New Testament Basics: Jesus on Materialism

MaterialismFirstFollowers5 6 14“He who dies with the most toys wins.” So said billionaire Malcolm Forbes, a man famous for acquiring a wide array of material goods. Yet like everyone else, he died unable to take it with him. Most of us regard this reality as a truism, but we nevertheless find it very difficult to strike a balance between grasping and letting go. The fact is, the pursuit of possessions is not just a potential snare for the rich; it can damage anyone’s outlook and peace of mind.

The conflict between the get and give ways of life is an ancient dilemma. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24; English Standard Version throughout). He also made it clear that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). 

If Jesus taught that the pursuit of material possessions is a diversion from life’s spiritual quest, how should we think about such everyday needs as food, clothing and shelter?

Jesus didn’t imply that we shouldn’t work. However, He assured His followers that God knows what we need, and that worrying about such things is futile: “Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28–30).

What He wants us to achieve is balance in how we approach work and in our various wants and needs. The apostle Paul wrote that if someone isn’t willing to work, then he should not expect to eat the fruit of someone else’s labor (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The author of Proverbs instructed us to look to the ant for an example of how we should work to feed our families and ourselves (Proverbs 6:6–11). The focus is on contributing to the welfare of those in our care, not on amassing wealth or collecting “toys.”

Jesus was teaching His followers the most important priority in life. His discussion of materialism ended with a remarkable promise regarding our material needs. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” He said, “and all these things will be added to you”(verse 33).



Tags: Jesus, first christians, greed, Early Church, 12 disciples, materialism, give versus get

Jewish New Testament Studies: revisited

Just in case you thought that the Jewish Annotated New Testament reported in a previous blog was unusual, I have just received two other recent titles that speak to a growing field of Jewish New Testament studies. 

Zev Garber is the editor of The Jewish Jesus: Revelation, Reflection, Reclamation, while Herbert Basser has produced The Mind Behind the Gospels: A Commentary to Matthew 1-14. Both Garber and Basser are notable and well published Jewish authors. 

As editor of his volume, Garber has assembled a cast of 19 scholars, mostly Jewish or if not Jewish, then involved in Jewish Christian dialogue, to address the subject of Jesus. The chapters, each by a different author, are divided into three sections namely: Reflections on the Jewish Jesus; Responding to the Jewish Jesus; and finally, Teaching, Dialogue, Reclamation: Contemporary Views on the Jewish Jesus. Shofar SupplementsGarber dedicates his book as follows: 

To the courageous and devoted essayists of this tome. Jews, who practice the faith of Jesus, and Christians, who believe by faith in Jesus. By the authority of Torah and Testament, they merge as one in proclaiming the Jewish Jesus and restoring his pivotal role in the history of Second Temple Judaism and beyond. The rest is commentary and controversy. Read and see why. 

The essays cover the historical time frame from the first century to the present. Most are focused on the time of the Second Temple, with contributions examining the Byzantine period, the pre-modern as well as current responses. They also examine documentary evidence outside of the Gospel accounts such as Rivka Ulmer’s Psalm 22 in Pesiqta Rabbati: The suffering of the Jewish Messiah and Jesus. In that essay, Ulmer challenges the ideas that the Messianic expectation of Jesus was something imposed later and that the idea of a suffering servant as a messiah was not part of Jewish thinking. Such approaches have been used to create a sense of distance between Christians and the Jewish ideas of his day. Israel Knohl of Hebrew University, Jerusalem, has also written on the fact that such an idea was current in Jewish expectations at the time of Jesus. Such essays help relocate Jesus as a Jewish reformer within a Judean matrix rather than the founder of a new religious movement. 

Herbert Basser is a noted Talmudic and midrashic scholar at Queens University, Ontario, Canada. It may seem strange to find a Jewish Talmudist preparing a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, but Amy-Jill Levine sums up his contribution by commenting: 

Herbert Basser’s commentary on Matthew 1-14 both offers fresh insights into the composition of the First Gospel and makes a major contribution to the understanding of the Jewish roots of Christian origins. Employing later compilations of Jewish literature along with the expected Tannaitic, Targumic, and Qumran materials, he is able to construct an interpretive model of how Jews read Scripture, discerned orthopraxy, and maintained community. His approach does not artificially force Judaism into a predetermined model; instead it recognizes that within the diversity of that thought there exist particular interpretive strategies and rhetorical modes of argumentation. Confirming many of his connections are both Septuagintal readings and Syriac translations of both Hebrew biblical material and early (Greek) Christian literature.

ISBN 978 1 934843 33 8 The volume covers half of the Gospel account. Basser leaves the reader in suspense as to whether another volume will address the remaining chapters (13). He does provide a listing of articles that he has already published which could or will form the basis for the second volume. For the benefit of a reader who does not have access to the sources of his articles, we hope that he is able to deliver that second volume.

Both books are part of larger series. Zev Garber’s volume is part of the Shofar Supplements in Jewish Studies, published by Purdue University Press, while Herbert Basser’s volume is part of the Reference Library of Jewish Intellectual History, published by Academic Studies Press of Boston.




Tags: Jesus, Judaism, First Century, Second Temple, Gospel of Matthew, Basser, Garber

Jesus and Judaism

E.P. Sanders discusses his early studies

E.P. Sanders, who will be remembered as a force in New Testament studies in the last half of the 20th century, is interviewed by Duke University about his early studies. The impact of his study motivated much of the new perspective on Paul as well as studies of the historical Jesus.

The video is worth viewing as it challenges the basic assumptions that most bring to the study of the New Testament.






H/T Chris Tilling

Tags: Jesus, Judaism, E P Sanders

Walls of Jerusalem Uncovered

Archaeologists rediscover a wall initially uncovered in the 19th Century.
Google News
Details: Walls of Jerusalem Uncovered
Ancient Jerusalem wall

Israeli archaeologists have re-exposed part of the southern wall of Jerusalem which dates from the time of Jesus Christ and the Second Temple, according to a report presented by the BBC.  This wall is some 200 meters south of the current wall, which incorporates what is now known as the Old City, with its Jewish, Moslem and Armenian quarters. The  wall which encompasses the Old City  was built during the time Jerusalem was under the control of the Ottoman Empire.

The section of wall, uncovered and announced on September 3, had  been initially discovered in the 19th century by British archaeologists, who then refilled the tunnels leading to their discovery. Artifacts such as bottles, lamps and even shoes discarded by the earlier archaeologists added to the artifacts from the second temple period that were discovered. Photos of the wall together with a Byzantine wall built some 400 years later are available on the BBC News website.

Tags: jerusalem, Jesus, Archaeology, Roman Destruction of Jerusalem, Second Temple, Walls of Jerusalem

James Strange Video Interview Regarding Sepphoris

From time to time I join my colleague Peter Nathan blogging here.

I thought the following would be of interest. Reviewing some video files, I came across a timeless interview piece with Professor James Strange in Israel, addressing some of my questions about his work at Sepphoris and the city's proximity to Jesus' home in Nazareth. He also explains his view of the relationship between archeology and the Bible.

David Hulme

Tags: Jesus, archaeology and the bible, james strange, nazareth, sepphoris

Talpiot Tomb and Jerusalem Conference # 2

Insights into different skills applied to the claim of Talpiot being Jesus' Family Tomb

Jim West hosts a guest posting from Christopher Rollston on his blog today.  Christopher's speciality is  prosopography and epigraphy which is the study of ancient inscriptions and writing, such as those found on the ossuaries in the Talpiot Tomb.

In his guest post, Christopher shows not only the dynamics of the debate in Jerusalem, but how he and others approached their aspect of the task.

Like the earlier post today from April DeConick, Christopher Rollston rejects the idea of the Talpiot Tomb being that of Jesus of Nazareth. He has already published an article on the subject in Near Eastern Archaeology, a publication of the American Schools of Oriental Research.

Christopher's analysis of the conference, tomb and details is worth a read. Christopher is Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies at Emmanuel School of Religion, Tennessee.

Tags: Jesus, Archaeology, Talpiot Tomb, Third Princeton Seminar, ASOR, Christopher Rollston, Jesus of Nazareth, NEA

Jerusalem Conference: Report

Overview and outcome of the Conference

Stephen Pfann, President of the University of the Holy Land and a presenter at the Conference, filed this report on the University's web site:

Throughout this conference, almost without exception, the archaeologists, scientists, epigraphers and textual scholars could find no compelling evidence that would support the claim that the Talpiot Tomb under discussion (one of many tombs in the Talpiot district of Jerusalem) was anything other than a first-century Jewish family tomb with no connection to any known historical family. There were a few scholars on hand, working in the literature and the social sciences, who would contend that there was some likelihood that the tomb was actually the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. The final panel comprised Shimon Gibson, one of the original excavators of the tomb; Eric Meyers, Professor of Archaeology at Duke University; Chairperson James Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary; Israel Knohl, Professor of Jewish History and Literature at the Hebrew University; and James Tabor of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In his concluding statement, Shimon Gibson said no to the identification of the tomb as belonging to Jesus of Nazareth (preferring the traditional location at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher). Eric Meyers said that there was no compelling evidence to support the film’s identification with the tomb of Jesus and his family.

James Charlesworth said he did not believe it was the tomb of Jesus but that he would not rule out the possibility that it might be the tomb of other members of Jesus’ family. Israel Knohl stated publicly that although there is no compelling evidence to support it, it well could be the family tomb of Jesus. However, privately he stated that he feels there is only a 50-50 chance of it being so. James Tabor, as expected, feels that the likelihood is high to certain that it is the family tomb of Jesus.

To my ears, most of those in attendance, in good academic form, would not totally rule out the possibility that this is the tomb of Jesus, but would say that the possibility is highly unlikely to remote. This is far from being “50 of the top scholars in the world” now concluding that “the Talpiot tomb might very possibly be the tomb of the Holy family.” I would say that the participating scholars, equipped with improved methodologies and more knowledge than a year ago, would say that they are better equipped to judge, and that the tomb’s chances haven’t gotten any better (in fact, worse).

There was not a single archaeologist present who believed that it would be a responsible act to confirm that this was the family tomb of Jesus. However, mysteriously, almost from the grave, in the final session, the original excavator Joseph Gat, was said by his widow to have believed this. This seemed mysterious to the archaeologists present because it was understood that it took an epigrapher of the caliber of Joseph Naveh to actually decipher the inscription (which was only done after the death of Joseph Gat, by the way). Naveh concluded that, although it was difficult to read, the first name was most likely to be read as “Yeshua?” based in part on the fact that the name “Yeshua” shows up on another ossuary in the tomb. Because of this, he left the name “Yeshua?” with a question mark and all scholars since then, including Rachmani, left the question mark in because of the difficulty of the reading.

Stephen Pfann adds as a later PS to his posting:

Let’s not be duped. All attempts to hijack the conferance to say anything different does not change the facts on the ground.

Tags: jerusalem, Jesus, Talpiot Tomb, Third Princeton Conference

New Perspective on Paul

Suggested reading:

A friend asked for some recommended titles to read on Paul.  That's a challenge as the number of books written about Paul and his Epistles are the largest collection of books on the Bible in any library. In an attempt to provide some titles, I’ve divided the books into sections ranging from very introductory material to more specific works.

The following give a good introduction for a lay person, and introduce a reader to the issues that are to be considered.  Although largely written in the 90’s, these are still available on line at Amazon as one potential source.  Sometimes they have a later imprint date than the version listed.

Gager, John G. Reinventing PaulOxfordOxford University Press, 2000.

Horrell, David G. An Introduction to the Study of PaulNew York; T&T Clark, 2006

Sanders, E. P. PaulOxfordNew YorkOxford University Press, 1991.

Wenham, David. Paul and Jesus; The True StoryGrand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2002.

Wright, N. Tom. What Saint Paul Said?: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?CincinnatiOhio: Forward Movement Publications, 1997.

Young, Brad H. Paul the Jewish Theologian: A Pharisee Among Christians, Jews and Gentiles.PeabodyMassachusetts 01961-3473: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997.

To address some of the more specific areas of Paul’s writings, my suggestions include the following.  Although one commentary is listed here, it is more for what is contained in the Appendix to the book, rather than the commentary itself.

Bassler, Jouette, Navigating Paul: An Introduction to Key Theological ConceptsLouisville:Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.

Esler, Philip F. Conflict and Identity in Romans: The Social Setting of Paul's Letter.Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003

Hengel, Martin. The Pre-Christian PaulPhiladelphia: Trinity Press International, Philadelphiaand SCM Press, London, 1991.

Sanders,E. P. Paul, the Law and the Jewish PeopleMinneapolis: Fortress Press, 1983.

Wenham, David. Paul, Founder of Christianity or Follower of ChristMinneapolis: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1995.

Ziesler, J. A. Pauline ChristianityOxfordNew YorkOxford University Press, 1983.

For more advanced study purposes, then I would recommend the following:

Bird, Michael. The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification and the New Perspective. Edited by Howard I Marshall, Richard J. Bauckham,  Craig Blomberg, Robert P Gordon and Temper Longman III. Paternoster Biblical Monographs. Milton Keynes: Paternoster Press, 2007.

Hafemann, Scott J. Paul, Moses and the History of Israel: The Letter/Spirit Contrast and the Argument from Scripture in 2 Corinthians 3. Edited by Howard I Marshall,  Richard J. Bauckham,  Craig Blomberg,  Robert P Gordon and  Temper Longman III. Paternoster Biblical Monographs. Milton Keynes: Paternoster Press, 2005.

Tomson, Peter J. Paul and the Jewish Law: Halakha in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles. Van Gorcum, AssenNetherlands: Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1990. 

Wright, N. T. The Climax of the CovenantMinneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991.

Ziesler, John. Righteousness in the Writings of PaulChicoGa.: SBL, 1978.

The Tomson and Ziesler books would probably only be found in an academic library, but if accessible, are well worth referencing.

Lastly the following individuals writing on Paul has only been in journals.  However Pamela Eisenbaum, as a Jewess, brings a very interesting and useful perspective to Pauline studies.

Eisenbaum, Pamela. "A Remedy for Having Been Born of Woman: Jesus, Gentiles, and Genealogy in Romans." Journal of Biblical Literature 123, no. 4 (2004): 671-702.

And finally, anything by Martin Hengel, or E P Sanders, is worth a read. They, perhaps more than others have done much of the foundational work in this area.



Tags: Jesus, E P Sanders, Paul, N T Wright, Apostle, John Gager, David Wenham, Martin Hengel

Patristics and the Jewish Roots of Christianity

Musings from the Fifteenth International Conference on Patristic Studies

Last week (August 6-11) Oxford University hosted its Fifteenth International Conference on Patristic Studies, an event conducted by the University every four years.  This event brings together over 500 academics from the four corners of the globe and from all denominations. “Patristics” is a name given to the study of the Church Fathers from the post apostolic time of Clement I of Rome into the fifth century of this era. 

Delegates attended lectures and workshop sessions covering subjects often defined by century, geographical location and language: either Greek, Latin, Syriac, and or Coptic. Of particular interest to me were the sessions covering the Jewish and Christian interaction in the third century. 

Several papers were presented on various writings of Origen who wrote in some detail of the interactions he had with either Jewish Christians and/or Jews in both Alexandria and inCaesarea. The strength of his polemic against such people is indicative of the sense of challenge that existed even in the early third century to define Christianity as it appears today.

Clearly in Origen's time, people were very much more aware of the Jewish roots of Christianity, in a way that would surprise most present day people who claim to be Christian. The subject of identity formation of the emerging Christian community is currently well considered in academic circles, but conferences such as this highlight how antithetical so many of the leaders and opinion formers of this earlier period were to the foundation that Jesus Christ had laid. The result is a movement that would not even recognize its founder if he appeared today. 

One area of this period that highlights that difference and has shaped today’s Christianity more than the teachings of Jesus Christ himself is that of Christology, in which philosophical reasoning was brought to bear in the understanding of the nature of Jesus Christ. The historical period of the patristic studies covers the time in which the development of Christology led to the development of the doctrine of the Trinity and the attendant nature of God; doctrines which are used today to define whether or not a person is a Christian.

This period is a very crucial era to appreciate and understand. It has had a far greater impact on the development of what is today considered Christianity than did the era of Jesus and the Apostles.

Tags: Jesus, first christians, Origen, Apostles, Church Fathers, Jewish Christians, Patristics

That Talpiot Tomb again!

Review of book highlights the deeps of concern over methods

Just when the debate on the Talpiot Tomb had almost waned, it arises again. This time it is sparked by the review of a book by Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino on the Tomb. Published in the Review of Biblical Literature the piece is written by Jonathan Reed, Professor of Religion at the University of La Verne, in California. It should be noted that this is not the first time Jonathan Reed has been publicly involved with this issue. He was part of a team of ‘experts’ that the Discovery Channel assembled for a post-airing debate on the Talpiot Tomb moderated by Ted Koppel. Reed will be remembered from that debate because of one contribution—his description of the documentary as “archoporn.” His distaste for the concepts espoused in the documentary and outlined in the book are clearly evident in the review.

While I can support Reed's dislike for the methods of Jacobovici and Cameron, the program has highlighted another aspect of this issue. Jacobovici provides a few video clips—probably from the program—on YouTube. In one such video, he discusses a little-known first century group known as the Nazarenes. This group most likely comprised the direct descendents of the followers of Jesus in Judea and Galilee.

Now if only the rest of the video of the Jesus Family Tomb had been as credible!

Tags: Jesus, Talpiot Tomb, Nazarenes, Jonathan Reed, Simcha Jacobovici

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