whether they knew it or not.

Keck, in a wonderful quote, illustrates well the implication of Jesus’ death on that “Good” Friday:  “Because Jesus’ lifework ended on the cross he is the fractured prism, and his ‘brokenness’ remains its essential feature.  For Christian theology Jesus’ resurrection did not ‘heal’ his brokenness but made it permanently significant” (p. 114).

The Symbol of Palms

16 03 2008

Since this is Palm Sunday, I thought it might be appropriate to illustrate via numismatics the powerful symbol of palms in the ancient world.

Of course Palm Sunday is a bit of a misnomer since the use of palms to greet Jesus is only specifically mentioned in the Gospel of John (12:12-19).  In Matt 21:1-9 the crowds greet Jesus with garments and “branches from the trees” (v. 8).  Mark’s account in 11:1-10 records also the reference to garments and adds “leafy branches which they had cut from the fields” (v. 8).  Luke, 19:28-40, omits any reference to branches and only notes the use of garments. 

The numismatic evidence points to the frequent use of a palm branch (lulav) (singular), palm branches (plural) or a palm tree as referencing  the land of Judea.  Interestingly, this symbol was used on coins minted by Romans (prefects and victorious Emperors), Judean client kings, and also Judean rebel leaders.  While these groups would hardly agree on any other issue, they all acknowledged the palm as a fixed symbol for the land and people of Judea.  Just a few numismatic examples of this symbol are below.


Bronze prutah, minted by Valerius Gratus (15-26 C.E.) under Tiberius


Bronze prutah, minted by Antonius Felix (52-59 C.E.) under Claudius


Bronze, full denomination, minted under Herod Antipas, (4 B.C.E to 40 C.E.)


Bronze, minted by Agrippa the II (55 to 95 C.E.) during the reign of Domitian


Silver denarius, minted under Titus (79-81 C.E.).  This coin is placed in the Judaea Capta series.  It illustrates Rome’s victory in the Judean War of 66-70 C.E.


Middle Bronze with the seven branched date palm.  Minted during the Bar Kochba rebellion (132-135 C.E.)

While the palm was a dominant symbol for the land and people of Judea, it was also used in other contexts.  There are earlier usages of the palm during the time of the Roman Republic as illustrated below with a coin minted by the moneyer L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi.  The coin has a rider waving a palm branch while riding a horse.


The palm branch was also used later on Roman coins.  The coin below was minted by Constantine I (the Great).  On the reverse is a palm surrounded by legionary standards.


Frequently in Roman usage, the palm is associated with particular goddesses, especially victory, Nike.

Devotional Reflection for Holy Week

15 03 2008
The Reign of Justice
Mark 11:15-19
The walk through the Temple precincts was anything but normal. Frantic pigeons were cart wheeling through the sky, the noise of the crowd, which was always a low buzz, had risen in volume, and agitated moneychangers were scrounging on all fours desperately looking for loose shekels. A man carrying a basket was brusquely stomping across the courtyard huffing to another, “What was all that business about not carrying anything through the Temple? I never.” His companion was shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders, “That wasn’t too bothersome, but when he kept shouting Scripture that was bizarre. Who does he think he is, Isaiah, Jeremiah.” Both men stalked out of the Temple precincts still discussing what he had done and said.
I knew who he was—that rural Galilean from up north. I had heard rumors he was in Jerusalem, a strange man, uncouth in habits and “friends.” But the common “people of the land” seemed impressed with him. And as evident from all the chaos in the Temple, even when he wasn’t physically around, his presence still rippled like a pebble dropped into a cistern. The men had griped about the Galilean saying: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations. But you have made it a den of robbers.”  
What was galling was that the peasant was right. As I looked at the Temple stones, I knew they had been built on the back of widows’ mites. The economic exploitation of the Temple had turned it into a bazaar instead of a sanctuary of prayer. You had to give the Galilean credit; he had courage speaking truth to power, which was never a good thing with Romans around and even worst during Passover. He was proclaiming justice in an injustice world. Most people would just think he was spitting in the wind. But maybe one could hope. . . hope that the pneuma of God would allow his spitting words to fall on some fertile soil. I looked up into the sky; it was blue and cloudless, but I thought I felt a drop of rain.  

Dissertations Online

14 03 2008

For those doing research, check the website Australian Digital Theses Program.  In Australia there is a national database of all theses (dissertations) from all the universities and colleges.  The dissertations are in PDF and access is free.  While I was searching the site, I turned up a dissertation by Brian Beggs from the Australian Catholic University entitled “The Role of the House Motif in the Gospel of Mark” (2005).  Ironically, my own dissertation completed in 1987 is entitled “The Role of House and Household Language in the Markan Social World.”  This later dissertation takes a different approach than mine; however, the type of Internet searches now available should allow for less duplication and better use of previous dissertations.

One would hope that some groups (and perhaps they have and I am unaware) would develop a database for dissertations in American universities, colleges, and seminaries.