Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Other Books On The Apocalypse

AP: I have a book that was published back in 2007 that you might be interested in. The title is Los Apocalipsis: 45 textos Apocalípticos Apócrifos Judíos, Cristianos y Gnósticos (published by EDAF). Translated the title would be The Revelations: 45 Jewish, Christian, and Gnostic Apocryphal Apocalyptic Texts. The title isn't wrong though, I assure you. I'm sure you noticed how I used the plural los not el (in Spanish) and Revelations not Revelation (in English). These other texts were written over a period of 600 years. My friend Fernando Bermejo was kind enough to write a review of the book when it was published. I've gone through and put his words in English so that you can get a feel of what the book is about. By the way, you can find a number of Fernando's publications at his page (see here). Here is what he wrote about the book:
The hallmark of this new book edited by Antonio Piñero is how he has assembled and made readily available a number of apocalyptic texts from different eras and cultural provenances.
These writings are of great interest for various reasons. On the one hand, the panoply of texts included in this comprehensive anthology allows a better understanding of the hopes and eschatological representations of Judaism and religious world of Late Antiquity. In addition, it helps to understand the apocalyptic matrix of various christianities, in which several of the texts reproduced have exerted considerable influence.
But interest in these texts does not end there. In some of them (Revelation of John, Coptic Apocalypse of Elijah) literary justification of beliefs in the millennium (the belief that the righteous, before moving to the final paradise, must joyously live a thousand years on this earth, surrounded by all kinds of goods and fortunes) played a very important role in the expectations of some of the most important Christian thinkers of the early church, such as Justin, Melito, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and others, and then declared some movements heretical; as is known, these beliefs in the millennium would persist into Late Antiquity––for example in Apollinaris of Laodicea in the fourth century, especially in the frequent "chiliastic" outbreaks of the late Middle Ages and Modern Age.
In addition, some of the selected writings, as in the case of the Hebrew Apocalypse of Enoch, contain ideas and developments that are connected to the speculations of Jewish mysticism, or Kabbalah.
The book edited by A. Piñero also deserves our attention because interest in the apocalyptic is not restricted to Jewish and Christian traditions. For example, Manichaeism (born in Mesopotamia in third century, but survived in China at least until the sixteenth century) was also influenced by Jewish and Christian apocalyptic tradition. For example, in the Cologne Mani-Codex (found in 1970) is a long digression citing various fragments of 5 apocalyptic texts (Adam, Seth, Enosh, Shem, and Enoch). 
The reader should note that, despite having been included under the category of "Jewish Apocalypse," some of the selected texts (e.g., the Book of the Prophet Ezra ) are actually Christian texts, or Jewish texts that were significantly manipulated by Christians. Comments on the "twelve tribes" in the publisher's general introduction should also be taken cum mica salis since, as several studies have shown, the notion of the twelve tribes seems more a theological construct than that of a historical reality.
In any case, we can only congratulate the success of this new initiative by A. Piñero and EDAF. The book cover showing a ominous skyline over a modern city expresses very accurately how such texts, with their powerful imagery, continue to feed the fears, dreams, and hopes of humans, and even a non-negligible number of our contemporaries.
You can see a sample of the book over at Google books (in Spanish, of course). Just click here. But I wanted to alert you to it, in case you are interested in seeing for yourselves what these texts are all about.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Philological Studies In Honor Of Antonio Piñero

TWH: El Almendro recently published a Festschrift honoring Antonio Piñero of the Complutense University in Madrid, Spain. This book contains a collection of essays written by some of Antonio's dearest friends, colleagues, and students. There simply is no denying how influential Antonio has been in the field of New Testament studies over the last forty years. A simple glance over his long academic publications is evidence of his influence. The extent of his research is quite broad. Honestly, when I think there is something he hasn't written on in the field, I need only review his publications and out jumps a resource on that very subject. And Antonio continues to contribute to the field. New works are published regularly, such as his book on the apostle Paul and his theology––Guía para entender a Pablo de Tarso. Una interpretación del pensamiento paulino (Trotta, 2015)––and the forthcoming English translation of his book La vida oculta de Jesús (in English The Hidden Life of Jesus).

Here is the bibliographic information for the Festschrift:
In Mari Via Tua. Philological Studies in Honour of Antonio Piñero. Estudios de Filología Neotestamentaria 11. Edited by Israel M. Gallarte and Jesús Peláez. Córdoba: El Almendro, 2016.
The book is not yet available on the publisher's website, but should be shortly.

Interested in what types of studies you will find in this Festschrift? Well, let me just give you a sample. There's thirty-four total, but here's just a highlight from each of the five sections of the book.

From the section covering the Old and New Testament Apocrypha, you'll find a study on the Apocalypse of Abraham, one on the Testament of Job, and one on the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla.

From the section on New Testament philology, you'll find contributions by Paul Danove, Stephen Levinsohn, Jesús Peláez, Luis Gil, Keith Elliott, David Alan Black, Fernando Bermejo, among others. There are studies on translation, syntactical issues, lexical studies, and even a very interesting textual-historical study pertaining to the manuscripts undergirding the Complutensian Greek New Testament. This section (the largest in the book) spans some four hundred pages. It's packed with research.

From the section on the origins of Christianity, you'll find studies like Stan Porter's on assigning dates to the composition of the New Testament texts and the importance doing so has on reconstructing the historical milieu of Christianity at its conception.

From the section on the patristics, you'll find three studies, such as Gonzalo del Cerro's on Pseudo-Clement. And a final section contains some miscellaneous studies, one of which is Chrys Caragounis' discussion on the term "Greco-Roman."

This is truly one of the most impressive Festschrifts I've ever seen. It's really no surprise why so many people agreed to offer a contribution. Antonio Piñero's impact on Greek philology over the past decades certainly deserves the applause offered by his friends and colleagues in this book. Definitely get your hands on a copy of it when you can.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Did Jesus Fulfill Requirements Of The High Priest?

TWH: There is no question that Paul refers to Jesus as a high priest throughout his letter to the Hebrews. (Yes, I genuinely believe that the evidence favors Paul as the author of this text.) The first reference to Jesus as high priest is found in chapter two:
"Therefore, he had to be like his brethren in all things, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since he himself was tempted in that which he has suffered, he is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted." (Heb. 2:7–8)
In Heb. 3:1 Jesus is referred to as "the apostle and high priest of our confession." And in chapter four Paul writes:
"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin." (Heb. 4:14–15)
In Heb. 6:19–20 we find the following:
"This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." 
And there is a lengthy discussion about the nature of Jesus' priesthood in Hebrews 7–9. The last reference to a high priest is found in Heb. 13:11, but there the attention is on Jesus as sacrifice, not as high priest.

So I mention all of that to get to the main subject of this post. When I was in college I remember reading an article by Joseph E. Zimmerman titled "Jesus of Nazareth: High Priest of Israel's Great Fall Festival––The Day of Atonement" (published in Evangelical Journal 17:2 [1999]:49–59). You'll remember Jesus' words in Matt. 5:17 I'm sure: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill." So Zimmerman asks the question: "If, in fact, Christ was the high priest for the perfect Day of Atonement, might he not have been consciously fulfilling the responsibilities of that priestly role as if it were the eve of Yoma and the night before the sunrise of Yoma in the activities, for example, of the last supper and in the Garden of Gethsemane?" Let me just point out a couple of the observations about the high priest's activities on the eve of Yom Kippur that Zimmerman mentions in his article. I assure you, it's very interesting stuff.

According to Zimmerman the high priest would remain isolated from most of the other priests and the people at large on the eve of Yom Kippur. The only exception was a small group of priests. They were tasked with staying with the high priest and keeping him awake all night. The primary reason he was to stay awake was the belief that he could keep himself clean. He would do this by prayer and meditating on the Scriptures. For the high priest on the eve of Yom Kippur, the greatest temptation was falling asleep and becoming impure. Now contrast this with what Jesus does on the eve of his crucifixion (remember Jesus died on Passover, not the Day of Atonement). Jesus likewise went away from the people, including most of his own disciples. He took with him three disciples and charged them with staying awake and told them to pray. It seems very similar to what was going on during Yom Kippur in the first century. There is one striking difference though. The most difficult temptation for Jesus was not falling asleep. Jesus went off to pray, but he wrestled with something that no earthly high priest ever wrestled. He thrice mentions a "cup" and he agonizes over what he was about to endure the coming day. Instead of his disciples keeping him awake, Jesus has to keep them awake.

The most interesting connection Zimmerman makes regarding Jesus' actions and the Day of Atonement rituals deals with the washing of the disciples' feet. There was a symbolic cleansing that took place on the Passover, but, as Zimmerman points out, the disciples would have already performed that cleansing. Then he writes this, "What Peter (and the other disciples) would not have understood was why a supplemental washing was necessary and why Jesus had to be the one to perform the required Passover washing." The Passover required no subsequent cleansing, and this is Zimmerman's point. For the Day of Atonement, according to Yoma, those who received the benefit of the atoning sacrifice needed additional cleansing if they had become unclean or impure due to actions taking place after the ceremonial immersions earlier in the day. Zimmerman's point is if Jesus is focused on fulfilling the expectations of Yom Kippur and the Passover on the same day, then this supplemental washing would have satisfied the Yoma requirements. Actually it involved cleansing the hands and feet, but not the whole body.

He has some other parallels that are pretty interesting. I'm not entirely sure what I think about all of this. The washing of the disciples' feet is easily explained without all of this. Jesus uses it as one final opportunity to teach his disciples what it looks like to serve others, especially since (according to Luke) they had begun to fight about who was to be greatest in the kingdom (this was actually the third time they fought about this issue). Instead of telling them what was required to be great, Jesus showed them and gave them the perfect example. Fulfilling the law, in my opinion, has more to do with fulfilling the obligations and requirements set forth by God in his Word, not manmade expectations or criteria. But that doesn't mean that Jesus didn't fulfill these expectations, especially as a Jew living in the first century. Perhaps had he not, when others pointed to his role as high priest, a cloud of doubt would have deterred Jews in the first century from accepted him as such. In any event, the article is interesting and worth the read for sure.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Importance Of The Hebrew Bible

AP: Scholars unanimously agree that it is impossible to find one's way in the New Testament without recourse to the Old Testament. It is quite evident that the New Testament in general, and the Gospels in particular, contain numerous quotations from the Old Testament. And there are even more allusions to Old Testament texts. It is impossible to deny the continuity that exists between the Old and New Testament. In order to understand the literary genre in which the various books of the New Testament were written, especially the Gospels, it is important to explore the concepts and symbols featured in the Old Testament texts. Consider the words of J. Mateos and F. Camacho in their book Evangelio, figures y símbolos:
"[We must consider] the conceptual and symbolic universe in which they moved. It will be necessary to examine the images and symbols inherited from the Old Testament or from Jewish culture, and the modifications and adaptations made by the evangelists and other writers of the New Testament. It is necessary to note also the new images and symbols that they present following traditional lines, and to notice the new meanings they give to old terms to enable them to express different realities, as well as the ways of indicating the existence of a theological meaning in passages which at first sight appear to be mere historical accounts. In this regard the Gospel writers do not invent a new style, but rather are influenced by the methods applied to the OT Scriptures in Rabbinic schools. In these schools, they commented on the ancient books, adapting them to the circumstances of the day and in accordance with the new demands of the day. In oral or written exposition, the commentary could take the form of Madras, which consisted in glossing an ancient narrative, amplifying its contents with new additions and adapting it step by step to the new message they wished to convey. It is also necessary to consider, in a more limited form, the use of already existing symbols that had been assimilated into the culture, separately or together, as appropriate. The writers could also take the main idea of a passage or verse and develop it into narrative form. With this material at their disposal, the Gospel writers sometimes allude to particular Old Testament passages, which at other times they use the many and varied prototypes and symbols that were being formed within the Jewish culture."
To that extent the Old Testament was the primary and essential referent of the New Testament. Augustine recognized the importance for Christians of understanding the Old Testament, asserting that "[t]he New  Testament is hidden in the Old, and the latter is revealed in the New" (Quaestionum in Heptateuchum libri Septem 2.73). The New Testament cannot be correctly interpreted without knowledge of the Old Testament and its conceptual, figurative, and symbolic universe.

There is continuity and discontinuity between the two Testaments. Some theological lines of the Old Testament have been adopted by the New Testament writers (seeing the latter as the expansion of the former). Others, however, have been either ignored or rejected. In any case, the authors of the New Testament interpreted and developed these texts with great liberty, sometimes regarding the Old Testament as not so much a fixed given as a literary resource.

As a religious group born from the womb of Judaism, Christianity and its basic book, the New Testament, are the formal heirs of all the theological riches of the Hebrew Bible. The essential points of this tradition were pointed out by R. Bultmann. I have also discussed these connection points in some of my own publications. Let me identify three.
1. Belief in a single personal God who transcends the world while maintaining continuous contact with it.  
2. The sovereignty of God, whose salvific effects appear throughout human history, is manifested in this world. 
3. The relationship between God and human beings is measured by obedience to the Torah or Law, manifested in the Scriptures and conceived in terms of covenant, a covenant by which the people promised to worship Yahweh as the only God and he, in turn, would protect, lead, and deliver his people. Participation in this covenant was confirmed by strict compliance with the Law. Consequently, Christianity was heir to a religion that made reference to a moral demand, perfectly articulated in clear commandments, though in the Gospels Jesus reduces the plurality of these, establishing a clear hierarchy, with just two at the top. The first is: "Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and al your might" (Deut. 6:6). The second is, "You shall love your neighbors as yourself" (Lev. 19:18). There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:30–31)
Along with these, New Testament Judaism also inherited the sense of guilt, sin, and expiation; the fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham and the kingdom of God; etc.

You can't study the New Testament without studying the Old Testament. It is an essential resource, one that must be within our reach as we study the texts of the New Testament.

*The above is taken with only slight modification from Antonio Piñero and Jesús Peláez, The Study of the New Testament: A Comprehensive Introduction, trans. David E. Orton and Paul Ellingworth, Tools for Biblical Studies 3 (Leiden: Deo, 2003), 213-215.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Matthew’s View On The Historicity Of The Flight Into Egypt

AP: The following paragraphs are taken from the translation of my book on the early years of Jesus' life. The title in English is The Hidden Life of Jesus. Thomas and I should receive the final proof copies shortly. That will be the final step before the book is printed and made available to the public. We're looking forward to seeing its release, and we will definitely keep you updated as we approach this final period in its publication.

This particular excerpt below focuses on what Matthew thought about the historicity of the flight into Egypt.
"What did Matthew think? Did he believe this event actually occurred? Or, was he consciously transmitting a “theological story,” knowing the event never occurred? This scenario is quite unlikely. He probably did not even think about any of this. Christians early on probably did not think about it either. Anyways, a straightforward reading of these chapters and the Gospel as a whole does not make us think so. In fact, up until the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, all of Christendom basically believed that the massacre of the innocents actually occurred.
It is not until the nineteenth century that we hear the first voices against the historicity of this portion of the narrative. It is not until the twentieth and twenty-first centuries that we hear the hypothesis that this is a “theological history,” transmitting not the events as they happened, but a religious message. Nevertheless, it is normal to think that Matthew believed everything occurred as he communicated it to his audience.
For us today, this question regarding the historicity of what we read in the Gospels is very important because it depends on the basic ideological sustenance of life. Matthew composed the story of the magi in his attempt to provide a more complete biography of Jesus. Most likely, he used previously existing legends that had been developed in his community. Matthew takes these legends, rewrites and rearranges them, and then incorporates his own new material, especially from the Old Testament. He does all of this to support one central idea, specifically that Jesus is the Messiah and had a miraculous childhood, like other heroes of old, full of wonders, which confirm that he is the true Son of God."

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Question About The Olivet Discourse

Question: Some evangelicals hold that Matthew 24, Luke 21 and Mark 13 refer to the end of world and the second coming of Christ. I actually think that they refer to the destruction of Jerusalem and nothing else. The events of the sun, moon, and stars in those passages are symbols for governments, rulers, and authorities. The same language is used in Isa. 13:9–13, 19, referring to the fall of Babylon; in Isa. 34:4 to describe God's wrath against the nations; in Ezek. 32:7 with  respect to the fall of Egypt. They are not referring to some cosmic destruction. The reference to one coming on the clouds, in my opinion, is a figurative expression that refers to the intervention of God to judge and punish. You can find similar language in Isa. 19:1 and  Ps. 104:3. These Old Testament passages were fulfilled in theory and referred to punishments of nations and not cosmic events. On the other hand, what about Jesus' recommendations regarding those who were pregnant, that their flight not take place in winter or on the Sabbath? It seems like that would only make sense in that generation. And then we have what Paul of Tarsus mentions about the end of the world in 2 Thess. 1:6–10: "For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power, when he comes to be glorified in his saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed."

AP: What you write is well established as prophetic history. But you forget one very important thing: the evolution of Jewish thought after the Babylonian Exile and especially the rise of Apocalyptic in the era of Hellenism. That changes the prophetic perspective and heavily focuses it on  the end of world. You also forget that both Jesus and Paul expressly say the end is near. The first Christians saw the destruction of Jerusalem as the beginning of the end and shaped these discourses of Jesus accordingly, no doubt. But they left intact the message about the end, which was original to Jesus' teaching.


TWH: Since Antonio has a short answer, I'm going to keep mine short too. Obviously I am one of those evangelicals that believes the Olivet Discourse refers to the events immediately preceding the end of the world. Jesus warns of false Christs, wars, earthquakes, and other signs that will mark the time. He warns his disciples to not be deceived by the false Christs, and describes what will happen immediately following a period of time where their activity will be heightened and unprecedented. I suppose one major question might be, "Why does Jesus tell this to his disciples, if it's going to be at least two millennia before these events transpire?" That's a great question. First, Jesus indicates that he is not privy to the exact time when these events will take place (at least he wasn't prior to his death and resurrection) (cf. Matt. 24:36; Acts  1:7). In Matt. 24:36 he indicates that he doesn't even know the exact time; in Acts 1:7 he indicates that such information is not granted to the disciples (he leaves himself out in this verse, which at least opens up the possibility that he is granted that information after he is raised from the dead). So the Olivet Discourse needs to be approached from that standpoint. Jesus is teaching them because (1) he knows his return could be at any time, whenever the Father has so determined, and (2) he knows that they will be responsible for transmitting his teachings to subsequent disciples (Matt. 28:19–20).

Regarding whether these are cosmic events, I would just say that hermeneutical principles that allow for large amounts of symbolization generally frighten me. There is definitely symbolism in the Old and New Testament. There's no question about that. But how far are we going to take it? In my opinion, take the literal interpretation unless absolutely unable to do so. For example, Jesus promised that there would be false Christs during that time, many in fact. He also said that he was going to come from heaven to earth, which is known as the Second Coming. Both of those elements are going to take place. The reference to the "stars" as heavenly beings, not earthly institutions, I think can be established  from looking at other apocalyptic literature and the Revelation by John. The events outlined in Daniel 7 will take place. The Ancient of Days will present to the Son of Man a kingdom and the Son of Man will come and reign. Jesus has yet to inherit the kingdom that was promised to David (2 Samuel 7). That kingdom was a kingdom on earth, not a spiritual kingdom. And he must sit on David's throne as the descendent of David and rightful heir. One final comment regarding fulfillment of some passages in the prophets. Sometimes there seems to be a "near" and a "far" fulfillment.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Wanting And Desiring In The Bible

TWH: Wanting and desiring are basic human emotions that appear in every single book of the Bible. They can be communicated through specific lexemes, but also indirectly through commands and actions. These emotions develop in humans usually by the age of two. Thinking about such a basic human emotion in the Bible is an overwhelming task. There are a number of different words connected to want and desire. For example, the following Hebrew words are tied to this emotion: חָסֵר (e.g., Neh. 9:21),מַחְסׄור (Ps. 34:9),אָבָה (Prov. 1:25), and יָרַשׁ (e.g., Prov. 30:9). The most famous “want” passage in the Old Testament is probably Ps. 23:1: “The LORD is my shepherd. I shall not want.” In the New Testament, the following words are used: βούλημα/βούλομαι (e.g., Rom. 9:19), θέλησις/θέλω (e.g., John 17:24), ἐλπίς/ἐλπίζω (Rom. 15:24), ἐπιζητέω (e.g., Acts 19:39), ἐπιθυμητής/ἐπιθυμία/ἐπιθυμέω (e.g., Matt. 5:27; 1 Cor. 10:6), εὐδοκία (Rom. 10:1), and ζηλόω (e.g. 1 Cor. 14:1). The Pharisees, for example, requested that Jesus perform a sign for them: “We want (θέλομεν) to see a sign from you.” Unfortunately for them Jesus had already performed numerous miracles. They chose to attribute those works to Satan, thus blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

Analyzing this emotion lexically reveals only a portion of what the Bible says about wanting and desiring. In other words, there are a number of passages in the Bible that reveal a want/need or desire that do not explicitly say so by using one of the Hebrew or Greek lexemes. Wants and desires can be communicated through the use of commands. For example, God’s command in Gen. 1:28 demonstrates part of what God wants from mankind, namely to bear fruit and multiply. Likewise, his commands in Deut 6:7, 20–25 show God’s desire for the Jewish people to know and never forget Him. This is true for God and individuals alike. Moses prays, “Show me your glory” (Exod. 33:18). The same is true in the New Testament, of course. Another way want and desire is communicated in the New Testament is through the use of ἐρωτῶ (“I ask”). Jesus makes a request of the Father twice in John 17 (vv. 15, 20) using this word. The very fact that He petitions His Father for what follows in vv.15 and 20 reflects His own desire.

When exploring different lexemes dealing with want or desire, it is especially important to think about the context. In the same way that πειράζω and πειρασμός can refer to both a test and a temptation, certain words have a lexical range that includes positive and negative elements. For example, ἐπιθυμία can refer to a general longing or desire. In Phil. 1:23, Paul shares his dual desire of both going to be with Christ and also staying alive for a period of time so that he can continue serving Christ around the world. In Rom. 1:24, however, the same word is used in a negative sense. Paul says that God handed people over to the ἐπιθυμίαις of their hearts. A better translation in this place probably is “lusts.”

Another feature to consider when thinking about this emotion is the context. There are different words to communicate a want or a desire. In addition to this, there are functionally-equivalent ways to express a want or desire beyond using a want- or desire-lexeme. Paying attention to the context is critical in a place like John 17. In Jesus’ prayer, he makes a number of requests to God in different ways. He uses imperatives, such as ἐρωτῶ, and even θέλω. The latter is the only one that is lexically related to want and desire. The use of θέλω comes in John 17:24, which draws more attention to the desire of Jesus. Bible students would expect to hear Jesus pray that the Father would glorify Himself or glorify the Son (17:1, 5). What Jesus prays for in John 17:24 is profound, something that usually remains underdeveloped in expositions of the prayer. Jesus wants his disciples to be protected (John 17:11–12). He wants them to grow (John 17:17). But he reveals his deepest desire in John 17:24. He wants his disciples to be with Him forever and to witness his glory, something of which only three disciples at that point in time had only seen a shimmer.



Berger, Klaus. Identity and Experience in the New Testament. Translated by Charles Muenchow. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2003.

Elliott, Matthew A. Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006.

Hudgins, Thomas W. "An Application of Discourse Analysis Methodology in the Exegesis of John 17." Eleutheria 2:1 (2012): 24–57,
 available at:

Voorwinde, Stephen. Jesus’ Emotions in the Gospels. New York: T&T Clark International, 2011.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Who Was Judas Iscariot? (Part 4)

Part 1 is available here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

TWH: Did the Gospels–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, that is–get Judas all wrong or even mostly wrong? Did the authors of those Gospels really just sit down and warp the image of an innocent man in order to explain how this man who proclaimed to be the Messiah ended up hanging from a cross? Did the authors of those Gospels commit the most profane act of slander that the world has ever seen? The answer you get will no doubt depend on who you ask. Part of the problem is people view the canonical Gospels as propaganda and mechanisms for promulgating one's theology or the theology of a community. And part of the problem is people look at the material that appears in Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John and they assume that they must present different information about the man. In other words, they present the evidence as if there is absolutely no other way for understanding the material than to think the authors are saying something totally different than one of the other authors. But could there be another way . . . an easier way to understand the material that is recorded in the canonical Gospels? I think so.

Let's think about the progression of the Judas account in light of the composition of the Gospels. So in the present day, most scholars argue that Mark wrote first (using oral tradition or some written document commonly referred to as the Q source), then Matthew wrote, then Luke, and then John way later. If we follow this composition order, does it make sense how the Judas accounts would develop?

Mark (via Peter) says that Judas ran off to the chief priests to betray Jesus in exchange for money (Mark 14:10-11). This took place two days before Jesus observed the Passover with his disciples (cf. Mark 14:12). Mark tells us that Judas was among the twelve that observed the Passover with Jesus and that Jesus identifies one of those twelve as the betrayer (Mark 14:17-18). Mark describes Judas as coming to Jesus and "a crowd armed with swords and clubs" that were sent "from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders" (Mark 14:43). By the way, the names of the apostles in the Synoptic Gospels each mention Judas. In each account he is mentioned last and he is identified as the betrayer (Matt. 10:4; Mark 3:19; Luke 6:16). The Gospels are very much in line about who Judas was and his role in the crucifixion of Jesus. There is not much that anyone can identify as warping when it comes to the person and identity of Judas. So what are we supposed to do with the material like Antonio points out in the Gospel of John, where Judas is identified as the chief murmurer against the anointing of Jesus (John 12:4-5)? Is that really a manipulation of the evidence, an attempt to tag Judas as someone who he was really not? Does John really say something that would have caused Matthew to cock his head sideways in surprise because Judas had not actually done what John said? I don't think so. I think it seems more reasonable to say that John fills in a gap in the story. Whereas Matthew does not want to make a point about who was upset about the anointing of Jesus, John views it as an important detail and focuses on Judas shock at what was taking place. The Judas accounts in John should be viewed like the other accounts in the Gospel of John, not so much as a rewriting of what happened, but a filling in of details not captured in the Synoptic Gospels.

And let's visit the issue of who handed Jesus over for a second. When we look at the New Testament, we find a number of references to Jesus being handed over for crucifixion. The following was spoken by Peter and recorded by Mark (14:10-11):
"Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went running to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. They were thrilled when they heard [what Judas wanted to do], and they promised to give him money [for it]. So Judas began trying to figure out how to betray him at an opportune time." 
It seems pretty clear in that verse who was responsible for Jesus going to the cross, right? And then we read Rom. 8:31-32 and Acts 2:23. In the former Paul says that God "did not spare his own Son, but delivered him over for us all." In the latter, Luke records Peter as saying that Jesus was "delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God." And if that didn't make things complicated enough, Paul writes in Galatians that Jesus "handed himself over" (2:20).

This might seem like conflicting data, but it really isn't. Can't someone hand themselves over and yet circumstances unfold that involve other individuals? I think so. And both Peter's and Paul's view of Jesus acknowledge that there was something bigger going on in the crucifixion than just a crucifixion. The divine plan of a redeemer had been announced beforehand through the prophets and in the Scriptures. This was planned beforehand by God, and Jesus willingly submitted to his role in this plan, which meant he would have to hand himself over (i.e., allow himself to be arrested, mocked, beaten, crucified, etc.). Judas role is an important one, but the crucifixion is hardly to be placed entirely on his shoulders. For the apostles and the early church, the betrayal of the Savior was a heinous act. For Judas to turn Jesus over, he had to reject every teaching from the Messiah's mouth, every healing performed by Jesus, and violate every characteristic of basic human relationships. He made a decision that is terrible and he did so for very little gain.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Who Was Judas Iscariot? (Part 3)

Part 1 is available here, and Part 2 here.

AP: We simply cannot say "Judas probably never existed." We have to be able to explain the plausibility of why different traditions about the man arose over time. Overall, therefore, it seems reasonable to say that the extant record of this character contains the core of who he actually was in history. And to this core each evangelist added his own perspective/twist. Obviously there are some differences in the accounts, and these differences either shape or warp the contours of the character. Either way, they make him into someone he was really not.

The Gospel of Mark presents Judas as the prototype of an unfaithful friend. His betrayal is presented with a reference to (not a citation of) Ps. 41:9: "Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me." The passage in Mark reads as follows: "Truly I say to you that one of you will betray me—in fact, one who is eating with me" (14:18).

The Gospel of Matthew emphasizes Judas' greed as a motive for his betrayal of Jesus. "Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, 'What are you willing to give me to betray him to you?' And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him" (Matt. 26:14-15). Matthew also presents the disciples in a negative light in the pericope of the woman who anoints Jesus before his death: "But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, “Why this waste? For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor"(Matt. 26:8-9). And, of course, in the Gospel of John (12:4-5), states that the murmuring among the disciples was actually done by Judas. And compare the responses of Peter and Judas. Matthew says Judas "felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders" (Matt. 27:3). But Peter, Matthew says, "wept bitterly" (Matt. 26:75). Judas' sin is presented as unforgivable. That explains why Jesus is said to have pronounced a curse on him: "Woe to the man by whom the Son of Man will be delivered; it would be better were he never even born" (Matt. 26:24). This is the foundation of the terrible death of the traitor. Matthew says he went out and hanged himself (Matt. 27:5), which likens him to an infamous Old Testament character named Ahithophel, the enemy of King David, who hanged himself (2 Sam. 17:23).

The Gospel of Luke returns to the motive of greed (Luke 22:5). It also shows how, even though Jesus' ministry had been free from any Satanic attacks (remember how Jesus was able to cast out demons), his Passion is when the devil returns and takes a stand against the Savior. Judas has active role in the crucifixion of Jesus, and he is presented as an agent of the devil in handing Jesus over to be crucified.: "Satan entered Judas who is called Iscariot, who was one of the Twelve" (Luke 22:3). And part two of Luke's record, the Acts of the Apostles, has no mention of Judas' remorse, which we do find in Matthew. It presents a very different end to the life of the traitor, painting a much more graphic scene than any of the other authors. Peter says in his first speech: "Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out" (Acts 1:18). Obviously, though not explicitly stated, this presentation of Judas' suicide is very negative.

The shaping/warping of Judas in these last passages needs to be considered more closely. One possible explanation is they are expansions of other messianic-prophetic texts. It is clear that we have two very different versions of the death of the traitor. Both cannot be historically accurate.
1. There is remarkable unanimity among scholars in noting how the death of Judas by hanging is an event that recreates/parallels the episode involving Ahithophel, who betrayed King David and then hanged himself out of remorse (2 Sam. 15:1-37; 17:23). There are striking parallels between the story of the Old Testament and the Gospels: David, when his friend and adviser Ahithophel betrayed him (2 Sam. 15:12), crosses the brook Kidron (2 Sam. 15:23; cf. John 18:1) and goes up to the Mount of Olives. There he weeps with his head covered and his feet bare (2 Sam. 15:30 = the agony of Jesus in Gethsemane); then, apparently, David begins to pray (15:32 = prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane). David, having compassion for the fate of others, ordered Zadok and his men to return to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 15:27 = John 18:8: "Let these go there way"). Finally, Ahithophel sees his plans against David fail and hangs himself (2 Sam. 7:23 = death by hanging Judas).
2. The version of Judas' death found in Acts is probably inspired by the story of the death of the wicked king Antiochus Epiphanes IV (2 Macc. 9:9-12). This passage describes Antiochus has being swarmed with worms and having his flesh rot off his body while he still lived. It was so gross that the army was sickened by the smell of his rotting flesh.
3. Another example is the expansion of the words of Jesus in Matt. 26:31-32 and the payment of thirty pieces of silver as payment to Judas in the same Gospel (27:6-10): "Then Jesus said to them 'All of you will fall away because of me tonight, for it is written: I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter. But after I have risen, I will go before you into Galilee.'" "The high priests picked up the coins and said, 'It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, because they are the price of blood. And, after reaching an agreement, they bought with them the Potter's Field, as a burial place for strangers. That is why that field is still called today 'Field of Blood'. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 'They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of one whose price had been set by the sons of Israel, and they paid them for the Potter's Field, as the Lord commanded me' (Jer. 32:6-9 + Zech. 11:12-13).
Basically all scholars agree that Matt. 26:31-32 is a formulation created by the author based on Zech. 13:7. In other words, this passage was used to put together some words that Jesus never actually spoke because they contain an absolute prediction of his resurrection, which never crossed the mind of the historical Jesus. Scholars also agree that Matthew constructed the scene of the thirty pieces of silver. The Evangelist joined the mention of "Shepherd" in Zech. 13:7 (Prophet = Jesus) with Zech. 11:7 and 12 (which also mentions the shepherd). The mention of the field is taken from Jer. 32:8ff.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Who Was Judas Iscariot? (Part 2)

Part 1 is available here.

AP: What shall we say about the historicity of Judas? Some scholars believe that the character/person of Judas is weighed down by legends and improbabilities, so much so that they say Judas probably never existed. If that's true, then the early communities of Jesus followers totally invented him. And why would they do that? In order to place the burden of Jesus' death upon his shoulders. Again, that's just what some scholars say.

There is, however, another option. If we examine this issue a little more closely, we might find some arguments that favor the historicity of this individual, based on the criteria of authenticity or general tools that help us gauge the possibility of the historicity of the facts and sayings of Jesus. I think it is very plausible that the figure of Judas is not a mere invention of the Christian community. What follows are the reasons why I think it likely he existed.

First is the criterion of multiple attestation. We have two independent sources–Mark and John–attest to his existence. There may even be a third independent tradition, if we consider the fanciful account of the death of Judas in Acts 1:18-19 as history turned legend; i.e., we could not have the story of his death (not even one turned into a legend), if he did not exist. So, his historical existence is attested to by two or three different sources.

Second is the criterion of difficulty. It seems unlikely that the primitive community invented the character of the traitor out of thin air. Under the hypothesis of that Judas is but pure fiction, the moments of the "invention" of this figure corresponds to a time frame in which the community believed that Jesus was at least semi-divine, omniscient, endowed with all wisdom. Attributing a case of such crass ignorance or foresight casts him in an unfavorable light. And so it seems unlikely. What proof is there? Well, the tradition had to invent the idea that Jesus foresaw, as a divine prophet, the betrayal of Judas (Matt. 17:22) and even wished that he had not been born. It also invented, as we said, how the "delivery" or betrayal of Judas is a fulfillment of the Scriptures, part of the divine plan of salvation and was announced beforehand.

Third, when a new character is invented, he is usually surrounded with more full and developed features. An analysis of the traditions, though, shows something different going on. Like a snowball, details about Judas just seem to grow and grow. The original presentation was that Judas existed and that he was one of the so-called "Twelve." The various lines of tradition developed around that idea. It was later added that he had a problem with greed, as were the legendary details surrounding his betrayal and death. We can see the difference/growth from the Synoptics to the Gospel of John, or by comparing Matthew to Acts.