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.



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.



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.

The Christology of Hebrews Chapter 1

I recently got into a discussion about the assertions that the author of Hebrews makes in the opening chapter of his letter and I was invited to unpack just how I interpreted what the author was doing. Given that it is a somewhat complex topic that is not germane to a short comment in a thread, I decided to make a blog post about it.


Hebrews 1

The passage in question is this:

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,

Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;

Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high:

Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?

And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.

And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.

But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.

Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.

10 And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands:

11 They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment;

12 And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.

13 But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?

14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?

The passage is a beautiful exposition of the identity of the Son of God. By using a series of different scriptural quotations the author makes his point about just who the Son actually is, and he also adds his own assertions/rhetorical questions both prior to and after this string of quotations.

Here is a listing of the quotations used:

Verse 5: Ps. 2:7b and then 2 Sam. 7:14

Verse 6: Dt. 32:43 (see this paper for more info on the text critical issues involved)

Verse 7: Ps. 104:4

Verses 8-9: Ps. 45:6-7

Verses 10-12: Ps. 102:25-27

Verse 13: Ps. 110:1

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the author’s use of Scripture in this chapter is that he asserts that the words of David directed towards God are actually the speech of God directed towards the Son! This issue is a problematic one for non-Trinitarians, and one which I will address here. But first we need a little background.


Jewish Monotheism

Jews believed in One God. They might have admitted to other “gods” existing, but such entities were not on par with the One God. Only God was worthy of worship, only God created everything, only God chose Israel and spoke by the Prophets.

In the created realm there were humans, animals, inanimate objects, and angels. The gods of the nations were thought to be either in the angelic realm or else simply imaginary. They were no gods at all, even if men worshipped them as gods.

The way that God was spoken of by Jews was diverse but rather consistent. God was called  El, YHWH, the Lord, Father, the Rock, and other titles. The primary titles were ‘el, ‘elohiym, and Yĕhovah/Yahweh. This final name is a proper name of God revealed directly to Moses, and the variation of how it is rendered is due to the Hebrew text lacking consonants. It is called the Tetragrammaton because it is 4 consonants (YHWH); he vowels between those letters are inferred, leading to the different renderings as Yĕhovah/Yahweh.

The Greek terms corresponding to these Hebrew titles/names are fairly consistent: El and Elohim are ὁ θεὸς (God), and YHWH is κύριος (Lord). The second is quite important, since when reading the Hebrew word YHWH, the reader would not pronounce the Tetragrammaton but would instead pronounce the word as Adonai (Lord). This was due to the belief that YHWH was such a holy name that it should not be pronounced, except once a year by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.

This led to a curious aspect of the Greek text of Scripture: when the Hebrew text had YHWH, the Greek text usually had κύριος. When the Hebrew text had Adonai, the Greek text also had κύριος. Hence there was no way of telling (by the Greek alone) if the κύριος written of was YHWH or Adonai. Even in the account of God revealing his name of YHWH to Moses (Ex. 6:3) the Greek has no literal rendering of YHWH and instead has κύριος. So when a Jew heard “Adonai” or “κύριος” they had to decide whether it was referring to the One God or was simply a title of respect that could be used of humans. (note: Adonai is a plural of Adown, just as elohim is a plural of el. This was a plural of heightened emphasis rather than actual pluarlity, at least in the minds of interpreters.) Just as Mr. or Sir Jones means “master” and “sire,” but we don’t actually consider Jones to be our Master like God is said to be; or when we hear “Lord Byron” we don’t assume that it denotes the same Lord as the phrase “Lord have mercy.”


Hebrews 1 and the Exegesis of Jewish Monotheism

While the authorship of Hebrews is a contested matter, we can safely assume that the author was either Jewish himself or was convinced of the truth of Jewish beliefs. This follows from his use of Jewish scriptures in his argument in chapter 1 and throughout the entire letter. As such, it is shocking (to us) how he appears to speak of Two Gods.

The implicit assertion is found in verse 8, but the previous verses set the stage and the verses which follow strengthen his point. It should be noted that while many modern Christians have doubts about the divinity of Jesus as opposed to his humanity, it appears that Hebrews 1 addresses the divinity of Jesus as opposed to his angelic status. The humanity of the Son is never mentioned explicitly in chapter 1.

The book opens (vs.1-2b) with the assertion that in these last days God spoke through his son rather than through the prophets. It follows that the Son spoke for God, but there is also an implication that he trumped the work of the prophets precisely because he spoke as a son rather than as a servant.

The Son is then said to be:

1) the heir of all things,

2) the one who God used to make the worlds

3) the brightness of God’s glory

4) the image of God’s person

5) the upholder of all things by the word of God

6) the one who purged our sins

7) the one seated at the right hand of God

(Note that rather than copying and pasting the original, I summarized the content and therefore the listing above contains some of my own interpretation of the words rather than a literal retelling. One should always defer to the original when in doubt, which would be the Greek text rather than my reworded synopsis.)

Verse 4 is where the angels come in: the Son was made to be better than the angels and by virtue of his inheritance the Son received a greater name than the angels.

At this point the description of the Son seems to rule out a (mere) human being, although it could be said that the description could apply to a perfect, high priestly, true human being on all points except one: that God made the worlds through the Son. This simply did not happen through a human in Jewish teaching.

Yet all of these points could possibly apply to an angelic figure, including the making of the worlds. It was affirmed by Jews that God was the creator of everything, but also that God made everything through Wisdom, a hypostasized (personalized) concept. Some Jews believed that Wisdom made everything by the power of God, and still other Jews believed that God made everything through angelic mediators.

This seems to be exactly what the author of Hebrews was addressing: the idea that the Son was Wisdom and an angelic mediator. His aim seems to clarify the latter and distinguish the Son from a “mere” angel, affirming that the Son was the Son of God, not merely a creation of God (as the angels were). There was a “genetic” connection, to use a modern metaphor.

So, verse 4 distinguishes the Son from all other angels, but still allows for the Son to be an angel himself. He could simply be the highest angel. Yet verse 5 makes clear that the identity of the Son is that he is God’s son, not simply one of God’s angel. Verse 6 has God telling all of his angels to worship his Son, which shows that the Son is higher than the rest of the angels, but admittedly still allows for the Son to be an angel. After all, the chapter began with the Son being sent by God to speak to humans, which is exactly the role of an angel.

While verses 4-6 set up a distinction between the Son and the angels: angels are not spoken of (here) as being “sons” nor are they (here) objects of worship. Yet it should be remembered that in some instances an angel could receive worship that was due to God alone, and that angels were sometimes called “the sons of God.” So the distinction is not absolute at this point.

It should also be pointed out that my analysis here is functional, not ontological. The angels could be exalted men, since an angel is simply an agent who brings a message. Verse 7 speaks of angels as “sprits,” and men have spirits; they are also “ministers,” and God appointed men to minister to him in the Temple and elsewhere.

Yet in verse 8 we have something rather different: the author of Hebrews boldly asserts that “to the Son” (or perhaps “regarding the Son”) God calls him (the Son) “God”! Not only is this bold on the face of it, but it is bold when we consider the Psalm that he is citing. On a plain reading of the Psalm it is clear that David is speaking of the One God. Yet the author of Hebrews tells us that God spoke those words to the Son. The One God called his Son “God.” This simply cannot be said of a (mere) angel or a (mere) man.

Yet the citation continues with another twist: God, still speaking to the Son, says that the Son’s God anointed the Son above the Son’s fellows. This is perplexing because the One God cannot be “anointed,” nor can the One God have a God. In the Psalm it is clear that the figure being anointed is not the One God, but the king (Ps. 45:1), yet verse 8 in Hebrews (Ps. 45:6) makes it explicit that the one being addressed has shifted from the king/warrior to the One God, apparently as an aside. The author of Hebrews makes clear that he interprets the Psalm differently than this, and that the king is God. Yet the king is God who has a God and has “fellows.” This seems to be impossible to say of the One God. Yet the fact remains that the author of Hebrews is asserting this very impossibility.

God is often spoken of as a king and a warrior. Could the Psalm be about God himself, and not a human agent? It could be, and the author of Hebrews seem to lean in this direction, but again there is the objection of the king having a God, and being anointed (Hebrews 1:9, Psalm 45:7). Whoever this figure is, he is God and he has a God, which John 20:17 applies to Jesus and in Hebrews is applied to the Son.

The specific words used for “God” in this Psalm are elohiym and θεός. These terms cannot be read as merely functional (like Adonai or κύριος). They apply only to the One God in a plain reading of the OT writings. The author of Hebrews points out to his readers that this is not the case, but rather that elohiym and θεός are rightful titles for the Son. The Son is both God and yet distinct in some ways from the One God who goes by the same name/title.

For the sake of easy reading I will here repost the end of Hebrews chapter 1 so the reader doesn’t need to scroll up to see the original:

10 And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands:

11 They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment;

12 And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.

13 But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?

14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?

Verses 10-12 move from the stunning assertion that the Son is God to the assertion that the Son is Lord. The idea that Jesus is Lord is nothing new, of course, but is often taken in the more mundane sense of “master.” But the author of Hebrews makes clear that the Son is Lord and God, making the “Lord” to mean YHWH. No human Lord laid the foundations of the earth or created the heavens. Only the Lord YHWH did this, and this idea was already mentioned in Hebrews 1:2. But again, the original context of the Psalm seems to apply to YHWH as the One God, leaving open the possibility that the actual work of creation may have been done by an imtermediary. The author of Hebrews affirms that it was done through an intermediary, namely the Son of God who is also God and Lord (YHWH).

We can see this when we look at the original in Psalm 102, and for your convenience I have listed below the verses that mention God/Lord by name, starting with verse 1:

Hear my prayer, O LORD (YHWH, κύριος), and let my cry come unto thee.

12. But thou, O LORD (YHWH, κύριος), shalt endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations.

15. So the heathen shall fear the name of the LORD (YHWH, κύριος), and all the kings of the earth thy glory.

16. When the LORD (YHWH, κύριος) shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory.

18. This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the LORD (Jah, κύριος).

21. To declare the name of the LORD (YHWH, κύριος) in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem;

22. When the people are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the LORD (YHWH, κύριος).

24. I said, O my God (El, no word given in the Greek), take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are throughout all generations.

We then come to verses 25-27, which are the ones cited in Hebrews 1:10-12. But we should note that the author of Hebrews has used the Greek version of the beginning of the citation. The Psalm English readers are used to is based on the Hebrew text, which begins:

“Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth”

while in Hebrews we read

“And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth”

This is better understood when we realize that the author of Hebrews is citing the LXX version of the Psalm, which includes “Lord.” Here is the Greek of both:

κατ᾽ ἀρχὰς σύ κύριε τὴν γῆν ἐθεμελίωσας (Ps)

καί Σὺ κατ᾽ ἀρχάς κύριε τὴν γῆν ἐθεμελίωσας (H)

The only difference between the two is the “and” which actually introduces the citation rather than forms part of it, and the transposition of the “you” (σύ).

Who is the Lord in this Psalm? It is always YHWH (6 times strictly speaking, and 1 time the shortened form YH substitutes YHWH). The Lord in this Psalm is always understood as the One God, and the author of Hebrews asserts that it refers to the Son, just as earlier elohiym, θεός refers to the Son.

The chapter has one final citation, this time of Psalm 110:1. He cites only the second and third clauses of verse 1, but it is worth noting the clause he omits (note that it is a common Jewish rhetorical technique to omit a verse or part of a verse with the aim of the reader supplying the clause/verse himself; the omitted phrase is usually the most important one).

The LORD (YHWH, κύριος) said unto my Lord (‘adown, κύριος)

Sit thou at my right hand,

until I make thine enemies thy footstool.

The author of Hebrews essentially asks how it would be appropriate to speak to an angel this way. Yet he omits the most striking clause, the initial one that calls the subject of the action “Lord”  (‘adown, κύριος). Here we should point out that Lord is not the name of YHWH, but adown in the Hebrew. Yet there is no such distinction in the Greek, and we have already seen that the Son is Lord in the sense of YHWH, not merely adown or Adonai.

By omitting the initial phrase which speaks of “the Lord” speaking to “my Lord,” the knowledgeable reader’s attention is brought to bear specifically on this phrase. And when they look at it, it clearly says that the Lord spoke to my Lord, just as the author of Hebrews had earlier asserted that God had spoken to the Son and called him “God.” Without this treatment by the author of Hebrews, a Jewish Christian would read Ps. 110:1 as YHWH speaking to a human or angelic “Lord.” The author of Hebrews makes that reading impossible. There are two Lords (κύριος) and two Gods (θεός). The two have distinct functions and are not the same, but are also identified with the same unique titles. The Son is not an angel or a man, but God and Lord.

At this point the reader here has a few options:

  1. Affirm that the Son is a second God and Lord, even while being distinct from the first God and Lord
  2. Affirm that there is only one God and Lord, and so the Son must be that sole God and Lord
  3. Affirm that the author of Hebrews is wrong in his treatment of the OT citations
  4. Affirm that the author of Hebrews didn’t mean what he actually wrote

The only viable option for those who affirm that Hebrews is an inspired book is #1. Options 2-4 are all contradicted by the author of Hebrews and the notion of the inspiration of Scripture. It should be remembered that the idea of a second YHWH was already an idea extant in Judaism, forwarded by Philo, an Alexandrian Jew who simultaneously affirmed that the second YHWH/Lord/Logos was distinct from the One God yet still God.There was also the “Two Powers in Heaven” discussion in Jewish circles, which pointed to Metatron as an angelic second YHWH. The only novelty in the assertions made in Hebrews 1 is that the Son (Jesus) is affirmed to be that second YHWH, something that Philo would not have affirmed and that Jews who believed in a second YHWH like Metatron also rejected.

As always, thanks for reading.





The Struggle for Jewish Identity: Leonard Rutgers and “The Synagogue as Foe in Early Christian Literature.”


In reading two articles in succession I was struck with the different interpretation of data from the two scholars. The articles were “The Synagogue as Foe in Early Christian Literature,” (Rutgers, 2010) and “Midrash,” (Bloch, 1978). Essentially Rutgers painted a picture of “evil” interpretive techniques by Christians, and Bloch description of authentic Jewish interpretive techniques was identical to Rutgers’ “Christian” techniques. When Jews used them they were the Jewish tradition, but when Christians used them (according to Rutgers) they were against the Jewish tradition and an illegitimate import/development. It follows that Rutgers begins with the content of the interpretation, which he disagrees with, and proceeds to act as if the content was contingent on methodology. This is a problem, since the methodology was Jewish (see Bloch) and the content was variable for both Christians and Jews.

“The Synagogue as Foe in Early Christian Literature.”

Rutgers looks at the rise of synagogue construction in the 4th century and the rise in anti-synagogue rhetoric in the same period. He asserts that it was a Christian idea to equate allegorically the Jews as a people with the synagogue. This led to the demonization of both through the process of idealization. What follows is a series of excerpts from the article that I find highly problematic. The first beginning with a citation from Augustine in italics and then commentary by Rutgers:

“By the synagogue we understand the people of Israel, because synagogue is the word properly used of them, although they were also called the church.

Our congregation, on the contrary, the apostles never called synagogue but always ecclesia; whether for the sake of distinction, or because there is some difference between a congregation whence the synagogue has its name and a convocation whence the church is called ecclesia:

for the word congregation (or flocking together) is used of cattle and particularly of that kind called “flocks,” whereas convocation (or calling together) is more of reasonable creatures, such as men. I think then that it is clear in what synagogue of gods God stood. (Augustine, Enarrat. Ps. 82.1)

In this passage, at least three things happen that merit our attention. First of all, Augustine equates “synagogue” with “the people of Israel.” This is a clear and definite departure from earlier practice. Traditionally, whenever the term “synagogue” was used in its meaning of “community,” it was always understood as referring to a specific community. That this is so follows, for example, from a famous passage in the book of Acts or from the rich collection of third- and fourth-century funerary inscriptions from the Jewish catacombs of Rome that contain references to no less than a dozen specific Jewish communities.” (453)

My response is this: a synagogue can be specific communities, but often in the OT it referred to a gathering of all Israel, just as ἐκκλησία (“the called”) functions in the LXX. In other words, the Christian “shift” was one inherent in Jewish writings predating Chrisitanity by centuries. It was a Jewish tradition.

“In our passage, however, Augustine moves away from such an understanding by expanding the original meaning: rather than considering the term “synagogue” as merely referring to a specific community, he now defines it as referring to all the Jews or, as he phrases it, the entire “people of Israel.” By expanding its original meaning, Augustine thus substitutes a concrete notion for one that is unspecified, potentially stereotypical and, in any event, completely atemporal. In Augustine, then, “the synagogue” and “the Jews” are not just coterminous. They have become interchangeable and synonymous.” (Rutgers, 453-454)

Yet in no way does generalizing the synagogue change its meaning. The synagogue was the gathering of the Jews, according to the Jews. There were multiple synagogues, but they were all united in their purpose and practice. Rutgers wants to gloss over this essential unity and make it an idealistic construct rather than an almost tautological aspect of the synagogue.

“Being the only church father who links the synagoga to the term congregatio in its meaning ‘gathering of animals’, Augustine does not merely deny the Jews reasonability as human beings. He is effectively saying that the synagogue is an animal’s den and implying that the Jews congregating in it are beasts.” (455)

To call this borderline ridiculous would be generous. Calling people “sheep” may be an insult today, but this was exactly how Jews referred to Israel throughout their writings. Augustine compares the Christians to gods in a synagogue, making the difference one between animal and man/god. This was a Jewish teaching, and a common Jewish technique to speak of people as different types of animals. Some animals become “men” (see 1 Enoch’s “Animal Apocalypse”) and this indicates that they are men who become “gods.” Augustine appears to be following entirely Jewish methods of exegesis and source material.

“In Augustine, then, “the synagogue” is so much more than just the church’s significant other: it also is an evil twin that must be abused verbally whenever the occasion arises. To characterize the ensemble of Augustine’s thoughts on the synagogue as relativement moderé is to speak utter nonsense.” (Rutgers, 455)

Rutgers goes on to say that the synagogue “now became synonymous not just with the entire Jewish people but with everything that was bad and despicable” and “As early as the second century, this shift (one by which the term “synagogue” was abstracted into a construct that existed only in the minds of early Christian theologians but that lacked a counterpart in real life) was already well underway.”(456)

All this is so much rhetoric. The depiction of the synagogue did correspond to reality, as far as we know. It was frequented by Jews who rejected the teachings of Jesus, and this was what the Fathers addressed. The synagogue was associated with the Jewish people because this was exactly how the Jews defined themselves. And how could that be a bad thing? Rutgers continues to rail against Jewish teachings and methods of exegesis when they are used by Christian authors, and is silent on the fact that these “sins” are based on Judaism itself. He, in effect, is demonizing Judaism in his attempt to demonize early Christian approaches to the synagogue.

“With regard to Tertullian, there can be no doubt that his accusation is historically incorrect. Not only are there a variety of reasons why systematic persecutions of Christians are unlikely to have originated in the synagogues of the Roman Empire, we also lack independent external evidence to confirm or even suggest that this was ever the case.” (458)

An argument from silence that conveniently ignores the texts we do have from the period, which speak of such persecution. This is methodologically flawed. He asserts certainty, and substantiates it with anonymous reasons it is “unlikely” and that “independent external evidence” doesn’t exist. This assumes that “independent external evidence” is even a possibility! Where would it come from? Certainly it could not come from Christians or any Gentile, leaving only Jews. But how could such evidence be “independent” if it comes from Jews? The whole idea is ridiculous and idealistic, an example of the very appraoch that Rutgers is divining in the Fathers.

“It hardly needs to be stressed that the above-named phenomena—looking at “the synagogue” through the eyeglass of authoritative texts—had far-reaching ramifications for the ways in which the synagogue would henceforth be perceived in early Christian circles. This was particularly so because from an early period onward (long before the canon of the Christian Bible was finally agreed upon), Christian exegetes began reading these texts figuratively. Importantly, these efforts were not dictated by clearly defined and universally accepted hermeneutical rules. Thus, one of the less-desirable side effects of this rather uncontrolled approach to Scripture was that it permitted exegetes to read statements into the biblical texts that no longer bore any resemblance at all to whatever original meaning or meanings the texts may have had.” (459)

Rutgers here describes Jewish exegesis par excellence, and concludes that it is illegitimate Christian exegesis! Jews interpreted their Scriptures allegorically, as we all know. They had clearly defined rules, of course, as did Christians. The application of these rules is another matter, and Rutgers begs the question as to whether the Christian interpretations were “valid” by Jewish standards. We have already seen that they were.

As for the meaning of the original text, Jewish exegetes did not have any qualms about changing or ignoring the original meaning. This was part of their tradition, as was the canonical status of their writings. Rutgers again is criticizing Christians for acting like Jews, not on the basis of appropriation, but of misappropriation. But he never demonstrates any elements of Christian exegesis that are at odds with Jewish approaches.

“Thus, it could be argued that there was something deeply and inevitably biblical about the fact that God now favored the younger church over the much older synagogue.” (460)

It “could” be argued, and it was argued in the writings of Qumran. It was based on a theme that was unmissable in the OT: that the younger is the one who gets the blessing.

“It is worthwhile to note in this context that this kind of early Christian supersessionist reasoning—hunting out the biblical text for models of superior, or rather, of unbeatable quality—was not an invention on the part of the Fathers. Rather it was of Pauline origin. In Rom 9:12–13, Paul observed, while paraphrasing Gen 25:23, that “it was said unto her [Rebecca], the elder shall serve the younger, even as it is writ- ten, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” And in Gal 4:22–31, Paul had remarked that the biblical story of the son born of the “bondswoman, Hagar” versus the son born subsequently of the “freewoman,” Sarah, should be understood allegorically as refer- ring to two covenants. According to this second, longer passage, one of Abraham’s wives was “bearing children unto bondage,” while the other had to be understood as being the mother of us “brothers,” who “are, as Isaac was, children of promise.” Paul was perfectly clear as to what needed to be done in this situation: “cast out the handmaid and her son, for the son of the handmaid shall not inherit with the son of the freewoman.”” (460)

Rutgers is correct in noticing that the Fathers did not invent this methodology, but his assertion that it stemmed from Paul (rather than Judaism) is ridiculous and unsubstantiated. Paul certainly used the same techniques, as we would expect from a Jew. Jews before him used those same techniques, and if we are to believe Rutgers we must explain how Paul travelled back in time and “corrupted” the Jews with his exegetical methods!

“None of these Fathers, however, could surpass Caesarius of Arles when it came to tracking down scriptural precedents showing that in biblical times the younger had almost always been favored over the older. His preaching on “the synagogue” in one of his sermons led him to draw up a long list of pairs fitting into such a bipartite scheme: Cain and Abel, Hagar and Sarah, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Leah and Rachel, Ephraim and Manasseh, Moses and Joshua (on the count that Moses, although leader of the Jewish people, was not allowed to enter the Promised Land), and Saul and David. In the eyes of the Fathers of the church, then, the OT was nothing but an enormous treasure-trove in which God had ingeniously enshrined the idea that the one and only role of the synagogue in history was that of going to be surpassed by Christianity in general, and by the church in particular.” (460)

Rutgers extremism shows through here. The Fathers never thought of Scripture as focused on the synagogue. The pairs that “fit the scheme” are so prolific because the Jews and Christians were taught this way. It was not a matter of looking into every word of the Bible and trying to twist it: these pairs were essential and repeated in the OT to make an impression. Rutgers appears to deny that there is any significance to the idea, even though Jews taught that there was (and in the same time period!).

“It hardly needs stressing that also in the case of the NT this procedure—trying to understand Scripture figuratively without the restraint of clear hermeneutical rules—enabled the Fathers to engage freely in associative thinking and to pass this off as good exegetical and, ultimately, as good pastoral practice.” (461)

A perfect description of rabbinic exegesis, if one is uncharitable.

“But it was the story of the healing of the daughter of the synagogue’s archon Jairus in Luke 8:40–56 that inspired Ambrose to let go of his last bit of interpretational moderation.” (461)

“This totally fabricated explanation clinches the more general argument that, while none of the NT passages discussed in this paragraph has anything to do with actual synagogues, they had everything to do with the Fathers’ preconceived and hostile notions regarding “the synagogue of the Jews.” (461)

More unscholarly rhetoric and unsubstantiated claims. Again it is ironic that Rutgers is spewing venom in an attempt to discredit people who spewed venom in his eyes.

“It is not hard to imagine that this notion, the idea that “the synagogue” was responsible for the killing of the son of God, the savior of all of humankind, infuriated the Fathers to no small degree. However, it was only because of the pervasiveness of their associative reasoning that this idea took on a life of its own—with the result that patristic exegesis on “the synagogue” was now really spinning out of control. Where in earlier patristic thought, “the synagogue” had been considered the mur- derer of Jesus alone, Gregory of Elvira began expanding this idea by saying that “the synagogue” was responsible for killing everyone who had believed in Christianity’s Messiah. Wherever the Fathers encountered “murder” in their texts, they now began linking it to the synagogue.” (462)

This is anti-Christian rhetoric. The Fathers of course spoke of “murder” in a variety of context, and did not always link it to the synagogue, nor did they typically link it to the synagogue. Rutgers could have provided examples, but he does not.

“In turn, Chromatius of Aquileia made the synagogue into a murderer of prophets. The passage that induced him to make this allegation, Matt 23:37, did not speak of “the synagogue” but of Jerusalem instead, but this did not bother him much. After all, were not Jerusalem and “the inhabitants of Jerusalem” and “the synagogue of the Jews” all identical?” (463)

From a Jewish perspective, they were essentially the same. This was not a Christian idea. The Jerusalemites were a synagogue of the Jews, by definition. Furthermore, the passage in Matthew does not refer to “the synagogue,” but it does not follow that it referred to Jerusalem instead. It referred to the synagogue of Jerusalem. Rutgers implies that “synagogue” is absent from the passage, and he is right in that specific form. But the verb ἐπισυνάγω is used prominently, and Rutgers seems to ignore this. The result of ἐπισυνάγω is a synagogue.

“This rhetorical question brings us, finally, to one of the vilest and most artificial passages on the “murderous” synagogue in the work of Chromatius. Agreeing with the idea that the Jews were “serpents,” Chromatius noted that they were not to be considered just any kind of serpent but a specific subspecies, “the race of vipers.” Why? Because, unlike other snakes, vipers kill their mother instantly. The Jews had done exactly this. Through their “impiety,” they slew their mother, the synagogue. And by calling, “His blood be on us, and on our children,” they also killed their own offspring. This passage completes our picture. What had begun with the allegation of the killing of a single person had now been generalized into something far more comprehensive and detrimental: in fourth-century patristic literature, “the synagogue” did not just kill Jesus, or even his followers; it was perceived as wont to kill everyone it could lay its hands on.” (463)

Rutgers here makes an illegitimate rhetorical move: he asserts that killing one’s mother and/or offspring means that one kills everything. this is clearly false, but made for rhetorical effect. The Jews themselves identified unfaithful Jews with the most vile things they could think of. This was their tradition, and one which Rutgers seems to implicitly reject (at least when convenient).

“Perhaps as a result of the particular reception history of the book of Revelation in the early church, the term “synagogue of Satan” (Rev 2:9 and 3:9) does not seem to have enjoyed much of an afterlife in patristic literature.” (463)

The reception history of Revelation is rather complicated, but it was extremely popular before the 4th century. It is precisely when Rutgers sees anti-Judaism in the writings of the Fathers that Revelation falls out of favor in many parts of the Roman Empire. Rutgers cannot explain this fact. If he is correct, we should see that Revelation was the proof-text for Christians agains the synagogue, yet this is exactly the opposite of what we see. It appears that Rutgers isn’t actually familiar with the reception history of Revelation.

“We have seen that, without exception, the Fathers defined the synagogue in excessively negative terms. The fact that they did so—not just once, but again, and again, and again—could only have resulted in one thing: the readers of their writ- ings and the listeners to their sermons began automatically to link “the synagogue” with everything that was undesirable and bad. The equation of “the synagogue” with “the Jews” made matters incomparably worse. After all, a whole range of dread- ful things initially believed to apply to the Jews could now be applied without any restraint to the synagogue as well. By this point, the one term automatically triggered all the negative connotations associated with the other, and vice versa. By denouncing “the synagogue of the Jews” whenever the occasion arose, the Fathers were not just systematically indoctrinating their flocks. They were programming them neurolinguistically.” (465)

What level of negative terminology would Rutgers accept? It seems that he would accept none, so his claim of “excessively negative” depictions is pure rhetorical fluff, just as the claims of systematic indoctrination” and neurolinguistic programming. These are simply negative ways of speaking about teaching, and hardly appropriate for a scholar to advance. Could Rutgers claim that Jews did not do the same thing? The OT commands that they do the very thing Rutgers is condemning: indoctrination via interpretation of Scripture.

“Having been brainwashed to regard the synagogue as the very incarnation of evil, not just naturally but inevitably, Christians began to see the actual synagogue buildings of Late Antiquity as local manifestations of a much larger phenomenon.” (466)

Brainwashing is hardly appropriate terminology for sermons. Rutgers also ignores that the 4th century was dominated by Christian polemics amongst each other far more than against the Jews. THe heretics may have been seen as “the incarnation of evil”(!) but not the Jews. Rutgers assumes that his preoccupation with the synagogue was hated by the Christians of the 4th century. It was not. Instead, it was one of dozens of themes that were prominent, and certainly it was not even near the top of the list. Rutgers also ignores the anti-synagogue rhetoric of the Romans and Greeks, not addressing whether the violence of mobs could be due to vestigial pagan opposition to Jews. Instead he insists with all of his might that it was due to learned theologians giving sermons! This is hard to take seriously. He ignores recorded evidence for invented assertions. The sermons could have been the result of such violence, or a sublimation of it, rather than the incitement of violence.

“It is at the point where the abstracted, wholly negative notion of “the synagogue” collided with the ongoing reality of the actual buildings—buildings in which people congregated who had lost their individuality as a result of patristic exegesis—that Christian theologians and the masses they addressed began to think that they now needed to translate thinking into practice. What other conclusion could one possibly draw when major ecclesiastical figures such as Ambrose argued, in reference to the dispersion of the Jewish people, that the Jews did not possess “a prescribed place of exile, but an unlimited one,” and that the purpose of this was so that “the place of the synagogue may never remain in the world”? There can be little doubt indeed that the Fathers of the early church were directly responsible for what the Theodosian Code calls, in reference to the spoliation and destruction of synagogues, “illegal deeds” performed “under the name of Christian religion.”” (466)

Rutgers again shows his hand: he asserts that the Fathers were directly responsible for what the Theodosian Code condemns. But does this make any sense? It implies that the Theodosian Code was defending Jews, yet it was not. It simply was imposing law and order. And why would we think that the Byzantine government would be pro-Jewish while the Byzantine theologians were anti-Jewish? How could the Code call all of the Fathers wrong and blame them for illegal activity? Rutgers shows himself to be an opportunist with no inclination to question assumptions or follow through logically or evidentially on his assertions.

“So did a more general trend in early Christian thinking: coercion was a legitimate means to further the spread of what the proponents saw as the one and only true Christian religion. The sheer violence that ensued as a result of all these developments was, in any case, enormous. As evidenced by the Theodosian Code, aggression was not directed only at synagogues. By the early fifth century, Jewish houses needed protection by the state as well.” (467)

Again, protection by a state that was dominated by the theologians. The “sheer violence” is, of course, not substantiated, but sounds rather impressive. Augustine is cited and he is assumed to speak for the Byzantine Empire, even though he was isolated from its own capital and was not read widely at the time. His huge influence on the West was later, and can hardly be applied to both East and West in his own day. Coercion was not practiced by Christians prior to the 4th century, and probably not until the Theodosian Code (ironically) was it practiced at all.

“it took Christian theologians a mere 35 years to obliterate the age-old tradition of Roman legal tolerance toward Jews and to force upon the late Roman legislature their conviction that the construction of new synagogues should be outlawed once and for all.” (467)

The “age-old tradition of Roman legal tolerance toward Jews” never existed in history. It was a construct used by Jews, and the Romans only affirmed it at times. There was no legislation that always protected Jews, but instead legislative decisions were made on the issue over the centuries. Many times they protected the rights of Jews, and many times they rescinded those same rights. Rutgers wants to think that the Jews had those rights as inalienable, no doubt, but Roman practice treated them as depending on the whim of the Emperor or even lesser officials and rulers.

“While the late Roman state protected the integrity of Jewish property, at least in writing, it was the Christian redefinition of the term “synagogue” that provided early Christian preachers the powerful weapon for which they had been looking. By stripping the term “synagogue” of its particular characteristics and then appealing to a sense of retributive justice and a desire to be counted good Christians, early Christian preachers successfully turned their communities into overly excited crowds— or rather, into raging mobs ready to torch actual synagogues or to turn them into churches. Thus, the destruction of synagogues in Late Antiquity documents the fact that there is a rather sinister flip side to John Chrysostom’s infamous Adversus Judaeos. Typically used to document the continued importance of meaningful contacts between Jews and Christians and as evidence of Christianity’s inability to prevent these contacts, Chrysostom’s treatise should also be seen as part of larger and all-too- successful effort on the part of the Fathers to create an atmosphere in which hate crimes against the Jews and their synagogues were considered both desirable and mandatory. That the early Christian exegetical construct of “the synagogue” should spill over into reality in the way it did shows that in the later fourth century early Christian self-definition was characterized not just by a strong desire to maintain boundaries by force. The need to behave punitively toward people believed to be identical with a hermeneutically constructed “other” was no less an integral part of Christianity.”

Hate crimes were desirable and mandatory? This would inexcusable for a layman to write, much less a scholar. It is completely unsubstantiated and irresponsible rhetoric. Ironically, it is hate speech.

The bizarre claims of Rutgers were shown to be false and anti-Jewish by reading “Midrash,” by Renee Bloch (1978). In teaching about the term and practice of Jewish Midrash (interpretation), he claimed that the following were essential to Jewish interpretation of Scripture from the earliest period, seen even in the OT itself: citing out of original context, allegory, typology, and linking words. All of these were asserted to be “Christian” false interpretation of the OT. But Bloch, writing about Judaism rather than Christianity as opposed to Judaism, casually shows that all of the criticisms Rutgers levels against Christian interpretations should historically be leveled at Jews. Jews were writing this way centuries before Christianity.

It seems that in order to discredit Christianity, or at least early Christianity, Rutgers is more than happy to discredit historical Judaism, both past and present. This is remarkable, and he exhibits in his own writing that which he condemns: illegitimate exegesis and hyperbole that borders on slander.