Friday, July 21, 2017

Attribute versus action

Anger is an act, a situation, not an essential attribute. This distinction is implied in the words which are of fundamental importance for the understanding of all biblical words: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious.”—Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets, 71, as quoted in Standing in the Breach, page 93

<idle musing>
As always, Heschel hits the nail on the head. Wrath is a reaction of God because of his attributes. It is not an attribute of God in and of itself. This needs to be blasted from the rooftops and drilled into our thick, judgmental, parochial skulls. God is merciful and gracious. Yes, he does have limits to that and wrath and judgment will eventually fall. But, and this is a huge but, it is not an attribute of God to be wrathful.
</idle musing>

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Judgment might come

The revelation of YHWH’s name came as an affirmation to Moses (and through him to Israel) that YHWH is primarily and fundamentally for Israel. This is not to say that divine pardon can easily be presumed, for v. 7b comes as a stern warning that God’s moral order still matters. One could say that vv. 6–7a give expression to YHWH’s fundamental nature, whereas v. 7b gives expression to His action if Israel’s offence persists. Therefore, it can be seen that God’s visitation of Israel’s iniquities does not stand in an irresolvable tension with His fundamental covenant loyalty. The immediate and wider context of vv. 6–7 make it evident that YHWH’s wrath is provoked by and directed against a specific sin. In other words, divine wrath and judgment are circumstantial and temporary, and as the proportion of thousands to four generations indicates, they cannot overrule YHWH’s faithfulness and love.—Standing in the Breach, page 93

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The divine reversal

It looks very much as though YHWH in the aftermath of the golden calf incident deliberately reformulates His previous pronouncement. Most striking is the reversal of the order of His attributes. In Exod 34:6, YHWH commences with a fundamental statement about His nature. He is basically merciful and gracious, whereas in the Decalogue the warning of a jealous God precedes YHWH’s attributes of mercy and grace. In other words, there is a radical shift from an emphasis on divine jealousy to an emphasis on divine mercy, grace, and loyalty without denying justice. God allowed Himself in His sovereignty to be persuaded by the persistent prayer of His faithful mediator to overcome justified wrath with grace and loving compassion.—Standing in the Breach, page 92

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Knowing the unknowable

Reading Moses’ intercessory prayers, one gains a sense that the more Moses engages in prayer the deeper he is led into the divine mystery. There is a clear sense that God’s revelation is intrinsically connected to Moses’ response. Moses self-involvement enables an encounter with God of unprecedented nature. Through the use of a variety of metaphors and anthropomorphic language, a complex and sophisticated biblical truth is established: God is gracious and merciful and yet holy and morally demanding, He is seen and yet unseen, He is close and yet He transcends human perception. These irresolvable tensions are inherent in Exod 33:18–24 and are confirmed in the actual revelation of God’s name (Exod 34:6–7). The text, as Moberly observes, articulates, in its own way, “that sense which has been fundamental to classic theology that to know God is to know the one who surpasses knowledge.”—Standing in the Breach, page 90

Monday, July 17, 2017

Pressing through

Moses’ third prayer has understandably been described as the climactic prayer because, arguably, it is in this intense dialogue that the fundamental breakthrough happens. At the outset of the chapter, everything hangs in the balance: Although Moses is to lead Israel into the promised land, YHWH announces that He cannot go with a stiff-necked people. Thus, Israel’s future is still undecided and Moses is uncertain regarding his role and YHWH’s purposes. Verses 1–11 not only introduce the fundamental problem of how a holy God can live among a sinful people but also testify to a transformation of the people and, implicitly, of YHWH’s relation to them. This change of attitudes on both sides is significant for the development of the story. It seems that the text presupposes this mutual change of heart for Moses’ intercession to be fruitful. At the end of the chapter, YHWH affirms the resumption of His presence among the people and announces a show of His goodness to Moses in a forthcoming theophany.

In contrast to his previous prayer, Moses’ dialogue with YHWH is characterized by an increasingly brave and insistent tone. Although it is clear that the objective of Moses’ prayer has always been the restoration of the breached covenant relationship, Moses initially mentioned sinful Israel only in a seemingly incidental manner, as carefully exploring YHWH’s reaction after the previous divine word of reproof (Exod 32:33). Encouraged by not being opposed this time, Moses becomes bolder and speaks of Israel more directly. Although YHWH shows some reluctance in committing Himself to the people, we note that He does not dismiss Moses’ plea either. Moreover, it is noteworthy that Moses’ brave words are not presented in a negative light. It is likely that this is the reason that Moses’ prayer increases in boldness as YHWH is graciously willing to respond. The reader is reminded of the dynamics of Abraham’s dialogue with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:16–33). Moses’ audacity reaches its climax in his request to see YHWH’s glory (Exod 33:18).—Standing in the Breach, pages 89–90

Friday, July 14, 2017

Audacity!

On the next day, Moses returned out of his own initiative to the mountain to advocate for the people before YHWH. So far, Moses has climbed the Mount of God several times to speak with God. Every time, Moses followed God’s summons to come up (cf. Exod 19:3, 20, 21, 24:1, 12); this time, however, Moses sought God’s audition without invitation.—Standing in the Breach, page 87

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Are you listening closely?

I follow a long interpretative tradition, which suggests that YHWH implicitly invites (by prohibition), possibly even tests, His mediator to challenge His justified yet circumstantial wrath. This line of interpretation has been substantiated by a number of observations: First, YHWH could have simply proceeded with His intentions without involving Moses at all. Second, and following from that, it appears that YHWH intentionally makes His decision vulnerable to Moses’ response (cf. Num 14:12). The imperative “leave me alone” opens the door “not to leave Him alone.” Third, by presenting Moses with an offer to make him the new patriarch at the cost of the death of the sinful generation, YHWH makes His intention and the fulfillment of the divine promise clearly susceptible to Moses’ response. All these points endorse the view that YHWH’s “no” is a subtle divine invitation to intercede.—Standing in the Breach, page 85

<idle musing>
Are we listening? Do we hear God calling us to intercede? Or are we too busy playing Jonah and rejoicing in the possibility of destruction? I fear it is too often the latter : (
</idle musing>

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

How many times?

It is perhaps the acute seriousness of Israel’s sin and the extensive dialogue between YHWH and Moses that make Exodus 32–34 the most detailed and intense treatment of intercessory prayer in the entire Old Testament. Moses is said to have interceded four times on behalf of the sinful people in order to save them from YHWH’s destructive wrath and to reconcile them to their God (Exod 32:11–13, 32:30–32, 33:12–23, and 34:9). The theme of Moses’ persistent intercessory activity pervades the entire narrative.—Standing in the Breach, page 84

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Prayer as theology

Theology in its purest form is revealed by God Himself. It is certainly important to note that the deepest insight into the nature of God is given in the context of a prolonged prayer dialogue between Moses and YHWH.—Standing in the Breach, page 83

Monday, July 10, 2017

Finally!

This just showed up in my e-mail inbox: The Positive Power of Walking Showcased at National Summit. And it's in St. Paul!
Many things leap to mind when someone mentions walking: fitness, fun, fresh air, relaxation, friends and maybe your most comfortable pair of shoes. But a word that rarely arises is “power”.

That will begin to change after the 2017 National Walking Summit (held in St. Paul, Minnesota September 13-15), which is themed “Vital and Vibrant Communities — The Power of Walkability”.

We'll see; I'm always skeptical about getting people to actually do more than talk when it comes to physical activity. But, hey, it's a start. Maybe if communities built the infrastructure for walking, people would do it. Can't hurt. We walk about five miles per day, but I wouldn't say that Grand Marais is "walker-friendly." There are few sidewalks and it's built on the side of a hill, which scares some people off. But, the whole town is about 2 miles long, measuring from the National Forest Service office on the west side to the DNR building on the east. And, aside from Highway 61, there isn't a lot of traffic.

Maybe we can get the mayor or city council to send somebody...

The rest of the story

The idea of liberation is sometimes summarized in the popular slogan “Let My people go.” The full demand Moses brings before Pharaoh in the name of YHWH is “Let My people go that they may serve Me” (cf. Exod 7:16, 26, 8:16).—Standing in the Breach, page 81 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
How easily we forget! There is no absolute freedom in this world; as Bob Dylan said, "You gotta serve somebody". I don't know about you, but Joshua summed it up nicely for me:

Worship the LORD, obey him, and always be faithful. Get rid of the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived on the other side of the Euphrates River and in Egypt. But if you don’t want to worship the LORD, then choose right now! Will you worship the same idols your ancestors did? Or since you’re living on land that once belonged to the Amorites, maybe you’ll worship their gods. I won’t. My family and I are going to worship and obey the LORD! Joshua 24:14–15 (CEV)
</idle musing>

Friday, July 07, 2017

About those warrior motifs

If one upholds the authority of Scripture, one cannot simply reject passages that speak of YHWH’s wars. It may be uncomfortable to modern ears, but one of the main metaphors for God in the Old Testament is that of a divine warrior. After the Exodus, YHWH is praised as a “man of war” (Exod 15:3). In fact, this metaphor is essential to the logic of a lot of biblical accounts that affirm that God saves His people in faithfulness from the enemy(ies). If we stay with the stories and observe what happens to the Old Testament metaphors, themes, and motifs in Jesus, we see that Satan and the demons become the principal enemies of God’s rule (Mark 3:22–27, Luke 11:14–23). Thus, Longman and Reid argue that Jesus’ whole mission should be viewed as a typological fulfillment of the divine warrior motif of the Old Testament. According to them, Jesus is presented as the eschatological divine warrior who by the “finger” (Spirit) of God brings in the kingdom by driving out the spiritual enemies of God (Matt 12:28, Luke 11:20) .—Standing in the Breach, pages 79–80

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Working together

Exod 17:11–13 illustrates that, while Moses’ prayer decides the outcome, Joshua’s leading of the charge in the valley is also necessary for victory. The text makes it absolutely clear, where the power to win comes from. Still, the message of this account is different from the Exodus from Egypt, where the struggle against Egypt was fought by YHWH alone (through the mediation of Moses; cf. Exod 14:14). Thus, Barth found in Exodus 17:8–16 a lesson of God’s working through man in a delicate balance which neither impaired God’s will nor destroyed man’s genuine activity. This delicate divine-human balance is central to the biblical concept of faith.—Standing in the Breach, page 76

<idle musing>
The technical term is synergism—working together—versus monergism, which claims it is only God doing everything; humans are basically puppets in that system.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Is YHWH with us?

[T]he Massah and Meriba account finishes with the open-ended question הֲיֵ֧שׁ יְהוָ֛ה בְּקִרְבֵּ֖נוּ אִם־אָֽיִן and implicit judgment: “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exod 17:7). Thus, when it says in the next verse that Amalek came and fought with Israel, the question becomes urgent. Will the Lord help Israel or not? We have seen that, with and through Moses’ intercessory help, God’s divine presence is secured (Exod 17:10–13). Interestingly, in the scout narrative, also in the wider context of Moses’ intercessory prayer, Amalek wins against disobedient Israel because YHWH is not with Israel (Num 14:43). In other words, Num 14:39–45 contains a remarkable contrasting parallel to Exod 17:8–16. This time, Amalek (not Moses) is on “the top of the mountain” (cf. Exod 17:9–13, Num 14:40, 44) and triumphs over Israel. The roles are reversed. The reason, according to Moses: “Because you have turned away from YHWH, and so YHWH is not with you” (כִּֽי־עַל־כֵּ֤ן שַׁבְתֶּם֙ מֵאַחֲרֵ֣י יְהוָ֔ה וְלֹא־יִהְיֶ֥ה יְהוָ֖ה עִמָּכֶֽם)(Num 14:43). In the Exodus account, divine presence is visualized against the Amalekites through Moses’ staff, in the scout narrative through the ark of the covenant (cf. Num 14:44) .—Standing in the Breach, page 71

Monday, July 03, 2017

Yep. Not much has changed

Testing has to do with “putting God to the proof,” that is, seeking a way in which God can be coerced to act or show himself. . . . Israel’s testing of God consisted in this: if we are to believe that God is really present, then God must show us in a concrete way by making water materialize. . . . It is, in essence, an attempt to turn faith into sight.— Terence Fretheim, Exodus, IBC (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1991) 189–90, quoted in Standing in the Breach, page 60

Friday, June 30, 2017

You are only seeing 1/3 the story

I believe that this text [Exodus 17; Israel vs. Amalek] offers a biblical corrective to what often looks from the outside as though the “Joshuas” of this world (that is, politicians, pastors, missionaries, and so on) do all the work. This account reveals where the true power to win comes from. In very memorable form, this story illustrates how the three parties that are always involved in biblical intercessory prayer (God, intercessor, and the party that is being interceded for) relate to each other.—Standing in the Breach, page 59

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Magic bullet? Not so much

[W]e also read in Gen 19:29 that God remembered Abraham when He destroyed the cities of the plain and sent Lot out of their midst. Lot’s wife, however, disobeyed and was turned into a pillar of salt (Gen 19:26). In other words, although God saved Lot for the sake of Abraham’s prayer, Lot’s wife was cut off from the effect of Abraham’s intercession because she did not turn away from her sins. Fretheim notes, “Choices people make can adversely affect the power of intercession and the divine engagement in their lives.”—Standing in the Breach, page 55

<idle musing>
Indeed! That's a theme that will come up repeatedly in this book. Intercession isn't a magic trick; People are still free to continue on in sin and unrighteousness. That's the tight rope that the intercessor must walk—pleading for mercy for the unrepentant, but also letting the unrepentant know about the consequences of their continued behavior and attitudes.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A little leaven…

Preserving even a tiny number of innocent humans is more important to God’s eyes than bringing deserved judgment on the guilty. Thus, this account underlines the biblical teaching that God’s will to save clearly dominates over His will to punish. This insight into the divine nature foreshadows the proportion of keeping steadfast love to the 1000th generation but visiting in judgment the guilty up to the fourth generation (Exod 34:6–7). Abraham’s prayer assures us that even a minority of righteous people suffice to avert God’s just punishment. This is not only a clear demonstration of YHWH’s grace and mercy but also an indication that in God’s economy a faithful minority can make a significant difference. This has of course important implications for the people of God today, who live in a primarily secular society. They have the capacity to function as agents of salvation and renewal.—Standing in the Breach, page 54

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

How about your prayers?

Abraham mediates between God and the pagan cities thereby foreshadowing also Israel’s priestly function among the nations (cf. Exod 19:6). According to Genesis 18, Abraham blesses Sodom by interceding for the city. Even though Sodom and Gomorrah had sinned themselves beyond the possibility of blessing, it is amazing that Abraham was pleading for them to be spared from the divine judgment. Abraham intercedes for the corrupt pagans whom he did not even know. Wright compares Abraham’s response to YHWH’s judgment over Sodom with that of Jonah’s and remarks that many Christians’ attitude toward the wickedness of the world resembles more that of Jonah than that of Abraham [Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 2006) 362]. Prayers are frequently made for people we approve of, or for projects that we endorse. The community of faith, however, does not often pray for the Sodoms and Gomorrahs of this world. Jeremiah encourages exiled Israel to pray for the welfare of their captors (Jer 29:7). Also Jesus endorses Abraham’s prayer by the hard dictum: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44–47).—Standing in the Breach, page 53

<idle musing>
Ouch! I suspect he is far too correct in that assessment. May God grant us mercy and may we embrace the way of Abraham!
</idle musing>

Monday, June 26, 2017

Prayer as theology

From Abraham’s dialogue with God we learn not only that prayer has its origin in the movement of God toward humans but also that the divine response to prayers should lead to a fuller and deeper understanding of God and His ways with the world. With regard to the former, we noticed that the enabling initiative for this great intercession came from God (“Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do”; Gen 18:17). After YHWH’s invitation to pray, God waited for Abraham’s response (Gen 18:22). With regard to the latter, we noticed that God, not Abraham, emerges as the theological teacher from this prayer. I shall argue at some length in the context of our treatment of Exodus 32–34 that prayer and theology are intrinsically linked. Possibly the greatest of all the features of Abraham’s prayer is precisely the way in which it calls on us, when we pray, to develop a theology. Clements observes: “Prayer and the act of praying involve us in theology—the thinking out of the true nature and character of the supreme Ruler of the Universe.” Not only must we think about who God is and how He relates to the world but also we must learn to listen to God. Abraham’s “theology” was taught by God Himself in a prayer. As Abraham wrestles with the divine will, which was not fully manifest at the outset of the prayer, he penetrates deeper into God’s character and will.—Standing in the Breach, page 52

Friday, June 23, 2017

The school of intercession

God is teaching Abraham about His attributes, about grace and righteousness. We have noted in our exegesis that God is seeking to impart His grace and justice to Israel’s first intercessor, something that YHWH does in an even clearer way to Moses (cf. Exod 33:17–34:7). … [I]t is about a gracious accommodation of Abraham’s audacious explorations. It is in Abraham’s exploration of YHWH’s character and His ways that Israel’s patriarch grows in his understanding of his God.—Standing in the Breach, page 51

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Boring?

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
https://www.paracletepress.com/Products/Default.aspx?bookid=8623

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>