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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

The Syrian people of Maaloula tell the story of anti-Assad outsiders who tried to enlist the townspeople as agitators against the President and his government.  Both Muslim and Christian citizens rejected their invitation.

Correspondent Maria Finoshina gives a video report from the town, alleged to be the only place in the world where an entire community still speaks Aramaic as a living language (most scholars believe a form of Aramaic was the native tongue of Jesus of Nazareth).

Interviewed in the clip is Mother Pelagia Sayaf, Christian nun and schoolteacher at the town’s Monastery of St. Thekla:

“There were people who came here, they wanted to push us against the government, the President, the army… these people are receiving money and listening to orders.”

The town’s Muslim Imam reports the same:

“I remember last April, there were several men after Friday prayers, they tried to persuade Muslims to protest against the government, encouraging them to go and make trouble.”

The Imam said they had never seen most of those people before and had not seen them again since. “We are not talking about normal Muslims, but people with an extremist way of thinking…  We had a meeting with residents, and the people agreed to support the leadership [Assad].”

Mother Pelagia said “If you hear that the army enters this city and kills people, believe me – this is a mistake [a lie]… Our country before the crisis was going forward, now we are all losing ground… God bless Assad.”

In the words of another citizen interviewed:

“We used to live in peace – Muslims and Christians – of course we’re afraid people from outside the city and this country may come and destroy this unity. Assad became more than just the head of State. He’s a kind of international symbol of this fight for our life.”

My Comment: Prior to the rise of the NATO-backed and NATO financed Syrian ‘insurgency’, Assad’s secular state was one of the last governments in the Arab world under which a citizenry enjoyed peaceful coexistence of diverse religious and ethnic communities. The people know this, and they also know that the violent and random provocations of the murderous Arab mercenaries and outsiders (and the still bigger violence planned by their NATO handlers) have threatened the whole secular foundation for this peace.

In my unprofessional opinion, I think what we’re looking at in Syria is a fraudulent program of regime change.  Like Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Vietnam in 1963, El Salvador, Angola, etc., etc.  The Cold Warrior and Neocon do not understand true democracy or humanitarianism, and we see his/her unmistakeable signature in the great civilian tragedies resulting from all of the above covert actions, no less than in the more recently broken and utterly failed states of Iraq and Libya.

One can always spot the Neocon footprint in the wake of US/NATO’s self-serving efforts to effect changes in non-NATO countries: fraudulent opposition movements, phony replacement governments, ruined sovereignty, co-opted national resources, and untold civilian death .

Source page for this post.

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I picked up at the library yesterday Larry Hurtado’s book on early Christ-devotion in the church, Lord Jesus Christ (2003) hoping to buff up a little on elements of what I think could be a good argument against the minimalist view that the Son’s divinity was not believed until after the written gospels started showing up.

I might have to check out Dunn’s (more recent) book on the subject later, but I already have Dunn’s book on The Theology of Paul (1998), and thought
I should avoid the distraction until after Hurtado.

I also grabbed Bauckham’s Jesus and the God of Israel (2009) on the monotheism issue, because I think early devotion to Jesus would be huge if a context of strict monotheism could be shown for first century Judaism – also think it good fun to be able to harass the defenders of the idea that the Jesus cult
was just Judaism as usual until John’s Gospel showed up.

The Gospel of John and Christian Theology (ed. Bauckham and Mosser 2008) is another book of interest I’m looking into.  I also picked up Paul N. Anderson’s Christology of the Fourth Gospel (1996) because I’m hungry for authors who are willing to argue that John is an eyewitness source.

Meanwhile I have a new interest in the spiritualized approach to theology attempted by Hans Denck and Dirk Philips (early sixteenth century) to add to my theme of ‘getting over’ the Reformation (without going Catholic).

Henry Ward Beecher was one of my five favorite preachers of the nineteenth century (and no, the names Finney and Spurgeon and Moody are not
anywhere on my list).  I took home Beecher’s first ‘Plymouth Pulpit’ series (1868-69).  Another source of inspiration will be Fr. Pierre Charles (S.J.), Prayer for All Times (1922).

Found a 20th century  theologian of interest, the late John McIntyre; I have been reading his Theology after the Storm (1996).

Also excited about Sergei Bulgakov’s Bride of the Lamb (1945/2002).

Maurice Casey’s Jesus of Nazareth (2010) looks like it will be both stimulating and frustrating.

Lots of new reading – and this bunch is only part of my total 40-book check-out limit.

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The parable of the Sower as a critique of church and theology?  I was surprised at how easily the tables can be turned to transfer the ‘onus’ from Gospel-hearers onto the heads of Gospel-preachers whose method and theologies limit our ability to hear and enter into the Kingdom.

“You may as well be pitching birdseed on the Roman road,” Jesus seems to say (Mt 13:18), “if you present to men a Kingdom of God having so little of the flavor of my Spirit that it is perceived as either humdrum or humbug” – the issue in this verse is lack of understanding, a problem which implicates teachers as well as students whenever man-made doctrines are either spiritually or morally flat or unintelligible and therefore misunderstood by large numbers of people.

“On the other hand,” we hear him saying (Mt 13:20-21), “if you think emotional hooks will frighten people into the Kingdom with threats covered by cheap grace, or entice them in with promises of great beds of roses, you are no better than the hardpan farmer who will not plow” – the issue here is lack of depth, and this implicates teachers as well as students if emotional appeals have cultivated shallow joyous puppets who are unprepared for the very tests of doubt and persecution in which their Savior must come to meet them.

“And it is a mistake,” he seems to imply (Mt 13:22), “to pitch my own sublime cares and delights in terms which resemble too much the cares of the world and its delights” – the issue here is confusion of realms, and this implicates teachers as well as students where preaching strives to resemble the everyday wisdom of the world in so many ways that the Kingdom is confused for the world and the spirit is choked by unspiritual meanings and values.

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“Hearing, they do not hear …”

The hearing impairment to which Jesus referred, quoting Isaiah, was the same one which the Hebrew prophet had diagnosed in his own time – and it is no less prevalent in our day.

Diagnosis implies gnosis.  Jesus, like Isaiah, had a new truth (or more truth) to reveal to his listeners, but the words he had available for the purpose failed to penetrate the framework of every mind.  His choicest words were rejected as strange or irreligious in the context of old ‘tried and true’ principles which were in possession of their understandings.

The malady in question is worse than a physical ailment – with which Jesus had some success.  Instead it affects the listener’s inner attitude, the will, taking away the freedom with which they might break down the old shell of religious meanings from within.

“… and seeing, they do not see.”

It is likewise with the vision problem – the afflicted person has full use of his eyes, but lacks the insight required to get past conventional associations of meaning.

In the minds of the people of Galilee and Judea who suffered from these two afflictions  the man Jesus of Nazareth, qua Messiah, could not help but simultaneously evoke, disappoint, and offend their racial and religious hopes as long as he lived and breathed.  His fellowship with sinners was counted as sin, his healing was called Satanism, his forgiveness blasphemy.  His meekness was counted as weakness and, in our present age, his morality has been called the morality of slaves.

This sight and hearing failure especially affected matters of everyday appearances and social antecedents – things which ‘scientific’ historians most crave to know.  His place of origin (Nazareth!), family background (common!), accent (provincial!), formal training (or lack thereof!), apparel (unpretentious)  – all of the ‘facts’ only created, for his accusers (and for some modern historians), another layer of the unacceptable.

Does it seem unfair to suggest that the principle of interpretation used by believers to gain access to the Jesus of ‘history’ – then as now – must be different from that hermeneutic of suspicion used by the elders and others who rejected him (and by the ‘scientific’ historians who counsel rejection of his eternal truth today)?  How does one access the insight required to become receptive to a previously undiscovered truth?  What is the rational ‘order of love’ in a fruitful hermeneutic of faith?

This post is part of the promised continuation of thoughts posted on this blog last May.

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If you are someone who thinks the 200-year history of New Testament criticism contains unanswerable arguments against the Fourth Gospel as a source of actual words and acts of Jesus and the apostles, then I think you have never studied the critical defense of John’s Gospel by English scholars of the nineteenth century.

But fundamentalists beware – the best of this early critical scholarship on John’s Gospel (both English and German) was not buttressed by any special pleading for plenary inspiration.  Beginning about 1848, British scholars like B.F. Westcott and J.B. Lightfoot took up the task of refuting the negative German criticism by following the good example of Schleiermacher, Neander, de Wette, Lucke, Bleek, Bunsen, and B. Weiss in meeting the negative arguments point by point on valid historical and textual-critical grounds.

I know it will be asked – if battle was joined over 150 years ago and fairly won in 40 years time – how do we find today scholars of repute who hold the Fourth Gospel in less esteem than the other three?

Here is a story told by Henry Watkins, archdeacon and canon of Durham Cathedral, of a conversation he had with Bishop Lightfoot in 1889:

“One day while walking with the late Bishop of Durham, when we hoped he was regaining strength, I took the opportunity of asking him how he accounted for the fact of the frequent assertion that the genuineness of the Fourth Gospel was disproved by modern criticism, in the presence of the strong and accumulating evidence in its favour.”

(Henry William Watkins, Modern Criticism Considered in Relation to the Fourth Gospel, 1890, p.viii)

J.B. Lightfoot at age 61 suffered from a physical illness which was to end his life that year, at the height of a very productive scholarly and church career.  When Watkins later sent him a review in rough outline of the chief issues of the 40-year campaign, the Bishop gave his last efforts in life to securing the archdeacon’s appointment as the next Bampton Lecturer at Oxford.  “No subject,” wrote the Bishop before he died, “could be more useful at the present day, and I think that the time has arrived when it can be effectively treated”.

Last year I began a defense of the historicity of John on the blog, and I mean to keep pushing this point.  Last month I found Watkins’ 1890 Bampton Lectures in my favorite old seminary, and I want to get some results of reading posted in the near future.

It should come as no surprise that I feel the history of fundamentalist bluster against the higher criticism can play no real part in the issues at stake with John’s Gospel.  The evangelical mind seems – by habitual abdication in the presence of texts conceived to be almighty – to have neither taste nor capacity for this kind of argument.  Even the ex-evangelical mind seems unsuited to the task of positive criticism.  The negative German critics themselves were in some cases ex-evangelicals who, after losing their belief in the Bible’s divine authorship, were unable to envision any human author for the texts who was not a deceiving rogue or a gullible fool.

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In the Empyrean Moses and the Son discuss the transition to the public teaching career and some of the temptations which  might come up – both worldly and other-worldly.

MOSES:  Again, Sire, we know Father will announce his expressed approval of your incarnation in the presence of the Forerunner, but as to timing, he has not revealed whether this will come before or after your teaching mission, or during that mission.

THE SON:  Certainly it cannot come before I have proved my obedience to Father’s will in every aspect of the normal human walk with God.

MOSES:  Whenever it comes, the sign from Father is likely to present something of a crisis for you, Sire, from the perspective of your humanity.

THE SON:  So I understand.  The fullness of my human nature will be so complete that this sign will probably constitute my first real assurance of my divine pre-existence.

MOSES:  It’s going to be a lot to ‘take in’ in one afternoon.

THE SON:  Like I said, I hope to get away for awhile.

MOSES:  You will need both time and wisdom to decide whether to grasp or deny certain innate spiritual rights attached to your divine person.

THE SON:  Even with the dawning of my true self-awareness I doubt I will see the form of divinity as a thing to be grasped.  It should mean only a new phase of Father’s plan for the Incarnation.

MOSES:  The saints believe it will mean the beginning of the end, Sire.  Recognition of divinity will bring more problems than solutions.  Especially if there is resistance from the religious authorities.

THE SON:  We’re projecting a 1 to 3 year mission – probably no longer.

MOSES:  Right.  By the requirement of the No Thrones Rule you should always have in view some kind of fit termination of Father’s plan.

THE SON:  I expect to have this whole question of thrones thrust upon me soon after my recognition of divinity.

MOSES:  Sire, the issue of thrones will come up again and again.  Not only with your own self-recognition but every time somebody else recognizes your divinity – from the lowest demon to your closest follower.

THE SON:  But Moses, by that time, if anyone were to suggest that I go crashing kingdoms and playing messiah or prince, believe me I would get him behind me quickly.

MOSES:  I have no doubt that you will worship the Father eternally, and him only serve.

THE SON:  Even so.

MOSES:  There will also be immense pressure to satisfy human need by resort to your creative power.

THE SON:  Father has expressed a preference for No Bread and Circuses, but has not ruled out my discretionary use of powers.

MOSES:  if you get the people too miracle-minded, Sire, believe me you will lose control of the message in a hurry.  And miracles net you zero in the way of anybody’s saving faith anyway.

THE SON:  Right.  Well I wouldn’t think of it as far as a means of personal protection.

MOSES:  Good.  Don’t tempt the angels to get you out of a jam.  And no spectacles or crowd-pleasers.

THE SON:  It’s the ‘No Bread’ rule that’s going to be tough, Moses – tougher than Thrones, in my opinion.

MOSES:  Men do not live by bread alone, Sire.

THE SON:  Got it.  But I already feel compassion for the hungry and poor, and I’m not even one of them yet.

MOSES:  Look, Sire, if the people get a whiff of anything like mass feedings or the old ‘manna from heaven’ you are done, OK?  After that it’ll be earthly kingdoms all the way down.

THE SON:  You mean Father’s kingdom could be mistaken for a free bread program?

MOSES:  Oh verily, Sire.  And that is sure to pancake right back into Thrones.  You could get a popular groundswell to make you king, after which you won’t be able to show your face in Galilee without political harassment.

THE SON:  It really comes down to “No Circuses” then, doesn’t it?

MOSES:  Miracles and wonders are to be kept to a minimum, yes.  Solve that one and everything else should fall into place.

THE SON:  But Moses, the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf..., it’s going to be hard to stay on point.

MOSES:  I can’t tell you what do do with your compassion, Sire.

(to be continued)

Empyrean Dialogues 1 – the Annunciation

Note:  the Empyrean Dialogues is a recent experiment of mine to see if I can manage a piece of didactic fiction which both entertains a little and presents interpretations of the Bible I believe to be worthy of reflection and discussion from the standpoint of incarnation and divine pre-existence.

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if Jesus was in fact praying the Psalms on the cross, Mark supplies the origin (Ps 22:1) and Luke the terminus (Ps 31:5) of the Lord’s final conscious string of prayer.

According to Mark, Jesus is heard by bystanders to have spoken from the cross words which are found in Psalm 22:1, “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34).  Most commentators will admit (even if they disagree) that an old interpretation of this text claims that Jesus might well have been ‘praying the Psalms’ to himself in Aramaic during that last forsaken hour.

However, Mark further relates that these bystanders believed Jesus was calling Elijah, and offered Jesus a sop of soldier’s wine, waiting to see if Elijah would come for him.  It is not until after this interlude that physical death comes when, as Mark writes, Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last (Mk 15:37).

According to Luke, the addition at Mk 15:37 doesn’t tell the whole story.  Luke has reason to report that the last loud cry which Mark reports on the lips of Jesus just before he breathed his last was in the form of actual words:  “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!”  Unbelieving Jesus scholars won’t like this, but I think Luke’s report of more speech is easier to accept than the idea of Jesus letting rip with one of those hideous screams that actors use when playing the bad guy falling off the cliff – AAAAUUGH!  Seriously?

Luke has given us a beautiful devotional window opening onto the mind of Jesus at the hour of his death.  Because these words reported by Luke are also from the Psalms (31:5).  This means that if Jesus was in fact praying the Psalms on the cross, Mark supplies the origin (Ps 22:1) and Luke the terminus (Ps 31:5) of the Lord’s final conscious string of prayer.

For Lent, then, it might be worth a shot to try ‘praying the Psalms’ with Jesus from the cross (Ps 22:1 – 31:5).  In faith imagine that you are experiencing a bit of what was actually passing through the mind of the Christ in the last few minutes of his material existence.  Put a little cheap wine on your tongue somewhere in the middle of it all.

PS – My word-count 2,302 is based on an English version I found online and copied to word processing for tabulation (minus choir directions and verse numbers).  I don’t know what it is in Aramaic.

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