Thursday, June 22, 2017


Charles Halton has a delightful read on the first known poet over at LitHub. Here's a snippet to whet your appetite:
Have you met a professor of Mesopotamian studies? There are only a couple dozen or so of us scattered around the world, but we are very strange individuals. Meet one of us in person, and you may discover that we can hardly string together a coherent sentence. We stare at our hands and speak a German-English patois that neither the Germans nor the English can decipher. Our social problems must have begun in grad school; holing up by ourselves in small, windowless library carrels for hours on end reading the teeny tiny wedges the Mesopotamians etched into clay does something to our brains. In any case, we have an almost divine-like ability to take ultra-fascinating ideas and make them slightly less exciting than a traffic ticket. This is not the skill you need when trying to present the results of your research to a Netflix-addled public.
<idle musing>
I love it! And the worst of it is that he's correct!
</idle musing>

That pinch of salt

Does Abraham, by stopping at 10, implicitly admit that YHWH’s judgment is justified? Perhaps Abraham is now assured that God would act justly indeed and that he could leave the fate of the few righteous in God’s care. This does, however, not necessarily indicate that Abraham thought that the few righteous inhabitants may now “fare as the wicked” (Gen 18:25). Gen 19:29 seems to suggest that God, for the sake of Abraham’s intercessory prayer, dealt with Lot and his family separately. Thus, the bottom line seems to be that Abraham arrived at a point at which he was absolutely convinced that God is a righteous judge. It became evident that God does not want to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah merely on a whim. The patriarch learns that even a small minority of righteous people have the capacity to save an entire city that is dominated by wicked people.—Standing in the Breach, page 45

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Boldly humble

Given Abraham’s humility, it is amazing that his courage seems to grow during his conversation with God. God, in His grace, seems to encourage Abraham in his prayer by allowing him to stretch the capacity of divine grace and righteousness (cf. Exod 33:12–19). Thus, we clearly recognize here at the outset of Israel’s history, embodied in the patriarch, an important element which will come to characterize Israel’s spirituality: a bold and yet humble “I-Thou” relationship with God. The characteristic mix of boldness and humility anticipates the audacious intercessory prayers of a Moses and Jeremiah.—Standing in the Breach, pages 44–45

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Maybe Abraham should have tried one more time?

It is important to note that it is Abraham and not God who decides to conclude the discussion at 10. “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more.” Abraham seems aware that he might be stretching the limit of God’s grace. He is cautious and apologetic in his final request. God, however, is as neutral and determined to forgive/to endure (נסא [ns’]) the wicked city for the sake of 10 as He was for the sake of 50 at the outset of their dialogue (v. 32).—Standing in the Breach, page 43

Monday, June 19, 2017

Which is worse?

Interestingly, Abraham prays that God would “forgive” (NRSV), or perhaps the Hebrew (נסא) [ns’] should be rendered with “bear” with the wicked, for the sake of the innocent, and not for the removal of the innocent few from the sphere of judgment. Thus, Abraham seems to imply that there is greater injustice in the death of the innocent than in the life of the wicked. By praying that God should “endure” (נסא [ns’]) the wickedness of the majority for the sake of a minority of righteous, Abraham appeals no longer to justice, but to the mercy of God. The righteous ones do not exercise an atoning function for the others, but the effect is comparable.—Standing in the Breach, page 41

<idle musing>
An interesting idea, isn't it? Worth pondering...
</idle musing>

Friday, June 16, 2017

Privy to the divine council

It seems to me more significant that God is considering granting Abraham the privilege of access and participation in the divine committee that is to characterize YHWH’s prophets. Indeed, it is notable that two chapters later, in the context of Abraham’s prayer for Abimelech, Abraham is explicitly called a prophet (נִָביא [nby’]; Gen 20:7, 17). Jacob infers: “Abraham is the first prophet and confidant of God.” In the context of Israel’s later intercessors, it is characteristic of the true prophet that he is made privy to the divine secrets (cf. Jer 23:18). Indeed, Amos 3:7 is quite instructive: “Surely the Lord God does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (נביאים [nbi’im]). In the following chapters, it will become evident that the divine foretelling is an expression of God’s grace and mercy for His people and the world. In doing so, God not only invites prayers on behalf of the people from his prophets but also gives his servants a chance to warn the sinful party of an impending judgment (cf. Exod 32–34, 1 Sam 12, Amos 7).—Standing in the Breach, page 35

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Follow their example

There are notable intertextual links between the dynamics of Abraham’s dialogue with God (Genesis 18) and of Moses’ intercessory role, especially as portrayed in Psalm 103. In both passages, we find reference to God’s concern for (righteousness and) justice (Gen 18:19, 25, Ps 103:6). What is significant is that God does not want to exercise this justice on His own. For this reason, both Abraham and Moses are made privy to YHWH’s intention to judge and punish (cf. Gen 18:17–33, Exod 32:7–10). God does not hide from Abraham His intention to judge the sins of Sodom, nor does YHWH withhold His destructive plans from Moses after the golden calf apostasy. “He made known his ways to Moses” (Ps 103:7). Throughout the Old Testament, God revealed to His prophets His perspective on the situation and informed them in advance of His plans, so that they could communicate God’s will to the people and pray accordingly (cf. Amos 3:7) .—Standing in the Breach, page 33

<idle musing>
This view of the role of the prophet resonates far more with me than the popular Charismatic/Pentecostal "personal prophecy" peddler model. I believe it is far more biblical—and infinitely harder! And as Chesterton reminds us, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried." The same can be said for this model of prophecy. You certainly won't get rich and invited many places to speak if you stand in the gap!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Smyth strikes again

Interesting tidbit I picked up today from Smyth:
966. The verb may agree with the nearest or most important of two or more subjects. The verb may be placed

a. Before both subjects: ““ἧκε μὲν ὁ Θερσαγόρα_ς καὶ ὁ Ἐξήκεστος εἰς Λέσβον καὶ ᾤκουν ἐκεῖ” Thersagoras and Execestus came to Lesbos and settled there” D. 23.143.

b. After the first subject: ““ὅ τε Πολέμαρχος ἧκε καὶ Ἀδείμαντος καὶ Νικήρατος καὶ ἄλλοι τινές” Polemarchus came and Adimantus and Niceratus and certain others” P. R. 327b, ““Φαλῖνος ᾤχετο καὶ οἱ σὺν αὐτῷ” Phalinus and his companions departed” X. A. 2.2.1.

c. After both subjects: ““τὸ βουλευτήριον καὶ ὁ δῆμος παρορᾶται” the senate and the people are disregarded” Aes. 3.250. (Cp. Shakesp. “my mistress and her sister stays.”)

Turning it on its head

We find not only the biblical roots of prophetic intercessory prayer in Abraham but also the beginnings of what came to characterize the Judeo-Christian understanding and experience of the divine-human relationship. It is a dynamic that the community of faith takes often for granted: the intimate “I-Thou” dialogue between God and His people. The commentators often refer to Abraham’s audacious bargaining prayer style with which he questions God’s justice. Therefore, one easily neglects or mishears God’s voice and teaching. Is Abraham really emerging as someone who through “haggling” seeks to persuade or even teach God to be more merciful? I shall argue that the point of the prayer dialogue in question is not so much about pressing the judge of the world to be more just and merciful, but rather the entire prayer dialogue, is about God inviting Abraham to participate in the outworking of the divine purposes. Therefore, YHWH is accommodating Abraham’s concerns and at the same time teaching Israel’s patriarch a major lesson about the divine character and how God envisages His people to engage in the divine economy, especially with regard to the nations.—Standing in the Breach, page 31

<idle musing>
We're back into this book again after a run through the Hurtado one. Isn't that a fascinating concept? God is calling us to be a part of who he is, what his heartthrob is. He develops this idea further in the coming pages; stay tuned!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

I learn something new all the time

Did you know this? The LSJ in the entry “γαστήρ” remarks that ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχειν indicates pregnancy, whereas ἐν γαστρὶ λαμβάνειν refers to conception.

Old-time religion?

The early Christian emphasis on, and teaching about, everyday behavior as central to Christian commitment is yet another distinctive feature that has had a profound subsequent impact. In the ancient Roman period and down through human history, what we call “religion” tended to focus more on honoring, appeasing, and seeking the goodwill of deities through such actions as sacrifices and the performance of related rituals. “Religion” did not typically have much to say about what we call “ethics,” how to behave toward others, how to conduct family or business, and the formation of character.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 188

<idle musing>
For some reason, I don't think that's what people have in mind when they say, "Give me that old-time religion." : )

That's the final excerpt from this book. I hope you find it intriguing enough to read it all. And no, I don't get anything for endorsing it, not even a free copy of the book; I bought my copy at the Annual AAR/SBL meeting last November. But it was definitely worth the price of the book. In the immortal words of Augustine, "Tolle! Lege!" Pick it up and read it!
</idle musing>

Monday, June 12, 2017

Those blasted atheists!

When considered as a religion in that time, the most obvious oddity was Christianity’s “atheism”—that is, the refusal to worship the traditional gods. Yes, of course, as we have observed, Christians shared this exclusivist stance with Judaism. But pagans could write off the well-known Jewish refusal to worship the gods as an ethnic peculiarity. The aggressively transethnic appeal and spread of early Christianity, however, gave it no such character and made Christianity seem much more “in your face.” Other religious movements of the time had their oddities too. But early Christianity was not simply odd; it was deemed dangerous to traditional notions of religion and, so it was feared, also for reasons of social stability.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 184

<idle musing>
I always cast about for a good comparison—and I always come up empty. Perhaps the way we view an anarchist? But that's not quite accurate, either. But rest assured, the idea of Christianity was not readily welcomed by the ruling elites. It was unsettling. Chaos was at the door, and Christianity was letting it in—at least that was their opinion. Remember, the gods kept Chaos at bay. You served the gods to keep the status quo—it didn't really matter what you believed or how you acted, just as long as you placated the gods with the appropriate honors.

But along comes Christianity. It says that not only are the gods not to be worshiped with sacrifices, but indeed, those "gods" were actually evil demons! That idea isn't going to get a good hearing! Especially to those who have the most to lose. It is similar to the reaction that you get when you tell people that as a Christian you really should think twice about saying the pledge of allegiance...
</idle musing>

Verse for the day

I think this is an appropriate passage from Isaiah for our current status:
The earth dries up and wilts; the world withers and wilts; the heavens wither away with the earth. 5 The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants, for they have disobeyed instruction, swept aside law, and broken the ancient covenant. 6 Therefore, a curse devours the earth; its inhabitants suffer for their guilt. Therefore, the earth’s inhabitants dwindle; very few are left. 7 The wine dries up; the vine withers; all the merry-hearted groan. 8 The joyous tambourines have ceased; the roar of partyers has stopped; the joyous harp has ceased. 9 No one drinks wine or sings; beer is bitter to its drinkers. 10 The town is in chaos, broken; every house is shut, without entrance. 11 There is a cry for wine in the streets. All joy has reached its dusk; happiness is exiled from the earth. 12 Ruin remains in the city, and the gate is battered to wreckage. 13 It will be like this in the central part of the land and among the peoples, like an olive tree that has been shaken, like remains from the grape harvest. Isa 24:4–13

Friday, June 09, 2017

Marcus Aurelius and tolerance

Sophisticated pagans such as Celsus and Marcus Aurelius apparently regarded Christianity as not simply unbelievable but, it appears, utterly incompatible with religion as they knew it. For them, Christianity was, we may say, “a clear and present danger” that had to be opposed.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 183–84

<idle musing>
I always find it interesting that Marcus Aurelius, generally considered one of the most enlightened of the Roman Emperors, was so adamantly against Christianity. Could it be that he saw more clearly than most today what the natural implications of Christianity are? I suspect so. Read a bit about him and I suspect you'll discover why...and it has ramifications for today, too.
</idle musing>

Thursday, June 08, 2017

You just don't fit in!

Granted, the early Christian household-code texts give general directions to the various categories of believers addressed, and their actual day-to-day situations likely would often have required adaptation, careful negotiation of relationships, and perhaps compromises, some of which may have been uncomfortable or even distasteful. For example, slaves ere often expected to provide sexual services for those who owned them, male and/or female. So any such demands would have produced intense moral tensions for Christian slaves, for whom such sexual service would be porneia. Christian wives married to non-Christians, and Christian children under the rule of non-Christian parents likewise, would have had particular tensions to deal with and difficulties in their efforts to live out their faith while avoiding some activities that they regarded as idolatry. For example, they would have had to deal with the typical expectation of all members of a household to take part in reverencing the household gods. But, all such difficulties and compromises included, the various behavioral exhortations and the particular efforts to actualize them in life comprise a major way in which early Christianity was distinctive in the ancient Roman-era setting.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 180

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Do ethics matter?

The notion that any treatment of slaves could be unjust suffering was a rather unusual one in the Roman period.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 179

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Shame-based behavior or God-based behavior?

[T]he early Christian texts reflect a rather strong effort to promote widely in circles of believers a collective commitment to the strict behavior that these texts advocate. That commitment was laid upon adherents immediately upon their baptism, whatever may have been their consistency in observing it thereafter. These texts, therefore, which come from various locations and across the early Christian centuries, represent a historically noteworthy social project. It was probably novel in its time, comprising the formation of groups of believers translocally in the collective observance of certain behavior that was held to be essential to their distinctive group identity. Even though the total numbers involved were initially small, there is an evident seriousness and ambition to promote this project reflected in the Christian texts. And this effort obviously succeeded measurably, both in terms of the growth in numbers of Christian adherents and, apparently, in general effects on their behavior.

Furthermore, early Christian discourse proffered a different basis for the behavioral aims advocated. As noted already, Musonius and philosophical traditions in general appealed to the individual’s sense of honor and the avoidance of personal shame, shame in the eyes of others and so also internally, as the basis for the demands of living by their principles. But early Christian texts typically invoked divine commands, appealed to the divine calling laid upon believers to exhibit holiness, and notably, invoked the mutual responsibility of believers to one another in their behavioral efforts, reflecting a emphasis placed on the formation of a group ethos. That is, early Christian teaching made everyday behavior central in one’s religious responsibility to the Christian life. In place of worries about possible embarrassment socially, Christians posited the judgment of God. The difference was profound. Indeed, it is fair to judge that the impact of the distinctive stance of early Christian teaching involved “a transformation in the logic of sexual morality.”— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 170–71 (emphasis original)

Monday, June 05, 2017

Molding behavior

These distinctive terms that were developed to express condemnation of child sexual abuse appear also in text of other early Christian writers such as Justin, Tatian, Theophilus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, all from the second and third centuries AD. Sometimes they serve to illustrate “Gentile/pagan” depravity, and they form “a part of the apologetical battery thrown up at the Greco-Roman opponents of the Christians.” But the earliest uses in Didache and Barnabus show that the originating purposes in relabeling “pederasty” as “child (sexual) corruption” included also the concern to discourage the practice among Christians. In short, the terms are not simply ancient Christian propaganda against outsiders. They also reflect a collective effort to shape Christian behavior over against the practices tolerated in the wider culture, an effort that even included innovations in the vocabulary of sexual behavior.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 168

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Early Christianity vs. Roman views on adultery

I emphasize again that, more typically in the Roman era, sex with prostitutes and courtesans, and with young boys as well, was not only tolerated but even affirmed as a hedge against adultery—specifically, sex with another man’s wife or with a freeborn virgin. It is noteworthy, therefore, that Paul, with some other ancient Jewish voices, condemns a far wider spectrum of sexual activities, labeling them as porneias, and that he posits marital sex as a hedge against these various temptations to extramarital sex of any kind. In short, Paul reflects a broadening of prohibited sex well beyond adultery. This alone represented a major shift in comparison to the attitudes of the larger Roman world.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 165 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Again, the attempts to rewrite biblical morality leave me unconvinced, largely because of this background. To argue that we know more about sexuality than they did is a bit hard to take when you actually dig into the Greco-Roman history. By the way, William Loader, who probably knows more about ancient sexuality than anyone alive, agrees that the Bible is unequivocally against any kind of sex outside of heterosexual monogamous marriage. But he just says that the Bible is wrong.

He's an honest man. You can't have it both ways. Either you agree that scripture is correct or you agree with Loader that scripture is wrong. You can't claim scripture is correct by reinterpreting it on this issue.
</idle musing>

Thursday, June 01, 2017

A different standard

The bottom line in the passage [1 Cor 6] is that the diverse sexual activities covered in Paul’s use of porneia, though they may have been approved in the wider culture and even among some Corinthian believers, are to be completely off-limits for them.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 163

<idle musing>
How much more now! All these attempts to rewrite scripture and loosen the standards just don't cut it. The sooner the church decides to become the church of God—and that means not just in the area of sexual standards, but also in the area of pandering to the political powers (right and left!)—the sooner there will be a revival in their midst. How can the church hope for a revival in the land when there is so much sin in our midst?
</idle musing>

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

You sure you want to go back to this?

Wives were generally held to one standard of behavior, strict marital chastity, and husbands to quite another one. Men, husbands included, were allowed considerably more freedom to have sex with other women, particularly women deemed not to possess status and honor. So, although sex with the wives of other men or with freeborn virgins was not approved, other kinds of sexual activities were openly tolerated, and even encouraged. These included sex with courtesans and prostitutes and also sex with boys, typically slave boys. An oft-cited statement of the fourth century BC Greek orator Demosthenes, but indicative of later attitudes as well, is illustrative of the sexual latitude allowed to men: “We [men!] have heterai [concubines, courtesans] for pleasure, female slaves for our daily care [a sexual euphemism] and wives to give us legitimate children and to be guardians of our households.” Quite simply, in the ethical conventions of Roman society, a married woman’s sexual behavior was a matter of great concern, but men, single or married, were allowed great latitude in their sexual activities.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 157

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A higher standard

It is interesting to note that in pagan Greek texts, the term porneia simply designates prostitution, the sale of women’s bodies for sex. But as a recent study of the usage of the term shows, in Jewish and then Christian text, porneia designated “a wide subset of extramarital sexual activity” that was tolerated in the broader Roman-era culture. Specifically, this included sex with prostitutes, courtesans, and slaves, and, of course, many/most prostitutes of the time were salves. Paul’s usage here in 1 Thessalonians and in some other texts reflects this broader meaning, which could include “adultery” (having sex with another man’s wife) but extended to other forms of illicit sex as well.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 156

Monday, May 29, 2017

That's not religion!

Recall that what we mean by “religion” in the Roman period typically focused on ritual actions and responsibilities involving sacrifice, altars, and observances of appropriate days of the month or year. Roman-era religion did not typically have much to say on what we might term “ethics,” “dos and don’ts”… — Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 154–55

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Trinity and intercession

Petition is said to be the essence of prayer. While prayers of lament could be described as the most heartfelt and honest prayers. Prayers of praise are the most elevated of prayers. It could be argued though that contemplative and intercessory prayers represent the very heart of Christian spirituality. Meditating on and opening oneself up to the majestic greatness of the divine Word, according to von Balthasar, is the ultimate expression of love and submission to God. The contemplative prayer (das betrachtende Gebet) has a long tradition in Catholic spirituality. Intercessory prayer, by contrast, could be described as the most noble and most Christ-like prayer, as intercessory prayer puts the needs of others before one’s own. Thus, one could say that the contemplative and the intercessory prayer reflect Jesus’ double command to love God and to love our neighbor (cf. Matt 22:37–39). Total devotion to God and a self-giving love that seeks the greatest good for others, according to Jesus, summarizes the essence of the kingdom life.

We shall see that the authentic intercessory prayer flows out of a deep understanding of the Triune God and His ways (that is, out of contemplative prayer) and in correspondence with the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the petitions of the Christians will be primarily intercession. To close the circle of interpretation, I conclude that Jesus’ intercession in life, death, and eternity can only be fully understood when it is seen and interpreted in the light of Moses and the prophets (the Old Testament).—Standing in the Breach, page 27

Monday, May 22, 2017

Mission: Possible

The theme of intercession runs through the entire Old Testament, from Abraham, via Moses and some of the kings, to the prophets. It is particularly the latter that were called to pray on behalf of the people. It will become evident in our reading of the Old Testament texts that pleading for others before God, standing in the breach on behalf of the party under divine judgment, is not only possible but demanded from people.—Standing in the Breach, page 25

Friday, May 19, 2017

Mediated intercession

Every intercessor since Abraham and Moses appeals to the fundamental divine attributes of grace, mercy, and love. Christian intercessory prayer, however, is always mediated prayer. It is mediated through Jesus Christ’s mediatorship. “For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:5–6). Theologically speaking, Jesus Christ, the pre-existent Word, full of grace and truth, is really the archetypal intercessor and advocate in the divine council (cf. John 1:14, Exod 34:6). Not only does the eternal and risen Christ sit at the right hand of the Father and intercede for the world in general and His people in particular (Heb 7:25, Rom 8:34), but also on earth, Jesus’ life and death were characterized by a sacrificial love that expressed itself often in prayer for others and eventually in the ultimate act of intercession: His sacrifice on the cross (cf. John 17). Therefore, Christian intercessory prayer is always intrinsically related to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection (cf. John 15:7, 1 Pet 2:5–10, Heb 4:14–16).—Standing in the Breach, page 15

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The hows and whys of intercession

[B]iblical intercessory prayer is almost always closely associated with God’s name as revealed to Moses. We shall see again and again in our exegesis that intercessory prayer engages with the tension between the divine attributes of love and justice. Or to put it differently, the intercessor stands in the breach between divine mercy and righteous wrath. Since Moses, by invoking God’s mercy and promises against God’s justice, the intercessor participates in God’s “internal dialogue” (cf. Exod 34:6–9). If the intercessor manages to appeal to the divine promises and will, then God is likely to answer favorably. Moses’ intercessions are effective because he prays in tune with God’s nature and because he anticipates the realization of God’s promises.—Standing in the Breach, pages 14–15

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Not one, but two!

Of course it has long been noted that Moses is presented as Israel’s archetypal prophet (Deut 34:10). However, it has been less noted that there is an intrinsic relatedness between his prophetic role and his fruitful intercessory ministry. The prophetic ministry is by its very nature twofold. It includes the proclamation of YHWH’s will, often in the form of divine ultimata and judgment, but also involves advocating for sinful people before the divine throne…. Usually, both aspects of the prophetic ministry have the same twofold goal: the good of the sinful party and the fulfillment of God’s plans. Both effective intercession and authoritative prophetic speech presuppose intimate knowledge of YHWH’s nature and purposes (e.g., Num 14:13–19). Only when the intercessor has deeper insight into the heart of God can the prophet, on the one hand, participate and influence the divine decision-making process and, on the other hand, instruct or rebuke the people with divine authority (cf. Amos 3:7).—Standing in the Breach, pages 12–13

Monday, May 15, 2017

Which is harder?

Especially in the first three centuries, therefore, when Christianity was regarded widely as a strange and dubious new religion, Christians had to avoid drawing the ire and accusations of non-Christians, while also advocating and living out their own beliefs and practices. This likely involved frequent, sometimes complicated, decisions about what Christians felt that they could or could not do, what social events they could take part in, and what roles in society they could accept, requiring them to negotiate their existence as best they could. The most frequent and painful tensions may have been not from governing officials but with family members, friends, and other associates.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 150–51

<idle musing>
Isn't that still true? It's usually those closest to us that have the hardest time with the changes that God requires of us...

On another note: We're on a trip right now and I forgot to bring this book with me, so for the next week or so, I'll be excerpting from a different book that I've been picking away at slowly.
</idle musing>

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Judean Pillar Figurines and their function

"Of course, the general domestic context can only be used to support such assertions [that figurines were used by females or for 'female' concerns, like eroticism, procreation, and lactation] if one concludes that men did not live in Israelite houses, that men were unconcerned with the needs of their families, or that the only thing going on in Israelite houses was sex."—Erin Darby in Gods, Objects, and Ritual Practice in Ancient Mediterranean Religion, ed. Sandra Blakely, SAMR 1 (Atlanta: Lockwood Press, forthcoming)

<idle musing>
I don't know why, but that struck me as humorous—probably because it reveals so much about the presuppositions we bring to bear in our interpretation of the data. Great book, by the way. You should get it when it becomes available.
</idle musing>

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Just toss them in the trash!

Justin is representative of the revulsion at the practice of infant abandonment that is expressed in early Christian writings. As one recent scholar has observed, “With abortion and abandonment, we come to a distinct parting of the ways between Christians and general Graeco-Roman practice.” [Carolyn Osiek] Of course, this attitude echoes and was inherited from the Jewish tradition.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 146. Pages 146–47 contain a lengthy discourse on how the Greco-Roman world would dispose of unwanted babies…

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What? No e-mail?!

Note that in this period, there was no public postal system, and so Christians had to invest their own personal and financial resources in disseminating their texts. Their readiness to do so is both impressive and without parallel among religious groups of the time.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 132

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Lewis, Tolkien, and Kilby

When we were at the local library last Wednesday, I saw this book in the new arrivals:

A Well of Wonder: Vol. 1: Essays on C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings
Clyde Kilby, edited by Loren Wilkinson and Keith Call

Looks like a great book. I only had a chance to read the introduction, but I hope to get back to it this summer. Meanwhile, enjoy this little snippet from the introduction:
That truth—which kept filling and refilling that “well of wonder” which was Dr. Kilby’s life—was the fact that the whole of created reality is the miraculous gift of a loving, personal, and ever-present Creator. And this was not just a propositional truth intellectually known: it was lived, experienced, and shared. Often it was experienced—and expressed—through the apparently trivial or insignificant. Several of his former students, for example, mention Dr. Kilby’s love for the dandelion, and Marilee Melvin recalls his bringing a drooping dandelion to class and asking, “in a voice filled with awe, how many of you believe that the Lord God made this dandelion for our pleasure on this day.”

Now it is not easy for a college student of any generation, let alone a sober faculty colleague, to take seriously someone who publicly shares his awe over a dandelion; there were many who were themselves mystified by the life-changing effect Dr. Kilby had on people. Since I, too, am one of those whose life was changed by the man, I want to try to express something of the mystery of how and why that change was effected.

The dandelion incident calls to mind G. K. Chesterton’s words in Orthodoxy (one of the many books that I read first through Dr. Kilby’s recommendation).

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning ‘Do it again’ to the sun, and every evening ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
I love that idea…maybe because I am continually in awe of creation. To think that there are bears out there rambling around with no one to enjoy watching them except God; loons calling and diving, but only God notices. The list goes on and on.

Just an
</idle musing>

A written prophecy

[I]t is equally important to note that, unlike the books of the Old Testament prophets, Revelation does not present itself as the secondary written deposit of a set of oracles that were originally declared orally. Instead, in this case, from the first, this prophecy was delivered in written form. In fact, the author claims that this was by divine mandate, a heavenly voice ordering him, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches” (1:11), and early in the book the author pronounces a blessing upon “the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy” in the context of Christian gatherings and upon “those who hear and keep what is written in it” (1:3).— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 126

Monday, May 08, 2017

Ready! Fire! Who cares about aim!

Just read this (slightly older) article at the Scholarly Kitchen, which sums up only too well the current status of editors:
Among the more thankless tasks in god’s creation is that of the editor. Authors of scholarly materials rarely acknowledge their debt to their editors and may even resent their perfidious scrutiny of their texts. Readers don’t understand the editor’s role — understandably, perhaps, as it is largely invisible to the reader, who imagines him or herself in direct communion with the living spirit of the author. Our current cultural aversion to anything that smacks of authority or authority structures (this too shall pass — or we will) puts editors into the crosshairs, as they have come to represent the gatekeeper and, hence, the oppressor: It’s as though there were a coherent conspiracy to set self-reinforcing standards for the ruling class.
<idle musing>
He's talking about editors in general, not even necessarily, let alone primarily, copy-editors, but it pretty much sums up what's going on. Just read any recent book from far too many presses to see the lack of editing. And don't even get me started on stuff that's published on the web—even by well-known and established sites that should hold up a higher standard!

Oh well, as he says, "this too shall pass — or we will." Just an
</idle musing>

Write it down!

The number and substance of the writings produced is all the more remarkable when we remember that all through this early period Christians were still relatively few in number and small as a percentage of the total Roman-era population. In fact, to my knowledge, among the many other Roman–era religious groups, there is simply no analogy for this variety, vigor, and volume in Christian literary output.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 119

Friday, May 05, 2017

Uniquely people of the book

[A]long with the scriptures inherited from the Jewish tradition, the “Old Testament,” early Christian writings as well were read, and read a lot, both in the setting of corporate worship and in private settings by individuals. In this, and especially in the regular reading of texts as part of corporate worship, early Christianity was different from almost any other kind of religious group of the Roman era, synagogue practice being the only close analogy.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 117–18

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Stop the chaos!

Although defense against aggressors is an easily understood casus belli today, the idea of protection against chaos is more difficult for us to grasp. Contrary to the belief of many today that each person should allow others to possess their own personal narrative without any critique, the people of the ancient Near East thought that the world should be ordered in a certain way and a change in that order brought chaos. Even if this chaos happened outside the nation’s boundaries, it threatened the order of the entire world and needed to be dealt with before it spread and affected other areas.—Charlie Trimm in Fighting for God and King: A Topical Survey of Warfare in the Ancient Near East, SBL Press, forthcoming

A Case for Public Reading of Scripture

To underscore an earlier observation, this corporate reading of texts in early churches, and in synagogues, also makes less crucial the widely agreed view that in the Roman era only a minority, perhaps a small minority, of people were sufficiently literate to be able to read such extended literary texts. All that was needed was one person in a given church or synagogue able to read out a text, all the others present thereby enabled to have knowledge of the text and be affected by it.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 116

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

What did Paul say?

[I]t is striking that both the author of 2 Peter and those whom he regards as “ignorant and unstable”(v. 16) seem to share a high regard for Paul’s letters. That is, the author and those other Christians whom he denigrates here disagreed over how to interpret Paul’s letters, but they apparently agreed that they are authoritative texts whose interpretation matters. Clearly, the scriptural status of Paul’s letters was rather widely affirmed across various Christian groups already by the date of 2 Peter (ca. 70–140 AD?), even among Christians who strongly disagreed with one another over other matters of faith.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 114

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

You mean I can read it, too?

So, the practice of reading sacred texts as a regular part of communal worship was shared by synagogues and he early churches, and in this they were distinctive in the Roman world of religious practice. To be sure, some other Roman-era religious groups as well had sacred writings, but these were reserved for consultation by their priests and were not read as part of the group-worship gathering.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 110

Monday, May 01, 2017

A religion of the book

One type of evidence, often overlooked, that certain texts were read out in Christian worship gatherings is comprised by the various features of some early Christian manuscripts, features that seem intended to facilitate reading them. These features, which are not typical of Roman-era copies of literary texts, include elementary punctuation, enlarged spaces to signal sense units such as sentences and paragraphs, slightly enlarged initial letters of each line, and other devices as well, such as generous-sized lettering and generous spacing between lines of text. There are found especially often in copies of biblical (Old Testament) texts and those texts that came to form part of the New Testament, and the object of these visual features was likely to assist people in the public reading of these manuscripts.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 108–9

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Odyssey

The New Yorker has a piece on the Odyssey, but not what you'd expect. It's the story (real) of a father and son, with the son being a Classics professor and his father sitting in on the class. After the semester, they take a cruise together and visit the sites in the book. Highly recommended. But, this paragraph jumped out at me.
The small group huddled around the bar had grown quiet as he spoke. To them, I realized, this was who he was: a lovely old man filled with delightful tales about the thirties and forties, the era to which the music tinkling out of the piano belonged, an era of cleverness and confidence. If only they knew the real him, I thought ruefully. His face now, relaxed and open, mellow with reminiscence, was so different from the one he so often presented, at least to his family. I wondered whether there might be people, strangers he had met on business trips, say, bellhops or stewardesses or conference attendees, to whom he also showed only this face, and who would therefore be astonished by the expression of disdain we knew so well. But then it occurred to me that perhaps this affable and entertaining gentleman was the person my father was always meant to be, or had possibly always been, albeit only with others. Children always imagine that their parents’ truest selves are as parents. But why? “No one truly knows his own begetting,” Telemachus bitterly observes, early in the Odyssey. Indeed. Our parents are mysterious to us in ways that we can never quite be mysterious to them.
Being the ripe old age of 61 now, I can see the truth of this paragraph. I will never know my parents as other than parents, no matter how hard I try. And my kids will always see me as a parent—with all of the baggage, both good and bad, that goes along with that. But is that who we really are? Or are we who we really are when we are in a different setting? Or, are we really both at the same time?

Food for thought…
Just an
</idle musing>

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Best Midwestern Small Town

Well lookie here! Grand Marais won the award for the "Best Midwestern Small Town." I didn't even know we were in the running!
The harbor village of Grand Marais, Minn., has charmed its way to the title of “Best Midwestern Small Town,” as chosen by USA Today readers.

Located at the end of North Shore Scenic Drive, the town of fewer than 1,300 (and 2,000 in the summer) has been a popular destination for winter and summer activities.

On Friday, USA Today announced the winner and described the Boundary Waters gateway city as a charming town with “art galleries, quirky restaurants, local shops and diverse lodging.”

It notes the town is home to “one of the nation’s best art colonies” and that it serves as a “gateway to outdoor adventure.”

. . . “We have most everything. We have yurts and we have five-star resorts,” Jurek said.

Indeed! We also are host to about a million tourists a year. Boring? Not likely : )

Friday, April 28, 2017

Unique in Roman times

[E]arly Christian religious identity was distinctive in replacing all others for its devotees. It was an exclusive religious identity, defined entirely by their standing in relation to the one God, and was not dependent on, or even connected to, their ethnicity.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 103–4

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Continuity of expression: assembly of God

[In the Septuagint] ekklēsia often renders the Hebrew word, qahal, in references to the people of Israel as “the assembly of the Lord.” In other cases, there are references simply to “the assembly/congregation” where it seems that the word designates followers of God, perhaps gathered liturgically in the Jerusalem temple. In a key text from Qumran, the site of the “Dead Sea scrolls,” the Hebrew term qahal is used to designate the chosen people of God of the last days. In this instance, the full expression is “the assembly/congregation of God” (Hebrew: qahal ēl), which is the exact equivalent of the Greek expression frequently used in the New Testament, “the assembly/church of God” (Greek: ekklēsia tou theou).— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 98

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Yes, it really is something new!

[T]he consistent line taken in the various texts that make up the New Testament and that came to be affirmed with growing force as representative of emergent “proto-orthodox” Christianity was a rather exclusive one: believers were to abstain from the worship of any of the deities of the Roman world except the one God of biblical tradition and God’s Son, Jesus. To judge from the frequent complaints about the matter by pagan observers and critics noted in an earlier chapter, it does seem that at least most Christian believers did so. In the dominant sort of early Christian teaching, believers were to base their religious life entirely on their relationship with this one deity and their participation in Christian conventicles. Matching their exclusive worship practice was what we can term an exclusive religious identity. In this, I submit, we have a new kind of religious identity that is very different from what was typical of the Roman period.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 89

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

One and one only

To be sure, participation in Isis worship, for example, comprised a noteworthy exercise in voluntary religiousness. So, to reiterate the point, in that feature it was partially analogous to the sort of voluntary religiousness involved in becoming a participant in Christian circles. But the analogy breaks down precisely in the demand placed upon all Christians that they must make their Christian commitment the exclusive basis of their religious identity. In short, early Christianity was the only new religious movement of the Roman era that demanded this exclusive loyalty to one deity, thereby defining all other cults of the time as rivals.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 86

<idle musing>
Modern christians could learn from that example; far too many worship and the shrines of nationalism and materialism as well as the altar of YHWH : (
</idle musing>

Monday, April 24, 2017

The emperor cult

But it is also very important to emphasize that the cults of the emperor were not in competition with, nor did they displace, the traditional gods and their worship in the various lands of the empire. Throughout the Roman period, even in the eastern areas, for example, where emperor cults emerged with particular enthusiasm, people in the various cities of the East also continued their traditional rites focused on their ancestral deities. That is, both in Rome and in other areas of strong Roman influence as well, traditional gods and their worship continued to be prominent. So, participation in emperor cults was simply one facet or layer of what we might regard as the religious identity of devotees. It certainly did not replace the ethnic/religious identity of people, and also it did not become typically the primary religious identity of most people who took part in emperor cults.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 82

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Worship the emperor!

[W]e should not write off emperor cults as simply political and not genuinely religious. To do so would be to impose distinctions that simply were not appropriate for that ancient setting. For a least some of those who took part in emperor cults, there probably was a genuinely religious sentiment, at least in a sense that they would recognize, even if it was not distinguishable from their admiration of Roman power. Granted, however, it was also not at all bad for your career prospects or social status to be seen to be participating in and, even more so, to be involved in promoting emperor cult.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 81–82

<idle musing>
Indeed. There are two main problems in studying the ancient world: (1) We import our anti-supernatural, mechanistic materialism, closed box, cause and effect viewpoint—explaining away anything that doesn't fit; and (2) expecting things to be nice and neat, cut and dried. Real life isn't that way today, why should we expect it to be that way then?!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Radical God

So, the difference between early Christianity and the larger religious environment went beyond simply preferring one particular deity among the others, and beyond an exclusivist worship practice. There were also different notions about what the term “god” (Greek: theos) meant, or at least for Christians there was a distinction between “gods” and the one God (ho theos = literally, “the god”). The early Christian notion posited one utterly transcendent deity who could not be compared with the many traditional gods at all and could not even be comprehended fully, so great was this God. And yet, and with equal emphasis, Christians maintained that this one deity, not some subordinate being, was the sole creator of all things and also sought to relate to the world and humanity in redemptive love, such that even the humblest of individuals could be recipients of this love and could be adopted into a filial relationship with this God.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 65–66

<idle musing>
I'm not sure we can fully comprehend how radical an idea that was.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tell me again about that deity's feelings toward you

The notion that there is one true and transcendent God, and that this God loves the world/humanity, may have become subsequently so much a familiar notion, whether or not it is actively affirmed, that we cannot easily realize how utterly strange, even ridiculous, it was in the Roman era. When ancient pagan thinkers spoke of human “love” for a god or gods, they typically referred to an eros, not an erotic love in our sense, but a desire for association with the divine or the sublimely beautiful qualities represented by the deity. When they referred to the attitude of the gods toward humans, they sometimes posited deities of particular cities or peoples as kindly disposed toward them in these cases using the Greek term philia, depicting a kindness and friendly quality. The Greek term early Christians preferred, however, to depict their God’s love, and the love that they were to show as well for God and others, even their enemies, was agapē and its cognate verb agapaō. These words appear very infrequently in pagan texts of the time but copiously in early Christian texts. For example, in the New Testament, agapē appears some 143 times, and the verb agapaō 116 times.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 64

Monday, April 17, 2017

No mere philosophical construct

In philosophical traditions, an ultimate and radically transcendent deity was often postulated, but you did not typically engage that transcendent deity directly. For example, you did not usually sacrifice to this deity or implore it directly. Instead, the same philosophers who posited the lofty views of a transcendent deity were content for the worship of the traditional, lesser deities to continue and, indeed, typically took part in this themselves. But the early Christian stance was that the one, true, and radically transcendent God was, nevertheless, also available to a direct relationship with people. Christians believed that you could pray directly to this God and hope to be heard. You could worship this God directly and know that it was welcome. Indeed, prayer and worship directly to this one God was typically urged as the only proper and legitimate worship in Christian circles. In contrast to the practice and views of the pagan world, including specifically philosophical traditions, Christians were to treat the many other deities of the time as unworthy beings, and the worship of them as idolatry.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 63

<idle musing>
Personally, I find that very liberating! All the lesser divine beings are subservient to and must obey the one God—and we are allowed direct access to this same deity. That's Good News.
</idle musing>

Friday, April 14, 2017

Don't be so sure!

In a recent survey of religions of the Roman world, however, the authors opine that early Christian exhortations to religious exclusivity likely reflect many or even most Christians of the time taking a more relaxed attitude toward sacrifices to the pagan gods. Maybe. But, again, I find this sort of confident assertion puzzling. For I think that there is scant evidence for the assertion that the majority of Christians were quite so indifferent to the demands of their faith. Otherwise, how would we explain that it was the “orthodox” vision of Christian exclusivity that proved successful numerically against other version of Christianity that may have tolerated a less exclusive stance?— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 57–58

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Graduation of a mentor

I found out yesterday that one of the most formative mentors in my life as a thinking Christian had died—Dennis Kinlaw. He was 94. While I was at Asbury College, he was the president there; he "retired" for the first time in the fall of 1982 and taught for two semesters at Asbury Seminary immediately following that. I took every class he taught. A few of us even managed to cajole him into teaching a semester of Biblical Aramaic and a semester of Syriac.

Sitting at his feet and learning was a joy. His lectures were full of rich bibliography; my notes are sprinkled with books to read—many of which I have read and others I should read. His knowledge was huge and not just limited to Semitics, either. He had studied theology at Princeton Theological Seminary and University of Edinburgh, Scotland before getting his PhD in Semitics from Brandeis.

One of the classes he taught was a theology class. While other classes were reading popular introductions to theology, he had us reading Brunner, Calvin, and Wesley. I like to tell my Calvinist friends that I've probably read more Calvin than most Calvinists have. (As an aside, one told me last November at AAR/SBL that if I'd read any Calvin, I probably had most of them beat!) He also taught an Old Testament Theology course, which was especially fun. He taught it one other time after that, 10 years later. That version was recorded and then turned into a book, Lectures in Old Testament Theology, which, while a bit dated now, is still great.

One of his favorite phrases about a book was, "You owe it to yourself to read this." I love that phrase and have used it many times to describe a good book.

I could go on for a long while about all I learned from him—and from his students who were also among my professors at both Asbury College and Seminary, but I have other things to do, as do you. I'll close this short musing with a link to the official Asbury University blurb.

The real atheists revealed

I repeat again that converted pagans had no precedent or established justification for withdrawing from the worship of the gods of their families, cities, and peoples. Furthermore, when we add in the sort of rhetoric that is reflected in texts such as Paul’s letters, in which the various gods are all collectively referred to as “idols” (that is, illusory and deceptive beings) and their worship is designated “idolatry” (that is, pointless and even sinful), we can readily imagine the tensions, offense, and outrage that seems often to have resulted.

Indeed, the exclusivist stance of early Christianity was so odd, unjustified, and even impious in the eyes of ancient pagan observers and critics that they often accused Christians of being atheists, just as Jews had been labeled previously!— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 56

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Keeping chaos at bay

[P]articipation in the reverencing of household gods (the Lares dometici) was expected of all members of the Roman household. It was considered an important expression of solidarity with the others of the household in securing its continuing safety and welfare. Likewise, participation in the honoring of the tutelary deities of one’s city in sacrifice, processions, and other rituals was an important expression of solidarity at that level. For at least many in the general populace, these city gods were guardians against such risks as plague, fire, or other disasters. So, refusal to participate in the reverence due these deities could be taken as a disloyalty to your city and as a disregard for the welfare of its inhabitants. Further, there were gods believed to uphold and legitimate the larger Roman imperial order. Indeed, in the case of the goddess Roma, there was a deity that embodied the Roman order. So, to refuse to worship these deities could be taken as a deeply subversive action or at least a disregard for the political order. To repeat the point for emphasis, when pagan converts withdrew from the worship of the gods that they had formerly worshipped, this was a particularly acute matter, much more objectionable than Jews’ refusal to worship any deity but their own. The latter was an ethnic peculiarity, but that gave no justification for non-Jews to shirk their inherited responsibilities to their own gods.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 54–55

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What are they thinking?!

Having adopted the new stance demanded by their conversion to Christian faith, they were to withdraw particularly from making sacrificial offerings to the gods of their household, their city, and the empire, and now were to practice the exclusivity in matters of worship that was expected of members of the ekklēsia. These newly converted Gentile Christians would have seemed to fellow pagans, however, to be making an abrupt, arbitrary, bizarre, and unjustified shift in religious behavior. This total withdrawal from the worship of the many deities was a move without precedent, and it would have seemed inexplicable and deeply worrying to many of the general populace. In their eyes, people other than Jews simply had no right to do this, and, no doubt, it would have drawn a lot of objection and even harassment, perhaps especially from the families and closest acquaintances of Christian converts. It would have seemed to the general public a kind of religious and social apostasy, an antisocial stance.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 53–54

<idle musing>
What in the world could they possibly be thinking?! Why, the social fabric will be rent asunder by their neglect of the gods! The empire is sure to suffer setbacks because of them! Feed them to the lion!

Think about that for a minute. What would your family do if you suddenly refused to offer sacrifice to the lares and penates who keep your family and household safe? It would be like you were spitting on your ancestors and parents, saying they don't exist anymore!

Needless to say, that isn't the best way to ingratiate yourself to those in power... In fact, it's almost like they don't care about impressing and influencing those in power! Maybe we could learn something from them?
</idle musing>

Monday, April 10, 2017

They have an excuse. What about you?

The difference and distinguishing feature of the early Christian stance agains “idolatry” is this: In the eyes of ancient pagans, the Jews’ refusal to worship any deity but their own, though often deemed bizarre and objectionable, was basically regarded as one, rather distinctive, example of national peculiarities. Whether residents of Roman Judaea or in their many diaspora locations, Jews were commonly thought of, and thought of themselves, as a distinct people, an ethnos, a “nations” in that sense. The wider Roman-era public was well aware of, and generally accommodated, the ethnic diversity that made up the empire.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 52–53

Friday, April 07, 2017

Not a compliment!

As noted, our word “idol” comes from the Greek term eidōlon, a term that in ordinary Greek usage could connote something that is a mere phantom. Obviously, this was not a term used to refer to the gods by those who worshipped them!— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 50

Thursday, April 06, 2017

A mere phantom—or even less

Christians were expected to avoid taking part in the worship of any deity other than the one God of biblical tradition. I discuss the inclusion of Jesus as effectively corecipient of early Christian reverence later in this chapter. Given the ubiquitous place of the gods and their rituals in Roman-era life, however, it would have been difficult for Christians simply to avoid all such rituals without being noticed. Christians likely often also had to refuse to join in the worship of the various divinities and so had to negotiate their relationships carefully, especially, no doubt, those involving family and close acquaintances.

This refusal to reverence the many gods that was demanded of early Christians would have included refusing to offer worship to household divinities, to the tutelary deities of cities, to the traditional gods of the various cities and peoples of the Roman world, and even to the deities that represented the empire itself, such as the goddess Roma, and who conferred legitimacy to Roman rule. Indeed, Christians were expected to treat all the many deities of the Roman world as “idols,” from the Greek term eidōlon, meaning “image” or “phantom.” That is, Christians were to treat all the various traditional gods as beings unworthy of worship, as false and deceptive entities, or, even worse, as demonic beings masquerading as deities.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 49–50 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
And you thought you had problems with your in-laws or parents! That's nothing compared to walking into the house and not acknowledging the shrine of the lares, and then announcing that they were less than gods, in fact were evil semi-divine beings! I'm sure that went over well . . . NOT!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Worthy? Of course!

It is also important to underscore the point that all deities were deemed worthy of reverence. To deny a deity worship, and that typically meant sacrificed, was effectively, to deny the god’s reality. Individual pagans of that time did not feel it obligatory to reverence each and every deity, but, in principle, all gods were entitled to be reverenced. So, the people of the Roman period generally found no problem in participating in the worship of various and multiple deities.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 47

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Gods, gods, and still more gods!

In addition to such “high” deities, there were also lesser and other divine beings that, nevertheless, figured regularly in religious practices. In Rome, for example, these included beings called Lares that functioned as guardians over various settings. The most common were domestic Lares of each household (Latin: Lares domestici), which represented spirits of family dead who had been elevated to a special kind of spiritual existence on account of their goodness and/or importance. These spirits protected the family, and all members of the household were expected to reverence them daily in offerings and prayers at the Lararium, a small altar typically placed in the Roman house. But there were also protective Lares of bridges, crossroads, and other sites, and even Lares Augusti, seen as guardians of the Roman state. In comparison with the more well-known gods, the Lares typically had more restricted spheres of power, but they likely figured much more frequently in the day-to-day ritual life of people.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 46

<idle musing>
And the Christians refused to worship them! Can you imagine?! Why, that would be just as bad as if a person refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance! Seditious! Rebellious! A threat to the social order! Away with them! They are a treasonous bunch! Feed them to the lion!
</idle musing>

Friday, March 31, 2017

Gods, gods, everywhere are gods, blocking the scenery...

To turn now to a brief survey of the religious character of the early Roman Empire as context in which to view early Christianity, the first thing to note is the sheer plurality of divine beings to which people directed various kinds of reverence. It was “A World Full of Gods.” Indeed, there were deities of various kinds and various spheres. There was, for example, the traditional Roman pantheon of deities presided over by Jupiter, who was often identified as and with Zeus, the chief deity in the Greek traditional pantheon. But, in addition to these gods, by the time of the earliest Christianity the Romans had adopted or allowed other deities as well that originated from various parts of the empire. There was a virtual cafeteria of Roman-era deities from the many nations. And, as in a cafeteria, you did not have to restrict yourself to any one or any number of gods. Indeed, any such exclusivity was deemed utterly bizarre.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages. 44–45

<idle musing>
Reminds me of "the thousand gods of Hatti"—a phrase used to describe the number of deities the Hittite Empire had in their pantheon. In the ancient world, you literally could not turn around without bumping into a deity. They were more ubiquitous than fire hydrants are in modern cities.

And those crazy Christians said that they weren't really gods, which was bad enough. What was worse is that they refused to offer anything to them. It's one thing to say they don't exist, but it's another thing altogether to say that they were actually evil spirits bent on destroying humanity.

Those early Christians. They were crazy. Or, they were correct. Take your pick, but realize that if they were correct, you need to watch out for the deities you are worshiping in your own life. God brooks no rivals.

Just an
</idle musing>

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Troublesome creatures!

[P]agans demanded specifically that Christians should worship the traditional gods. Recall that pagans such as Celsus were willing to tolerate Christians and their other various objectionable features, if only they would worship the traditional gods. But Christians were noted as typically refusing to do so, declaring that they worshiped only the one biblical deity and, still more offensively, that everyone else ought to do likewise. Granted, Christians deployed various arguments, including philosophical ones, to justify their stance and to mitigate thereby the negative reactions that it generated. Also, to be sure, the pagan demand to worship the traditional gods was intended to secure and promote social and political unity as well as what we would call “religious” conformity.

But I insist that at least we use the term, it was for non-Christians fundamentally a religious issue.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 44 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
My, those Christians were troublesome creatures, weren't they!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Keep your head down and watch your back

Likewise, ritual practices of at least some forms of “traditional religions” of various peoples seem as much or more to do with keeping potential spirit-dangers at bay and avoiding offending them, rather than “worship” and adoration of, and a positive relationship with, a deity as conceived, for example, by Christians. That is, in many cases, “religious” ritual practices can be intended to placate deities or even to avoid their attention altogether. Also, the ritual practices of various traditional peoples were obviously meaningful for them, but it would be a bit misleading, even cultural imperialism perhaps, to say that those who performed these ritual practices typically aimed to express or obtain some sort of “ultimate meaning.”— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 39–40

<idle musing>
In other words, try to keep them out of your life as much as possible! The last thing you want is for the gods to notice you! That's a sure way to have a miserable life. Of course, you want to keep your personal deity, variously called genius, δαιμῶν, dLAMMA, happy. Pour a bit of a libation to the ground before you take a drink, leave a portion of your food for them, throw that salt over your shoulder, things like that. You want your personal deity to run interference for you with the more powerful deities.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Bring on the atheists!

Among the particular features that distinguished Christianity from traditional “pagan” religious practice and from the many other new religious movements of the time was the firm insistence that there is only one “true and living God,” and the demand that its adherents had to drop all worship of any other deity. Arguably, early Christianity represented not simply belief in one particular deity among many but, actually, in some respects a different kind of religion.… [E]arly Christianity was so different that many Roman-era people recoiled from Christian beliefs and practices, accusing Christians of rank impiety and even atheism.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 37–38

Monday, March 27, 2017

Consider the cost

Indeed, in light of the social and, increasingly, the political consequences of being a Christian in these early centuries, one might well wonder that the movement grew and why people became Christians. But, obviously, those who did so under those circumstances had strong reasons. There must have been things about early Christianity that made it worthwhile to become an adherent in spite of social harassment and potential prosecution. So, not only was early Christianity different in some key respects, but also participation in Christian faith must have offered things that attracted converts and compensated for the considerable social costs incurred in becoming an adherent.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 35

<idle musing>
Obviously not a bunch of snowflakes. Jesus said to count the cost, and they did. Would that we were as diligent in our pursuit of God as they were...
</idle musing>

And this is discipleship?

Instead of serious discipleship we have virtual fan clubs revolving around the mega-church leader. Seldom is worship an encounter with the awesome God; it has become an occasion for cheap thrills and continuous festivity dubiously called ‘praise and worship’.—Simon Chan, target-“_blank”> Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition, page 9

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Thought for a rainy Sunday afternoon

If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.—Evagrius the Solitary (of Pontus)

Friday, March 24, 2017

It's just a little request

Indeed, despite all the alleged stupidities of Christians, Celsus expressed a willingness to tolerate them, if only they would honor the gods and follow the polytheistic customs that everyone else, excepting, of course, Jews, affirmed. By their refusal to do so, Celsus contended, Christians, questioned the validity of the gods upon which the social and political order rested and so were guilty of impiety and, at least impolicitly, of promoting sedition. If masses of people followed the Christians in their madness, Celsus declared, this would provoke the wrath of the gods and the social and political order would fall into anarchy and chaos.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 31–32

<idle musing>
He's not asking for much, is he? Just compromise a little bit and we'll accept you—even though you are a bit strange. But, to compromise on that one point is to destroy the entire foundation of Christianity.
</idle musing>

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A clear and present danger

[W]hatever the particular offences that prompted the actions against various foreign cults in Rome, none of them constituted a threat to the worship of the traditional deities, New cults were typically seen as additions to the cafeteria of deities and religious groups of the Roman world. Not even Jews were such a threat. For, although there were Jewish texts of the time that expressed disdain for the pagan gods, there is no indication that Roman-era Jews actually attempted seriously to persuade the non-Jewish population to abandon their deities. That Jews themselves typically abstained from worshipping the gods was viewed by pagans as an ethnic peculiarity. But early Christianity—because it was programmatically transethnic in its appeal, and more aggressive in attacking what it called “idolatry”—was a new and more serious danger.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 25

<idle musings>
Well, there are no worries that the church will upset the current culture, are there? The church is too busy endorsing the current radical individualism, nationalism, and materialism to be a prophetic witness and represent any danger to the current regime(s). Maybe I should rename this post Not a Clear and Present Danger : (
</idle musing>

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Why Demetrius the silver smith was right (Acts 19)

Those Christians who withdrew from worshipping the gods obviously ceased sacrificing to them and ceased frequenting their temples, and that had economic consequences for various people. In addition to gifts made to the temples, for example, as thanks for a god granting a petition, there were local craftsmen who sold various items to those who frequented the temples, such as miniature images of the gods and ex voto objects, which were items purchased and then given to the temple to express thanks for favors from the gods. Then there also were others who raised and sold sacrificial animals on license from temple authorities, and still others who produced food for these animals. In short, the ancient temples represented a significant sphere of economic activity, and so any denunciation of the gods, any withdrawal from their worship, or even the threat or prospect of this would have been seen as threatening to the many with vested interests in the various components of the operations of temples.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 24

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Economic interests

Furthermore, it is interesting to note Pliny’s claims that there were numerous Christians in Pontus at that point in various towns and villages, and that the growth of Christianity was having a markedly negative effect on the institutions devoted to the traditional deities and the economic activities associated with them. Of course, Pliny may have been exaggerating a bit. But it seems to me quite plausible that the social and economic effects of Christian withdrawal from the worship of the gods, or simply the fear of such effects, may have been at least one cause for the denunciation of Christians to Pliny and likely to other local officials.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 23–24

<idle musing>
Nothing like a hit to the pocketbook to get your attention. . .
</idle musing>

Monday, March 20, 2017

A bit of perspective, please

Pliny clearly thought that being a Christian was in itself sufficient grounds for his punitive actions, even execution, although the obstinacy of some Christians in the face of Pliny’s demands and threats gave him further justification.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 22

<idle musing>
And you thought it was getting harder to be a Christian in the U.S.? Put it in perspective. It's not a death sentence—not even close.
</idle musing>

Friday, March 17, 2017

Unique from the beginning

The term used both by Tacitus and by Seutonius to characterize Christianity, “superstition” (Latin: superstitio), connoted then religious beliefs and rituals they deemed excessive, repellent, or even monstrous. The basic point to underscore here, however, is that both writers refer to Christians and their religion as different, and objectionably so, and not as simply one type of Roman-era religious option among and like others.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 22

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Proto-orthodox and the facts

In the social rough and tumble of religious rivalries of the first two or three centuries, these “proto-orthodox” or “catholic” Christians seem to have won out, and well before Constantine and the subsequent influence of the state in matters of religion. That is, the proto-orthodox or catholic Christians were simply more successful at winning adherents in that earliest period, and their success did not depend then upon state support. We have to recognize that precisely in the crucial first three centuries the Christian tradition did begin to cohere around certain practices and beliefs, and that “proto-orthodox” Christianity emerged as the mainstream version that shaped subsequent Christian tradition.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 12

<idle musing>
And he comes out of the corner swinging! He's right, of course, but that doesn't stop people from positing Constantine as the "real" founder of Christianity. Never mind the facts, presupposed reconstructions take precedence! Besides, conspiracy theories sell books, and that's what's important, right? Never mind the truth, we want income! And the truth withers and dies—and then people wonder why alternative facts are preferred. Duh! You train people to believe in conspiracies and then expect mere facts to change their minds?

You still reap what you sow. We've been sowing a wind for a long time now and we're starting to reap the whirlwind. Take a look at this about the less than desirable effect of the loss of a Christian influence when it comes to prejudice. Mind you, it's from The Atlantic, not exactly a bastion of pro-Christian thinking!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The marketplace and truth

But neutrality, with its deep skepticism, and the marketplace of ideas, with its collective search for truth, make strange bedfellows. What progress toward truth can there be if it is impossible to pronounce on the truth? The [Supreme] Court’s response is to equate survival in the intellectual marketplace with the truth, thereby treating the marketplace of ideas not as a metaphor, but as reality. The value of an idea, like any other commodity, is defined by its performance in the marketplace; that idea which survives the competition is, ipso facto, the truth. Popular acceptance or, as Justice [Oliver Wendell] Holmes states in his Abrams dissent, “the power of thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market” becomes the test for truth.

Such a marketplace metaphor definition of truth, however, is not without its difficulties. To begin with, it does not make sense when applied to empirical and scientific knowledge; there are many beliefs, such as astrology, that are scientifically false, yet popular. And when applied to ethics or politics, where the truth that emerges can be identified with the best answer for society at that point in time, the extreme relativism of a marketplace-defined truth is unlikely to be acceptable.—Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration, page 254

<idle musing>
That's the end of this book. Sorry to end it on such a sour note, but that pretty much defines where we are as a society right now. The marketplace is our god. Not just economically, but in our ethics, social policy, and international policy. It's a variation of might makes right. All we've done is substitute economic muscle for the sword. Of course, we use the sword to enforce that economic might.

So much for an ethic based on the Sermon on the Mount. You don't get rich giving to those who ask and not charging interest or asking for it back! At least not economically rich. But there are other forms of riches of which the economically rich know not.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The fine print

An Econ [totally rational human being] will read and understand the fine print of a contract before signing it, but Humans usually do not. An unscrupulous firm that designs contracts that customers will routinely sign without reading has considerable legal leeway in hiding important information in plain sight. A pernicious implication of the rational-agent model in its extreme form is that customers are assumed to need no protection beyond ensuring that the relevant information is disclosed. The size of the print and the complexity of the language in the disclosure are not considered relevant—an Econ knows how to deal with small print when it matters. In contrast, the recommendations of [the book] Nudge require firms to offer contracts that are sufficiently simple to be read and understood by Human customers. It is a good sign that some of these recommendations have encountered significant opposition from firms whose profits might suffer if their customers were better informed. A world in which firms compete by offering better products is preferable to one in which the winner is the firm that is best at obfuscation.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 413

<idle musing>
That's the final snippet from this book—a very relevant book that you should take the time to read. I was only able to skim off the top in these excerpts. The book itself fills in the details.
</idle musing>

Monday, March 13, 2017

Yet more truths from a bygone era

[John] Milton and [John Stuart] Mill both illustrate the humanist assumption that greater freedom of debate promotes discovery of truth. But the humanist defense of toleration consisted of more than just this assumption. The humanists were unwilling to protect that they knew—or at least believed—was false. Thus they permitted debate on adiaphora [nonessentials], but not on the fundamentals of faith. In addition, the humanists were concerned that discussion take place in a rhetorically appropriate environment. Irrational debates, they maintained, were no more likely to foster truth than censorship. The humanists’ exclusion of “false” beliefs from protection is exemplified by Milton, the oft-presumed herald of contemporary freedom of speech and press, who would have banned Catholicism because it conflicted with “known” truths.—Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration, pages 246–47

<idle musing>
Amazing how knowing the backstory on something changes the light in which you see it, isn't it? If your audience doesn't know the history of an idea, you are free to twist it into whatever form you want. Therefore educating people is scary for those who wish to rework ideas.

Of course, education where people are required to read the sources, as opposed to the interpretation of them by those with an agenda (right or left), is truly scary. The value of a Liberal Arts degree!
</idle musing>

We're seeing it now

In a nation of Econs [people who only are rational], government should keep out of the way, allowing the Econs to act as they choose, so long as they do not harm others. If a motorcycle rider chooses to ride without a helmet, a libertarian will support his right to do so. Citizens know what they are doing, even when they choose not to save for their old age, or when they expose themselves to addictive substances. There is a hard edge to this position: elderly people who did not save enough for retirement get little more sympathy than someone who complains about the bill after consuming a large meal at a restaurant. Much is therefore at stake in the debate between the Chicago school and the behavioral economists, who reject the extreme form of the rational-agent model. Freedom is not a contested value; all the participants in the debate are in favor of it. But life is more complex for behavioral economists than for true believers in human rationality. No behavioral economist favors a state that will force its citizens to eat a balanced diet and to watch only television programs that are good for the soul. For behavioral economists, however, freedom has a cost, which is borne by individuals who make bad choices, and by a society that feels obligated to help them. The decision of whether or not to protect individuals against their mistakes therefore presents a dilemma for behavioral economists. The economists of the Chicago school do not face that problem, because rational agents do not make mistakes. For adherents of this school, freedom is free of charge.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 412

<idle musing>
And we're seeing the results of this mindset now. Problem is that it's about as far from the Sermon on the Mount as you can get, to say nothing of the moral code in the Old Testament. It's individualism allowed to run rampant at the cost of society. Nietzsche's superman will win and the rest of us will be toast.

If that's the world you want, you are in serious danger of getting it. Just remember, you might not be the superman you think you are. what then? To whom will you turn?
</idle musing>

Friday, March 10, 2017

Advice from 500 years ago on how to converse

He [Acontius ca. 1520–1566] describes how to conduct a conversation with those in error. His advice to the speaker includes the following: the speakers’ tone and words should be conducive calm debate; speakers must adapt themselves to what the person, time, and place demand; they must begin with their audiences’ presuppositions, not their own; and they should be very careful never to misrepresent their opponents’ position. Common to all these various strategies is the assumption that it is not enough for the speech’s contents to be true. Speakers are also obligated to foster an environment in which their listeners are capable of understanding the truth. This means that speakers should eschew all verbal abuse. They must do so not only for the sake of their interlocutors, but also out of concern for the nonparticipating spectators, who are affected by a speaker’s abusive language. As some onlookers will identify the means of debate with the argument itself, improper means will come to be equated with erroneous doctrine, even if the doctrine itself is true. Hence, some will presume a mean-spirited presentation to be prima facie evidence of error.—Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration, pages 129–30

<idle musing>
Good advice even now, isn't it? If only! Some of this reminds me of Covey's Seven Habits: seek first to understand, then to be understood, specifically. Again, if only!

Perhaps it boils down to a lack of respect for the other person. Perhaps we don't really believe the other person is worth respect, be it because of their social or economic standing, or maybe education level. Whatever the cause, they are still made in the image of God and worthy of respect. Jesus died for them as much as for you. Reread C.S. Lewis's essay "Weight of Glory" for a quick refresher course on what the image of God implies.
</idle musing>

Rational? Not so much

The assumption that agents are rational provides the intellectual foundation for the libertarian approach to public policy: do not interfere with the individual’s right to choose, unless the choices harm others. Libertarian policies are further bolstered by admiration for the efficiency of markets in allocating goods to the people who are willing to pay the most for them. A famous example of the Chicago approach is titled A Theory of Rational Addiction; it explains how a rational agent with a strong preference for intense and immediate gratification may make the rational decision to accept future addiction as a consequence. I once heard Gary Becker, one of the authors of that article, who is also a Nobel laureate of the Chicago school, argue in a lighter vein, but not entirely as a joke, that we should consider the possibility of explaining the so-called obesity epidemic by people’s belief that a cure for diabetes will soon become available. He was making a valuable point: when we observe people acting in ways that seem odd, we should first examine the possibility that they have a good reason to do what they do. Psychological interpretations should only be invoked when the reasons become implausible—which Becker’s explanation of obesity probably is.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 411–12

<idle musing>
With all due respect to libertarians, this is why it is a doomed philosophy. People are not rational beings. They are easily manipulated and swayed—as this book makes eminently clear. The wolves will always try to feast on the sheep. Unfortunately, far too often the wolves are the ones in authority. And that is the reason the prophets of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible spoke out against the authorities so strongly.

It might also be the reason Jesus didn't get along so well with the authorities, either. When was the last time a person in authority took the Sermon on the Mount as their modus operandi? Right.
</idle musing

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Erasmus vs. Luther on free will

[Erasmus, answering Luther on free will] If everything is the result of necessity, Erasmus asks, “what could be more useless than to publish this paradox to the world?” If God rewards and punishes us for actions beyond our control, for which He alone is responsible, the “what a window to impiety would the public avowal of such an opinion open to countless mortals!” People would not better their conduct, arguing instead that they were not responsible for their wrongdoings. They would stop loving a God who moves them to evil, only to punish them later. Most people, only too willing to sin, would use Luther’s views to justify their own evil inclinations.—Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration, page 69

Mountain? Molehill? Which?

Any aspect of life to which attention is directed will loom large in a global evaluation. This is the essence of the focusing illusion, which can be described in a single sentence
Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 402

<idle musing>
Which is why we tend to make mountains out of mole hills. Why we obsess of things that are not important. Why we need to take a step back and take the time to get a little perspective on things. But we rarely do...
</idle musing>