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

My Lord and My God: John’s Use of Psalm 35

At the end of the Gospel of John, we read the following:

26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.

27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:

31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

The problem with this passage is the following: Thomas seems to call Jesus both Lord and God, but we know that Jesus and God are different. This is the only direct attribution of the name “God” to Jesus in John, and in all of the NT (with the exception of Hebrews). So the question is: Did John really mean for his readers to understand that Jesus is God, or that he can rightly be called God?

 

The Citation Approach

Normally this statement of Thomas’s would be evaluated in terms of a bald declaration, but it seems to me that the words of Thomas are really a citation of Psalm 35:23.

Awake, O Lord, and attend to my judgment, [even] to my cause, my God and my Lord.

ἐξεγέρθητι, Κύριε, καὶ πρόσχες τῇ κρίσει μου, ὁ Θεός μου καὶ ὁ Κύριός μου, εἰς τὴν δίκην μου.

Thomas’s words are a verbatim repetition, with the exception that the order of God and Lord is reversed. This is not a problem, though, since reversing the order of words or clauses was not uncommon in Jewish writers at that time (see Paul and the Language of Scripture by Christopher D. Stanley; for example, compare 1 Corinthians 2:9 [Eye has not seen, nor ear heard] and Isaiah 64:4 [we have not heard, neither have our eyes seen]. Ciampa and Rosner write that “such alterations were an accepted part of citation technique in antiquity.” The First Letter to the Corinthians, 127.). So it could be that this is exactly what is going on in John 20:28, but is there reason to think this, other than the unusual statement of Thomas? I think that there is.

Psalm 35 and John

We should ask ourselves whether John even knew Psalm 35 before we jump to the possibility of him citing it in the words of Thomas. It appears that he did, since in John 15:

21 But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me.

22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.

23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also.

24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.

25 But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.

26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:

27 And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.

For our purposes we will note the following:

  1. Jesus identifies himself with the Father (God) in the sense that hating him means hating the Father.
  2. He cites “their law” about being hated without cause.
  3. He speaks of the Comforter (the Holy Spirit).
  4. He speaks of testifying and bearing witness.

As for the citation from “their law,” it could be from two different sources: Psalm 35:19 or Psalm 69:4. Here is a comparison of the Greek:

 Ἐμίσησάν με δωρεάν (John)

οἱ μισοῦντες με δωρεὰν (Ps 35)

οἱ μισοῦντές με δωρεάν (Ps 69)

We can see that the two Psalms use an identical phrase, and so we cannot from this discern which one Jesus was citing. So it seems that Jesus could have been referring to either one.

However, when we look at this passage in John 15 in relation to John 20, things become clearer.

Point 1 is seen in John 20:38 (“My Lord and My God,” spoken to Jesus alone).

Point 2 is seen (possibly) as another citation from “their law.” (“My Lord and My God”).

Point 3 is seen in the context of 20:38 in that Thomas was not their when Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to the 10 Apostles, the very event predicted in John 15.

Point 4 is seen in the testimony of Thomas. He had set himself up as a judge of Jesus, demanding that evidence be shown to him before he declared a verdict. When the evidence was presented by Jesus himself, he passed his judgement with the testimony of “My Lord and My God.” This was done not by him putting his fingers into Jesus’s hands (the text does not say whether he did so) but rather by him receiving the Holy Spirit just as the 10 Apostles had. Although this is only implied rather than recounted, it makes sense since it would be strange that Thomas would not receive the Holy Spirit like the other 10. If he did receive it, it would appear that he received it in this encounter, like the 10 had a week earlier. The result of him receiving it would be his testimony that Jesus is Lord and God, recalling John 15:26 “he shall testify of me.”

Given the 4 strong connections between John 15 and John 20, we can conclude that the citation in John 15 is of Psalm 35, just as Psalm 35 is cited in John 20.

This is further shown by the context of Psalm 35 itself and its relation to the narrative events of John 15 and 20. While both Ps 35 and 69 speak of being persecuted by enemies (the context of John 15) there are particular traits in Ps 35 that apply to the chapters in John.

 11 Fierce witnesses rise up; They ask me things that I do not know.

21 They also opened their mouth wide against me, And said, “Aha, aha!

Our eyes have seen it.

23 Stir up Yourself, and awake to my vindication, To my cause, my God and my Lord.

27 Let them shout for joy and be glad, Who favor my righteous cause;

And let them say continually, “Let the Lord be magnified, 

Who has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant.” 

28 And my tongue shall speak of Your righteousness And of Your praise all the day long.

All of these elements find an interpretation in the story of Thomas: he was a follower of Jesus, but had believed what he had seen (v.21), namely that Jesus had died. He favored the cause of Jesus, and as a consequence “magnified” him by calling him “My Lord and My God” (v.23). Thomas saw the vindication of Jesus, the Lord’s servant (v.27) and responded accordingly as we see in the Psalm.

Conclusion

John ends his Gospel with the declaration of Thomas that Jesus is “My Lord and My God.” This confession of belief caps the book, and is therefor very important. The only material after this confession is the statement that those who believe without seeing (the readers of John) are blessed, that Jesus did many other miracles not recorded in John, and that the Gospel was written so that you would believe (like Thomas, but without the benefit of actually seeing). Thomas’s statement becomes the model that John’s readers are to adopt, a confession based on faith without seeing. John wants his readers to confess Jesus as “My Lord and My God,” a confession coming from Psalm 35 that is applied to God himself.

That is not to say that John flatly equates Jesus with his own Father, but rather that Jesus and his Father are “one”(Dt. 6:4, John 10:30) and to see Jesus is to see the Father (John 14:9). This is why, when Thomas is given the Spirit, he looks at Jesus and confesses him to be “My Lord and My God,” the same Lord and God who vindicated Jesus, God’s servant. The statement is not a piece discursive theology, but a citation of prophecy fulfilled in Jesus’s resurrection, and a recognition of the unity of God and his Son. John “has his cake and eats it too” in the sense that he affirms a unity of Jesus and God while retaining a distinction between God and Jesus.

 

 

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?

You have probably heard the claim that Jesus was a carpenter, but what is the basis for this assertion? I’m going to delve a bit into the evidence below and hopefully shed some light on this commonly held idea.

The Carpenter in the New Testament

We read about Jesus as a carpenter only once in the New Testament, namely in Mark 6:3. Verses 1-6  (KJV) are given below for context.

And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him.

And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands?

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.

But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.

And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them.

And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching.

The passage is unusual for a number of reasons but we will focus here on the reference to “the carpenter.” Neither Luke nor Matthew include this specific detail in their Gospels (cf. Matthew 13:54-58 and Luke 4:16-30). John’s omission of it is not particularly noteworthy since he differs from the Synoptics as a rule. It should also be noted that Matthew changes Mark’s account to read “Is not this the carpenter‘s son?” In other words, Mark alone tells us that Jesus was thought of as “the carpenter” while Matthew and Luke avoided telling their readers this.

(note: We are here assuming “Markan priority,” meaning that both Matthew and Luke used Mark as a basis for their own Gospels. While this is the scholarly consensus, it is not beyond question. Yet for our purposes it is instructive to see that the difference in accounts seems to indicate a conscious omission on the part of Luke and a conscious alteration on the part of Matthew.)

 

A Short Detour into Non-Canonical Accounts

No other NT author describes Jesus this way, and we have to wait until (presumably) the mid-2nd century to get more information on this in the Infancy Gospel of James (click here for the text and here for the first of several of my posts on the document). There we read that Joseph was a builder of some sort since he told Mary “and now do I leave thee in my house, and I go away to build my buildings.”

In the Arabic Infancy Gospel we read of Jesus doing some tricky carpentry work to assist his (unskilled) father:

38. And Joseph used to go about through the whole city, and take the Lord Jesus with him, when people sent for him in the way of his trade to make for them doors, and milk-pails, and beds, and chests; and the Lord Jesus was with him wherever he went.

As often, therefore, as Joseph had to make anything a cubit or a span longer or shorter, wider or narrower, the Lord Jesus stretched His hand towards it; and as soon as He did so, it became such as Joseph wished. Nor was it necessary for him to make anything with his own hand, for Joseph was not very skilful in carpentry.

39. Now, on a certain day, the king of Jerusalem sent for him, and said: I wish thee, Joseph, to make for me a throne to fit that place in which I usually sit. Joseph obeyed, and began the work immediately, and remained in the palace two years, until he finished the work of that throne.

And when he had it carried to its place, he perceived that each side wanted two spans of the prescribed measure. And the king, seeing this, was angry with Joseph; and Joseph, being in great fear of the king, spent the night without supper, nor did he taste anything at all.

Then, being asked by the Lord Jesus why he was afraid, Joseph said: Because I have spoiled all the work that I have been two years at. And the Lord Jesus said to him: Fear not, and do not lose heart; but do thou take hold of one side of the throne; I shall take the other; and we shall put that to rights. And Joseph, having done as the Lord Jesus had said and each having drawn by his own side, the throne was put to rights, and brought to the exact measure of the place.

And those that stood by and saw this miracle were struck with astonishment, and praised God. And the woods used in that throne were of those which are celebrated in the time of Solomon the son of David; that is, woods of many and various kinds.

While these textual traditions are somewhat interesting, they are later compositions and have less value in the eyes of most readers. Consequently, for now we will simply focus on evidence as found in the canonical Scriptures.

Returning to Mark

The term found in Mark 6:3 is not technically “the carpenter” but  τέκτων in the Greek. We should remember that English is not a proper reference for understanding the NT, and so the Greek word rathe than the English translation will be our basis for understanding the claim of Jesus being a “carpenter.” So what is a τέκτων?

τέκτων is basically a builder, or one who uses “technology” (think of the word “architect” which means “head builder,” roughly speaking). A carpenter, on the other hand, usually denotes a person who works with wood (see the etymology here). A mason is a person who tends to work with stone, at least by modern usage (see the etymology here). “Mason” may be a better rendering of τέκτων since it is more general (meaning “maker/builder”) but the modern connotations might mislead readers to think of something more specific than the term actually denotes. Similarly, “architect” carries the connotation of a person who plans a building project rather than one who actually does the work of building. An architect is perceived as being more “hands off” than a mason or carpenter.

Mark and Matthew don’t tell us what materials Jesus and/or Joseph worked with, and since Palestine had both wooden and stone buildings we can only speculate as to which term would be more correct. We can say at this point that the more general term of “builder” is the most appropriate.

(note: the Vulgate reads as follows:

Mt. 13:5 “nonne hic est fabri filius”

Mark 6:3 “nonne iste est faber

ergo the Latin translators understood the Greek text to mean that Jesus and Joseph were makers, craftsmen, workmen, etc.)

However, there is a way to more fully understand what the first readers of the NT would have understand the term to mean by looking at the Greek OT (commonly called the LXX). This was the version of the Scriptures that the NT authors used almost exclusively. We can also look at the corresponding Hebrew terms in the OT to try to grasp a fuller meaning of the term and what it meant to 1st century readers.

This will be the subject of our next post. Thanks for reading!

WordPlay: Roman Power (Ῥώμη Ῥώμη)

Rome was destined to be powerful in Greek eyes and ears.

Rome (Ῥώμη)

In the 1st c. CE the role of the Romans in world history was clear: they were the dominators, the rulers of the known world. While ancient empires had arisen in the past and faded away in the same (Babylon, Persia, etc.) Rome was here to stay. This was not so much a philosophical position as a recognition of current realities: Rome was in control, and would continue to be so until the end of time.

If, for some unforseen reason, Rome was to fall, another like it would arise in its place. In this sense the uniqueness of Rome is somewhat compromised. Rome is the unique One at the moment, but like all other Powerful Ones it will eventually fall. Rome is simply the latest and greatest of the Powerful Ones.

This is tempered with the idea in the 1st c. that the world was coming to an end rather soon. This idea has roots in Jewish writings such as Daniel and 1 Enoch, and the idea had wide acceptance in the 1st c. apocalyptic movements in Judea and elsewhere.

Rome was one beast among many, but at the same time the historical timeline that Jews held to was running out. There was not an expectation that Rome would fall to another empire other than that of God himself. Rome was the last of the Powerful Ones.

 

Powerful One (Ῥώμη)

The view of Rome by Jews in the 1st c. was ambiguous: on the one hand Rome was a protector and granter of peace, while on the other hand it was a threat to the peace of Jerusalem. Roman power enabled the complete  building of the Temple in Jerusalem, while the earlier Persian power had only allowed the Second Temple to be built to half of the desired height. Imperial power was portrayed in Isaiah as a tool of God. Cyrus was called the “messiah” and he was to return the Jews to Judea and rebuild the Temple. This did not happen under Cyrus, and even when it did happen it was unsatisfactory to many Jews both then and now. It was as if this prophecy had yet to be actually fulfilled, and it was finally fulfilled in the building of the Temple by Herod under Roman power.

Power for the Greco-Romans was not simply a matter of influence, but also of holiness. To be powerful was to be divine, and the more powerful one was, the ore godlike they were. This open acknowledgement of power as the guiding principle of existence is in contrast to the Jewish ad Christian traditions of power in weakness. For Romans, it was axiomatic that power was divine, and the old adage that “power corrupts” would appear to them a partial truth, one which remains silent to the more important fact that “power preserves.” The powerful rise above corrupt mortality and enter into the life of the immortal gods.

 

The “Prophetic” Coincidence of Ῥώμη

This brings us to our original point: it was a linguistic fact that Romans were powerful. In other words, to call somebody “powerful” was to call them “Roman.” The word for “Rome” and “powerful” were exactly the same (Ῥώμη).

This is all the more striking since the coincidence of names is not designed: Rome was named (most probably) for “flowing water” in Etruscan, and later the meaning of “teat” was adopted. This makes sense in Latin, but the Greek interaction with Rome would have interpreted the name rather differently.

For Greeks, Rome was known as Ῥώμη, the Greek meaning of which was “power.” When Rome began to exert its power and domination in the Greek world, it would have appeared to have been forecast by the Greek language itself! This power over the Greeks would never be broken historically, since the end of the Roman Empire in the East did not convert the “Greeks” to a different culture. The legacy of Rome remained powerful in the Greek mind, as it did in their language.

The Oldest Extant Irish Manuscript

I was buzzing about the webdom and came across a curious find: the oldest extant Irish manuscript in existence. Of course, there has to be an “oldest” of everything, but the surprise is two-fold:

The text is from the 6th century. To give some perspective, Ireland was evangelized in the 5th century (sometime) and the earliest accounts of that period are from the 6th century or later.

The text is written in wax. Just as the Greek word for writing (γραφής/γράφω) is literally “a scratch/scratching,” this text was produced not with ink but by scratching the wax to form letters.

Wax tablets had been utilized in the ancient world for nearly a millennium prior to this Irish production, yet they were used for taking notes and writing exercises. In other words, the tablets were used for practice rather than production.

Compare this to the Book of Kells, written from the 6th-9th centuries. The artwork is exquisite, and one quickly sees that the book is a piece of art. This kind of work and time is precisely the opposite of what we see in the earlier wax tablet.

What is astonishing about this is that the Book of Kells was a masterpiece and is preserved today. Many other biblical manuscripts from that period are still extant, but they represent probably less than 5% of the manuscripts that were in circulation at those times. Somehow a wax tablet codex survived for a millennium and a half, something no other manuscript from Ireland can claim, and something that only a choice few manuscripts worldwide can claim.

Rather remarkable and impressive.

The text is of Psalms 30 and 31, which I provided below with certain particularly “Christian” elements in bold.

Psalm 30

1 [For the end, a Psalm of David, [an utterance] of extreme fear.]

O Lord, I have hoped in thee; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in thy righteousness and rescue me.

2 Incline thine ear to me; make haste to rescue me: be thou to me for a protecting God, and for a house of refuge to save me.

3 For thou art my strength and my refuge; and thou shalt guide me for thy name’s sake, and maintain me.

4 Thou shalt bring me out of the snare which they have hidden for me; for thou, O Lord, art my defender.

5 Into thine hands I will commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.

6 Thou has hated them that idly persist in vanities: but I have hoped in the Lord.

7 I will exult and be glad in thy mercy: for thou hast looked upon mine affliction; thou hast saved my soul from distresses.

8 And thou hast not shut me up into the hands of the enemy: thou hast set my feet in a wide place.

9 Pity me, O Lord, for I am afflicted: my eye is troubled with indignation, my soul and by belly.

10 For my life is spent with grief, and my years with groanings: my strength has been weakened through poverty, and my bones are troubled.

11 I became a reproach among all mine enemies, but exceedingly so to my neighbours, and a fear to mine acquaintance: they that saw me without fled from me.

12 I have been forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am become as a broken vessel.

13 For I heard the slander of many that dwelt round about: when they were gathered together against me, they took counsel to take my life.

14 But I hoped in thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my God.

15 My lots are in thy hands: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies,

16 and from them that persecute me. Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: save me in thy mercy.

17 O Lord, let me not be ashamed, for I have called upon thee: let the ungodly be ashamed, and brought down to Hades.

18 Let the deceitful lips become dumb, which speak iniquity against the righteous with pride and scorn.

19 How abundant is the multitude of thy goodness, O Lord, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee! thou hast wrought [it] out for them that hope on thee, in the presence of the sons of men.

20 Thou wilt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the vexation of man: thou wilt screen them in a tabernacle from the contradiction of tongues.

21 Blessed be the Lord: for he has magnified his mercy in a fortified city.

22 But I said in my extreme fear, I am cast out from the sight of thine eyes: therefore thou didst hearken, O Lord, to the voice of my supplication when I cried to thee.

23 Love the Lord, all ye his saints: for the Lord seeks for truth, and renders [a reward] to them that deal very proudly.

24 Be of good courage, and let your heart be strengthened, all ye that hope in the Lord.

Psalm 31

1 [[A Psalm] of instruction by David.]

Blessed [are they] whose transgressions are forgiven, and who sins are covered.

2 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin, and whose mouth there is no guile.

3 Because I kept silence, my bones waxed old, from my crying all the day.

4 For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: I became thoroughly miserable while a thorn was fastened in [me].

Pause.

5 I acknowledged my sin, and hid not mine iniquity: I said, I will confess mine iniquity to the Lord against myself; and thou forgavest the ungodliness of my heart.

Pause.

6 Therefore shall every holy one pray to thee in a fit time: only in the deluge of many waters they shall not come nigh to him.

7 Thou art my refuge from the affliction that encompasses me; my joy, to deliver me from them that have compassed me.

Pause.

8 I will instruct thee and guide thee (should read “judge with you and stride with you”) in this way wherein thou shalt go: I will fix mine eyes upon thee.

9 Be ye not as horse and mule, which have no understanding; [but thou must] constrain their jaws with bit and curb, lest they should come nigh to thee.

10 Many are the scourges of the sinner: but him that hopes in the Lord mercy shall compass about.

11 Be glad in the Lord, and exult, ye righteous: and glory, all ye that are upright in heart.

New Truths: Destroying Thrones Through Text Criticism and Archeology

I’d like to touch on two different ways in which the modern study of the Bible has changed in the last few centuries, namely through the disciplines of text criticism and archeology.

Text Criticism

In the early centuries of Christianity, texts were compiled and circulated by Christians to preserve the teachings of the early Christians and early Jewish authors. The reading of these texts formed an essential part of community worship and belief.

This continued for centuries, and remains to this day. However, what happened was that the Biblical text was standardized and also largely confined to liturgical reading and a source of inspiration for theologians, most of whom were much different than the “common man” (e.g. they were monks or aristocrats). The distrust of such people was evident in the Reformation, and the result was a new kind of theologian, one who was not a monk or bishop (but usually still an aristocrat) but a scholar and preacher. The Protestant preacher became not the new bishop or Pope, but the new Prophet bringing reform to the corrupted Israel who had essentially forgotten the Law.

In the 18th century the West became flooded with Greek manuscripts from the East. This influx of ancient texts (often procured by questionable means) led to a relatively new possibility for the Prophet Scholar: judging the text of the Bibles in circulation.

Since the Bible was the final arbiter of Truth (the Church had shown itself in their views to be a half truth and half lie) the circulating Biblical texts should be as true as possible. But how can one gauge the truthfulness of the source of Truth? The answer was now available: by having the biblical texts themselves perform the evaluation. Ancient manuscripts of Mark could be compared to current ones. The ancient would ratify or disqualify the modern text. The purity of the texts in circulation will improved.

This was a welcome development in terms of correcting the text of the Bible, at least in theory. But an unintended consequence (or perhaps it was intended) was that the Bible was now a text that was authoritative only inasmuch as it was seen as authoritative. The possibility of a false Biblical text was more palpable and real at this point in history than ever before. The Church could not be trusted to preserve the text, since in some instances since it was implicating in changing the text.

This dethroning of the Church in favor of the Text is not altogether negative, since the Church (viewed generically) did have problems in need of correction. Likewise, the authority of the Church was not what it had been in the first millennium.

A strange product of this process was not only the means to determine (to a reasonable degree) the original text of the Bible, but also the realization that no text of the New Testament was pure. Every single manuscript found if every single gospel or letter contains elements that are deemed to be spurious. All of the written versions of the Bible were flawed. It was only by looking at all extant versions, and favoring the individual elements of the manuscripts that appeared to be authentic, that one arrived at the “pure” text. Yet this was a text that was never written, as far as the manuscripts tell us. The pure New Testament, according to the physical evidence, can be reconstructed but never found. We have no physical evidence of a pure NT writing, but instead a 100% rate of corrupt texts.

This is a perplexing state of affairs, and one that calls into question the legitimacy of text criticism when compared to how the Bible was historically read. Historically, it appears that the New Testament has always been a corrupt text, and only in the modern period have we begun to weed out the mistakes and corruptions.

Archeology

The investigation of ancient manuscripts is basically archeology in a narrow sense. The manuscripts are archeological finds, but in archeology writ large we have other kinds of evidence to consider. The fallout from the reliance on archeology in the modern period is similar to the issue of manuscripts, but with a twist. While the manuscript finds served to dethrone the standard biblical texts in favor of an eclectic and synthetic text that never existed physically (as far as we can tell) the finds in archeology served to dethrone the content of the Bible itself.

This was the natural outcome of the approach to archeological finds. With the discovery of the Rosetta Stone and the interest in Egypt and the Ancient Near East in the 18th century continuing to today, the possibility of confirming the Biblical stories with archeological evidence became real. The biblical stories started to look more like history, since the mythological times of the ancient past were becoming tangibly present with the discovery of artifacts and the decoding of languages. So did the finds support the truth of the Bible?

The question doesn’t seem to really have ever been asked. The researchers begged the question, assuming not that the stories could be proven or disproven, but that the evidence could be used to confirm or disconfirm the Bible. In other words, the main emphasis was the status of the Bible, and archeology was here the handmaid of biblical archeology. The evidence would confirm the Bible and show it be historical rather than mythical. It was a rational document rooted in actual history.

In the 20th century (if not before) this actual history became the working definition of “truth.” The assumption that the Bible was part of this truth was a relatively new idea. The “history” of the Old Testament became one of many Ancient Near East histories, rather than the one correct history as recorded by inspired writers. The Bible was one of many religious texts.

But it was a valuable text, and so it was worthwhile to purify it through text criticism. It also seemed to be worthwhile to vindicate the truth of the Biblical accounts through archeology. If the story of the Bible (now one of many ancient ANE stories) was to privileged over other ANE texts, it was on the basis that hte Bible was “true.” And what was truth except historical accuracy? Truth now could be dug up and studied. It ceased to be the inspired text, and now was the unearthed text. Claims of inspiration were no longer accepted. Text criticism had shown that claims of accurate texts were merely claims. Archeology and the fixation with Orientalism had uncovered a new data set, and that data set was compared to the biblical stories.

The result of this can hardly be overstated:

the content of the Bible was subjected to various criteria to evaluate its truth.

This seems innocent enough, even intuitive. After all, if the bible were true than there should be no problem in evaluating the truth of it. The result will be that the Bible passes with flying colors, laying to rest any doubts about the truth of the Bible. One will not even need faith to believe the Bible, since archeology has rendered that superfluous. One can affirm the truth of the Bible through the intellect alone.

However, there were two major problems with this approach.

The first was that the ultimate test of truth had become archeological evidence. Prior to this we had to have faith in the transmission of the Bible, a faith that became less important as text criticism progressed. One needed to trust (have faith) in the text much less since one could be assured (to a large degree) in the accuracy of such textual transmission. So far so good. But when it came to archeological finds regarding the world of the Old Testament, things turned out for the worse. The monarchy of David has yet to be confirmed. Practically all of the Old Testament stories failed the test of archeology. The exodus had shifted from a spiritual reality/paradigm/myth recorded in ancient times to an account of an historical event that can be confirmed or disproven. One need not believe, but simply judge.

In the cases where archeology did not confirm the biblical accounts, the result had to be agnosticism of skepticism. By submitting the Biblical stories to the authority of archeological evidence, archeology become the truth that the Bible must submit to or be seen as false. The content of the Bible had been dethroned, and was only true of archeology let us believe that it was true. I use the phrase “let us believe” because at best archeological finds allow us to still retain the idea that certain stories in the OT are true. This allowance (until more evidence shows them to be false) was the pinnacle of the “positive” effect of archeology. At best it could allow us to still believe some parts of the Bible, since those stories had yet to be disproven.

The submission of the Bible to archeology is a losing battle. Archeology is powerless to affirm the OT stories in any meaningful way. It cannot tell us what kind of a person David was, or how God interacted with humanity. These things are outside of the scope of archeology. Archeology can only affirm the Bible in terms of allowing it to be plausible. It can never show it to be true, or even likely to be true.

The only thing that archeology can do in a convincing way is to disprove. The Davidic monarchy does not appear in archeology, nor does the exodus, nor the conquest of Canaan. Archeology and the Bible are fundamentally at odds on these issues, and only archeology can win in the end. This is because archeology judges the Bible, and never vice versa. The only relation between archeology and the Bible is that of opposition. Even if archeology “supports” some parts of the Bible, this is the best it can do. The Bible is supported, denied, and judged by archeology, the new Truth.

The Bible (for the “historian”) has largely become a handbook for archeology. Bethel is no longer the “house of God” but a town that we can dig up. We might even find the stone that Jacob dreamed upon, but we would be unable to confirm its identity. The truth of the story disappears because we are looking for the only truth still available to us (we think) which is archeological evidence. The story of Jacob wrestling with the angel becomes a matter of finding a stone rather a matter of the relation between Israel and God. This misdirection is an abuse of the Bible, making Wisdom into the handmaiden of archeology, the real revealing of Truth. A truth which is no longer divine, but human and dead.