Feeding, Suffering, Passover, and the Manger

Tonight I was dabbling in Latin and noticed that the word for “feeding” is pasco. This is not remarkable in and of itself, of course, but when we look at the other biblical languages a rather strange event occurs: they all point to Jesus and his death.

When we hear “Away in a Manger” we might as well be hearing “Away in the Fridge” if we have ancient ears. Jesus was laid in a place for food. It was a place for animals to eat from to be sure, but it was literally a “feeder” in Greek, and the verb for eating in French is “manger.” Jesus was stuck in the cupboard, and this is how it should be, since he grew up to claim that he was the food from heaven. But he wasn’t only some kind of heavenly bread (manna) that descended from heaven, he was also the Passover lamb who was sacrificed and whose blood saved his followers (who were the same people who ate him!) from the Angel of Death. This happened on Passover around 30 AD.

This icon of Jesus’s identity is conveyed with the word “Pascha” in the three major languages of the time. He was the Pascha in every conceivable way, and in every major language that a 1st century Jew would recognize. This is remarkable, to say the least.

The title of this post is :

Feeding, Suffering, Passover, and the Manger.

Another way of saying it is:

Pasco, Pascha, Pascha, and Pasco.

The Three Languages

In the 1st century there were three major languages in Palestine: Hebrew/Aramaic, Greek, and Latin. This is reflected in the proclamation posted on Jesus’s cross, written in all 3 languages. We will look at all 3 below, starting with the most ancient.

Hebrew

The term for Passover in Hebrew is pecach (pronounced peh’·sakh). It means what you would think: to pass over. When the writers of the LXX translated the Hebrew scriptures  into Greek they often faced a common linguistic choice: to translate a word literally or aurally. For example, one could translate “Joshua” (“Jehovah is salvation”) as θεός σωτηρία or as Ἰησοῦς. This choice faces the translator most often with proper nouns.

With Passover, it appears the translators chose to translate aurally, using the term πασχα instead of σκεπάσω (to pass over). This choice led to the wordplay which is the subject of this post.

For a Jew, Pascha meant “Passover” but it also meant “to suffer” in Greek. The association was unmissable, even if it was one that was due to translation alone (and therefore a secondary or seemingly random connection). When a Jew who knew Greek (and most did) celebrated the Passover, they could not help but associate it with suffering, since the language of the Roman Empire was Greek.

The Passover got its name from the angel of death “passing over” the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, while visiting all of the Egyptian houses and killing their firstborn. Therefore the feast of Passover/Suffering was when the Israelites were passed over and the Egyptians suffered. The feast was centered around a meal with symbolic foods that called to remembrance the suffering in Egypt and the suffering of the Egyptians that led to the release/salvation of the Israelites. The Israelites were released so that they could go worship God in the desert, receiving the Law from Moses and eating a sacred meal with God.

Greek

It was only with the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that suffering was explicitly (or literally) equated with Passover. But by the 1st century this had been the case for roughly 3-4 centuries. It was not a new association.

Yet this association took on new depth when Jesus died on Passover/Suffering. One could not help but think that the LXX translation was inspired to foretell this event. When Passover/Suffering was celebrated, Jesus suffered and died as the firstborn Son of God. Yet in the original Passover, it was the Egyptians (sinners) who suffered. With Jesus, he paradoxically is the only innocent one yet is condemned to die. He, as the scapegoat of Yom Kippur, takes the place of the sinners and is punished in their stead. By this, as in Yom Kippur, the punishment that was due to Israel is passed over to another. Jesus dies as the firstborn of sinners even though he is the firstborn of God. This injustice is reversed with his resurrection, celebrated as the feast of Pascha by Christians (later changed to “Easter” in the West).

In other words, the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus was called Pascha by early Christians, denoting both the Passover and Suffering of Jesus. How was it remembered? By a ritual meal, insitituted by Jesus just prior to his pascha on the feast of Pascha during the Paschal meal, the Last Supper.

Latin

The significance of pasco for the Bible is this: eating is sacred. The instances of sacred meals in the OT are too numerous to recount here. Beyond this, Jesus invites people to consume him as food, calling himself “the true bread from heaven” (John 6:32). He goes on to say in verse 51:

I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

Since we are in the Nativity (Christmas) season, it is worth noting that Jesus was born in a “manger.” While we take this as a simple fact that he was born in a trough, the deeper meaning is that he was (in English) born in a receptacle whose name derives from the French term for “eating.” It is, after all, a feeding trough. The Greek term used for manger in the NT, φάτνη, is used only by Luke, and refers only to the place where Jesus is placed after his birth (with the one exception being 13:15). His birth a manger in is in a sense an impromptu accommodation, and in another sense a foreshadowing of his identity as the One Who Is To Be Eaten.

To sum up: in the NT Jesus is born in a “feeder” and to feed in Latin is pasco. This is where Jesus was placed as a newborn, and where he was to be found by the shepherds. They were told that they could identify the child as the one who is in the feeder.

We can add to this that pasco is not a very commonly used word in the Latin NT, but it used after the Resurrection by Jesus in his words to Peter (over a meal!):

So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. (pasce agnos meos)

He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. (pasce oves meas)

He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. (pasce oves meas)

-John 21:15-17

It is actually the case that pasco denotes feeding and shepherding, not merely eating. It is the providing of food, something that Jesus claimed he could do and what he commanded Peter to do. The Greek text of John has the verb ποιμαίνω (to shepherd). Again we have a strange coincidence, in that Jesus was called the Good Shepherd, killed as the Passover lamb, identified as the Lamb of God and the Firstborn of God, born in a feeding trough for sheep, and identified as the food for his own flock. As we can see in the Latin translation above, the word for feed/shepherd is pasce, which is virtually identical in sound to Pascha! (the only difference being in the ending vowel)

Tying the Threads

The feast of Pascha (Passover/Resurrection) follows immediately after Pasco (the Last Supper) and Pascha (the Passover), and is followed by Jesus telling Peter to shepherd/feed (Pasco) his sheep.

The feast of Passover, where the passing over of Israel by the Angel of Death is commemorated, is the feast of Pascha (suffering), the feast of the Resurrection of Jesus who suffered on Passover (Pascha), which is also the feast of Pasco (feeding/eating), the commemoration of the Last Supper where Jesus offered bread and wine to his Apostles in anticipation of his Pascha (suffering) which occurred on Pascha (Passover).

Passover is celebrated by eating symbolic food, and Jesus instituted the Eucharist at a Passover meal, suffering the next day during Passover.

Jesus takes the place of the sinners (the Egyptians) and is killed by the Angel of Death so that Israel may be freed. Israel (Jesus’s followers) is passed over (they are not crucified), and yet this does them no good until they accept his salvation by eating with him after the Resurrection, and thereafter celebrating the Eucharist with others as the symbol of who Jesus and who they now are. Israel, after being passed over, went into the wilderness to commune with God and eat with him, as we see in Exodus 10:8-10, 18:10-12, and 24:3-12 below:

And Moses and Aaron were brought again unto Pharaoh: and he said unto them, Go, serve the LORD your God: but who are they that shall go?

And Moses said, We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds will we go; for we must hold a feast unto the LORD.

And he said unto them, Let the LORD be so with you, as I will let you go, and your little ones: look to it; for evil is before you.

 

And Jethro said, Blessed be the LORD, who hath delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of Pharaoh, who hath delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians.

Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them.

And Jethro, Moses’ father in law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God: and Aaron came, and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses’ father in law before God.

 

And Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the LORD hath said will we do.

And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel.

And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the LORD.

And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basons; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar.

And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient.

And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words.

Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel:

And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.

And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.

And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them.

Back to the Manger

This all explains why Jesus was laid in a manger (φάτνη, feeder) after being born. It was not merely because there was nowhere else to stash him: it was because he was born to be eaten (manger). He was the Pascha, the One who would make the Angel of Death pass over Israel, the one who would suffer, and the one who would tell his disciples to eat (manger) him in remembrance of his Passover/Pascha, and to shepherd/feed (pasco) his sheep/lambs just as he had.

One last note is in order. The Hebrew term for “manger” or “crib” is ebuwc (“to feed, to fatten”). It is used only 3 times in the OT, the last being Isaiah 1:3

The ox knows its owner
And the donkey its master’s crib; (ὄνος τὴν φάτνην τοῦ κυρίου αὐτοῦ)
But Israel does not know,
My people do not consider.”

This chapter of Isaiah was cited widely by early Christians (see Romans 9:29 for a NT example, and note that Justin Martyr, Ireneaus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian all cite 1:3 in particular), and as the opening chapter of one of their favorite books it was very important.

One cannot help but see the new significance that the second clause takes on in light of Luke’s nativity story: the donkey (the lowly Gentiles and faithful remnant of verse 9 as opposed to unfaithful Israel) now knows the crib/manger of the Lord (note that κυρίου was the Greek rendering of Yahweh (see v.2 as well as meaning “master”). It is the manger of Jesus, the Passover lamb who was to suffer and be eaten. We can even add to this that the Passover lambs were literally put on crosses to support their carcasses, as Justin Martyr points out. Jews were used to seeing Passover lambs sacrificed and cooked on wooden crosses every year! These were to be taken home and eaten for the sacred Passover meal.

 

Advertisements

Why God is like a Unicorn

As my father lay dying several years ago, I was reading from the Psalms by his bedside. I read the following verse and became rather whimsically startled:

But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn:

I shall be anointed with fresh oil.

While I kept reading, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “Really, God? Unicorns? This is what you are promising to the righteous? This is supposed to comforting?”

Later I looked up the issue and this post is about what I found.

Unicorns in Antiquity

Unicorns are found in legends in many cultures, with some obvious variations on the general theme. Today they are wimpy rainbow-poopers for little girls (much like angels!) but in medieval Europe they were hunted for their horns (supposedly) which were believed to have been quite powerful. They were animals on the liminal edge of nature and supernature, to use modern categories. They could be killed, but they had supernatural powers of some sort.

The book Barlaam and Josaphat uses the image of a unicorn in a striking way, at least to the modern eye/ear:

A man saw a raging unicorn, and flying from him fell into a pit.

But as he fell he caught hold of a branch which saved him from falling to the bottom, while he rested his feet upon a projecting stone.

Looking about him he saw two mice, one white and one black, gnawing at the root of the branch which he was holding, while at the bottom of the well he saw a fiery dragon, and near the stone on which his feet rested, a serpent, with four heads.

But just at this moment he noticed on the branch he was holding a few drops of honey trickling down, and forgetting the unicorn, the dragon, the snakes, and the mice, he directed his whole thoughts how he might obtain the sweet honey.

Now the unicorn is death,

the well is the world, full of manifold evil,

the two mice are the night and the day which, eat away the branch of life,

while the four serpents are the four elements of man’s body,

and the fiery dragon represents hell.

The few drops of honey, the pleasures of this world.

This parable, taken from a work that appears to be a Christian retelling of the life of the Buddha (ca. 7th c. AD), is noteworthy because the unicorn is “raging” and is the most obviously threatening animal listed. But unicorns these days are not dangerous, and in Medieval times unicorns were hunted rather than the hunters. So what gives?

Unicorns in the Bible

The apparent anomaly above pushes us towards our Biblical evidence and back to the Old Testament.

“Unicorns” are mentioned in the KJV translation of the OT 9 times in 5 books, and in each occurrence the unicorn is a symbol of power.

The Hebrew word used in rĕ’em, which is derived from the Hebrew word ra’am, meaning “to rise.” It denotes an exalted and powerful animal, in context and typology linked with the bull. The exact animal it refers to is not known.

Yet in the LXX we have a Greek rendering of the Hebrew term: in all 9 instances the term used is μονοκέρως (“single-horn”) (but not Job 39:10 where the noun is referred to but not repeated, or Isaiah 34:7 where ἁδροὶ, meaning “an animal that is stout, fine, fat, etc.” is used).

So it appears that the Greek Jews who translated the Hebrew OT into the the LXX considered rĕ’em as meaning a “unicorn.” But what was a unicorn in their minds?

The Greek term μονοκέρως simply means “single horn,” just like rhinoceros means “nose horn.” So the animal had a single horn, to be sure, but was not necessarily the unicorn that we think of. In fact, some English dictionaries as late as the 19th century had “unicorn” as meaning the single-horned rhinoceros. The LXX may denote this, or an animal that was bull-like but had a single horn (note that the LXX was done in Alexandria, where exposure to both the rhinoceros and other animals was possible).

This makes sense of the ominous and powerful depiction of the unicorn in the LXX. If one imagines a rhinoceros or bull-like creature charging you, one would be filled with dread. The single horn was for putting a hole in you, and was backed up by a large and very strong animal. We can add to this that the horn was a biblical symbol of power, and so the image is one of extreme power and danger to whatever was opposed to the animal. Rather than a horse, we should imagine a bull or rhino. No wings were necessary, of course.

Conclusion

While the Bible does speak of unicorns, they are not the unicorns of medieval times or modern times. Rather, they are somewhat ambiguous animals that are extremely large and powerful, with a single horn for attacking their enemies. It is not the case that the Bible buys into mythological fairy-tales on this point, but rather uses animal symbolism that was real and known to the readers.

This page tells us that “the Talmud states that the bull which Adam offered up to God had but one horn, centered in the middle of its forehead (Shabbat 28b).” In other words, a unicorn was sacrificed to God by Adam (the picture at the top of this post is from the same source).

The unicorn of the Bible was like God: powerful, exalted (literally), and with a single horn/power. The unicorns of today, in this sense, are much like the modern God: wimpy, fictional, and for entertainment purposes only.

 

 

 

WordPlay: Roman Power (Ῥώμη Ῥώμη), Part 2

In part 1 we explored the connection between power and Rome on the basic level of linguistics. In part 2 we will look at the Greek usage of ρώμη in the Bible.

Greek Evidence

How often was ρώμη used by ancient Greek authors? You can see for yourself here. While  ρώμη was not the most common word for “power” or “strength,” it was used by many authors. It was not a little known or idiosyncratic word.

LXX Evidence

Ῥώμη never occurs in the most widely accepted books of the OT. However, the Greek Bible (LXX) contains a number of writings that were not included in the Masoretic Hebrew canon. Do any of these books use the term ρώμη to indicate “strength”?

It turns out that they do, but it is very unusual. 1 Maccabees has the term 12 times, all of them denoting the city of Rome, while 2 and 3 Maccabees include the word as denoting “strength,” as does Proverbs 6:8.

Here is Proverbs 6:6-8 according to the LXX (the MT is missing most of v.8):

6 Go to the ant, O sluggard; and see, and emulate his ways, and become wiser than he.

7 For whereas he has no husbandry, nor any one to compel him, and is under no master,

8 he prepares food for himself in the summer, and lays by abundant store in harvest. Or go to the bee, and learn how diligent she is, and how earnestly she is engaged in her work; whose labours kings and private men use for health, and she is desired and respected by all:

though weak in body (τῇ ρώμῃ ἀσθενής),

she is advanced by honouring wisdom (τὴν σοφίαν τιμήσασα).

The juxtaposition of weakness (or sickness) of the “(strength of the) body” (ρώμῃ), is a key Pauline idea, as we will see, as well as the preeminence of wisdom over physical strength.

2 Maccabees 3:26 has ρώμῃ, and below is the fuller context of the passage (3:7-30):

7 Now when Apollonius came to the king, and had shewed him of the money whereof he was told, the king chose out Heliodorus his treasurer, and sent him with a commandment to bring him the foresaid money.

8 So forthwith Heliodorus took his journey; under a colour of visiting the cities of Celosyria and Phenice, but indeed to fulfil the king’s purpose.

9 And when he was come to Jerusalem, and had been courteously received of the high priest of the city, he told him what intelligence was given of the money, and declared wherefore he came, and asked if these things were so indeed.

10 Then the high priest told him that there was such money laid up for the relief of widows and fatherless children:

11 And that some of it belonged to Hircanus son of Tobias, a man of great dignity, and not as that wicked Simon had misinformed: the sum whereof in all was four hundred talents of silver, and two hundred of gold:

12 And that it was altogether impossible that such wrongs should be done unto them, that had committed it to the holiness of the place, and to the majesty and inviolable sanctity of the temple, honoured over all the world.

13 But Heliodorus, because of the king’s commandment given him, said, That in any wise it must be brought into the king’s treasury.

14 So at the day which he appointed he entered in to order this matter: wherefore there was no small agony throughout the whole city.

15 But the priests, prostrating themselves before the altar in their priests’ vestments, called unto heaven upon him that made a law concerning things given to he kept, that they should safely be preserved for such as had committed them to be kept.

16 Then whoso had looked the high priest in the face, it would have wounded his heart: for his countenance and the changing of his colour declared the inward agony of his mind.

17 For the man was so compassed with fear and horror of the body, that it was manifest to them that looked upon him, what sorrow he had now in his heart.

18 Others ran flocking out of their houses to the general supplication, because the place was like to come into contempt.

19 And the women, girt with sackcloth under their breasts, abounded in the streets, and the virgins that were kept in ran, some to the gates, and some to the walls, and others looked out of the windows.

20 And all, holding their hands toward heaven, made supplication.

21 Then it would have pitied a man to see the falling down of the multitude of all sorts, and the fear of the high priest being in such an agony.

 22 They then called upon the Almighty Lord to keep the things committed of trust safe and sure for those that had committed them.

23 Nevertheless Heliodorus executed that which was decreed.

24 Now as he was there present himself with his guard about the treasury, the Lord of spirits, and the Prince of all power, caused a great apparition, so that all that presumed to come in with him were astonished at the power of God (τοῦ Θεοῦ δύναμιν), and fainted, and were sore afraid.

25 For there appeared unto them an horse with a terrible rider upon him, and adorned with a very fair covering, and he ran fiercely, and smote at Heliodorus with his forefeet, and it seemed that he that sat upon the horse had complete harness of gold.

26 Moreover two other young men appeared before him, notable in strength (τῇ ρώμῃ), excellent in beauty, and comely in apparel, who stood by him on either side; and scourged him continually, and gave him many sore stripes.

27 And Heliodorus fell suddenly unto the ground, and was compassed with great darkness: but they that were with him took him up, and put him into a litter.

28 Thus him, that lately came with a great train and with all his guard into the said treasury, they carried out, being unable to help himself with his weapons: and manifestly they acknowledged the power of God.

29 For he by the hand of God was cast down, and lay speechless without all hope of life.

30 But they praised the Lord, that had miraculously honoured his own place: for the temple; which a little afore was full of fear and trouble, when the Almighty Lord appeared, was filled with joy and gladness.

 31 Then straightways certain of Heliodorus’ friends prayed Onias, that he would call upon the most High to grant him his life, who lay ready to give up the ghost.

32 So the high priest, suspecting lest the king should misconceive that some treachery had been done to Heliodorus by the Jews, offered a sacrifice for the health of the man.

33 Now as the high priest was making an atonement, the same young men in the same clothing appeared and stood beside Heliodorus, saying, Give Onias the high priest great thanks, insomuch as for his sake the Lord hath granted thee life:

34 And seeing that thou hast been scourged from heaven, declare unto all men the mighty power of God. And when they had spoken these words, they appeared no more.

35 So Heliodorus, after he had offered sacrifice unto the Lord, and made great vows unto him that had saved his life, and saluted Onias, returned with his host to the king.

Here again we have a juxtaposition of human power and hubris (Rome as represented by Heliodorus) and divine power (ρώμῃ as the two angels). Irony is added by the play off of Heliodorus’s name, which means “gift of the sun”: he is cast to the ground and surrounded by “great darkness.” The representative of the sun beaten and cast into darkness, showing that he is not truly ρώμῃ. He even is at the point of death and is saved only by the priest sacrificing to God on his behalf.

(note: this episode is quite similar in some aspects to the Damascus Road experience of Paul)

3 Maccabees 2:4 has the last instance of ρώμῃ. The book begins with the attempt of Antiochus to enter the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem (similar to the actions of Heliodorus above). The was a profanation of the Temple and greatly distressed the Jews. Chapter 2 reads:

1 Now was it that the high priest Simon bowed his knees over against the holy place, and spread out his hands in reverent form, and uttered the following supplication:

2 O Lord, Lord, King of the heavens, and Ruler of the whole creation, Holy among the holy, sole Governor, Almighty, give ear to us who are oppressed by a wicked and profane one, who exulteth in his confidence and strength.

3 It is thou, the Creator of all, the Lord of the universe, who art a righteous Governor, and judgest all who act with pride and insolence.

4 It was thou who didst destroy the former workers of unrighteousness, among whom were the giants, who trusted in their strength (ῥώμῃ) and hardihood, by covering them with a measureless flood.

5 It was thou who didst make the Sodomites, those workers of exceeding iniquity, men notorious for their vices, an example to after generations, when thou didst cover them with fire and brimstone.

6 Thou didst make known thy power when thou causedst the bold Pharaoh, the enslaver of thy people, to pass through the ordeal of many and diverse inflictions.

7 And thou rolledst the depths of the sea over him, when he made pursuit with chariots, and with a multitude of followers, and gavest a safe passage to those who put their trust in thee, the Lord of the whole creation.

8 These saw and felt the works of thine hands, and praised thee the Almighty.

9 Thou, O King, when thou createdst the illimitable and measureless earth, didst choose out this city: thou didst make this place sacred to thy name, albeit thou needest nothing: thou didst glorify it with thine illustrious presence, after constructing it to the glory of thy great and honourable name.

10 And thou didst promise, out of love to the people of Israel, that should we fall away from thee, and become afflicted, and then come to this house and pray, thou wouldest hear our prayer.

11 Verily thou art faithful and true.

12 And when thou didst often aid our fathers when hard pressed, and in low estate, and deliveredst them out of great dangers,

13 see now, holy King, how through our many and great sins we are borne down, and made subject to our enemies, and are become weak and powerless.

14 We being in this low condition, this bold and profane man seeks to dishonour this thine holy place, consecrated out of the earth to the name of thy Majesty.

15 Thy dwelling place, the heaven of heavens, is indeed unapproachable to men.

Again we have the contrast between earthly power and the power of God. In all 3 instances kings and/or representatives of kings are contrasted with the weak in body who are strong in wisdom. Human power is therefore set up as the antithesis of divine wisdom, which is the ultimate power of God.

NT Evidence

In the NT ρώμη always means Rome. While the OT literature was read in the Roman context in the 1st century, it preceded the rise of Roman power. But in the NT Rome was always in control. The play on words was therefore implicit. When Paul says that he “must also see Rome” (Acts 19:21) the reader also heard that he “must also see power.” Paul, whose “bodily presence is weak” (2 Cor. 10:10) is the antithesis of ρώμη both in terms of Rome and bodily strength. Jesus himself was made to look weak by the powerful Rome, yet just as we saw in Maccabees this weakness was overturned by the power of God and Roman power was put to shame but the risen Christ. Jesus and Paul both carry names that denote victory through weakness when coupled with their personal stories: Jesus (“YHWH saves”) is killed by Rome but saved by God, while Paul (“small one”) was formerly the powerful persecutor Saul (“desired one”) who became weak for the sake of the Gospel.

 

Conclusion

The idea that Rome was the world power and for all intents and purposes would remain so until it was conquered by God himself was reinforced in 1st century minds by the meaning of the term for Rome itself: it literally meant “power.” This power was human and fundamentally at odds with the power of God, who sided with the oppressed and powerless. The Davidic empire in the minds of readers was just that: it was only in their minds and their texts. It was tale told about the distant past, and one that fostered the hope that their current lack of power would somehow be reversed and a Davidic ruler would again emerge to vindicate Israel and their God.

This reversal, the readers were told, would be accomplished by God and would be a result of both God’s mercy and the turning of Israel to God. It was the apostasy and sin of Israel that had resulted in their current powerlessness, and their return to God that would usher in the Messianic age and the conquering of the power of men (Rome).

For the followers of Jesus, this teaching became reinterpreted after the Resurrection. Rome had conquered Jesus, and yet Jesus had emerged victorious days later by the power of God. The intervention of God in raising Jesus was exactly what the hope of Israel should have been, in retrospect. Not a military conquest, but a victory over death itself and the power of man to inflict death. The humble and powerless Jesus on the cross had been shown by God to be the exalted and powerful Christ at the right hand of God. The hope of Israel had been transferred to another plane and register. The very idea of power had been transformed, and this transformation had been exploited by Paul, who, like Jesus, made weakness a sign of power. Not just any weakness, mind you, but weakness in bodily strength (ρώμη) coupled with power in wisdom and humility. It was the ultimate rejection of Rome and all that Rome stood for. Rather than seeking a ρώμη Israel, Jesus and Paul taught by example that weakness (non-ρώμη) was more powerful than Rome (ρώμη). Rather than living and dying by the sword, they were to live and die by the sword of God, the Scriptures. The Messiah was to return and slay the enemies of God with “the sword of his mouth” (Rev. 19:15), and in the meantime it was the words from the mouth of God (Jesus) that the followers of God were to use to bring about his kingdom.

It was, therefore, no longer a problem that Rome appeared to be in control. Their power was superficial, given that God had demonstrated his ultimate power in raising Jesus from the dead. Let the ρώμη have their ρώμη, since believers in Jesus knew that YHWH saves, not Rome. David’s kingdom fell, Rome will fall, but the kingdom of God and his Christ had been instituted and would be fully realized in the future. It was only a matter of time until Rome saw the Divine Rome (ρώμη) coming on the clouds with great power to invest the faithful with the ρώμη of God and the age of peace, the true and eternal Pax Romana.

Anthrax in the Bible: A Burning Issue

(note: normally I use only pictures that I have taken personally, but the image above is taken from the internet.)

 

Don’t let the title scare you: your Bible is not infectious. On the other hand, the Bible does speak of anthrax, although you probable haven’t realized this before. Below we will see just what this means.

What is Anthrax?

When I was growing up, Anthrax to me was a thrash metal band. Later on I associated the word with terrorism due to the anthrax attacks of 2001. I recently spent some time with a person who lived through those attacks. He survived, but as a result all of his possessions were burned as a precaution.

If you don’t know already, anthrax as a disease is deadly and found in herbivores, yet in modern times has been weaponized. The disease’s name derives from an ancient Greek term.

 

Coal

I typically encounter coal in the form of charcoal. Specifically, charcoal briquettes used to cook food on my grill. These are made by taking wood shavings pressed together and then burned in an environment where instead of being burned completely, the oxygen level is regulated so that the carbon structure of the wood is retained. Just like when you have a campfire that burns itself out, resulting in ashes and coal, charcoal is manufactured so that most of the wood is transformed into coal rather than ash.

If you grill a good deal, you might be familiar with natural wood charcoal. Rather than briquettes, these are pieces of wood that have been converted into coal. These pieces are black, of course, but also quite beautiful: they have a slight iridescent sheen to them and you can still see the grain of the wood. They also have a rather interesting sound to them when they are knocked about and when they crack as they catch fire, rather like what I would imagine semi-hollow crystals would sound like (think of the sounds in the crystal cave in Superman).

But we all know that coal is mined as well as made. A few years ago I was walking in the woods and looking for interesting rocks. This was in an area that had arrowheads and various types of quartz in plentitude. I came across a rather light-weight rock which was black and had an iridescent sheen. I had no idea what it was, but after a bit of googling I found out that it was anthracite coal. This type of coal, as opposed to bituminous coal, is rather hard and burns at a much higher temperature.

It was due to this discovery in the woods that I realized that anthrax was coal.

 

The Wider Etymology

Anthracite means “coal-like,” and anthrax (the disease) is so named because it produces boils that resemble coal. Boils, by the way, are so named because the body “boils” (bubbles) these lesions to the surface (just like water boiling). Another term associated with this family of words is carbuncle, a term that denotes both boils (lesions) and a semi-precious stone (red garnet). “Carbuncle” is from carbunculus, a small coal. Additionally, “carbon” is a more modern term that simply means “burning coal” (think of carbo-hydrates, carbu-rater, etc.).

Now that we have established that anthrax and carbuncle are synonymous terms that simply derive from different families of languages, we can look at the biblical evidence.

 

The New Testament

We find anthrax in the NT three times:

Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink:

for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire (ἄνθρακας πυρὸς) on his head.

-Romans 12:20

The above verse is advice given by Paul, and it has always struck me as rather strange. Is the helping of one’s enemy a form of attack? Who wants burning coals on their head, after all? This becomes clearer when we realize that Paul is citing a teaching from Proverbs:

If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink

For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee.

-Proverbs 25:21-22

The burning coals are useful and he is referencing the practice of carrying live coals as a way of transferring fire. Even the tradition of getting coal in one’s stocking at Christmas was originally a sign of good luck and prosperity; coal and fire were good. At any rate, Paul goes on to write in the next verse:

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

This makes it explicit that the coals were for the benefit of the “enemy,” in spite of their opposition to you.

 

The other two instances in the NT are both from John:

And the servants and officers stood there,

who had made a fire of coals (ἀνθρακιὰν);

for it was cold: and they warmed themselves:

and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself.

-John 18:18

Peter warms himself by a charcoal fire during the trial of Jesus, and there he denies knowing Jesus three times. He is literally and figuratively close to hell in this scene, and his three-fold denial is reversed a few chapters later:

As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals (ἀνθρακιὰν) there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.

10 Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.

11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.

12 Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord.

13 Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.

14 This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.

-John 21:9-14

The passage continues with Jesus asking Peter three times if he loved him, and Peter’s triple affirmation serves as a balance to his triple denial in chapter 18. This scene plays out around a meal and a coal fire, just as the denials played out over a trial and a coal fire. The coals in scene one were of judgment, while in scene two they are of of life and forgiveness. Peter, in effect, was cooking/judging himself while Jesus was judged in ch. 18, and Jesus was cooking/preparing Peter and the Gentiles while Peter vindicated himself in ch. 21. Just as Paul taught that one should heap coals upon one’s enemy instead of doing them harm, Jesus uses coals to feed and forgive Peter. Peter, the denier of Jesus and therefore his enemy, benefits from the coals and is fed, just as we find in Proverbs and Romans.

 

The Old Testament

Other than Paul and John, we have no NT references to coals. Yet the OT provides us with a background for understanding the meaning of coal in Scripture.

28 Judge none blessed before his death: for a man shall be known in his children.

29 Bring not every man into thine house: for the deceitful man hath many trains.

30 Like as a partridge taken and kept in a cage, so is the heart of the proud; and like as a spy, watcheth he for thy fall:

31 For he lieth in wait, and turneth good into evil, and in things worthy praise will lay blame upon thee.

32 Of a spark of fire a heap of coals (ἀνθρακιά) is kindled: and a sinful man layeth wait for blood.

-Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach 11:28-32

Here we have the “heap of coals” that is strikingly similar to Paul’s and Proverbs’s “heaping coals of fire,” as well as the context of betrayal as in John 18.

We also have coal in the second chapter of Genesis 2:9-12:

And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.

The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;

And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. (KJV)

And the gold of that land is good, there also is carbuncle (ἄνθραξ) and emerald. (Br)

The Greek clearly speaks of coal, and it is notable that of the 4 rivers and regions spoken of in Genesis 2, only the first has gold and jewels. The Hebrew has the first “jewel” as being bĕdolach, which means “gum resin.” This calls to mind incense, which is composed of gum resin. The word may derive from badal, a term which means “divide.”

This is meaningful because creation in Genesis occurs by the process of division: God divides the earth from the water, etc. (see Gen. 1:4, 6, 7, 14, 18) The word used is badal. The rest of the many instances of badal in the OT deal with the difference between holy and unholy, Israel and the Gentiles, the Levites and the other tribes, and so on. It has to do with holiness, which is essentially the idea of separation.

But what does gum resin (with a connotation of holiness) have to do with coal? One burned incense (holy resin) on coal, not on regular wood. The smoke was a sign of holiness. So we see that the LXX and Hebrew refer to different substances, but ones that were particularly (and intentionally) linked. Coal is the only “jewel” which is burned, and bĕdolach is burned on it.

In Exodus 28:17-18 and 39:10-11 both mention coal/carbuncle in the context of the 12 stones of the priest’s breastplate that represent the 12 tribes of Israel. In both cases the text of the Hebrew and the Greek differ slightly:

And thou hast set in it settings of stone, four rows of stone;

a row of sardius, topaz, and carbuncle (bareqeth, σμάραγδος) is the first row;

and the second row is emerald (ἄνθραξ, nophek), sapphire, and diamond;

We should note that the English translation above is simply guessing at what the Hebrew words are (as we see in the links), and yet “carbuncle” is anthrax. For our purposes we should simply note that once again ἄνθραξ is here not only a precious ornamental stone, but one that represents a tribe of Israel. Since σμάραγδος is the Greek for emerald it is clear that ἄνθραξ is the first stone in the second row of the breastplate. If we follow the standard order of the tribes, this corresponds to Judah.

The symbol of Judah, the royal tribe, is ἄνθραξ! Jesus, of course, was from the tribe of Judah, as was David. Again, we are talking about coal here, or possibly some otherwise unknown gem that went by the same name as coal.

We encounter this again in Ezekiel:

Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering,

the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald (nophek), and the carbuncle (bareqeth), and gold: (MT)

the sardius, and topaz, and emerald, and carbuncle (ἄνθρακα), and sapphire, and jasper, and silver, and gold, and ligure, and agate, and amethyst, and chrysolite, and beryl, and onyx: (LXX)

the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.

Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.

Ezekiel 28:13-14

The Hebrew has 9 gems and then gold, while the LXX has 6 gems, silver and gold, and then 6 more gems. The Greek follows the order of the tribal gems in Exodus, while the Hebrew does not (nor is it complete). Whatever led to this difference is hard to ascertain, but it is clear that the Greek text is meant to recall the breastplate of the high priest, as well as the land of good gold and carbuncle from Genesis 2.

The figure described is called the King of Tyre, but the description is that of Satan and Adam (see vs. 9, 12, 13, and 17). This figure is also an “anointed cherub who covers” in the Hebrew, which means the figure is a messiah (anointed one) and an angel who guards paradise (see Gen. 3:24) but more importantly is enthroned above the Ark of the Covenant and covers it (Ex. 25:20). The Greek has “From the day that thou wast created thou [wast] with the cherub:,” a clear reference to Adam.

Other Instances in the OT

We read of various other instances of coal/carbuncle (ἄνθραξ) in the OT, detailed below by theme:

Burning of Incense before God

Leviticus 16:12 mentions the coals that were used by the high priest to burn incense during the Day of Atonement.

 

Divine Epiphanies

2 Samuel 22:9, 13 mention coals in describing the awesome appearance of God, as does Ps. 18:8, 12

Job 41:12 uses very similar imagery in describing Leviathan, whose eyes are like the morning star (Lucifer).

Ezekiel 1:13 and 10:2 there were “coals of fire” in the middle of the Divine Chariot, and 24:11 has God purifying through coals.

Isaiah 6:6 has a coal from the altar before God (in heaven) prifying the lips of Isaiah after he has seen God.

 

Punishment for the Wicked

Ps. 119:4 likens the tongue of the wicked to coals of the desert, and Ps. 139:10 says that coals will fall on them.

 

Danger from the Wicked

Proverbs 6:28 likens a harlot to coals that burn, and Proverbs 26:21 draws a comparison between the hearth for coals and a contentious man for strife.

 

Anti-Idolatry

Isaiah 44:19 speaks of baking loaves of bread on coals made from the same wood used for constructing idols, and Is. 47:14 in a rather sarcastic anti-idolatry theme says “Because thou hast coals of fire, sit thou upon them.”

 

Restitution

Isaiah 54:11-16

11 Afflicted and outcast thou has not been comforted: behold, I [will] prepare carbuncle (ἄνθρακα) [for] thy stones, and sapphire for thy foundations;

12 and I will make thy buttresses jasper, and thy gates crystal, and thy border precious stones.

13 And [I will cause] all thy sons [to be] taught of God, and thy children [to be] in great peace.

14 And thou shalt be built in righteousness: abstain from injustice, and thou shalt not fear; and trembling shall not come nigh thee.

15 Behold, strangers shall come to thee by me, and shall sojourn with thee, and shall run to thee for refuge.

16 Behold, I have created thee, not as the coppersmith blowing coals (ἄνθρακας), and bringing out a vessel [fit] for work; but I have created thee, not for ruin, that [I] should destroy [thee].

 

The final example is hard to categorize: it is a story told deceitfully to King David to try to trick him. The coal in the passage is the woman’s heir, her only surviving son.

And behold the whole family rose up against thine handmaid, and they said, Give up the one that smote his brother, and we will put him to death for the life of his brother, whom he slew, and we will take away even your heir: so they will quench my coal that is left, so as not to leave my husband remnant or name on the face of the earth.

-2 Samuel 14:7

 

Conclusion

The biblical role of anthrax/coal/carbuncle (ἄνθραξ) can be summed up in the following manner:

  1. It is valuable (like a jewel) and represents the tribe of Judah, the royal tribe.
  2. It is useful, the only useful jewel, in fact. It cooks things, melts metals, and primarily burns incense before God.
  3. It is a symbol associated with the divine presence (epiphanies).
  4. It is a symbol of divine judgement.

Because of all 4 of the above points, anthrax is particularly holy. For Christians, we can add that anthrax is associated with Jesus in particular: he is from Judah (1), he is judged and consumed (2), he embodies the presence of God on earth (3), his body was offered as a pleasing sacrifice and incense to God (2), and he will return to judge the earth (4).

Perhaps the next time that you hear of anthrax, you can turn your attention from the evil actions of men who have weaponized it to kill each other and refocus your gaze on Jesus, the one who (as true anthrax) was burned as an offering to God and taught that we should help our enemies rather than hurt them. Anthrax, originally a boon to humanity, now denotes a terrible weapon against our fellow man because of our rejection of Jesus and his teachings. But we can reprogram our minds to see anthrax as a beautiful jewel and symbol of the Messiah who came as a sacrifice, one which accomplished the forgiveness of his own enemies.

 

Thanks for reading!

Was Jesus Really a Carpenter? Part V: Bezaleel Continued

In our last installment we saw that Bezaleel and Jesus shared some very specific characteristics, making their depictions in Exodus and Mark conspicuously similar. The first 3 of the 7 points below were explored, and now we will look points 4-6.

  1. He is from the tribe of Judah
  2. He is filled with the spirit of God
  3. He has wisdom, understanding, and knowledge
  4. God “called him by name”
  5. He is a builder of “the tabernacle of the congregation”
  6. He equips the priests with garments and anointing oil
  7. His name means “in the shadow of God”

God “Called Him by Name”

Bezaleel is introduced as being specifically “called by name,” and as we will see in point 7 his name is a significant one. For now we will focus on the calling itself.

Ex. 31 could have simply said that God chose Bezaleel, but instead God tells Moses that he called Bezaleel “by name.” This emphasis of a divine calling and a particular name is significant in that it sets Bezaleel apart from the other anonymous helpers who built the Tabernacle, and also from Aholiab, who is said to have been “given with him” (“him being Bezaleel). This man is mentioned only in Exodus, and only in the account of the building of the Tabernacle. His name means “father’s tent,” the ab being “father” (like Abba), a term used in the NT for God the Father, and ‘ohel beingtent, the term used for the Tabernacle. In other words, both of the named men are very special: Bezaleel is called by name by God himself, and Aholiab is given by God to Bezaleel. Both men’s names refer to the Tabernacle.

In Mark, the first action of Jesus is to be baptized by John, with the result being that the Spirit descends on him and a voice from heaven calls him “my Son.” This endorsement and naming at baptism in front of a prophet (John) recalls the “calling by name” of Bezaleel in the presence of Moses. God calls from heaven in the presence of the greatest prophet of the time, and instead of commissioning that prophet he calls an unknown character his “son.” This name (My beloved Son) is functional, just as the name of Bezaleel is functional.

Again we see the connection between Mark 6 and Mark 1 (as mentioned in #2), strengthened by the fact that the people were “astonished” (ἐκπλήσσω) by the teaching of Jesus in 1:22 and then astonished again by his teaching in 6:2. While this astonishment is repeated twice more in Mark, the initial occurrence is first repeated in Mark 6:2, forming a conceptual link between the two accounts.

We can add to this that the later 2 occurrences deal with Gentiles being astonished at Jesus’s teaching (7:37) and the Jews in Jerusalem being astonished at his teaching directly after Jesus seems to take control of the Temple in Jerusalem (11:18). Before this episode the Temple is never mentioned by Mark, drawing another connection between Jesus’s astonishing teachings and his identity as Temple builder called by God, as well as the inclusion of the Gentiles into true Temple worship. Jesus can take over the Temple because he is the architect of it, being the Son of God (Mark 1 and throughout) and the new Bezaleel (Mark 6).

To this we can add that “called by name” in the OT is almost exclusively used of people or the Ark or the Temple, all of which are called by the name of God. This means that those “called” are under the authority and protection of God. The Temple is the Temple of God, the people are the people of God.

Here are some of the more significant instances of this:

Isaiah 62:2 And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name.

(alluded to in Revelation 2:17 and 3:12)

Isaiah 65:1 I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name.

(cited by Paul in Romans 10:21)

This last one is particularly significant because it is found in a passage in Mark we have already discussed:

Jeremiah 7:11 Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the LORD.

(cited by Jesus in Mark 11:17 when he seized control of the Temple)

Yet the phrase “called out by name” (ἀνακέκλημαι ἐξ ὀνόματος) is used in the OT only twice, both of which refer to God calling Bezaleel. He is totally unique in this way, just as God calls only Jesus his “son” in Mark (1:11, 9:7)

(note: the example in Esther 2:14 in the link above speaks of Esther not coming before the king “unless she should be called by name,” making this significantly different than Bezaleel’s call, not to mention that the [hypothetical] call would be by a king rather than by God.)

 

He is a Builder of “the Tabernacle of the Congregation”

We have already covered this identity of Bezaleel, as well as pointed out how Jesus was seen as accomplishing the same feat (building the Tabernacle) in a metaphorical way, through his teaching and ultimately through his sacrificial death and resurrection. This “built” the Church (the congregation).

The Greek in Ex. 31 is “τὴν σκηνὴν τοῦ μαρτυρίου”, which means “the tent of witness,” but also means “the Tabernacle of martyrdom.” Tent and tabernacle are synonyms, and martyr means witness. Here we find a play on words, where the witness of Jesus as being the Righteous One comes about through his martyrdom, which God honors by raising him from the dead. His body then becomes the tent of witness to the power of God, as well as a symbol for the Church.

Bezaleel also builds the candlestick, the Ark of the Covenant, and all of the cultic items used by the priests in the Tabernacle. These aren’t mention specifically by Mark, but if we recall the incident in the Temple where Jesus kicks out the moneychangers (Mark 11), he also forbid any “vessels” from being carried in the Temple. The term is σκεῦος, used by Mark only in this passage about the Temple and in a parable about the “house of a strong man.”

This term is important in that it refers to the vessels/equipment used in the Temple (it is used like the term “paraphenalia” or “equipment” today). In Exodus 31:7 the “furniture of the Tabernacle” is ὴν διασκευὴν τῆς σκηνῆς. It should also be noted that people were referred to as being a σκεῦος, as in Acts 9:15. Not only that, but σκηνή (tabernacle) seems to be derived from a combination of σκεῦος (vessel/tool) and σκιά (shadow/shade).

The only time that Mark uses the term σκηνή is in the following passage (Mark 9:2-8):

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them.

His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.

And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.

Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—

because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid.

And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!”

Suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one anymore, but only Jesus with themselves.

This is a particularly rich passage, especially when viewed with Bezaleel in mind.

  1. This is the only passage where Mark uses the term “tabernacle,” and Peter suggests that they build 3 of them. This does not happen, of course, but building the tabernacle is the work of Bezaleel, and so it was fitting that Peter does not build a tabernacle (or three) because this was to be the mission of Jesus alone.
  2. God calls Jesus his Son, just as he called Bezaleel by name. The correspondence is strengthened by the presence of Moses in both accounts.
  3. God calls Jesus his Son in Mark only here and in chapter 1, where instead of Moses being present, John the Baptist is present. But John the Baptist in Mark 1 is the forerunner of Christ, and in Mark 9:11-13 (immediately after the passage above) Elijah as the forerunner is discussed. So in both passages we have John as Elijah, meaning that both times Jesus is called “son” by God, John/Elijah is present.
  4. In both Mark 1, Mark 9, and Exodus 31 the one called (Jesus, Bezaleel) is thought by all to be a lesser figure than the prophet(s) present. Nevertheless, God calls the one who is thought to be inferior and declares him to be utterly unique.
  5. Just as Bezaleel alone can make the holy vestments of the priests, Jesus’s garment is changed miraculously “such as no launderer on earth” could accomplish.
  6. Just as Bezaleel means “in the shadow of God,” the cloud that God speaks from in Mark 9 “over-shadows“(ἐπι-σκιάζω) them and only Jesus remains. Only Jesus emerges from the shadow of God.

We can add to this that while Mark does not tell us what Moses and Elijah were talking to Jesus about, Luke tells us that they were discussing his coming “decease” in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). The English translation obscures what is really being spoken of: the Greek is ἔξοδος, literally “exodus.” This is another connection to Bezaleel, and indicates that Luke read Mark 9 with an Exodus theme in mind. This word is never used elsewhere by Luke, or any of the other Gospel writers.

The passage tells us that Jesus is the unique one, called by God to build the Tabernacle in Jerusalem through his death. Moses does not have the wisdom or the calling to do it, only Jesus, called by name in the shadow of God.

 

He Equips the Priests with Garments and Anointing Oil

Bezaleel alone has the wisdom to make the priestly vestments and the anointing oil, both of which are considered extremely holy and miraculous. While Mark says nothing of priestly vestments (τὰς στολὰς in Ex. 31) he does mention Jesus’s “garment” (ἱμάτιον) which is miraculous in Mark 9 (discussed above) and elsewhere.

Granting that this is not the exact same Greek word, we nonetheless should recognize that Exodus itself uses various terms for the priestly vestments. Mark uses ἱμάτιον 12 times, while the entire NT uses it 62 times. In the context of the length of the NT, Mark’s usage has the highest rate of occurrence of the term, and we can add to this that Matthew (who uses the term 16 times) depends on Mark for all but 2 of the occurrences. Therefore this term is especially significant for Mark as opposed to the other NT writers.

Ex. 28:4 & 31, and 29:5 mention the vestments of the priests, using the term ποδήρη, which shows us that it is indeed a valid step to include other Greek terms as synonyms for τὰς στολὰς of Exodus 31. It follows from this that ἱμάτιον could be used as a term for the priest’s vestments, and this is confirmed by Lev. 21:10

And the priest that is chief among his brethren, the oil having been poured upon the head of the anointed one, and he having been consecrated to put on the garments (ἱμάτια), shall not take the mitre off his head, and shall not rend his garments (ἱμάτια).

This same usage is found in Numbers 8:7, 21 in describing the consecration of the priests and their vestments. In Numbers 20:28 we read that Aaron, just before his death, took off his ἱμάτια and gave it to his son as a sign of the transference of the high priesthood. It is thus shown very clearly that ἱμάτιον does denote the priestly vestments in the LXX.

Perhaps the most striking usage of the term can be found in Zechariah 3, which we will examine in a later post. For now, we can simply note that the term there refers to the vestments of the high priest Jesus(!) who re-establishes the priesthood in Jerusalem.

In the Mark, the term is used 7 times of the garments of Jesus, 5 of which are in the context of miracles. His clothes are holy, and the last occurrence of the word in Mark alludes to the prohibition of tearing the garment (ἱμάτια) of the high priest (Lev. 21:10). Mark 14:63 and Matthew 26:65 have the high priest breaking this prohibition during the trial of Jesus, although Mark uses the term χιτών while Matthew uses ἱμάτιον.

The oil of anointing that is put on the priests literally makes them a messiah (anointed one). It makes people and things holy, as opposed to the oil used for lamps or cooking. Mark alone recounts that Jesus’s disciples healed through oil, and only in 6:13, following directly after the Nazareth carpenter episode. This healing with oil accompanied their preaching of Jesus’s words, which for Mark brought holiness to the people and was a priestly work. It was laying the groundwork for the true Tabernacle.

Matthew and Luke both mention oil (6 times total) but never in the context of healing with it. This is significant because Jesus in ch.6 picks the Twelve and gives them power over unclean spirits (v.7). He then tells them to take nothing with them except sandals and a staff (v.8-9). It is then said that they preached, cast out spirits, and anointed with oil. It is therefore understood (or hinted at) that Jesus had also given them oil with which to anoint the sick. This anointing with oil is unique to Mark, and found only directly after Jesus is called a carpenter. Not only that, but the superiority of Jesus over the anointing oil is shown in v.5, where Jesus heals with his own hands while his disciples heal with anointing oil obtained from him. Just as the priests are made holy with the oil from the hands of Bezaleel, Jesus provides his disciples with oil to make the people holy. Both Jesus and Bezaleel are the sources of this holiness, by the calling of God.

 

Conclusion

Just as we saw in our previous post, Mark paints Jesus uniquely as the new Bazeleel. It is unbelievable that such unique and precise descriptions could have been made unintentionally, leading us to conclude that Mark did indeed construct his description of Jesus the Carpenter to mimic that of Bezaleel the Architect. This is the meaning of “carpenter” for Mark: the one who uniquely builds the true House of God. In our next posting we will take one last look at Bazaleel, examining what is probably the most striking aspect of his description. Once again, it is totally unique in the OT and corresponds to the unique identity of Jesus in the NT.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Was Jesus Really a Carpenter? Part IV: The Case of Bezaleel

We have settled on a typological lens to understand how Jesus is a carpenter for Mark, and just what that means. Jesus is the fulfilment of the heroes of the OT, as mentioned in our last post. (note: in my haste I left out two rather important types that Jesus fulfills: Adam and God himself. Apparently they were too obvious for me to take note of!) Below we will look at the first likely referent that Mark has in mind, which deals with the typology of the Tabernacle builder Bezaleel.

 

Bezaleel

Most people are unfamiliar with this seemingly obscure character in the Bible, but he is very important for writers like Mark who wish to portray Jesus as the one who will build God’s true Temple.

Exodus 25-30 has an account of the instructions that God revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai regarding cultic matters (construction of the tabernacle, priestly consecration, etc.). Following this, chapter 31 states:

1 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,

See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah:

And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship,

To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass,

And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship.

And I, behold, I have given with him Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan: and in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee;

The tabernacle of the congregation, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is thereupon, and all the furniture of the tabernacle,

And the table and his furniture, and the pure candlestick with all his furniture, and the altar of incense,

And the altar of burnt offering with all his furniture, and the laver and his foot,

10 And the cloths of service, and the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, to minister in the priest’s office,

11 And the anointing oil, and sweet incense for the holy place: according to all that I have commanded thee shall they do.

 

Bezaleel is an interesting type of Jesus (or vice versa) in a number of ways:

  1. He is from the tribe of Judah
  2. He is filled with the spirit of God
  3. He has wisdom, understanding, and knowledge
  4. God “called him by name”
  5. He is a builder of “the tabernacle of the congregation”
  6. He equips the priests with garments and anointing oil
  7. His name means “in the shadow of God”

A few coincidences are bound to happen when depicting characters, but as the coincidences begin to pile up and are shown to be rather specific and pointed, we begin to see that this appears to be a deliberate typological portrayal of Jesus as Bezaleel.

Below I will explore the connections between the first 3 points above and Mark’s depiction of Jesus, particularly in the “carpenter” passage in Mark 6. I will privilege the information in Mark because he alone states that Jesus was a carpenter, and to bring the evidence from the whole of the NT would take our attention away from what Mark in particular had to say. In this approach, we will assume the following 3 points:

  1. Paul wrote prior to Mark, and Mark had read Paul’s letters
  2. Matthew, Luke, and John wrote after Mark, and Matthew and Luke had definitely read Mark’s Gospel
  3. if Mark actually sought to depict Jesus as the new Bezaleel for his readers, he would have provided them with concrete clues in his Gospel, rather than vague correspondences

 

Points 1-7 are all repeated in Mark’s description of Jesus, and below the first three are expounded upon:

He is from the Tribe of Judah

While Mark says nothing of Jesus being from the tribe of Judah, no sources ever contradict the claim and it was common knowledge that he was from the line of David and therefore the tribe of Judah. This claim was so strong that Mark felt free to include the seeming denial of this lineage by Jesus himself (see Mark 12:35-37). Jesus’s identity in Mark was a secret (the so-called “Messianic secret“) but he was called “son of David” (10:47-48) and connected to the “kingdom of David” (11:10) nonetheless. So Mark points to the Davidic identity of Jesus, and consequently Jesus must be understood as being from the tribe of Judah. This is made explicit by the amplified accounts of Matthew and Luke, who both affirm through their genealogies that Jesus was from Judah.

Yet many people were from the tribe of Judah, and this in and of itself is a rather weak link. As the links begin to add up, the cumulative argument becomes a strong one. But we are not satisfied with a mere cumulative argument. Is there something more specific (in terms of tribal identity) that links the two men? The answer is yes, in that both figures were the offspring of Judah (the royal tribe) and Levi (the priestly tribe). We will explore this more fully when we get to the implied background of Bezaleel in a future post. For now we should simply notice that both men were Judahites, and both men had Levite blood from their maternal ancestors. They were uniquely qualified to be both kings and priests.

In addition to this we can add that “Judah” appears in Exodus only 4 times. The first is in 1:2, in a listing of all 12 tribes. Nothing too interesting there. The remaining 3 occurrences should pique our curiosity, though: all 3 pertain to Bezaleel! All 3 are also verbatim repetitions of the phrase “Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.” Judah in Exodus is particularly linked with Bezaleel and his father and grandfather, and is never connected to anybody else.

 

He is Filled with the Spirit of God

It seems like no big deal to be filled with the Spirit of God, given that various saints were filled with the Spirit in the NT, and the phrase in modern Christian parlance if often applied to all Christians. So is it really significant that Bezaleel was filled with the Spirit?

The answer is an emphatic “yes.” The Hebrew word for “filled” (male’) is used 249 times in the OT (stretched over 24 books), meaning that it was a relatively common word. Yet we should notice that the 2 books with the highest number of incidences are Exodus and Ezekiel. Since Ezekiel is longer than Exodus by around 10%, this means that the word male’ is used in Exodus to a conspicuous degree. How is it used?

You can see all of the instances here. Exodus is divided into 40 chapters, and so we would expect 2.3 occurrences of the word every 4 chapters if the distribution was even. Yet we find 16 occurrences in the 13 chapters (28-40) alone, instead of the expected 7-8. This is double the average rate, telling us that something about being “filled” is conspicuous to the last third of the book. The first two thirds of the book contain 7 instances, roughly .26 per chapter, while the last third has 1.23 per chapter. In other words, the final third has about 5 times the rate of the word that the reader would expect. Something is afoot.

You might be wondering “What is the point of all this numerical analysis?” The point is this: I prefer to demonstrate objectively that something is going on in the text rather than going on hunches and feelings. The repetition of “filled” can be objectively demonstrated, and so I prefer to show that rather than have the reader trust (or not trust) that it is indeed an important word in the last third of Exodus.

So how is the term used in this section of Exodus? consider the following:

  1. filled “with the spirit of wisdom” or “the spirit of God” (4x, all referring to Bezaleel and his coworkers)
  2. consecrating actions (6x, 5 of them specifically referring to the priests, made possible by Bezaleel)
  3. setting stones and gems (4x, all in reference to constructing cultic objects made by Bezaleel)
  4. filled with “the glory of the Lord” (2x, both times at the very end of the book, referring to the Tabernacle built by Bezaleel)

The language of being “filled” with the Spirit of God or with wisdom never occurs in the Bible prior to the reference made to Bezaleel. He is the first to be said to have this experience, which is astonishing when we remember that Moses had already been communing with God on Mt. Sinai prior to this. All this information simply drives home that the depiction of Bezaleel is very important in Exodus, and consequently in the entire OT. All of the 16 usages of “filled” listed above refer to the person of Bezaleel or the result of his workmanship.

What can be said about the term “spirit”(ruwach) in Exodus? Interestingly enough, it occurs 11 times in Exodus in the following order:

  1. the “anguish of spirit” of the Israelites (1x)
  2. the wind (6x)
  3. the spirit of wisdom (1x)
  4. the Spirit of God (3x)

As you might have guessed, the spirit of wisdom and the Spirit of God are spoken of only in reference to Bezaleel and his workmen.

In the opening chapter of Mark, the Spirit of God descends on Jesus and drives him into the wilderness (1:10-12). This is striking not only because it is the beginning of Mark’s account (and therefore it is very important in his overall depiction), but because “spirit” never refers to God’s spirit in Mark’s narrative outside of this one episode (the first 3 occurrences refer to the Holy Spirit [1:8, 10, 12], while the other 3 occurrences [3:29, 12:36, and 13:11] all refer to the future events rather than actual narrative action; of the remaining 17 occurrences, 14 refer to demons, 2 to Jesus’s “spirit,” and 1 to the generic spirit of man).

It follows from this that not only are Jesus and Bezaleel endowed with the Spirit of God and the spirit of wisdom, but that they are the only ones who have that spirit. The exception to this is the anonymous others in Exodus who assist Bezaleel, and in Mark 6 directly after Jesus shows his acquisition of the spirit of wisdom (already he was said to have acquired the Spirit of God in ch.1) he goes to different villages teaching (building the Tabernacle) and sends out the (unnamed) 12 disciples (who correspond to the anonymous helpers of Bezaleel). This can hardly be coincidental. Mark depicts Jesus as the unique wise man who has the Spirit of God, a “carpenter” who never is said to build anything literally, but instead goes about teaching with his disciples, who together construct the Tabernacle of God (the Church). This is precisely how Bezaleel is depicted in Exodus.

 

He has Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge

This description of Bezaleel is impressive, but is it really that unique to him? Yes, it is! Wisdom (chokmah, σοφία) is mentioned in Exodus 8 times. We might expect that the first wise man in Exodus would be Moses, the main hero of the book. Or perhaps Joshua. But no, it is Bezaleel. 7 of the instances refer to him and his (male) helpers, while 1 instance refers to the women who sewed the Tabernacle curtains. This is quite a distinctive use of a very  general term and worth noting. Wisdom in Exodus is the gift given to the builders of the Tabernacle alone; not even Moses is said to have it.

Wisdom (σοφία) is only mentioned in Mark a single time (6:2), in the same account where he is called a carpenter. This wisdom is “given to him” just as Bezaleel and his helpers were “filled” with it by God. This wisdom is never inherent, but received. Again, it is striking that such a common word is used so pointedly in both Exodus and Mark, and applied to such similar characters.

Understanding (tabuwn, συνετός) is, as you might have guessed, is also exclusively applied to Bezaleel and his coworkers. The first three instances of the word in the entire Bible are in Exodus, and only deal with Bezaleel.

Understanding is never mentioned by Mark, but the opposite (ἀσύνετος) is mentioned in 7:18 “And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also?” By implication, Mark portrays Jesus alone as having understanding since Jesus was said to have amazed the people with his wisdom in chapter 6, and then in chapter 7 his disciples were “without understanding also.” This is surprising specifically because the coworkers of Bezaleel did possess understanding. This goes along with the them in Mark of the ignorance of the disciples, in spite of them being around the great teacher Jesus. No such deficiency was found in Bezaleel’s companions, and so the contrast is heightened by Mark.  While Jesus and the disciples begin constructing the Tabernacle through his teachings during the book, it is only after the Resurrection that the truth is made known and the real construction begins.

Knowledge (da`ath, ἐπιστήμης) is also used conspicuously in Exodus, occurring only twice, and this time referring only to Bezaleel (and not to his coworkers).

Similarly to “understanding,” Mark does not use this term in reference to Jesus but instead uses it in reference to Peter when he denies knowing Jesus and “understanding” what his questioner is asking (Mark 14:68). Significantly, this is the only instance of the word in Mark. The person identifies Peter as being with Jesus “of Nazareth,” and this title is used only 3 times in Mark: in 14:67, in the opening chapter, and in the closing chapter. When we add to this that chapter 6 tells us that Jesus was rejected “in his own country”(Nazareth) we cannot help but notice a connection. Nazareth as a city is mentioned by Mark only in 1:9, but also by implication in Mark 6:1.

 

Conclusion for Points 1-3

We have seen that Jesus in Mark and Bezaleel in Exodus share a common set of characteristics, and these characteristics are unique to both men in the 2 books. The usages of the terms involved is so conspicuous that it becomes an exercise in “faith alone” to see these as mere coincidences. Instead, it appears that Mark intentionally used such pointed terms and depictions to show his readers that Jesus was indeed a new Bezaleel, and uniquely so. Nobody else in Exodus is like Bezaleel, and nobody else in Mark is like Jesus; and they share the same unique characteristics! If the reader is not yet convinced of this, have no fear, because we have another 4 points that show the same striking correspondences.

As always, thanks for reading.

Was Jesus Really a Carpenter? Part III: A Type of Confession

In looking at whether Jesus was really a carpenter I had expected to write a series of three posts: the first would introduce the problem, the second would deal with the linguistic evidence, and the third would give perspective to the evidence and draw a valid conclusion.

Yet, as happens so often in honest research, these plans were thwarted. I found something rather different than what I had expected, and as such I am forced to change directions and follow where the evidence has led me. Below is a a reassessment of where I’m at on the issue.

 

The Historical Jesus

Nothing is quite so fashionable in biblical studies in the past century as the notion of the Historical Jesus. The original question I intended to answer is implicitly tied to historicity: “Was Jesus ‘really’ a carpenter?” implies to the modern reader that the answer will deal with the historical Jesus. He was either “really” a carpenter or not according to what “actually happened” in history.

Yet this approach is fundamentally flawed and ultimately an exercise in futility. We have no reliable way of determining whether Jesus even existed, at least in terms of modern ideas of history, let alone what his day job may or may not have been. Instead, we have literary evidence that tells us a story about a man who lived, died, and lived again. This evidence is therefor outside of the realm of modern history. There is no “objective” (read: reasonably non-biased) data set to even gauge the plausibility of the story, much less the historical veracity of it.

Instead of looking for what “really happened” (a fairly futile endeavor even for modern news stories) we should take the evidence for what it is: a story that is intended to communicate meaning. As such, we might reframe the original question in the following manner: What does it mean for Mark to tell us that Jesus was a carpenter?

In the first two installments of this study we have seen that the modern connotations of “carpenter” do not exactly fit what the Greek of Mark conveys, yet no single English rendering can accurately reproduce the connotations of the Greek. As such, “carpenter” is close enough for our purposes, while we should keep in mind that “builder” and “mason” are close to the mark as well, and perhaps even superior to “carpenter.”

 

Typology

Rather than pursue the dead end approach of the Historical Jesus, we should adopt the narrative logic of Mark. After all, Mark is our starting point for the idea that Jesus was a carpenter. To take his account as historically factual is an ignorant approach and one which disrespects him as an author. Instead we should adopt the well attested and undeniably valid criteria of typological analysis.

The OT writings use genres of myth, prophecy, ancient history, and wisdom literature to convey meaning to their readers. They are constantly self-referential. One cannot understand the ending of the book of Judges, for example, without realizing that the last 3 chapters are a retelling of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. One cannot understand Ezekiel’s contention that Jerusalem is like Sodom without knowing the story of Sodom to which he refers, nor can we understand his depiction of the king of Tyre if don’t notice that it is based on the typology of both Adam and Satan. The Old Testament is a tightly woven set of texts that constantly allude to and at times explicitly cite other texts within Jewish tradition.

Perhaps the greatest living Old Testament scholar today is Dr. Paul Nadim Tarazi. He has demonstrated for several decades the literary meaning of the Old and consequently the New Testaments. Much of the typology and allusion is lost on the English reader since the original languages of their composition (Hebrew and Greek) contain wordplay that cannot be conveyed in English. What was obvious for the original readers of the texts is no longer obvious to English readers.

Tom Dykstra, a protege of Tarazi, has written a brilliant book on Mark, but for our purposes what he says on the issue of genre is important in this article. His thesis is that Mark wrote his Gospel as “scripture.” That is to say that we should not approach Mark as modern history, ancient biography, or even as Homeric epic. Instead, we should approach it as a text self-consciously written as holy scripture, taking on the models of the OT writings rather than merely occasionally quoting from them.

This approach is not confined to the school of Tarazi, although in my opinion he is the leading light of it. Dykstra’s book, for example, is endorsed by the likes of David Trobisch and Thomas Brodie, both brilliant and uncompromising scholars. A scholar who has garnered more attention in the field is Richard Hays. For whatever reason, he has been able to communicate the scholastic validity of the typological/literary approach to the New Testament to a wide range of both liberal and conservative scholars. (I say “for whatever reason” because while Hays is a great scholar and superb writer, he is not as original as Tarazi. Perhaps it is his position at Duke as opposed to the smaller St Vladimir’s Seminary that has afforded him more publicity amongst scholars than Tarazi has received.)

In Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel WitnesHayes shows the importance of reading the Gospels in light of the Old Testament texts. The authors of the NT consciously wrote with OT literature in mind. We should note here that this approach is hardly novel, but is rather the traditional way that the Bible was read up until the modern period. The novelty that Tarazi and Hays bring to the table is novel only in the context of modern scholarship; the figural or typological approach was always how Scripture used to be read, and we know this from the Old Testament texts themselves. As such we should look for answers to our carpenter query in the Old Testament. We already began this process in the second installation of the series, but now we will do so in a more focused way. In particular, we will look at the theme of fulfilled typologies.

By this we mean the following: in the New Testament, Jesus is portrayed as the fulfillment of all the Old Testament heroes. He is the new Moses, the new David, the new Solomon, the new Joshua, etc.

All too often this thesis is accepted, but never followed to its logical conclusion. For example, the portrayal of Jesus as the new David is beyond question. He is the son of David, the Davidic Messiah, etc. It is all too obvious. Likewise the new Moses theme is in the forefront of the portrayals of Jesus as fulfilling the Mosaic Law, giving the Sermon on the Mount, etc. The Elijah/Elisha story cycles are also found throughout the Gospels and Revelation, and Jesus as the new Solomon is driven home to the reader of the NT quite forcefully and repeatedly. All of these assertions are backed up by plain readings as well as solid scholarship, to the point that no legitimate scholar could possibly object to them. They are that obvious.

But some other typologies have been neglected. One obvious one that is seldom if ever mentioned is Jesus as the new Joshua (son of Nun). This is obvious because both men lead Israel into the Promised Land. Moses never gets to the Promised Land, nor do any people from that generation, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb. Joshua goes on to conquer Canaan and establish possession of the Promised Land. He is the rightful leader and successor to Moses. The first book following the Pentateuch in the Bible is named after him, and it was reckoned as the first book of the Prophets by Jews. What makes this typology painfully obvious is that “Joshua” and “Jesus” are literally the same name. There is not one shade of difference between the two, in spite of the misleading translation in English. No Jew could hear/read the name of Jesus and not think of Jesus the son of Nun, the most famous Jesus in history prior to Jesus of Nazareth.

In the upcoming posts we will see that this typological fulfillment theme extends to two other figures in the Old Testament, ones that are not well-known to us today but were of utmost importance in the 1st century. Not only that, but these two figures were related to each other already within the Old Testament narratives.

I’m willing to bet that although these figures are important and were well-known to first century Jews, if I gave you their names and asked you to describe them you would be as clueless as I was. In other words, this is new information for modern readers.

As always, thanks for reading.