The Book of Enoch as the Background to 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude

Elijah and Enoch - seventeenth-century icon, Historic Museum in Sanok, Poland (cropped)

Although the quotation of 1 Enoch in Jude 14–15 is often noted, the complex dependencies between 1 Enoch, Jude, and the Petrine epistles, as well as the general importance of the theology of 1 Enoch in the New Testament, often go under-appreciated. Taking a closer look at these books provides some insight into how early Christian authors adapted each others’ work and drew upon texts that were ultimately omitted from the Bible. The relationship between these books also poses a problem for conservative theologians and clergy who acknowledge the fictional nature of 1 Enoch while insisting on the infallibility of the biblical works directly based on it. The Book of Enoch as the Background to 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and JudeContinue reading

The Men Who Killed Goliath: Unraveling the Layers of Tradition behind a Timeless Tale of Heroism

Orazio Gentileschi, David and Goliath, c.1605-1607

There might be no Old Testament story more popular or seared more deeply into Western consciousness than the legend of David and Goliath. It is surprising, then, how few people (aside from scholars) have read the story carefully enough to notice its many oddities and contradictions. The Goliath narrative in 1 Samuel 16–18 is, in fact, two different stories spliced together, and there is yet another brief account in 2 Samuel 21. These three versions of the iconic tale show the interesting ways in which Biblical authors utilized and revised their source materials. The Men Who Killed Goliath: Unraveling the Layers of Tradition behind a Timeless Tale of HeroismContinue reading

What’s the Deal with Matthew’s Genealogy?

JesseTree (Capuchin's Bible, c. 1180, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris) - cropped

For most Christians who read the Bible casually or devotionally, Matthew’s genealogy — the very first chapter of the New Testament — is one of the dullest passages in all of Scripture. It was a tremendously important passage for the author and his audience, however; and for me, it is an incredibly fascinating window into the author’s methods and who he thought Jesus was. It also contains numerous puzzles — some more easily solved than others. What’s so interesting about this long list of begats? Read on and find out more than you probably ever wanted to know. What’s the Deal with Matthew’s Genealogy?Continue reading

The Twelve (or So) Tribes of Israel

Joseph finds the silver in Benjamin's sacks

The identity of Israel in the Bible is closely linked to the notion that the ancient nation was an alliance of twelve distinct tribes, each with its own territory. Reading the Old Testament in its canonical order, we encounter tales about Jacob the patriarch and his twelve sons who all moved to Egypt. Their descendants are depicted as remaining divided into distinct clans, which would later journey to Palestine, carve up the land, and then conquer their allotted portions.

History is not so simple, however, and neither are the traditions we find in the Bible itself. Not all biblical authors were aware of this storybook picture of Israel’s tribes, and many of the text’s later claims are rooted as much — or more so — in theology and politics as in history. Themes that have captured the imagination of exegetes for millennia, like the myth of the “lost tribes of Israel”, take on new significance when examined closely. The Twelve (or So) Tribes of IsraelContinue reading

Some Observations on High Priests in the Gospels and Acts

Jesus before Caiaphas

The high priest, the Sanhedrin, and the Roman administration play an important part of Jesus’ trial and execution in the Gospels. Jesus’ trial thus provides the somewhat rare opportunity for known figures from history to be mentioned. There are some oddities when it comes to the key role of the Jerusalem high priest, however. Let’s take a look at who is cast in this role in the four Gospels as well as Acts. Some Observations on High Priests in the Gospels and ActsContinue reading

And Then There Was One: Yahweh and the Shema

Kuntillet Ajrud

One of the most famous phrases in all the Old Testament is certainly the declaration in Deuteronomy 6:4, referred to as the Shema after its initial word.

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יהוה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יהוה אֶחָד
šᵉma’ yiśrāêl yahweh ’ělōhênū yahweh ‘eḥāḏ

The best nuance with which to translate this statement has been debated. The NRSV and its footnotes offer no fewer than four options, for example. I used to frequently hear it in sermons expressed as “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one God!” and there is a popular church song that uses this translation as its main lyric. Hearing it this way, people naturally assume the Shema to be a simple expression of monotheism. And Then There Was One: Yahweh and the ShemaContinue reading

The Mark of the Beast Demystified—Or, I’ve Got 666 Problems but the Rapture Ain’t One of Them

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 12.52.31 PM

Growing up with dispensationalist parents and acquaintances, the end times, Antichrist, and mark of the beast were topics that came up not infrequently. Add in Pentecostalism, Satanic Panic, and an unhealthy preoccupation with flavour-of-the-month charismatic prophets, and you have the makings for some bizarre biblical hermeneutics.

The fact of the matter is that end times prophecy, the mysterious number 666, and the identity of the Antichrist have all been subjects pursued with pseudo-scholarly gusto by Christian writers and evangelists (particularly in the Anglosphere) over the past few decades. For the lay Christian with a casual interest in eschatology, deliberation over who the Antichrist is (present tense intended) and the meaning of 666 offers a fascinating opportunity to involve oneself in things that seem both spiritual and important. In fact, the discussion has become productized, with each self-styled end-times teacher and prophet hocking his or her own theories as truth. The Mark of the Beast Demystified—Or, I’ve Got 666 Problems but the Rapture Ain’t One of ThemContinue reading

The Phoenician God Resheph in the Bible

Stele_of_the_Syrian_goddess_Kadesh

Bible translations often conceal the polytheistic context of Israel’s devotion to Yahweh in the Hebrew scriptures. Even as the Yahweh religion spread from its obscure Edomite/Kenite origins to become a unifying force across Samaria and Judah, acknowledgement of other deities and divine beings remained. Often, these deities might be represented as part of Yahweh’s divine council or personal retinue. The Phoenician God Resheph in the BibleContinue reading