CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Before the rise of historical criticism, one of the most widely used arguments in support of Christianity was fulfilled prophecy. In the apostolic and patristic period this was not limited to direct predictions from the Hebrew Bible of the Messiah's origin and activities, but included typological foreshadowing of the life of Jesus in biblical narratives: the story of Isaac carrying the wood for his own sacrificial fire, for example, anticipated the time when another 'beloved son' would carry his wooden crossbeam to the place of sacrifice. Before the so-called 'grammatical' or 'plain' meaning of the biblical text came to be privileged as a result of the Reformation, readers of the Bible had no problem believing that the texts carried additional, divinely inspired meanings that could be uncovered through careful (we would say imaginative) investigation. As James Kugel elegantly shows (see How to Read the Bible, pp. 1-46), this approach to the interpretation of Scripture goes back to the inter-testamental period and carried over into Christian exegesis. Patristic biblical commentary is full of alleged correspondences between the biblical stories and the story of Jesus, most of which would strike the modern reader as entirely fanciful. Today even among Protestants who agree that the Bible is divinely inspired this method has fallen out of favor. At most inspiration extends to prophecies of specific events in the Hebrew Bible which were fulfilled in the life of Jesus.

In his first book on apologetics, Gospel Mysteries, internet apologist Darek Barefoot argues that there are in fact typological correspondences between biblical narratives and the life of Jesus which are so precise and which draw from sources and symbolism so disparate that they cannot be explained by coincidence, deliberate imitation or conspiracy, and in fact are evidence of the divine inspiration of Scripture. Acutely aware that others have purported to find esoteric codes in the Bible, and that the church fathers themselves often went too far in their allegorical exegesis (pp. 1-2), Barefoot attempts to make his analysis objective by proposing specific criteria for identifying such correspondences, which he then applies in a series of fascinating chapters each focusing on a different biblical figure or story.

Barefoot suggests that in order to identify a genuine typological correspondence, one cannot stop at the level of general similarity or correspondence between two passages. We can only plausibly attribute a correspondence to the intention of the author-whether of a book, poem, screenplay, etc.-when the latter includes a clear identifier or marker that explains the significance of the correspondence and verifies its presence in the text. Barefoot uses the example of Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront and its use of the image of hawks preying on pigeons as a symbol of the oppression of dock workers by union bosses. We know that the symbolism is deliberate because the screenwriter directly makes that connection through a comment by the protagonist, Terry Malloy, several frames evocative of the picture Malloy describes of hawks perched "at the tops of big hotels" and a scene in which one of the bosses calls a recalcitrant dock worker "that little pigeon" that "ought to have its neck wrung". We can see from this example that in other texts we are often capable of identifying foreshadowing or symbolism that was deliberately used by the author, but only when the proper symbol identifiers are in place.

Of course skeptical readers of the Bible will be reluctant to think of it as having one author, so Barefoot adds additional criteria designed to allay concerns that the correspondence might be just coincidence or wishful thinking: the typological correspondences throughout Scripture must show economy of distribution, interconnectedness and purposefulness, all of which he thinks are satisfied by the Hebrew Bible's allusions to Jesus. In order to add further objectivity he proposes that the same tests could be applied to other sacred scriptures to see if they contain purposeful patterns that could only be orchestrated by a divine intelligence.

Barefoot's proposal is bold and fascinating. He is certainly correct that while typological readings have featured prominently throughout church history, the material has never before been assembled into a book-length argument as he presents it here. If readers can even get beyond the initial implausibility (at least to modern minds) of looking for supernatural coded symbolism in the Bible, this kind of project can only be evaluated by looking at the specific correspondences the author identifies as a result of close reading of the texts. This is impossible to do in the space of a book review, especially since the proposed correspondences are so many and so elaborate and depend on such wide-ranging analysis of Scriptural symbolism. That is not to say that the book is obscure or confusing. On the contrary, Barefoot is an exceptionally clear, elegant, concise writer and his scriptural exegesis is never short of illuminating.

Perhaps one example of his method will have to suffice as an invitation for readers to pick up the book and decide for themselves. Barefoot finds a typological correspondence between Moses' audience with God at the burning bush and the kinds of signs that the Messiah would be expected to perform. He begins by noting Moses' prophecy in Deuteronomy that God would "raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers" (Deut. 18:15) and that the Gospels all draw parallels between Moses and Jesus to varying degrees. This serves a justification to look more closely for typology. At the burning bush God gives Moses three signs to perform in order to prove to the Israelites that God had sent him. First God commands Moses to throw down his staff, which turns into a snake. God then has Moses grab the snake by the tail, at which point it turns back into a staff. Second, God tells Moses to put his hand in his cloak. When he takes it out again, it is white with leprosy. When Moses puts the hand back in the cloak and takes it out again, the leprosy is gone. These two signs are paired, but God also gives Moses a third to perform just in case the other two don't convince the Israelites: to take water from the Nile and pour it out on the ground, where it would turn to blood. (Exodus 4: 1-9)

Barefoot finds a correspondence between these signs and the signs Jesus performed during his ministry. Moses' control over the snake symbolizes Jesus' trampling of Satan through exorcism and the defeat of demonically-induced disease. There are several symbol identifiers that confirm this interpretation, including Jesus' promise to his disciples to give them power to 'trample' on "snakes and scorpions" and "all the power of the Enemy" (Luke 10: 19-20) and the picture of God "throwing down" the king of Tyre, an image of Satan, "to the earth" (Ezekiel 28: 14-17), which uses the exact same terms in Hebrew as in Exodus for Moses' casting down of his serpent-rod to the ground. The manifestation and then cure of leprosy symbolizes Jesus' healing ministry as well as his authority to forgive sins, since sin is often compared to leprosy in the Hebrew Bible (e.g. Isaiah 1:6) and biblical characters were occasionally punished with leprosy as a result of their transgressions, including Miriam the sister of Moses (Numbers 12: 1-10). The third sign, pouring water on the ground that turns into blood, symbolizes the refreshing power of the divine teaching which Jesus poured out onto the world, culminating in the shedding of his blood for spiritual cleansing and renewal (see for example John 4:10; 7:38).

This example is backed up by much more close reading and exegesis so it would be a mistake to take my brief summary as the strongest case for identifying this as a typological correspondence. As I said, this project can only be evaluated through a careful study of the author's exegesis. Personally I found many of the examples quite striking and hard to explain either by coincidence, deliberate manufacturing by the biblical writers or wishful thinking. As Barefoot continually argues, it is improbable to say the least that documents written over such a wide period of time and in such different cultures by authors of such varying background and means could align so closely to give such a detailed, interconnected portrait of Jesus. In the stories of Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David and other biblical figures there are episodes that beautifully anticipate the life and ministry of Jesus.

That is not to say that all the proposed examples are equally convincing or that all careful readers will be convinced by the overall case. Ironically, one factor that may stand in the way of Christians accepting Barefoot's argument, especially apologists, is that we are so often trying to deflect charges that the early Christians simply invented the life of Jesus out of thin air, drawing their 'inspiration' from the Hebrew Bible and even Homer. Barefoot is aware of such efforts by the likes of Randall Helms (p.6) and Dennis Macdonald (pp.91-93) but insists that his own typological analysis is not only objective but reveals correspondences too disparate in time and space to be accounted for by deliberate imitation and fiction. More than a few readers, however, might be tempted to apply Barefoot's criticism of Macdonald to his own work: "Narrative elements that do not contribute to a fit between compared passages are skipped over, regardless of their prominence in context. Once a rough correspondence is constructed any further shared characteristics are expounded. Dissimilarities are rationalized as changes the borrowing author made to accomodate the original story to his own purposes." (p.92) I do not think this criticism would be valid, for the most part, but Barefoot makes such a striking claim for divine inspiration and one so unusual in this day and age that skepticism is understandable.

Regardless of whether Barefoot's argument actually convinces the reader that there is supernatural typology in the Bible (this reader is provisionally convinced, pending further thought and investigation), the book is well worth reading for its rich discussion of passages which often get passed over and its revelation of the profundity of biblical symbolism. Barefoot displays an impressive command of biblical Hebrew and Greek as well as secondary literature. He knows the Bible inside and out, and insights leap off every page. One of my personal favorites is Barefoot's discussion of how donkey symbolism is often used of the Hebrew prophets. Prophetic books are often introduced by saying that 'the word of the Lord came to so and so', but the word translated as 'word' is actually more accurately translated as 'burden' (massa), such as a donkey might bear. The prophets were literally God's donkeys, carrying His burdens to an unbelieving people (the prophets were also ridiculed, the people 'made an ass of them' as we would say today). Barefoot also provides insightful discussion of a range of other apologetic issues incidentally related to his case, including the brief but devastating critique of Dennis Macdonald referenced above (pp.91-93), the relationship between the Bible and astronomy (pp.247-250) and faith and reason (pp.303-311).

There are some technical drawbacks. Barefoot's discussion of method, for example, is scattered across several chapters and he answers potential skeptics in isolated paragraphs throughout the book, making it hard to coherently summarize his case. The book lacks a general index which for a book like this relying so heavily on symbolism and intertextuality is quite frustrating. Barefoot also makes frequent statements regarding the history and culture of the Ancient Near East which he must have derived from secondary literature, but citations are quite rare (this is not to say that they are wrong; the book was accurate in its statements as far as I was able to determine from my own knowledge of biblical studies). There are also many typos throughout the book which should have been noted and corrected.

That said, I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in the Bible or apologetics. Despite the superficial similarity to sensationalist, esoteric religious books that promise to reveal universal codes or hidden archeological secrets this book is sensible, scholarly and well-argued. Barefoot writes as a former religious skeptic himself who appreciates the virtues as well as the limitations of skepticism. He writes with humility and care, acknowledging genuine areas of contention along the way. Most importantly, however, he increased my admiration for the Bible and my confidence in its reliability as divine revelation. I urge skeptics to read this book with an open mind and pay the author the compliment of evaluating his case on its own merits rather than an a priori rejection of the possibility of supernatural typology.

Tom Gilson over at Thinking Christian has a post inviting believers to reflect on who Jesus is for them. As I was writing a response I started thinking about the bewildering variety of scholarly portraits of Jesus out there. Writers often introduce lives of Jesus with a prefatory acknowledgment of the embarrassing number of similar books with titles like Jesus the Magician, Jesus the Jew, Jesus the Healer, etc. and apologize for adding yet another tome to the already creaking shelves of historical Jesus studies. The implication is supposed to be that scholars cannot avoid projecting themselves onto their portraits of Jesus, leading to the twisting of scholarly methods to (re)produce the picture of Jesus they already held. This often leads to skepticism about our ability to know anything about Jesus and, perhaps ironically, further license to become yet more eccentric in the application of historical method.

There are two problems with this piece of common 'wisdom': 1) the number of portraits is artificially inflated by dividing what are actually compatible aspects of Jesus' life and ministry into separate studies. So we are supposed to embarrassed that Jesus can be understood as a Jew, an exorcist, a healer, a prophet or a teacher, when in fact all of these come together in his ministry, and 2) upon close scrutiny the more eccentric views of Jesus are actually fairly easy to tell apart from those that take our sources most seriously and apply historical methods most consistently. It is no surprise that Jesus according to John Meier looks a lot like Jesus according to James Dunn or N.T. Wright or Dale Allison or E.P. Sanders or Gerd Theissen; these are the scholars who place Jesus in his proper context and operate methodologically just like other historians of antiquity. In contrast, the eccentric portrait of a John Dominic Crossan or Morton Smith results from the arbitrary classification and exclusion of certain sources and the imposition of externally derived analytical frameworks, such as Mediterranean or cross-cultural anthropology.

This doesn't mean that the portraits of the '3rd Quest' scholars are identical or that there aren't important points of disagreement between them. But when compared to the portrait of Jesus as shaman or Egyptian mystic or Hellenistic cynic their consensus on the basic contours of the historical Jesus is impressive and suggestive of success in getting at real knowledge of the historical Jesus (despite Dale Allison's protestations of the inadequacy of our scholarly tools his Jesus is similar enough to that of Dunn, Wright or Theissen so that they all seem to be doing something right). What it really comes down to is this: anyone interested in the historical Jesus should either conclude that we can know quite a bit about him from our earliest sources, the four canonical Gospels, or we really don't have anything upon which to base our reconstructions. I actually suspect that someone like Crossan, who famously introduced his study of Jesus by saying that the study of the historical Jesus has become a 'bad scholarly joke', may emphasize diversity in understanding Jesus precisely in order to make epistemological room for his own reconstruction. After all, if everyone's basically fixing the game and seeing themselves at the bottom of Tyrell's famous well, why can't I do the same?

But the truth is that the best scholarly portraits of Jesus won't look a whole lot different from that of the canonical Gospels, simply because they are our earliest and best sources. A responsible portrait will acknowledge that Jesus was a controversial teacher, a pious Jew, a powerful healer and exorcist, a charismatic leader, etc. because all those roles are amply attested in the Gospels. An adequate reconstruction of his teaching will note his emphasis on the inbreaking rule of God, the inadequacy of the religious establishment, his concern for the outcast and sinners, etc. We will notice that many women had important roles in the movement, that Jesus often argued over the interpretation of the Law with other Jews of his day, etc. All these things have been there in the Gospels from the beginning, and scholars are just now catching up to the evangelists again after two centuries of hyperskepticism brought about by the rise of Enlightenment philosophy.

I recently discussed whether Ignatius relied on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians when he wrote his own letters. During my review of the letters and secondary literature, I revisited the issue of Ignatius’s awareness of Luke-Acts. I had previously touched on this issue in my article about the the Acts of the Apostles and concluded that the points of contact were insufficient to establish awareness of Luke or Acts. Upon further review, I believe the issue deserves more in-depth discussion and a stronger case for Ignatius’ dependence on Luke-Acts can be made.

Knowledge of Paul’s Connection with Ephesus

The most important piece of evidence that prompted my review of this issue was Ignatius’ reference to the Ephesian Church and Paul’s martyrdom.


You are a passageway for those slain for God; you are fellow initiates with Paul, the holy one who received a testimony and proved worthy of all fortune. When I attain to God, may I be found in his footsteps, this one who mentions you in every epistle in Christ Jesus. (Ign.Eph., Ch. 12, Loeb Ed.)

Ignatius knew that Paul had a special connection with the Ephesian Church. Standing alone, this fact might be adequately explained by Ignatius’ knowledge of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and references to the Ephesians in other Pauline letters, such as 1 Corinthians or 1 and 2 Timothy. Or, possibly, there already were widespread traditions about Paul’s missionary activities featuring Ephesus that had circulated among the early churches. But there is more to the story which suggests that Ignatius is referring to a specific event as it is recounted in Acts.

The reference to the the Ephesian Church being “a passageway for those slain for God” and Paul’s connection with that passageway was likely meant to be a reference to Paul’s expected martyrdom, as suggested even more by the reference to Paul receiving a testimony and being proved worthy just after the reference to being a passageway for martyrs. Further, Ignatius describes the Ephesians as being “fellow initiates” with Paul,” further suggesting a connection between Paul’s martyrdom and the Ephesian Church.

A likely candidate as a source for Ignatius’ reference is the scene narrated in Acts 20:13-38. Paul is on his way to Jerusalem, intentionally bypasses Ephesus to save time, and lands in Miletus. Nevertheless, Paul summons the “elders” from the Ephesian Church to meet him in Miletus. Acts then recounts a speech Paul gives to the Ephesian elders that has a sense of foreboding. Paul states that he is “going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there,” yet he expects “prisons and hardships” and persecution by his Jewish opponents. He also refers to “finishing the Race” God has set before him. Acts 20:22-24. Then the Ephesian elders bid Paul farewell with much sadness, “What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.” Acts 20:38.

As William R. Schoedel notes, the statement in Acts 20:38 “probably suffices to explain the reference to Ephesus as a highway for martyrs. For the whole passage is highly idealized and tends to make sweeping claims on the basis of few instances.” Ignatius of Antioch, Hermenei, page 73. Paul Trebilco agrees and notes that Ign.Eph. 12.2 “probably refers to Acts 20:38 where the Ephesian elders formally farewelled Paul, aware that they would never see him again. They are also fellow initiates [] with Paul, which again probably simply refers to the strong links Paul has with Ephesus.” Paul Trebilco, The Early Christians in Ephesus from Paul to Ignatius, page 687.

Unlike with many of the other examples of literary dependence in 1 Clement and Ignatius’ letters, we are not dealing here with similarities in vocabulary but with a reference to a particular event reported in a particular way. The question then is whether it is more likely that Ignatius is describing a relationship and event based on the account in Acts or whether he learned about them in some other way.

It is possible that Ignatius knew from other sources that the Ephesian Church had been involved with Paul in some way associated with his martyrdom. However, we have no evidence of a source other than Acts recounting the tradition. We could hypothesize that the Ephesian Church itself publicized this account but again we have no evidence that such was the case. Although Ephesus’ connection with Paul was likely well known, why would that church or others have associated it so closely with what Ignatius took to be a reference to Paul's martyrdom absent the account in Acts? According to Acts, Paul visited many places on his way to Jerusalem, including Corinth, Thessalonika, Miletus and Athens. Indeed, the farewelling of Paul by the Ephesian Church did not even take place in Ephesus. Paul avoided Ephesus on the final leg of the trip to Jerusalem. He met with the Ephesian church’s elders in Miletus.

It seems more likely, therefore, that the special association of Ephesus with Paul’s martyrdom by Ignatius is best explained by the way the scene in Acts 20 is recounted. The uniqueness of the association in Luke-Acts should not be understated. Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesians has a foreboding note to it. It is also the only speech in Acts in which Paul addresses a Christian audience and the last speech Paul gives before he is arrested in Jerusalem and transported to Rome. Ignatius likely understood it -- as have some others -- to be a reference to Paul's expected death. Even if the connection is not explicit, given Ignatius' own situation he can be forgiven for assuming that the references are to Paul's martyrdom.

It is this last fact that, in my opinion, tips the scales in favor of Ignatius' reliance on Acts 20. The story in Acts about Paul summoning the leaders of the Ephesian church to visit him and its perceived relationship to Paul's martyrdom has interesting similarities to Ignatius’ own situation. Ignatius was on his way to martyrdom in Rome as well. Like Paul, he did not travel to Ephesus but met a delegation from the church in Ephesus (not in Miletus but in Smyrna). This may explain why Ignatius wrote that when he "attains to God, may he be found in [Paul's] footsteps." He related his own situation to that of Paul, on the passageway to martyrdom and sharing that road with the Ephesian Church in the same manner as Paul. All told, it is more likely that Acts 20 is the source of Ignatius' references in Chapter 12 than a more general tradition associating Paul with Ephesus.

Reliance on Luke-Acts’s Passion and Resurrection Narratives

The second issue that caused me to rethink my initial dismissal of the idea that Ignatius demonstrated awareness of Luke-Acts is three to four points of apparent contact between Ignatius’ letters and the Passion and Resurrection Narratives as recounted in Luke-Acts. What is most interesting and, perhaps, telling about these connections is that Ignatius seems to demonstrate awareness of features of Luke-Acts’ recounting of Jesus’ death and resurrection that are found in none of the other Gospels.

First, Ignatius notes that Jesus was crucified “under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch” in Ign.Symrn. 1.2. Luke is the only Gospel that associates Herod with Jesus’ crucifixion, as recounted in Luke 23:7-12. Although Herod is mentioned in other Gospels, they nowhere associate him with the trial or death of Jesus. Further, Luke-Acts references Herod as tetrarch on four occasions (three times in Luke, once in Acts). He is not described as tetrarch in Mark or John. Matthew refers to Herod as tetrarch once, but not in connection with the Passion Narrative.

Second, Ignatius refers to Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the disciples and invitation to touch his physical body as evidence of his material, rather than ephemeral, form. Symrn. 3.1-2 (“For I know and believe that he was in the flesh even after the resurrection; and when he came to Peter and those with him, he said to them: 'Take hold of me; handle me and see that I am not a disembodied demon.'”). In Luke 24:39, Jesus appeared post-resurrection to the disciples and stated, “Behold my hands and my feet, that is it I Myself. Handle me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” Eduoard Masaux calls this a “striking parallel” and notes that both authors use the same Greek expression for “Handle me and see". Edouard Massaux, The Influence of the Gospel of Saint Matthew on Christian Literature Before Saint Irenaeus, page 98. Massaux advises caution because Eusebius was unsure of the source of Ignatius’ reference but in my opinion this makes Luke all the more likely as there are no other likely candidates known to Eusebius. More to the point, Luke is the only Canonical Gospel that includes a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus were Jesus emphasizes his corporeality by inviting His followers to "Handle me and see."

Third, Ignatius refers to Jesus’ post-resurrection meal with His followers, with emphasis on his eating and drinking. Symrn. 3.3 (“And after his resurrection he ate and drank with them like one who is composed of flesh, although spiritually he was united with the Father.”). There are two candidates from Luke-Acts that recount a similar occasion. Acts 10:41 states, “He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” As for the Gospel of Luke, Luke 24:30-34 recounts how after the resurrection Jesus joined his disciples, who did not at first recognize him, for a meal and broke bread and handed it out. Thereafter, in Luke 24:41-43, Jesus returns, shows his hands and feet (as discussed above), and eats broiled fish “in their presence.”

The vocabulary of Acts is more similar, but the event recounted in Luke could also explain the reference, as it is meant to carry the same significance. Massaux leans towards “a literary contact with Acts” instead of Luke. Massaux, op. cit., page 99. So too does Richard Rackham (“His statement that after the resurrection (the Lord) ate with them and drank with them as being of flesh (Smyrn. 3) seems based on Acts x 41.”). The Acts of the Apostles, page xv. Linguistically the reference is closer to Acts, but Acts is likely a summary that references the occasion in Luke 24. At the very least, therefore, we have a likely literary contact with Acts recounting a tradition also preserved in Luke, but in none of the other Canonical Gospels.

Finally, there is a possible literary contact between Ignatius’ letter to the Magnesians and Acts. In Magn. 5.1 Ignatius writes, “all things have an end, two things together lie before us, death and life, and everyone will go to his own place.” In Acts 1:25, the same phrase is used and associated with death, but is specifically associated with Judas’ betrayal: “to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place." Standing alone, it is not strong evidence of dependence, but it adds at least minor cumulative weight to the overall case given its uniqueness to Luke-Acts, association with the Passion and Resurrection Narratives, and similar vocabulary.

Other Possible Points of Contact


Although the reference to Ephesus’ association with Paul’s martyrdom and references to facts unique to Luke-Acts’ passion and resurrection narratives are the strongest part of the case, there are at least two other possible points of literary contact which are worth mentioning. The first is another passage from Ignatius’ letter to the church in Smyrna. At Smyrn. 10.2, Ignatius writes, “May my spirit be a ransom on your behalf, and my bonds as well which you did not despise, nor were you ashamed of them. Nor will the perfect hope, Jesus Christ, be ashamed of you.” This idea of having shame for Jesus being reciprocated by shame from Jesus is also found in Luke 9:26 (“If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”).

Another possible contact arises from Ignatius’ comment in Polycarp 2:1, that “If you love good disciples, it is no credit to you; rather with gentleness bring the more troublesome ones into submission.” This sounds similar to Luke 6:32, which states, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” Although the sentiment is similar, this is not a strong literary parallel.

Neither of these two examples, or some others rated as a "D" (which the Oxford Society of Historical Theology describes as "those books which may possibly be referred to, but in regard to which the evidence appeared too uncertain to allow any reliance to be placed upon it"), add much to the case other than to allow for the possibility of broader familiarity once a meritorious case for dependence elsewhere is made.

Conclusion

A good case can be made for Ignatius' awareness of Luke-Acts. The two strongest factors weighing in favor are the apparent familiarity with the scene in Miletus found in Acts 20 and the three to four points of contact with events unique to the Passion and Resurrection Narratives in Luke-Acts. Although the points of strong vocabulary similarities are few -- though present -- the familiarity with scenes recounted in Luke-Acts but not in any other likely source make the case for dependence more likely than the case against it.

While commenting on the unique relevance of trinitarian theism to moral grounding elsewhere (the original thread, over at Dangerous Idea, is more of an interChristian partisan discussion about soteriology, but here it is anyway for reference sake), I received a reply from a thoughtful commenter on a topic, any reply to which I thought would take the thread too far off-base from Victor's original intention.

But it was an interesting comment, so I'm porting it here for discussion (minus the few connections back to interChristian partisan discussion {g}).

Daniel Gracey, the commenter, wrote as follows:


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Hello Jason,

Thanks for the helpful clarification about time not preceding God. Your post is interesting, and I will reread it and be mulling further over it. In the meantime I wanted to get your opinion about a hypothesis I haven’t yet tested thoroughly... and I’m still exploring the idea. Namely, why shouldn’t English translations have rendered “Elohim” as “Gods” instead of “God,” and just the singular “Elowaw” as “God”?

I ask this because it seems to me that the Old Testament Scriptures themselves take pains to use the plural, to point (I believe) primarily to the *separate* persons of the Godhead, often (though not always) leaving the corporate oneness of the Persons merely implied. My chief argument for rendering Elohim as “Gods” (in contexts where “Elohim” does not mean e.g., angels) is this: Since Hebrew demonstrates a visual distinction in the letters it uses to form the plural of God, and uses a different spelling to indicate the singular of God, why shouldn’t English translations follow suit? It strikes me that if English translators *had* done so, the argument for Christ as God would have been (and be) more readily understandable to the unbeliever and unlearned. Moreover (though incidentally), the kind of arguments we get from Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses would appear weaker.

I suppose here are *some* arguments (but then my objections) why the English has not followed suit:

1) because the word “one” in Deut. 6:4 indicates sheer singularity. But in John 10:30, “I and my Father are one” (Gr, heis) may be taken to mean one in substance and intention but not in Person (and I think Gr. heis indicates sheer singularity, if I’m not mistaken).

Also, 2) God uses the plural for purposes of the majestic “we”. But imo this is simply reading one’s theology into the text. Presumably the majestic “we” argument took especial root among later Jews who would define their monotheism in the same terms of sheer singularity (of Person) as would Islam, or as did the Pharaoh Akhenaten;

Also, 3) People reading the English Bible already know the term “God” means three Persons. But again, that is not a reason for not allowing the English to show a visual distinction as evident in the Hebrew, a distinction capably shown in English. And not everyone assumes “God” refers to three persons.

Also, 4) It will promote the idea of polytheism. But not “polytheism” according to pagan myths, nor polytheistic in any sense that would overthrow the definition of the Godhead as one is Substance and Intention, as Scripturally defined.

So, a related question would be this: By translating Elohim as “God”, have not English translations left the impression with the unbeliever or unlearned, of a sheer singular Personhood of God? Because of my other posts, you probably realize I don’t endorse descriptive analogies of God except where obvious, so I don’t accept explanations along those lines. (Of course I realize what is and is not obvious among theologians is a contentious subject.) Thanks in advance for your reply, Jason.

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This isn't the reply yet, Daniel; mainly I'm just porting over your post for discussion here in the comments (and because my fellow Cadrists like to wrestle with this sort of topic, too).

I may not be able to post up something until the weekend, due to scheduling; but it'll likely be brief enough that I can put it in the comments when I do. (If not, I may create a full post for replying and then link to that from here afterward.) Other Cadrists and commenters are certainly welcome to correspond meanwhile!

JRP

When I first read The Abolition of Man, I found it to be one of C.S. Lewis' more intriguing books. Beginning with what appears to be a rather innocuous reference to Coleridge's comments about a couple looking at a waterfall, the book builds a case for traditional values (what Lewis calls "the Tao"). Since I often learn the most when I prepare for a class and have to defend my understanding to a group of educated people, I undertook to teach a four week class on the book in the Adult Education program of my church.

The results were great. Having discussed the book within the study, I found that I have a much better grasp of the problems that C.S. Lewis was addressing.

Thus, I am sharing on the CADRE site the material that I prepared for the class. Besides for the book itself (the text of which can be found entirely on-line), the only other resources that I used in the course were the first two chapters of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, and a short essay from C.S. Lewis' God in the Dock entitled "Meditations in a Toolshed." It is posted on the a Public Square page of the CADRE website, but can be accessed directly here.

The Study is in .pdf format. If you choose to use it, I ask only that you mention that you got the study through the CADRE site at the time that you teach the class (and give people the web address). I taught it in four weeks, but could easily have stretched it out to six weeks.

Enjoy.

In an earlier post, I responded to the arguments of an online skeptic -- Quixie -- that 1 Clement showed awareness of none of Paul’s letters. He has since conceded that his analysis was greatly flawed and that the author of 1 Clement at least knew 1 Corinthians. Indeed, his “analysis” of 1 Clement can be fairly described as a massive failure of analysis because he simply ignored several of 1 Clement’s chapters. Nevertheless, Quixie appears to still claim that Ignatius lacked any knowledge of Paul’s letters except possibly a few allusions to the “opening” of 1 Corinthians.

As an initial matter, Quixie does not explain why Ignatius’ awareness of at least part of one of Paul’s letters is insufficient to sink the “Dutch Radical” ideas with which he is enamored. If Ignatius is clearly dependent on the “opening” of 1 Corinthians -- whether by allusion or quotation -- does that not mean that Paul is a historical figure and at least one or more of his letters took a prominent place in early Christian development? In any event, as with 1 Clement, Quixie is clearly wrong about the extent of Ignatius’ knowledge of Paul’s letters.

Preliminary Issues


We must first note a few preliminary observations about Ignatius’ use of sources. With one exception, Ignatius does not identify his sources, whether from the Old Testament or the New. He cites many OT passages but only explicitly identifies one of them. Following Quixie’s logic, this might mean that the Old Testament did not exist at the time or that Ignatius was at least unaware of it. This failure to explicitly refer to sources itself undermines the notion that -- even if we found no clear allusions to Paul’s letters -- that we should then conclude that Ignatius did not know of any of Paul’s letters, much less that no such letters existed at the time.

Further, the circumstances under which Ignatius wrote his letters are relevant to judging his awareness of the Pauline corpus. Ignatius did not write from his Bishop’s office in Antioch, with his library spread out before him. Rather, he wrote while being transported as a prisoner to Rome where he faced execution. Ignatius referred to his captors as “wild beasts” and “ten leopards” against whom he was “fighting ... on land and sea, by day and night.” They were “malevolent” despite his attempts at kindness. Rom. 5.1-2. Accordingly, Ignatius wrote under difficult conditions and without the resources he normally would have access to.

Due to these circumstances, Ignatius’ allusions were likely based on memory rather than on close and recent readings of Paul’s letters. Nevertheless, many literary contacts with Paul’s letters are probable. All told, Ignatius’ letters demonstrates that he was likely familiar with at least 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Colossians and Philippians, as well as 1 and 2 Timothy and perhaps Romans. These letters were circulating through churches unrelated to their province by the end of the first century. In this post, I will examine closer Ignatius’ awareness of Ephesians.

Quixie Ignores Explicit References to Paul and His Letters


Just as Quixie’s ignorance of most of 1 Clement was a stunning failure of analysis, so too is his failure to mention that Ignatius explicitly refers to multiple letters written by Paul. In his own letter to the Ephesians, Ignatius refers to Paul and multiple letters written by Paul which refer to the Ephesians:

You are a passageway for those slain for God; you are fellow initiates with Paul, the holy one who received a testimony and proved worthy of all fortune. When I attain to God, may I be found in his footsteps, this one who mentions you in every epistle in Christ Jesus. (Ch. 12, Loeb Ed.)

This passage reveals that Ignatius is familiar not only with a number of Paul’s letters, but with the story of Paul and his connection with Ephesus. The reference to the Ephesians being a passageway for those slain for God and Paul’s connection with that passageway is a reference to the Ephesian Church’s sending Paul out with knowledge that they would “never see his face again” -- a reference to his expected martyrdom that is recorded in Acts 20:38. As William R. Schoedel notes, the account in Acts 20:38 “probably suffices to explain the reference to Ephesus as a highway for martyrs. For the whole passage is highly idealized and tends to make sweeping claims on the basis of few instances.” Ignatius of Antioch, Hermenei, page 73.

Chapter 12 also reveals that Ignatius knew of other Pauline letters. The reference to Paul’s mention of the Ephesian church in “every epistle” is likely an idealized overstatement to a Pauline corpus. However, Paul does refer to the Ephesians explicitly in his letter to the Ephesians, in 1 Corinthians (15:32, 16:8), and in 1 and 2 Timothy.

Once again I am amazed that Quixie would ignore both the knowledge of Paul’s life and ministry demonstrated by this reference and Ignatius’ knowledge of multiple Pauline letters relating to the Ephesian church. But there is more. In Ignatius' letter to the Roman Church he again explicitly refers to Paul: "I do not give you orders like Peter and Paul, they were apostles...." Ign. Rom. 4:3. Ignatius knew that Paul was an Apostle and had interacted with the Roman Church (perhaps by his letter to the Romans or by his later stay in Rome). I suppose gross incompetence can explain these omissions along with his failure to read 1 Clement when Quixie “analyzed” that letter, but he clearly is a blogger whose biases dominate his analysis.

Ignatius Demonstrates Other Knowledge of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians


The initial likelihood of Ignatius’ knowledge of Paul’s letters to the Ephesians must be acknowledged in light of Ignatius’ awareness of Paul’s connection with the Ephesian church which he links to Paul’s reference to them in his letters. In addition to the explicit reference, however, there are strong signs of literary dependence. Packed into the first portion of Ignatius’ Letter to the Ephesians and Paul’s Ephesians 1:3-6 are the same or similar Greek terms referring to Jesus and God the Father, emphasis on Christians being chosen by God before creation, arguing that the pre-creation calling was related to showing the Glory of God, and emphasizing that this was all in accordance with the will of the Father. Edouard Massaux, The Influence of the Gospel of Saint Matthew on Christian Literature before Saint Irenaeus, Bk. 1, pages 105-06. Paul Foster, examining the same passages, notes at least 10 Greek terms that are shared or slightly modified by Ignatius from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Foster's analysis leads him to conclude that “while each of these terms occurs with different frequencies in wider Hellenistic literature, their occurrence in such close proximity in both passages makes literary dependence almost certain.” Foster, “The Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch and the Writings that later formed the New Testament,” in The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers, page, 165.

Also coming from the first part of Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians is the phrase “imitators of God.” Ign. Eph. 1:1. This is similar to the way Paul uses the same phrase, “imitators of God.” Eph. 5:1 (exhorting the Ephesians to “be imitators of God”). Interestingly, Paul’s reference encourages the Ephesian church to aspire to be “imitators of God,” whereas Ignatius, writing decades later and full of praise for the Ephesian church, appears to be acknowledging that the Ephesians have reached the standard Paul put to them. They have become imitators of God by their godly behavior and character. Additionally, as Barnett notes, the reference to “imitators of God” in Eph. 5:1 is “its only occurrence in the New Testament. The context with its exhortation to kindliness and forgiveness strengthens this probability [of literary dependence].” Paul Becomes a Literary Influence, page 154.

Further, compare another passage in Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians, Ign. Eph. 20.1 (referring to “the new man Jesus Christ, involving faith in him”) with two passages in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Eph. 2.15 (referring to creating a “new man” through the cross) and Eph. 4:24 (referring to putting on the “new self” in righteousness). The Oxford Society notes that “St. Paul uses the phrase in a slightly different sense; but, as Lightfoot suggests, Ignatius may have taken ‘to put on the new man’ as meaning ‘to put on Christ,’ an explanation, we may add, which St. Paul would not have repudiated.” OSHT, op. cit., page 68. Foster also concludes it probable that there is a literary contact between these two passages. Op. cit., page 169.

All told, the case from Ignatius' letter to the Ephesians alone demonstrates a very high likelihood that he was familiar with Paul's own letter to the same church. This includes an explicit reference as well as several similarities in vocabulary, theme, and context that make an overwhelming case.

In addition to these additional contacts with Ephesians, there are other points of literary contact between Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and other Ignatian letters.

Compare Ign. Polycarp 5.1b (“In the same way command my brothers in the name of Jesus Christ to love their wives, as the Lord loves the church.”) with Eph. 5.25 (“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...”). Numerous studies have concluded that Ignatius is dependent on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians here. “Not only does this parallel show affinities in terminology between the two passages, but as the wider context in each epistle makes clear, both are addressed to husbands (or ‘brothers’ in the church), and both occur in the context of a wider household code.” Foster, op. cit., page 169. Massaux notes that “in addition to an absolutely parallel idea, the principal terms of Paul’s sentence are there.” Op. cit., page 113. A. Barnett and the Oxford Society of Historical Theology also rate the literary influence of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians on Ignatius’ passage in his letter to Polycarp as highly probable. Paul Becomes a Literary Influence, page 165 (noting that Polycarp may also have borrowed terminology from Eph. 5:29), The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers, page 67.

Next, compare Ign. Pol. 1.2 (“Bear with all people, even as the Lord bears with you; endure all in love”) and Eph. 4.2-4 (“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”). Massaux notes that Paul uses the same verb for “bears/bearing” and the same substantive for “love”. Op. cit., page 112 (noting that a literary influence seems probable). Foster also thinks this is a probable literary contact. Foster, op. cit., page 169.

Another likely literary contact is between Ign. Smyrn. 1.1-2 and Eph. 2.14-16. Both speak of the “blood of Christ” and “the cross” as bringing together Jews and Gentiles in “the one body.” “The context of both passages contains a reference to Isaiah, as well as the common idea of Jew and Gentile as one body.” OSHT, op. cit., page 68. Further, “[t]he parallel use of the phrase ev evi qwuati [“the one body”] to describe the church creates the strong possibility of literary acquaintance. The context of the passages strengthens this probability.” Barnett, op. cit., page 164. Foster also concludes there is probably a literary contact between the two. Op. cit., page 169.

There are other possible literary contacts between Ignatius' letters and Paul's letter to the Ephesians, including Ign. Polycarp 6:2 and Eph. 6:13-17 (discussing spiritual “armor”); Ign. Eph. 12.2 and Eph. 1:9; and Ign. Magn. 13:2 (admonishing the church to be subject to “one another”) and Eph. 5:21 (Paul admonishing the church to “be subject to one another”).

All told, the case for Ignatius' knowledge of Paul's life as an Apostle and his literary acquaintance with Paul's letter to the Ephesians is convincing.

Update:
If you follow the third link you will find that Quixie's post about 1 Clement and Ignatius is no longer at the end of it. I am not sure what to make of this. It was removed shortly after I posted this piece and left a link for Quixie on his blog alerting him to my latest response. It is possible he is updating it -- again -- or that he has simply taken it down. Perhaps we will see.

And this is part of the reason why:

Male Rape Victims in the Congo

Oh, but that's not all the article talks about. You want to know the meaning of hell? How about toddlers thrown on open fires, men being castrated, gang rapes, village burnings, massacres...the list goes on and on, right out of the worst cannibal gore B-movies of the 70s. As Greg Boyd says in his work on spiritual warfare, if this world resembles a war zone, that's because it probably is.

I know that such behaviors are also observed among other primates in the wild. In his book The Lucifer Principle, Howard Bloom documents in gruesome detail the atrocities that apes, gorillas, orangutans and our other simian relatives engage in. But human beings have a moral sense and reflective intelligence. We do not have to succumb to such vile impulses. That we get caught up in this behavior anyway strongly suggests to me demonic influence.

In contrast to many other Christians who have had a crisis of faith, I never felt that my spiritual journey fit the standard 'conservative to liberal' trajectory that John Loftus talks about. And even in my moments of gravest doubt one conviction that I have never been able to give up is that there are dark spiritual forces at work in the world that go beyond biology. And now that I've been doing a little more research into the captivating power of ideology, healing and deliverance ministries and even parapsychology I feel much less embarrassed about affirming this. Of course there are abuses and of course there are people who will attribute just about anything to demonic influence. Faulty memory can distort and amplify ordinary happenings. But the fact remains that there is credible witness to demonic oppression that cannot be accounted for through standard medical conditions like depression, schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder. (For a good introduction, see Philip Wiebe's God and other spirits, pp.7-58)

I think it's time for Christians to become less embarassed about the fact that their worldview is based on the reality of spiritual warfare. At least one important (and perhaps the most important) New Testament conception of the atonement is that of the defeat of dark powers. The Christian mission is all about the defeat of the Kingdom of Satan by advancing the Kingdom of God.

In Parts 2 and 3 of this Round, I demonstrated that the actual data of the texts does not indicate the authors were using the name "Jud-", including with Judas Iscariot, to heap derision on orthodox Judaism; that there is no clear progression across the texts of exonerating Pilate while blaming the Jewish religious authorities; and (most problematic of all, perhaps), that Bishop Spong himself has less than no problem admitting that there was a fatal rejection of Jesus and his teaching (even on Bishop Spong's theologically truncated notion of Jesus' teaching) by the mainstream Jewish authorities of his day: a rejection leading to Jesus' death at the hands of the Romans via the Sanhedrin. Which admission of historical accuracy, radically undermines Bishop Spong's theory for the reason why the authors would invent a fictional character of 'Judas Iscariot', in order to promote rejection of orthodox Judaism among Jewish Christians.


There is, of course, the much larger question of to what extent the Gospels (and other New Testament documents) are anti-Jewish, in the sense of not only distinguishing their religious beliefs from mainline Judaism but of outright opposing the mainline religious beliefs. Whether in the Gospels or the Epistles (or RevJohn, for that matter), this distinction is always focused on the honor, attributes, deeds, authority and character of Jesus of Nazareth. Even where there are distinctions in how Christians relate to the Law, these distinctions still focus, sooner or later, on the central importance of Jesus of Nazareth. This is similarly true in how the Gospels present Jesus presenting himself (or Himself rather), to His followers, to His opponents, and to people just around Him at any given time.

This much larger and more complex discussion is well worth having--and is far too large (and complex) to try to reason about in detail at the tail end of an already-extensive critical analysis of one relatively small theory.

But, what can said about this larger body of data and reasoning, in relation to Bishop Spong’s theory about Judas Iscariot, is this:

The term “the Jews” hardly ever occurs in GosMark, where Bishop Spong would have this process begin; and when it does, it almost always concerns Pontius Pilate taunting the accusers of Jesus with Jesus being “the king of the Jews”. (The one exception being an explanation by the Markan author to his audience of how “the Pharisees and all the Jews” wash themselves.) The term has only one really important usage, and the thrust of the narrative irony is that Jesus really is king of the Jews: rejected by the Jewish leaders, yes, but still sacrificing Himself as King of the Jews. (Even as YHWH, the Jewish God, promoted constantly throughout the text as the highest and only true God.)

GosMatt and GosLuke follow suit, in the same proportions. The term usage is almost entirely restricted to the irony of Jesus sacrificing Himself as the true and highest king of the Jews. One outlying data point is the end of GosMatt’s tomb-guard story, where the author explains that the story of disciples stealing the body has been spread “among the Jews” “to this day” (the time of his composition). But the crime is still centered on the chief priests misleading the Jewish people, not on the Jewish people per se. Even in GosMatt’s notorious “his blood be on us and on our children” declaration, the nation itself is not in view, except in Pilate’s taunt to the accusers of Jesus. Had the author been primarily interested in calumniating the Jewish people per se, he could have tweaked that around far more directly.

The term “the Jews”, even in a oppositional fashion, is pretty rare up until GosJohn. Yet Bishop Spong would have us believe that Iscariot was named “Judas” solely out of the sheer importance of this term being the name of the whole Jewish people. And this doesn’t even count the number of times in the Synoptics (and Acts) when Judaism and Jews are complimented and promoted for acceptance by the audience of the Gospels.

GosJohn, at the tail end of Bishop Spong’s supposed development arc, has a lot of references to “the Jews” of course. But aside from noticing, once again, that the negative reference usages of this term tend to be aimed at Jewish leaders (in narrative context), this is also the text with the most overtly positive references to Judaism and Jesus’ respect of, and connection to, Judaism. (Not that these are missing in the Synoptics, though.)

Indeed, here in what should (on Bishop Spong’s theory) be the highest development of calumny against Jews and Judaism, Jesus Himself strongly declares in distinguishing Himself with “the Jews” compared to someone (the Samaritan woman) whom devout Jews did not consider Jewish (though she would have considered herself Jewish, a tension present in the text and in fact a tension which Jesus is directly addressing): “You are worshiping that of which you are not aware; but we [Jews] are worshiping that of which we are aware: for salvation is of the Jews.”

True, Jesus’ inclusiveness is also on display in exactly this place (4:21, 24): a time will come when neither in Jerusalem nor at the Samaritan temple will people be worshiping the Father; “the hour is coming, and even now is, when the true worshipers will be worshiping the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is also seeking such to be worshiping Him.” But this inclusiveness is explicitly presented in a way that is the very reverse of being anti-Jewish.


My point is that Bishop Spong ties his (supposed) development of Judas’ infamy to a (supposed) development of Christian anti-Judaism in the Gospel texts; but not only does the ‘development’ of Judas’ infamy turn out to be very unclear (as noted in my Round Three comments), but the actual textual evidence doesn’t clearly fit a parallel ‘development’ of anti-Judaism either. (To give yet another of many examples: GosJohn also happens to be the text that features the most overt support for Jesus among the chief priests and Pharisees! And not only by adding mention of Nicodemus, either; there's a lot more support going on in GosJohn than that.)

Now, granted, people who for whatever reason are inclined to be hateful to Jews (as religious competitors or as social scapegoats or whatever), can rather simplistically and uncritically mine the Gospels for prooftexts to support their stances. (They could do the same from the Old Testament, too, on much the same process!) But Bishop Spong in effect does this same uncritical and simplistic fundamentalistic mining, except in reverse!--namely, for purposes of calumniating Christians. (When he himself isn’t busy calumniating the scripturally devout Jews and Judaism of both Jesus’ day and today, above and beyond calumniating the same criminal corruption and uncharitable attitudes in the Jewish religious hierarchy which Jesus is represented in the Gospels as fulminating against.)


So, to recap: Judas Iscariot’s name, as a textual characteristic, is indeed an easily identifiable, documentable fact.

There are, however, many other documentable facts about those textual characteristics, some easily identifiable, some needing a little actual scholarly work to suss out, which together completely sink the suspicious innuendo Bishop Spong tries to attach, against the authors of the texts, to the existence of the name of Judas Iscariot. Judas’ name is not treated as the very name of the Jewish nation in the Gospels (or anywhere else in the New Testament, either): a supposed point leaned heavily on by Bishop Spong when trying to make the use of one of the commonest and most popular names in 1st century Palestine seem “too convenient” and so actually a coded attempt at “placing the blame for Jesus’ death on the whole of orthodox Judaism”. Nor do the Gospels ever blame the-whole-of-orthodox-Judaism-per-se for Jesus’ death. One Gospel (GosMatt) could be (and has been conveniently) read as meaning that all the Jewish people called the blame down on themselves and their descendants; but aside from such a conclusion not being tenable from a close examination of the text (though Christians are admittedly the ones to blame if they appeal to this text without critical faculty for their ideological purposes), the easily identifiable and documentable fact is that this statement completely disappears from what Bishop Spong considers the next two ‘developments’ of the Gospel story.

The Gospel narratives do blame the corrupt religious authorities and stubborn-hearted Jewish religious figures for Jesus’ death; but then, so does John Shelby Spong. Except here, where (perhaps only incidentally??) admitting that this is a historical detail he himself accepts would totally destroy the impression he’s trying to build, that such a concept was invented by Christians several decades later. Nor do the Gospels go out of their way to exonerate Pilate, although one of them reports Pilate trying (very unsuccessfully) to symbolically exonerate himself.


Does it surprise anyone by now, that at the beginning of his subsequent chapter, John Shelby Spong asks his readers to “set aside your critical judgment” and just henceforth “assume” that his theory about the invention (and motivation for the invention) of Judas Iscariot and his treachery is true?

I cannot say, however, that I would recommend that course of action. Nor can I recommend this chapter from The Sins of Scripture as being well-reasoned, good scholarship, or even worth anyone's time reading.

Click here for Part 2 of this Round, where I cross-check Bishop Spong's theory about "Judas" being a codename used for denigrating orthodox Judaism in the eyes of the Jewish Christian audience of the Gospels, with actual textual details. (Readers can follow links back to the beginning of this Round, and of this series of analysis, too.)


In an attempt to make this theory sound like it has a shred of credence, Bishop Spong writes:

“The leaders of the orthodox party of that nation, who defined the worship of the Jews, were by the time the gospels were written increasingly the enemy of the Christian movement. It is simply too convenient to place the blame for Jesus' death on the whole of orthodox Judaism by linking the traitor by name with the entire nation of the Jews. […] The Romans killed Jesus, but by the eighth decade of the Christian era, when the story of Jesus was being written, something compelled the gospel writers to exonerate the Roman procurator, Pilate, and to blame the Jews. That was when Judas the traitor, identified as one of the twelve, entered the tradition.”

(Don’t worry, I’ll be discussing that ellipsed bit, too, later.)

Let’s set aside (as Bishop Spong does, for whatever reason) the obvious fact that in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (which Bishop Spong accepts as genuine and as written at least 5 to 10 years before GosMark, on his dating, maybe moreso), the Romans (either as a people or as a government) are not blamed for the death of Jesus, while Paul is warning his Gentile readers that they’d better not be dissing their Jewish brethren for rejecting Christ, because God still loves the Jews, even the ones who have stumbled over Christ, and will be saving them, too, in the end--and in fact Gentiles are being grafted into the promises of Israel, while Gentiles should not be surprised if Jews make even better Christians than Gentiles do.

But, pretending this is irrelevant, and setting it aside: Bishop Spong’s paragraph only makes sense as meaning, or trying to mean, that Christians invented orthodox Judaism’s rejection of Jesus, roughly 40 years after Rome (the real culprits) slew Jesus, apparently in revenge for orthodox Judaism increasingly rejecting Christianity roughly 40 years after Rome (the real culprits) slew Jesus. And so, needing someone to shift blame from the Romans (the actual culprits, per Bishop Spong) to the Jews, somebody invented a traitor among Jesus’ own disciples, whom no Christian had ever heard of before his invention but who every Christian just kind of accepted anyway (um... okay, maybe ignore that detail) as someone who Jesus Himself had personally chosen for the highest Christian ranking under Him in authority, and named this traitor Judas (after the very name of the Jewish nation never once used as such in any of the Gospels... uh, wait, ignore that detail.) And then made up some other name for him that nobody today can figure out for sure what it means. (But for which theories are practically never connected to Christian anti-Jewish persecution... okay, ignoring that, too, then.)

Doesn’t this plan seem just a little vague?

I mean, if Christian authors are going to authoritatively invent opposition to Jesus from orthodox Jewish authority, and cleverly codify this opposition as “Judas Whasiwhosis”, why not invent obvious opposition to Jesus from orthodox Jewish authority and put that in the story instead? Wouldn’t that seem more efficient? Why restrict it to this guy whom no one (per this theory) has ever heard of before (unlike Peter, John, etc.) but who was supposed to be a high ranking member of the--?

Wait: all four Gospel texts are absolutely crawling with opposition to Jesus from orthodox Jewish authority? Vastly much moreso compared to the few references to Iscariot in any of the texts?! In fact, in one text, Iscariot actually turns around and rejects the danged authorities who are in the process of ensuring Jesus’ death because even he thinks Jesus is innocent!!?

Why in God’s name, then, would some author need a fictional 'Judas Iscariot' for this purpose!!?!

John Shelby Spong does not bother to answer or even to consider this question. (Not in this chapter anyway; there is a subsequent chapter which I don’t have full access to. This would have been a good chapter to do it in, though, I think, since he overtly begins the next chapter by alerting the reader his rationale for his position is finished.)


It gets even better, though; because sometime between writing The Sins of Scripture and writing Resurrection: Myth or Reality? (check back through the link-trail to discover or remember why this book would be important to the discussion), Bishop Spong appears, at a casual glance, to utterly and completely change his mind on this topic. Because in that book, Bishop Spong has less than no problem at all believing that the orthodox Jewish authorities of Jesus’ day saw Jesus as a threat to be eliminated by turning Him over to the Romans for execution. Because they were a bunch of persecuting religious hypocrite authorities, etc. What else would be expected of them, but to oppose the nice Jesus of Nazareth who spent much of His (or rather his) ministry opposing their nasty religious bigotries and empty ceremonialisms and such?


And yet, it gets even better again. Because later in The Sins of Scripture itself, John Shelby Spong basically puts Jesus--the historical Jesus that Bishop Spong himself believes in, admires and follows as a leader (sort of; well as a teacher anyway)--in opposition not only to the corrupt religious leadership of that day, but to the mainstream Judaism of that day, represented by the Pharisees and by the religious authority of the Hebrew Scriptures, against which Bishop Spong spends much of The Sins of Scripture fulminating--because, unlike Jesus, those authorities hadn’t “escaped the boundaries of the Torah”. And so they considered Jesus a threat they had to... well... get rid of. To put it politely. Ahem.


“Would we welcome such a god?” Bishop Spong rhetorically asks. “Or would we kill this deity because the threat we perceived at the divine hand was still intolerable to our security?”

He isn’t challenging us by putting us into the place of the Romans, here. In fact, there isn’t much reason for the Romans to have killed Bishop Spong’s Jesus at all; he wasn’t leading a military revolution, wasn’t making a royal authority claim they would have taken seriously, and was (apparently, per Bishop Spong’s reading) advocating the kind of acceptance of all people and freedom beyond religion that would fit quite well enough into the Imperial Pax Romana: “rolling on past the limiting tendencies of gender and race, sexual orientation and religion, until one human community comes into our vision”. Such a person might be annoyed or grieved over the technical tyranny of the Emperor and/or over the expansionist military tendencies of Rome (to bring that same Pax Romana to all people), but Rome wouldn’t be likely to kill them over it as a traitor to the Empire.

So, perhaps this is why Bishop Spong eventually changed his mind and decided that Jesus was going up against orthodox Jewish authority all the time, until the orthodox Jewish authorities put Jesus out of the picture by getting him crucified by Rome somehow; which he eventually puts into his book on the Resurrection?

Uh, no: you see, Sins of the Scripture was written in 2005. That other book, where Bishop Spong spends so much time talking about Jesus being a threat to the religious authority of his day?--that was first written about 10 years earlier, in the mid 90s.


It’s clear enough, though, that even in The Sins of Scripture, John Shelby Spong hasn’t really changed his mind about Jesus challenging the religious authorities of his day until, tragically but predictably (for such is the way of the natural oppression of religious authority when faced with the liberating message of Jesus, etc.), they had him killed.

So: if that really, historically happened--why would anyone have to invent a Judas Iscariot out of nothing?

The short answer is: there isn’t any reason. No more reason than, for example, the preachers in Acts had (or the author of Acts, even if the preaching was simply invented by him) for ever mentioning Iscariot as part of their preaching to non-Christian Jews about the crime committed against the Messiah.

But Bishop Spong needs there to be a reason. So, actually lacking one, Bishop Spong pretends for a paragraph or so (here in this chapter, and then occasionally later in the next chapter, too) that Christians later needed some reason to be antagonistic to “orthodox Judaism” that would go back foundationally to Jesus and the origin of Christianity, and so invented Judas Iscariot for that purpose, as part of “shifting the blame away from Rome” and over onto the orthodox religious authorities.

Which is where Bishop Spong himself puts the blame, pretty consistently, as a historical fact he himself is entirely willing to accept. But then, so much for Bishop Spong’s hypothetical reason (such as it is) for Christians to invent Judas Iscariot.


While we’re at it: what about “specific attempts to exonerate Romans” specifically “the Roman procurator Pilate” from responsibility in the death of Jesus, as a “shifting of blame”?

“Shifting” implies a process. But the actual, easily identifiable, documentable data--the textual characteristics--once again show no clear procession. All the texts indicate Pilate tried to some extent to free Jesus. All the texts indicate Pilate wimped out and/or lost patience with the whole affair, and basically sacrificed Jesus for his own expediency. The washing of the hands and declaring himself innocent of the blood of Jesus, shows up once, in GosMatt, and then is never even heard of again (per the compositional order accepted by Bishop Spong); much less could this detail even be reasonably inferred from the actually existent evidence to have developed in progressing detail.

Is it actually necessary for me to add that few if any Christian commentators over the next two thousand years consider the blame “shifted from” Pilate? Is it remotely necessary for me to observe that the creedal formulas are “crucified by Pilate”, not “executed by the Jews?”--or for me to observe that Josephus hardly presents Pilate as exonerated from Jesus’ death either?

Very well, if it is necessary, I will add: if the intent was to shift the blame away from Pilate, the only thing that can be said is that this attempt utterly and completely FAILED! (Unless one counts some anti-Christian rabbis of the Talmudic tradition who are quite happy to make coded references where orthodox Judaism takes credit for the destruction and damnation of Jesus while utterly ignoring any role played by Pilate or Rome in general!) It was such an epic failure that Christians have gone on merrily blaming Pilate without a care in the world about it, for all those centuries since the composition of the Gospels; and pointing to the scriptural testimony as their justification for doing so.

To put it mildly, such a blatantly obvious epic failure cannot make Bishop Spong’s theory look any better. Yet somehow, he thinks it does! Probably because he isn’t remembering that if his theory is true, the attempt must have been an epic failure. An epic failure repeated four times, over a period of decades, with total lack of success each and every time.


[Next time, part 4 of 4 for this Round: but what about anti-Judaism in the Gospels? Surely Judas Iscariot can be connected to that more generally, right? And the recap for this Round.]

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