Review & Expositor: “Hauerwas Among the Baptists”

18 02 2015

The latest issue of Review & Expositor is out.  This issue focuses upon the influence of Stanley Hauerwas and is entitled “Hauerwas Among the Baptists.”


RE Stanley


It looks like a good issue.  Here is a link to a youtube video about the issue:  “Hauerwas Among the Baptists.”  For a limited time the entitle issues is free to read and download.  Here is the link:  “Hauerwas Among the Baptists.”  Enjoy.


Devil’s Bible

10 02 2015

I was unaware of this interesting 13th-century manuscript, Codex Gigas (Giant Codex), mentioned by the blog Biblo.  Several things make this manuscript interesting. It is huge.  It is the largest medieval manuscript in the world:  three-feet long and 165 pounds.  When you get thumped by this Bible, you stay thumped.  Biblio blog notes, “Researchers estimate that it would take one person five years of around the clock work to complete the Codex Gigas, meaning it’s more likely that this one scribe spent between ten to twenty-five years (or three hours a day) writing and illustrating the manuscript.”  This is incredible discipline.

Devil's Bible

This codex has also been nicknamed the “Devil’s Bible,” perhaps because it was thought that one person could not have completed such a task and supernatural powers (the Devil) must have been involved.  It probably did not help that one of the pictures included within the Bible is of the Devil.  See the photo here.

This codex is located in the National Library of Sweden has been digitalized.  It is available for viewing on the web:  Codex Gigas.

Will There Be Dogs Under the Messianic Table?

4 02 2015


February 2nd is a day celebrated in both Christian and secular calendars. In the secular calendar, it is called Ground Hog Day. On this day, a sleepy and oversized rodent in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, named Phil, is brought out of his slumber and paraded before individuals and cameras in order to observe whether Phil will see his shadow. This rodent exhibitionism lets us know if six more weeks of winter are on the horizon—a strange custom for auguring the future weather.

In the Christian calendar, February 2nd is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, which occurs forty days after the birth of Jesus. The scriptural focus is Luke 2:25-38 where baby Jesus is brought to the Temple. It is also known as Candlemas Day, a day for the blessing of candles and a procession of candles. These symbols recall Simeon’s words that Jesus will be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32).

In our own family tradition, however, Pam and I established a very different type of celebration on February 2nd. February 2nd was Thecla Day.  Fifteen years ago Pam and I traveled to a foster home in Kansas and picked up Thecla as a twelve-week old rat terrier puppy who had been rescued from a puppy mill. Each February 2nd we would acknowledge this day as the day we gained a “riddle wrapped in a hairball,” as Pam liked to call Thecla. Thecla never seemed to pay much attention to the day; she assumed every day was Thecla Day.  The world revolved around her.  We would acknowledge the day sometimes with gifts or special treats. This is the first time in fifteen years there is nothing to celebrate.

Since Thecla’s death, I have been thinking a lot about her and about how she fits into God’s creation and especially about life after death for animals. One of the questions journalists throw out as a bone to theologians is, “Do dogs go to heaven?” Even Pope Francis was caught up in this question recently when individuals misattributed to him the statement that animals have a place in Paradise. Instead of “Do all dogs go to heaven?,” I would pose the question in a little different way, “Will there be dogs under the messianic table?”

In the biblical tradition, of course, no definitive answer exists to the question. Just as Moses was only able to see God partially from his sheltered cleft in the cliff (Exodus 33:18-23), we understand the Bible only partially because it is in its own cultural cleft and because we are also in ours. There are, however, tantalizing hints.

Sniffing Around Tobit

I have always been drawn to the quirky and engaging work called Tobit that resides in those rarely read Jewish writings between the time of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. In this Jewish narrative of rewarded piety, there is a brief reference to a dog. As Tobit’s son, Tobias, is preparing to set off on a journey to Media to retrieve money his father left in safekeeping with a kinsperson, he is joined by a stranger, who is the angel Raphael incognito. Also, as the text notes, a “dog came out with him and went along with them” (Tobit 6:2). Some early manuscripts even have a scribal addition to make it explicit that the dog was the “young man’s dog.” (1)  Interestingly, a dog is a typical part of the iconography of artistic depicts of Tobit story.

Tobit Dog

This dog is mentioned one last time in Tobit 11:4 as Raphael and Tobias start back home: “and the dog went along behind them.” The two dog references form a bookend around the incredible adventures of Tobias, during which he encounters a fiancé-killing demon named Asmodeus, eventually marries his kinswoman Sarah, and arrives home to successfully cure his father’s blindness. Enough material exists here for a short mini-series. Through it all, evidently, the dog is faithfully hovering around as loyal companion.(2)

If Tobit reveals, indirectly and only briefly, a positive view of dogs, could this view carry over to some New Testament writers?


Luke: The Dog Lover

In the Gospel of Luke, we have a brief reference to dogs. It occurs in the narrative of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. Here the dogs lick Lazarus’ sores. Joel Green’s assessment is typical on this passage, “These curs have not come to ‘lick his wounds,’ . . . but to abuse him further and, in the story, to add one more reason for us to regard him [Lazarus] as less than human, unclean, through-and-through an outcast.” (3)  Some scholars acknowledge a possible positive allusion to these dogs, but they do it grudgingly. John Nolland, for example, places his comments in parentheses: “(It would be possible to take the dogs’ action as an expression of the compassion that Lazarus’ fellow human beings have failed to provide, but this fits the syntax and flow less well).” (4)

In my own reading, I think the evidence illustrates Luke’s subtle, yet positive, allusion to the canine family, perhaps even drawing his inspiration from the book of Tobit. The author of Luke is the one New Testament writer who seems to have the most literary affinity with Tobit. (5) Luke organizes his Gospel around a travel/journey motif, which certainly is a key narrative feature in Tobit. But even more, in Luke’s account of the rich man and Lazarus is found angels and dogs, elements also in the Tobit narrative. While dogs could be a sign of the level to which Lazarus has fallen, these canine companions were the only ones to approach and touch Lazarus—and salvific touches are important in this narrative (as they are throughout Luke’s Gospel). The rich man desperately sought a touch from the tip of Lazarus’ finger dipped in water (Luke 16:24), which the rich man did not and could not experience. Lazarus, however, even as a throw away of society, still had the salvific touch or lick from the dogs.

Also of interest is that negative references to dogs are missing from Luke’s Gospel. While Matthew and Luke follow the same Saying Source (Q) in many areas, the author of Luke choses to omit this saying of Jesus preserved in Matthew, “Do not give dogs what is holy . . .” (Matt. 7:6a). The author of Luke also choses to omit the story found in Mark and Matthew regarding the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30; Matthew 15:21-28), the one whom Jesus labels a dog. Perhaps the author of Luke was a dog lover. (6)

Life Beyond?

While the between-the-lines hints of positive allusions about dogs exist in some biblical writers, actually little is known about the souls of animals after death? Is the end of Thecla, whose graves lies only 30 feet from my study window, only to be dust-to-dust? As the writer of Ecclesiastes says,

“For the fate of humans and the fate of animals are the same: As one dies, so dies the other; both have the same breath. There is no advantage for humans over animals, for both are fleeting” (3:19 NET).

Yet if the same breath of God is breathed into animals as into humanity, could we have an eschatological hope that the creatures who grace our world (and those who intimately grace our lives) will also have a place at the messianic banquet? Will the peaceable kingdom (Isaiah 11:1-10) that allows for reconciliation between wolf and lamb, calf and lion, cow and bear, and also between humanity and animals, include a place at the table for animals? How large is the apocalyptic power of Christ’s resurrection in God?

Cosmic Canines: Conclusion

Apocalyptic writers encourage the greatest eschatological hope for Thecla and her kind. Apocalyptic writers are a strange group–not exactly the type of folks who easily fit into our theological neighborhoods. They are the ones with wild-welded metal sculptures on their front lawns and with houses painted bright greens, reds and yellows. They see the world “slant.” By pulling back the arbitrary veil we so confidently call reality, they reveal a truth that is bigger and more hopefully.

The anonymous writer of 2 Enoch (late first century C.E.) reveals that as God is concerned with every human soul, so also God is concerned with animal souls after death. At the end of the age, it will be animals that bring a judgment against humanity: “And not a single soul which the Lord has created will perish until the great judgment. And every kind of animal soul will accuse human beings who have fed them badly.” (7) While this writer’s focus is how abuse in this age will not be forgotten in the age to come, it illustrates that for at least for one Jewish writer animals do find their way to the messianic banquet. A New Testament writer also affirms this vision.

In the great worship scene of chapter 4 in Revelation, John on the island of Patmos see in the heavens four living creatures surrounding the one who sits upon the throne. They have a (1) face of a lion, (2) face of an ox, (3) face of a human, and (4) the face of an eagle (Rev. 4:6b-8). This is the author’s vivid flannel graph that presents a theological truth-picture. It is a picture that portrays all creation, i.e., humanity, wild animals, domesticated animals and birds of the air, in unity and harmony giving praise to God. The eschatological vision is of God who not only revels in the praise of humanity but also in the cacophony of animal voices. And I believe one of those praises is the bark of Thecla.


1.  See the 4th century Codex Vaticanus versus 4th century Codex Sinaiticus.

2.  There has been a reassessment of how dogs were perceived in Hebrew society; see Geoffrey David Miller, “Attitudes Toward Dogs in Ancient Israel: A Reassessment,” JSOT, 32, no. 4 (June 2008): 487-500.

3.  Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 606.

4.  John Nolland, Luke 9:21-18:34, WBC, Vol. 35b (Dallas: Word, 1993), 829.

5.  See Camilla Hélena von Heijne, The Messenger of the Lord in Early Jewish Interpretations of Genesis, Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche, Wissenschaft 412 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2010); Richard Buckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002). Buckham suggests Anna and Phanuel are names that owe their background to the eschatological piety of Tobit.

6. I am cognizant of the fact that author of Luke may be eliminating references to dogs because of their correlation with Gentiles. Luke’s positive agenda related to the mission to Gentiles might be partially the reason for excising negative dog references.

7.  “2 Enoch 58,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigraph, Vol. 1, ed. James H. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday, 1983), 184.

Recycling the Ancient Way

30 05 2014

One of the stops today was at the archaeological park of Zippori, the ancient city of Sepphoris, which was Herod Antipas’ capital city in Galilee. One of the interesting observation is how later occupants of the city recycled stones and monuments. In archaeological terms, this is called secondary usage. Here below is an interesting example of earlier Roman sarcophagi incorporated into a fortress built during the Crusader period. I am not certain about how the original occupants of the sarcophagi would have felt.


Israel 2014

26 05 2014

Just a brief post to note that over the next few days (May 28 to June 6), I will be posting some impressions from Israel. A joint study trip between Central Seminary and Saint Paul School of Theology will be journeying with eighteen folks to Israel. I always encounter new aspects and perspectives on this land that is often called the “Fifth Gospel.” I look forward to sharing some posts.


Review of the Zealot

17 02 2014



ZealotI hesitate to even write about Reza Aslan’s book Zealot:  The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth because so many have reviewed the book.  But even more, by writing about it, I am giving some form of tacit approval or endorsement of it.  Yet, I have been asked about this book so thought I would put down some of my thoughts. Simply put, this book falls below a standard for a book I would recommend on the life of Jesus.  It is problematic on many different levels, and I will highlight just a few.  Before I do so, I want to mention a few books that are better written, with better research, and more solid conclusions.  The first is John Dominic Crossan’s Jesus:  A Revolutionary Bibliography.  Crossan frequently writes more technical works on the life of Jesus, such as, The Historical Jesus:  The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant, but this first book is an easy way into Crossan’s work.  While N.T. Wright’s book, Jesus and the Victory of God, might seem quite a tome (662 pages), it is worth the read.  Interestingly, Aslan does not even include this book in his bibliography.  While Aslan does capture some of the context of the first-century world, a better reconstruction would be Ben Witherington’s New Testament History:  A Narrative.

One of the issues with Zealot is that the author over simplifies situations and makes statements as if they were fact when they are only partially true or not true at all.  Nuance has been banished from the pages while confident declarations are found everywhere.  Numerous examples occur, but here are just a few samples.

1.   “. . . Mark created a wholly new literary genre called gospel . . .” (p. xxvi).

No he did not.  Mark used a type of genre known in the ancient world as biography (not be to confused with modern biographies).  See Richard Burridge, What Are the Gospels?:  A Comparison with Greco-Roman Biography.  (This work is also not cited in Aslan’s bibliography).

2.  “For a fee they [money changers] will exchange your foul foreign coins for the Hebrew shekel . . .” (p. 4)

These were not Hebrew shekels; these were Tyrian shekels.  These coins actually carried on the obverse (front) the pagan god of Tyre, Herakles-Melqart, and on the reverse (back) the image of a standing eagle.  This presents an interesting paradox of collecting the temple tax with pagan coins.

3.  “Unlike their heathen neighbors, the Jews do not have a multiplicity of temples scattered across the land.  There is only one cultic center, one unique source for the divine presence, one singular place and no other where a Jew can commune with the living God” (p. 7)

Well, yes and no.  Actually the Judeans had temples in Egypt.  A Judean temple existed in Elephantine until the 4th century BCE.  The Judean Temple at Leontopolis survived until Vespasian ordered it destroyed around 73 CE.  (It lasted longer than the Jerusalem temple, which was destroyed in 70 CE).  Also, many Judeans worshiping and studying Torah in the synagogues scattered around the land would dispute Aslan’s assertion that they were not communing “with the living God.”

4.  “Mark’s focus is kept squarely on Jesus’ ministry; he is uninterested either in Jesus’s birth or, perhaps surprisingly, in Jesus’s resurrection, as he writes nothing at all about either event” (p. 29).

Jesus’ resurrection is very much an interest of Mark, and he does write about it.  Three times the “passion predictions” are given (8:31, 9:31, and 10:34).  Each times Jesus says something like “and after three days he [the Son of Man] will rise” (10:34).  Also, Mark 16:6 has the resurrection announcement, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him.”  While no appearance of the resurrected Jesus is recorded in Mark, the author still writes around the resurrection.

These examples are enough; they could be multiplied with others.  While some might say that I am picking at insignificant points, I suggest, with enough leaks in a boat, it sinks. What is troubling is that many individuals reading this book will not have the biblical background or grounding in the biblical text to know that what they are reading is not true or only partially true.

Another issue is sloppy research and not enough attention to details.  These twin vices lead to (1) cherry-picking facts that support a thesis and discarding other facts or labeling them as not historical (i.e., no systematic methodology is found in this work), (2) imprecise use of terms (for example, virgin birth instead of virginal conception), and (3) no integration of statements made throughout the book (again a methodology problem).  On this last observation, consider this example.  Aslan suggests “there are only [my emphasis] two hard historical facts about Jesus of Nazareth . . .” (p. xxviii); these being, Jesus led a popular Judean movement, and he was crucified by Rome.  In chapter 4, however, he states, Jesus had brothers:  “It is a fact [my emphasis] attested to repeatedly by both the gospels and the letters of Paul.  Even Josephus references Jesus’s brother James . . .” (p.   ).  So are there two hard facts about Jesus or now three?  Or maybe there are even more?

Aslan also has a tendency that I particularly dislike in writers and that is what I call the “omniscient author syndrome.”  Aslan believes he knows the mind of particular biblical authors, that is, what they were thinking.  Here is an example:  “Luke himself, writing a little more than a generation after the events he describes, knew that what he was writing was technically false” (p. 30).  How does Aslan know what Luke knew?  Unless Aslan received special revelation about the mind of the author, he does not know what Luke knew.

Perhaps by this time in the blog post, you might be asking, “But what about his thesis, his main point about Jesus?” His thesis is that Jesus was a zealous nationalist (Aslan does not call him a Zealot, which is good since it would be anachronistic in 30 CE), who was an advocate for overthrowing the Roman Empire.  Aslan’s thesis is not unique. He is treading familiar ground as found in S. G. F. Brandon’s Jesus and the Zealots (1967).  Many find this portrait of Jesus suspect.  N. T. Wright points out that Jesus’ behavior was just the opposite of a radicalized nationalist.  He was one who perceived that rebellious nationalism was going to take the Judean people into destruction, and he was prophetic in his critique against this unbridled nationalistic fervor and Israel’s “failure to enact justice within her own society (Jesus and the Victory of God, p.417).  These following words of Jesus seem very strange coming from a revolutionary rebel bent on the destruction of Rome:  “If only you had recognized the things that make for peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42).

Finally, Aslan’s creative writing skills are evident throughout his book, which may be why it found a popular audience.  I find, however, some of his style a bit annoying.  For example, in the first paragraph of chapter 2 “King of the Jews,” he uses five adverbs:  “steadily worsened,” “gradually swallowed,” “freshly minted,” “wholly focused,” and “nearly half their annual yield” (p. 17).  The over reliance on adverbs is found throughout the book.  Stephen King in his book On Writing notes, “The adverb is not your friend” (p. 90) and suggests, “. . . the road to hell is paved with adverbs . . .” (p. 91).  Along with his excessive adverbs was his love of adjectives.  Here is a sample:  “Herod’s was a profligate and tyrannical ruler marked by farcical excess and bestial acts of cruelty” (p. 20).  Twenty-five percent of this sentence is composed of adjectives.

This blog post is far too long as it is (1300+ words), and I know this taxes attention spans, but hopefully it captures some of my perspective on Zealot.

Maps of the Ancient World

27 01 2014

BarringtonA new resource available for the iPad is Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, editor Richard J. A. Talbert (Princeton University Press, 2013). I have frequently used this tool in the hardcopy format, which is available at my seminary library.  Now, however, the 102-colored maps of the ancient world are available at my fingertips on the iPad.  I have always been a map person; I love tracing trips on maps and plotting particular paths of travel.  This set of maps on the ancient world is really quite amazing and comprehensive.  The hardcopy costs  $395 while the iPad edition is $19.99—a bargain.  The iPad version allows for various ways to search for particular regions and cities, and the pinch-zoom feature is great for old eyes.  It allows one to increase the size of the map in order to actually read the names of the cities.  The map is not perfect.  Because one is using it on an iPad, the size is still restrictive, unlike the large hardcopy folio.  For those who want to explore cities, roads, valleys, rivers, and mountains related to biblical areas (and beyond), this resource could be a helpful tool. For more information, click here:  Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World.