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Chapters and verses

by David B. Capes

Two prominent features in modern Bible translations are the chapters and verses.  People often ask me how they got there.  Some think they were there from the beginning but they weren’t.  When Paul wrote the book of Romans, he didn’t divide it into sixteen chapters.

One of the things we hoped to do with The Voice project was to help people understand that the Bible is not actually a single book.  It is a veritable library of books, sixty-six in all, written over a period of more than 1000 years.  The current configuration of the Bible didn’t just happen.  The order of the books and the collection itself represents a driving theological force which Christians believe was orchestrated by the Holy Spirit.  But what about the chapters and verses?medieval-bible

When the forty or so writers wrote their respective books, they didn’t include chapters and verses.  They composed their books from beginning to end without putting in breaks.  Now this doesn’t mean there were not structures in place which became breaks.  For example, the book of Psalms is composed of 150 hymns which had an introduction or superscription describing who the author was or who it was dedicated to along with other directions for how it was to be chanted or sung.  Clearly, these were breaks but they weren’t the same as our chapters and verses.  Likewise, the book of Lamentations is written in an acrostic style which is discernible only in the original language (Hebrew).  The Voice translation tries to replicate that acrostic style in an English translation.  So clearly these superscriptions and acrostic forms provide structure, but structure is not the same as chapters and verses.

There were early attempts to provide a convenient structure to the books of the Bible but the one we use today goes back to the 13th century.  A fellow named Stephen Langton divided the Bible into chapters in 1227.  He was a professor at the University of Paris.  Later he would go on to become the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Today the Archbishop of Canterbury is Anglican.  In those days before the Protestant Reformation the majority of Christians in England were loyal to the Catholic Church.

The verses we use today were added centuries later by a French printer named Robert Estienne.  In 1551 he divided the Greek New Testament into verses.  Since the official Bible of the Catholic Church in those days was the Vulgate—a Latin translation—the first programmatic use of chapters and verses for the whole Bible was published in 1555.  The first English New Testament to make use of these chapters and verses was a translation by William Whittingham (1557).  The first English full Bible to use chapters and verses was the Geneva Bible (1560).  Since then Bible translators and publishers have adopted and standardized the use of chapters and verses.  Some editions of the Bible have been published without them, for example, Richard Moulton’s edition The Modern Reader’s Bible (1907).

Chapters and verses are handy because they make it possible for people to find the same book, chapter, and verse for public reading or study.  Otherwise, we’d have to say, “Go to the passage where Luke tells us the early Christians were devoting themselves to the teachings of Jesus’ apostles.”  Now which book would you go to, and which part of the book would you find that passage in?  The answer is Acts 2:42.  Much easier, right?

While chapters and verses are a handy way of indicating specific places in the Scriptures, they sometimes cause us to misread a text.  That is where careful study must come in.

Can you think of an example?

 

 

 

The Beatitudes of Jesus

shuman-beatitudes-1by Dr. Ken Shuman

Over the last several months I’ve been reflecting on the beatitudes of Jesus. The more I reflect the more I find them to be challenging and life altering. The teachings of Jesus are occurring to me as more radical and more counter culture that I had previously imagined. I’ve tried to think of the beatitudes in practical ways and to use language that is more common. I’ve written my own paraphrase that reflects my thinking and study.

  • Happy, satisfied, and fully alive – are the humble, the unpretentious, those who don’t think they are superior to others, who don’t have contempt for anyone, who aren’t condescending and aren’t full of themselves – for they experience the God designed, heavenly life right now – they live in the bright new world.

 

  • Happy, satisfied and fully alive are those who face loss and mourn – those who don’t hide or distance from loss, grief, and pain- those who lament injustice in the world – for they will be comforted.

 

  • Happy, satisfied and fully alive are the non-aggressive, non-violent and the non-vengeful. Those whose power is under control will inherit the earth and enjoy the fruits of peace.

 

  • Happy, satisfied and fully alive are those who long for everyone to be treated rightly and fairly – those who desire everyone to have enough and for none to be afraid for they will be satisfied as they take action and make things happen.

 

  • Happy, satisfied, and fully alive are those who are merciful – those who identify with the needy and show solidarity with the oppressed – those who are generous, and forgiving – those who are filled with compassion and moved to help – for they will receive mercy in return.

 

  • Happy, satisfied, and fully alive are those who are utterly sincere and completely genuine – those who are undivided within and are without lies and deception – those whose secret self and public self are one self- for they will see God.

 

  • Happy, satisfied and fully alive are the peacemakers – those who forgive, reconcile, and unify – those who take a stand against non-peace and injustice and work to restore wholeness and well-being for all – for they will be known as the children of God because they accurately reflect the character of God.

 

  • Happy, satisfied, and fully alive are those who live this radical, counter-cultural, Jesus way of life and as a result are persecuted – for they experience the God designed, heavenly life right now – they live in the bright new world.

    Matthew 5:3-10 – a paraphrase by Ken Shuman

A Lesson from the Clouds of Venus

by Dr. Becky Towne

I love gazing at the night sky. I am drawn to the light of stars—so many light years away—and am fascinated with the many phases and faces of the moon. Lately, my attention has been drawn to Venus, shining brightly in the evening sky. Called the “Evening Star,” I have learned that Venus is covered with thick clouds and that it is the reflection of the sun’s light off of the clouds, which provides the brilliant, steady light. Now I’m fascinated with the clouds.venus-moon-2-26-2014-vesa-taalikka

I like the tall, fluffy clouds of long, summer days, which often provide momentary relief from the intense rays of the hot sun, and I also relish in the power of the dark, furious clouds of thunderstorms. I wonder about the clouds on Venus. Do they provide relief from the much closer rays of the sun or do they offer strange atmospheric phenomenon? Fraser Cain, writing for Universe Today (http://www.universetoday.com/36871/clouds-on-venus/), notes that the climate on Venus is “hellish” with temperatures around 800 degrees Fahrenheit. The clouds are made of sulfur dioxide and are completely opaque. They rain sulfuric acid. That’s a far cry from my fluffy summer clouds or even the dark thunderheads described above.

In Dark Night of the Soul (Book II, Chapter XVI), John of the Cross described the soul’s journey through the cloudiness or obscurity of darkness as opportunities for sensual, interior, and spiritual desires and faculties to become darkened from their natural light so that those same desires could then be illuminated and purged by the Divine. When those desires and faculties are hindered by God, the soul can find security against being led astray by them and can experience freedom from its own shackles as well as the shackles provided by the enemies of the soul—the world and the evil one. As the journey progresses, the soul experiences a growing number of benefits that come from the Father of Lights in a divine and spiritual manner, rather than self-imposed benefits that tend to be human and natural.

Perhaps you have encountered a “dark night” not knowing what it was. During a dark night, the “clouds” seem opaque, the “darkness” seems almost palatable, and “showers of blessing” may feel like sulfuric rain. When we are journeying with God, however, we learn that God’s purposes may be experienced through light and darkness. The clouds along the way may be providing momentary relief or powerful cleansing. That’s why the Psalmist could say with faith, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me” (Ps 23:4).

The Psalmist also wrote, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them?” (Ps 8:3-4). Perhaps when you gaze at the night sky, you will pay attention to the heavens, and, as you reflect on what you see, ask God for your own insights from the clouds—not just those in the skies.

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Dr. Becky Towne, DMin, is Professor of Christian Spirituality, Associate Academic Dean and Director  of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Houston Graduate School of Theology. 

 

What Can We Say about Jesus’ Childhood and Early Years?

by Doug Kennard

In our day in which we wrestle with post-truth, Christianity is built upon the historical reality of Jesus. The New Testament begins with four Gospels which most scholars today regard as a type of ancient biography.  Quality Hellenistic biography and Jewish historical narrative from the early days of the faith incorporate only one account from childhood, which demonstrates the qualities into which the person will develop (Plutarch, Lives: Alexander, & Caesar; 1 Sam 3; 16:20-17:28). The rest of any good biography develops the events of adult heroes. Luke follows this established pattern. This is one reason the Infancy Gospel of Thomas discussing Jesus’ childhood is considered by most to be a suspect account. tekton-shoppe

Joseph’s family moved to Nazareth in Galilee sometime between 3 BC and 6 AD, reflecting the Jewish distrust of King Archelaus, ethnarch of Judea and Samaria (Matt 2:22-23; 13:53-58; Mark 1:24; Luke 1:26-27; 2:39, 51; Josephus, Ant. 17.11.1-4). Archelaus was deposed as an abusive King of the Jews by the Roman Senate in 6 AD (Josephus, Ant. 17.13.1-5; J.W. 2.7.3-8.1; Strabo, Geog. 16.2.46; Dio Cassius, Hist. 55.27.6). Coming from the hick town, Nazareth, Jesus fulfills prophecy that he would be a rejected individual (John 1:46; 7:42, 52; Acts 24:5; Isa 53:3-8; Pss 22:6-8, 13; 69:8, 20-21; Tob. 1.10-12; 4.12-13).

As a Jewish boy, Jesus would have attended some schooling in a Pharisaic synagogue to study the scriptures from age five until about twelve. He would have been educated in torah to develop socially and psychologically  as a Pharisee by a rabbi of Nazareth (Josephus, Ant. 13.289; m. ’Abott 1.18; 5.17; y. Meg. 4.74a; y. Pe’ah 2.17a; b. Šabb. 17a; b. Giṭ. 60b; b. Yoma 28ab). Outside of Jerusalem the Pharisees were the most prominent Jewish sect.

To supplement this Pharisaic schooling, Jesus’ family expressed normal Jewish piety taking twelve year old Jesus to religious festivals in the Temple in Jerusalem. On one of these trips, Jesus missed the family caravan to return to Nazareth. As a pious Jew, Jesus was aware of a unique calling and personal relationship with the divine Father (Luke 2:41-52; Infancy Gospel of Thomas 19.1-5). On this trip, the Jewish Temple teachers were amazed at Jesus’ learning as a boy (Luke 2:47; Infancy Gospel of Thomas 19.1; also corroborated by 6-7).

Jesus followed his father, Joseph, into the role as a day laborer (tekton; Matt 13:55; Mark 6:3). Such a day laborer would have meant that Jesus did rough work as a carpenter and/or stone mason (2 Macc 7). He probably practiced this trade at construction projects in Sepphoris (a few miles up the road from Nazareth) which was extensively being re-built by Herod Antipas as his strongest Jewish city in Galilee (Josephus, Ant. 17.289; 18.27; J. W. 2.56, 511; Life 232). Each day Joseph and Jesus would get up and walk four miles to Sepphoris to be available on the work line at dawn . They would labor until sunset and be paid for the work that day. In the twilight hours they would walk four miles back to Nazareth for dinner. Sleeping on a reed mat would refresh them to start the process all over again.

Construction at Sepphoris slowed about 27 A.D. when Herod Antipas shifted his treasury and construction activities to Tiberias (Josephus, Life 37-39). Since it was about twenty miles from Nazareth, Tiberias was too far for Jesus to commute daily for work.

Jesus grew strong, increasing filled by divinely gracious wisdom and in favor with God and humans (Luke 2:52; Infancy Gospel of Thomas 6-7; 19.1).

At about 31 years old, during the fifteenth year of Tiberias’ reign, or likely 28 AD (Luke 3:1-2; Tacitus, Ann. 1), Jesus traveled to Bethany, beyond the Jordan River, now in Jordan, to be baptized by his cousin John (Matt 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34; Gospel of Hebrews 2; Gospel of Ebionites 4:1-6; Gospel of Nazareans 2). Jesus’ baptism expressed an initiation rite in identifying with John’s kingdom oriented Judaism (similar to conversion baptism: Acts 2:38-41; 10:28; 19:3-4; 1QS 3.3-9; 4QTLevi ar; Josephus, J.W. 2.150; Ant. 14.285; 18.93-4; 18.117; T. Levi 2.3.1-2; Sib. Or. 4.162-70; Epictetus, Dissertationes 2.9.19-20; Apoc. Moses 29.6-13; b. Yebam. 46a-48b; Midrash Sifre Num. 15.14; m. Tohar 7.6; t. Yoma 4.20; t. Pesah 7.13).

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Dr. Doug Kennard is Professor of New Testament at Houston Graduate School of Theology.

 

 

 

 

Doug Kennard’s newest

Doug Kennard’s newest book is out and ready for you to “take up and read” (with apologies to St. Augustine).  It is entitled Epistemology and Logic in the New Testament: Early Jewish Context and Biblical Theology Mechanisms that fit Within Some Contemporary Ways of Knowing.  It is published by Wipf & Stock, an up-and-coming publishing house in the field of theology and Scripture studies.  Probably the best way to get your copy is to go online to Amazon.com.  Click here for a link.  The book is available in hard or paperback.  Few biblical scholars are competent to wander into the philosophical fields but Kennard is one who can and does. I hope you will get a copy.  I bet you can get Dr. Kennard to sign it for you!

kennards-book

Xmas: is it really taking “Christ” out of Christmas?

by David B. Capes, PhD

I remember my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Potts, opening a vein when anyone wrote “Xmas” instead of “Christmas.”  She felt there was a war on Christmas  and that people who abbreviated the name of the holiday were trying to take Christ out of Christmas.  I suppose that is true for some people, but when you look into the real story of “Xmas” you realize that something else is at work.

The story begins with the Ten Commandments.  One of those commandments says, “Do not take the name of the LORD in vain.”  The name by the way is not “LORD,” that was a respectful translation or substitute for the name.  In Hebrew THE NAME is four letters, yodh-he-vav-he. The technical term for the name is the tetragrammaton (literally, “the four letters”).  Scholars today think the name may have been pronounced—when it was pronounced—Yahweh or Yahveh.  But we aren’t sure.  This was the covenant name of God, the name revealed to Moses and Israel at Mt. Sinai. nomina_sacra

Under the influence of the commandment about the misuse of God’s name, the faithful spoke it less and less.  By the time of Jesus speaking the name was considered blasphemous in almost every circumstance. The rabbis made their mark by building a hedge about the law. If you never spoke God’s name, you could never be guilty of taking the name in vain. It was a way of safeguarding the name.  Even when reading Scripture in the synagogue, a substitute word was used.  In Aramaic-speaking synagogues the readers said “Adonai.”  In Greek-speaking synagogues they said “kyrios.”  Both mean something like “Lord” or “Master.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls provide good evidence for how the name of God was written in the centuries and decades leading up to the New Testament era.  In many of the biblical scrolls the name of God is written in paleo-Hebrew script.  That would be like shifting to a Gothic font when writing the name of God.  In other scrolls the name is not written at all; it is represented by four, thick dots written in the center of the line. In yet other scrolls where the name of God should be there is a blank in the line just large enough for the tetragrammaton.  Scholars theorize that the blank was left by a junior scribe and would have been filled in later by a senior scribe who had permission to write the name. Where there is a blank in the line, we think the senior scholar never got around to writing the divine name in the blank. These were some of the ways the faithful showed respect for the name of God.

Early Christians developed their own way of signaling respect for the names and titles associated with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Copying the New Testament books in Greek, they abbreviated the names (usually first letter and last letter) and placed a line above those letters. You can see this in the picture.  Scholars refer to these as nomina sacra (Latin for “sacred names”).  Copyists continued to write sacred names this way for centuries.  It remains a common practice still among artists who create the icons used in the eastern churches.  Many names and titles were written this way including “God,” “Father,” “Jesus,” “Son of God,” “Son of Man,” “Christ,” “Lord,” “Holy Spirit.” For our purposes note the nomen sacrum for “Christ;” it was written XC. Now remember these are letters from the Greek alphabet not our Latinized version. It is not “X” (eks) the 24th letter of our English alphabet but the Greek letter “Chi,” the first letter of the title “Christ.”

Earliest versions of writing Christmas as “Xmas” in English go back to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (about 1100).  This predates the rise of secularism by over 600 years.  The Oxford English Dictionary cites the use of “X-“ for “Christ” as early as 1485.  In one manuscript (1551) Christmas is written as “X’temmas.”  English writers from Lord Byron (1811) to Samuel Coleridge (1801) to Lewis Carroll (1864) used the spelling we are familiar with today, “Xmas.”

The origin of “Xmas” does not lie in secularists who are trying to take Christ out of Christmas, but in ancient scribal practices adopted to safeguard the divine name and signal respect for it.  The “X” in “Xmas” is not the English letter (eks) as in “X marks the spot,” but it is the initial Greek letter “Chi” (X), the first letter of the title “Christ.”  No doubt some people today use the abbreviated form to disregard the Christian focus of the holy-day, but the background tells a different story, a story of faithful men and women showing the deep respect they have for Jesus at this time of year.

Merry Christmas or should I say “Merry Xmas”!

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David B. Capes is the Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament at Houston Graduate School of Theology. 

Empathy: where has it gone?

By Dr. Ria Baker

“What is it that is never changed even though everything is changed? It is love. And only that which never becomes something else is love, that which gives away everything and for that reason demands nothing, that which demands nothing and therefore has nothing to lose, that which blesses and blesses when it is cursed, that which loves its neighbor but whose enemy is also its neighbor, that which leaves revenge to the Lord because it takes comfort in the thought that he is even more merciful” (Kierkegaard, Three Upbuilding Discourses, III 275, 1843).flood

This quote came across on an email today, in a very timely fashion as I was pondering the topic of “empathy,” or rather, the lack thereof.  I went to bed last night, after hearing of the latest report on hate crimes in our city and country, which have increased dramatically in recent months. As a person of color, I too have sensed a difference in reception in certain settings, a discomfort from “the other” in making eye contact or a cold stare in response to my greeting or smile. I wonder, “What causes persons to respond coldly or to incite hate crimes against “the other”? Does the person leave the act of indifference or hatred feeling a sense of relief or reward? What is gained from taking one’s anger out on someone who may have a different skin color or national origin? I went to bed, disheartened and prayerful, after hearing the report and I wondered where the love and empathy has gone, even among followers of Christ, who is the embodiment of empathy, love, and mercy. Is it their own personal pain that they are taking out on others? Is it not being able to stand the sight of a particular physiognomic feature in others? What is it?

I attended a support group in Houston this week for Iraqi and Syrians women displaced by war and who have been resettled in the area in recent weeks and months. I could sense the uncertainty and anxiety in their hearts and I was struck by scars of war, such as a missing limb but most of all wounded spirits. As one of the volunteers attempted to provide some words of comfort, hugs, and support to these women, by letting them know that we would be there for them in times of persecution and instruction on what to do when their children were bullied at school, I was saddened by the fact that these women and their children were now faced with an increased amount of micro-aggressions and at times blatant racism against them from the surrounding community. Many of the spouses of the Iraqi women had assisted the American soldiers during the war and now were granted asylum for the safety of their families.  The Syrian women had fled Syria over two years ago and had been waiting for asylum for over two years in surrounding countries and now were here in a place they had anticipated being a place of acceptance and peace.

“Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place.” Daniel H. Pink

Where has the empathy gone? Where has the ability to “feel with” the other gone? Hatred, fear, greed, selfishness? Have we not learned from our past mistakes? The answers escape me. I will need to be strong and not let my love and empathy slip away.

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Ria E. Baker, Ph.D, LPC-S is an associate professor of counselor education at the Houston Graduate School of Theology

Flesh and Blood

by James Furr, President of HGST

The popularity of Eugene Peterson’s translation of John 1:14 in The Message seems to increase every Christmas season—“The Word become flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” What a simple and profound statement of the mysterious reality of the Incarnation. Jesus—fully human, fully divine; the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe in our midst every day.peterson-square1

Such a mind-stretching truth is challenging enough but our affirmation is even more difficult in an age and culture known for its skepticism and isolation. Common perceptions about God are graphically outlined in an excellent book by Baylor University professors Paul Froese and Christopher Bader. Exhaustive research for America’s Four Gods—What We Say About God and What That Says About Us explored whether respondents thought of God as engaged or disengaged with the world and whether God was viewed as judgmental or nonjudgmental. They assigned names to the four possible combinations and indicate the percentages for each: 31% believe in an Authoritative God (engaged and judgmental); 24% believe in a Benevolent God (engaged and nonjudgmental); 16% believe in a Critical God (judgmental and disengaged); 24% believe in a Distant God (nonjudgmental and disengaged.) The other 5% identified as atheistic.   

How can we truly affirm the Incarnation when 40% of us perceive God to be disengaged from the world? How can the 31% who see God as engaged truly celebrate the Incarnation if God is primarily viewed as judgmental? With those convictions, how do we genuinely sing Christmas songs of peace, hope, and love?

Some of us are drawn to convince ourselves and others through logical persuasion. While reason and advocacy have a place at the table of discourse, I’m reminded of a compelling alternative described by Dr. Michael Gorman. In Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission, he invites us to embrace the experience of theosis, of “becoming like God by participating in the life of God” (261). As we join God’s reconciling activity in our lives, faith communities, and the world, we bear witness to and become Good News. Despair, isolation, and resentment can be transformed into hope, community, and love.

Ultimately, the overwhelming veracity of the Incarnation becomes the simple journey toward Christlikeness as we embrace God’s transforming power in us, through us, and around us. Through those lens, we see the Incarnation when the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the homeless are sheltered, and we sign as a hymn of confession and blessing Joy to the World, The Lord is Come!

What Can We Say Historically about the Birth of Jesus?

By Doug Kennard

Luke 2:2 identifies Quirinus as governor of Syria, whose term of service began by August of 5 BC and lasted until 1 BC (Josephus, Ant. 12.277; Tertullian, Marc. 4.19). When Quirinus reported to office in Syria, he instituted a census as he did again when he took the same office later during 6-9 AD (Luke 2:2; Josephus, Ant. 18.1; Quintus Secundus, CIL 3.6687). Jesus birth occurred sometime between August, 5 BC (based on Quirinus ascension date) and mid-March, 4 BC (based on Herod’s death date developed below). The incorrect calculation of the year as 0 was done by Dionysius Exiguus in 533 AD and can be corrected through Josephus, Ant. 18.1.nativity

We don’t know when Mary and Joseph married but it was probably in 5 BC, based on Jesus’ birth date (Matt 1:18, 24). Joseph takes his wife or betrothed virgin Mary to Bethlehem because he is of the house of David, fulfilling Messianic prophecy (Micah 5:2; Isa 7:14 LXX; Matt 1:17-2:6; Sib. Or. 8.478; Letter from Pilate to Claudius contained in Acts of Peter and Paul 40-42 and Tertullian, Apology 5.21). The Holy Spirit came upon Mary in an empowerment metaphor to impregnate her (Matt 1:18-25; Luke 1:34-35; Gos. Philip 17; Questions of Bartholomew 2.15-21; Epistula apostolorum 14[25]; Proto-evangelium of James 11.1-12.3; 13.8; Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew 11; metaphor of empowerment like Pentecost: Luke 1:35; 11:22; 21:26; Acts 1:8; 8:24; 13:40; 14:19), rather than Hellenistic myths of divine rape of human women.

Mary gave birth to Jesus in a cave and placed baby Jesus in an animal feeding trough, which became the sign for the shepherds (Luke 2:12, 16; Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 78.5; Proto-evangelium of James 17-18; Origen, Against Celsus 1.51; Jerome, Epistle 58 to Paulinus 3.5; Infancy Gospel of James 18). There is no evidence that animals were present with them in the cave, for the animals were placed there by early commentators to prefigure the kingdom described in Isaiah 11.

The family is poor, because Mary presents offerings of two doves for her and Jesus’ cleansing in the Jerusalem Temple (Luke 2:21-24). This means that Mary at six to eight months pregnancy probably walked the hundred miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. After the census, Joseph, Mary and Jesus remain on in Bethlehem in a house (Matt 2:11) to complete Jewish purification requirements in the neighboring city of Jerusalem.

The magi show up to worship King Jesus while the family is living in a house (Matt 2:11). We do not know how many magi came but they provided three kinds of gifts (Matt 2:1-12). Magi are wise men and astrologers from somewhere in the East (Matt 2:1; likely Iraq, Iran or Kuwait, based on where the gifts would have been purchased or collected).

Herod the Great was king of Israel during 40-4 BC, dying after Jesus’ birth and before Passover in March, with a solar eclipse after his death on March 29, 4 BC (Josephus, Ant. 14-18; 17.9.3; J. W. 2.1.3). Matthew 2-3 identifies that Herod the Great was still alive for Jesus birth because when the magi show up, Herod feigns interest in a newly born King of the Jews. In the previous four years, Herod had killed several pretenders to his throne including wife Mariame and three sons Alexander and Aristbulus (7 BC) and Antipater (4 BC) (As. Moses; Josephus, Ant. 15.7.4, 15.51-55; 17.159, 164, 167, 181; Bava Bathra 3b-4). It is no surprise that Herod kills the kids up to two years old of the region of Bethlehem in an attempt to kill baby Jesus (Matt 2:17-18; Proto-evangelium of James 22.1-2; Eusebius, Ec. Hist. 1.8.1; Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew 17). Based on Bethlehem village size at the time, this was probably about three dozen children murdered.

 

The flight to Egypt (Matt 2:13-15; Papyrus Cairrensis 10735; Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew 18-25) recapitulates Moses call to Egypt (Matt 2:19-21 parallel to Exod 4:19-20) and the Exodus (Exod 12-15; Hos 11:1; Matt 2:15). A donkey and provisions for these travels were likely provided by selling the gifts of the magi. The family moving to Galilee occurred between 3 BC and 6 AD, reflecting the Jewish distrust of Archelaus which led to his being deposed as King of the Jews by the Roman Senate in 6 AD (Matt 2:22-23; Mark 1:24; Luke 1:26; Josephus, Ant. 17.11.1-4).

As Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, the celebration of Jesus’ incarnation replaced the Roman Empire pagan winter celebration for the undefeated sun, which under the Gregorian calendar occurred on December 25th (thus celebrated as Christmas by Western Christianity) and on January 7th under the Julian calendar (thus celebrated by Greek, Palestinian, and Russian Orthodoxy).

 

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