Wednesday, May 31, 2017

You sure you want to go back to this?

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

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A higher standard

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

Monday, May 29, 2017

That's not religion!

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Trinity and intercession

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

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

Mission: Possible

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

Friday, May 19, 2017

Mediated intercession

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The hows and whys of intercession

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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Not one, but two!

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

Which is harder?

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

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

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

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Judean Pillar Figurines and their function

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

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

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Just toss them in the trash!

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What? No e-mail?!

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

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Lewis, Tolkien, and Kilby

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just an
</idle musing>

A written prophecy

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

Monday, May 08, 2017

Ready! Fire! Who cares about aim!

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

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

Write it down!

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

Friday, May 05, 2017

Uniquely people of the book

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

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Stop the chaos!

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

A Case for Public Reading of Scripture

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

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

What did Paul say?

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

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

You mean I can read it, too?

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

Monday, May 01, 2017

A religion of the book

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