The Weekly Roundup – 1.11.19

“What is at stake in that sad progression from Paul to anti-Paul? Why is it of importance that — at least with regard to slavery — radical Christian liberty is being changed back into normal Roman slavery. It means this: Jewish Christianity is becoming Roman Christianity.”

– John Dominic Crossan


  • One of my favorite bloggers, @bibhistctxt, has written another piece in his series on Israelite origins entitled “Israelite Origins: Egyptian Domination of Canaan.” As he shows, Canaan was under Egyptian domination during the periods wherein the Israelites purportedly fled Egypt for the Promised Land. Yet there is no mention of this and related issues in the narratives we find in the book of Joshua. This is problematic for those who believe in an Exodus as described in some narrative texts of the Hebrew Bible.
  • Tavis Bohlinger wrote a piece over on the Logos website on why Paul mentions his “large” hand writing in the epistle to the Galatians. Bohlinger interviewed Steve Reece, a professor Classical Languages at Saint Olaf College, on the background of this comment from Paul. Reece’s proposal is that the ending of the epistle is Paul taking over for his secretary, creating a noticeable difference in handwriting, i.e. Paul’s wrote with larger letters than his secretary did. This also may have served to show that Paul really was associated with the letter and his handwriting was proof. Reece also goes over other manuscripts from antiquity where we see this kind of phenomena.
  • @StudyofChrist recently uploaded a video comparing the Matthean and Lukan genealogies, stressing that these are theological and not historical in nature and therefore do not need to be harmonized. He even quotes from Richard Dawkins!
  • Last week over at The Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta posted a video of exorcist Bob Larson casting out a demon from an atheist. What Larson didn’t know is that the atheist was a plant, someone acting like they were demon-possessed to show just how ridiculous Larson’s work truly is. Larson posted the video to his YouTube channel as proof his ministry works. You can’t make this stuff up!
  • Almost a decade ago New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan wrote a piece for the Huffington Post on “The Search for the Historical Paul: Which Letters Did He Really Write?” There are seven letters which are widely regarded as authentic but others which aren’t. But why? Crossan argues that they exhibit “counter-Pauline and anti-Pauline” tendencies. In effect, “Paul is being deradicalized, sanitized, and Romanized” in those letters. Crossan is frequently the center of controversy and this piece was no exception. But it is a very good read on one scholar’s take on the Deutero-Pauline and Pastoral epistles.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Evangelical Eisegesis: A Dalliance with Daniel, part 2

In this series we are exploring the claim made by pop-apologist SJ Thomason in her post “Did Daniel the Prophet Accurately Predict the Timing of Jesus’ Death?”1 that the prophetic utterance of Daniel 9:24-27 predicted Jesus’ death in 33 CE. There has been one previous post in this series:

This post will focus on the text of Daniel 9:24-27, attempting to understand it in its context.

DANIEL 9:24-27: AN OVERVIEW

It has been said that a text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext.2 Context includes not only the immediate literary context but also the historical circumstances in which a text was composed. Therefore, when analyzing biblical texts we must consider not only what it says and how it says it but also when and even why the texts were written.

As I discussed in the first post of this series, the book of Daniel can be divided into a cycle of stories (chapters 1-6) and a cycle of visions (chapters 7-12). The former contains legendary material that was likely composed long after the period it describes; the latter contains material that was likely composed in the second century BCE. Daniel 9 is firmly situated in the cycle of visions and therefore any exegesis of the text must take this into account. Consequently, we can be skeptical of any exegesis which doesn’t.

Daniel 9 and Its Context

The first vision in the cycle of visions begins with the words, “In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon” (7:1). Similarly, the vision of chapter eight begins with the words, “In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar” (8:1). Similarly, 9:1 begins with the words, “In the first year of Darius son of Ahasuerus” (9:1). Why does the Danielic author preface these visions in this way? The answer is quite simple: to suggest that these visions are prophetic in nature. The irony of it is that the historical errors betray the notion that these are pure prophecies written in an age long before the events they describe. As we’ve already discussed, Babylon had no king named Belshazzar. Rather, Belshazzar was the name of the last Neo-Babylonian king Nabonidus. The likely explanation for this error is that the author was writing long enough after the time period they describe to get so many of the pertinent details wrong.

The same can be said of what we find in 9:1 where we read of “Darius son of Ahasuerus, by birth a Mede, who became king over the realm of the Chaldeans.” Recall that in 5:30 we are told that once Belshazzar “the Chaldean king” is killed, it is “Darius the Mede” who takes over. But there never was a “Darius the Mede” and when Babylon was conquered by the Persians it was Nabonidus on the throne and Cyrus the Great who came and removed him. Here in 9:1 we read of Darius again who, in addition to being “born a Mede” was also “son of Ahasuerus.”  Of whom is the author speaking?

The Identity of Ahasuerus 

Let’s begin with the name “Ahasuerus.” The name Ahasuerus is one that features predominately in the story we find in the book of Esther. There it is likely a reference to Xerxes I who reigned over the Persian Empire from 486 to 465 BCE. Xerxes was the product of the union between Darius I and Atossa, the granddaughter of Cyrus the Great. To Xerxes was born four sons by his wife Amestris: Darius, Hystaspes, Artaxerxes I, and Achaemenes. Xerxes and his son Darius fell victim to a conspiracy hatched by Artabanus, an official who had served in Xerxes’ administration. Both Xerxes and Darius were murdered in 465 BCE. Artaxerxes I would then assume the throne.3

Assuming that the Ahasuerus of Esther is a reference to Xerxes I, how then does he relate to the Ahasuerus of Daniel 9:1? Is that Ahasuerus actually Xerxes I? If it is, then the author of Daniel has gotten Persian history completely wrong. Xerxes was never the father of a king named Darius. If anything, the Danielic author has the historical order reversed: Xerxes, the biblical Ahasuerus, was the son of Darius.

Darius the Mede

So the Danielic author has gotten the lineage of Persian kings wrong. So what do we make of Darius which 9:1 asserts was “by birth a Mede” and “who became king over the realm of the Chaldeans”? To whom is this referring?

It seems clear that the author intends for us to link the Darius of 9:1 with the Darius of 5:30. But as we already noted, the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire was caused by Cyrus the Great, a Persian, and not anyone named Darius and certainly not a Darius “the Mede.” There were three men named Darius who ruled over the Persian Empire: Darius I (522-486 BCE), Darius II (423-404 BCE) and Darius III (336-330 BCE) but they all appear after the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire and are unrelated to the cause of that epic event. Furthermore, they are all Persians and not Medes. So what is going on?

One possibility is that Darius is intended to be a composite character.4 In an oracle against Babylon we find in the book of Isaiah the prophet we read that Yahweh was “stirring up the Medes against”  Babylon (Isaiah 13:17; cf. 21:2) causing its downfall. Similarly, in the book of Jeremiah we are told Yahweh “has stirred up the spirit of the kings of the Medes” (Jeremiah 51:11; cf. 51:28) to destroy the city of Babylon. It seems that one of the expectations of the prophets was that Babylon’s demise would be caused by the Medes. Perhaps the Danielic author has combined the name of one of Persia’s most famous rulers, Darius, with the prophetic expectation of Isaiah and Jeremiah to create “Darius the Mede.” If this is the case, this is a literary creation that is disconnected from history.

Another possibility is simply that the Danielic author was just plain wrong and this, to me, seems the most likely explanation for what is going on. The author is writing long enough after the events about which he is writing that he simply gets some of the details completely wrong.

The Narrative Context

While the historical details surrounding 9:1 are quite problematic, this need not hinder our investigation into the narrative context of 9:24-27. As far as the narrative is concerned, the discussion of the seventy weeks takes place in the first year of the reign of Darius the Mede over Babylon. Let’s briefly consider the lead up to 9:24-27 that is found in 9:2-23.

9:2 

Daniel, the main character in the story, tells the reader that he “perceived in the book the number of years that, according to the word of the LORD to the prophet Jeremiah, must be fulfilled for the devastation of Jerusalem, namely seventy years.” The reference here to Jeremiah reflects the prophet’s words in Jeremiah 25:8-14 and 29:10-14. In the former we are told that the punishment on Judah would be destruction of the region and exile of its inhabitants at the hands of Nebuchadrezzar and the armies of the Neo-Babylonian Empire (25:8-9). This punishment would last seventy years and then Yahweh would punish the king of Babylon and end the Neo-Babylonian Empire (25:10-14). In the latter, Yahweh declares that at the end of the seventy year exile the deity would make good on his promise to his people that he would restore them to the land (29:10, 14).

Daniel believes he understands what the “seventy years” in Jeremiah actually means based upon the explanation given to him by Gabriel in 9:20-27.

9:3-14

Daniel begins to pray to the “great and awesome God” that he serves (9:4). He admits that the people have sinned (9:5), failing to heed the warnings of God’s prophets (9:6). The consequence of this failing – “the treachery that they have committed against” God – was that the deity drove them away into other lands, a reference to the period of the Exile (9:7).  Daniel emphasizes that this should not have been a surprise to the generation that experienced the fall of Judah for the consequence of failing to obey God was already “written in the law of Moses” (9:13). Thus, Yahweh was right to do as he did with his people (9:14).

9:15-19

Having spent a great deal of time admitting the guilt of God’s people, Daniel implores God to turn his anger and wrath from Jerusalem (9:16) and to cause his “face to shine upon [his] desolated sanctuary (i.e. the temple; 9:17). Daniel appeals not to the people’s righteousness since they have none but upon God’s “great mercies” (9:18). He also begs God to act for the sake of his name which Jerusalem and Israel both bear (9:19).

9:20-23

As Daniel is praying, Gabriel, the one who interprets Daniel’s vision of the ram and the goat (8:1-27), comes to give him “wisdom and understanding” (9:22). It is he who explains to what Jeremiah’s “seventy years” refers (9:23).

An Exegesis of 9:24-27

In 9:24-27 we read the words of Gabriel to Daniel interpreting Jeremiah’s “seventy years.” As we will see, this section does refer to a very specific period of time but it is not what SJ Thomason in her post thinks that it is.

9:24

  • “Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city….”

Jeremiah’s seventy years (9:2) are interpreted as seventy weeks. But it cannot be literal weeks since seventy weeks is less than a year and a half. Rather, the Hebrew word for “weeks” is “sevens” (šābuʿîm), making the interpretation of Jeremiah’s seventy years into seventy sevens of years, or four-hundred and ninety years.

  • “…to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place.”

The purpose of the seventy weeks is laid out for Daniel. In essence, the vision is eschatological: when the seventy weeks are completed, a “most holy place” will be anointed wherein atonement for sin can be made that will end the people’s exile and restore the holy city of Jerusalem to its former glory. No longer would foreign powers rule over God’s people.

9:25 

  • “Know therefore and understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks….”

Gabriel begins to offer historical specifics to root the first seven weeks into history. The period begins at “the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.” The “word” is a decree and decrees are typically issued by sovereigns. So to which sovereign is the Danielic author through the mouth of Gabriel referring?

Since we already know that Gabriel is offering a novel interpretation of Jeremiah’s words, it makes sense to look for a candidate during a period after the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire since the cause of the end of the exile is rooted in the fall of Babylon (see Jeremiah 25:12-14). So which sovereign, after the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, sent out a decree concerning Jerusalem? Well, the primary candidate is that of Cyrus the Great who declares in 539 BCE that Yahweh has ordered him to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:2-4). And interestingly enough, the Chronicler asserts that the time from fall of Jerusalem and the beginning of the exile to the decree of Cyrus is the seventy year period about which Jeremiah wrote (2 Chronicles 36:20-21).

So the seven weeks of 9:25 begins with the decree of Cyrus and ends with “the time of an anointed prince.” To whom is this referring? Before we try to answer that question there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

First, the Hebrew word translated as “prince” in the NRSV need not refer to a “prince” in the sense to which we are most accustomed, i.e. the son of a king. Rather, the word nāgîd can refer to a leader or ruler generally.  Second, whereas translations like the KJV and NASB render māšîaḥ nāgîd as “the Messiah the Prince” or “Messiah the Prince,” neither māšîaḥ (“anointed”) nor nāgîd have the Hebrew definite article attached. Therefore rendering them indefinitely as the NRSV has is the best way of handling them.

There are a couple of candidates that immediately come to mind in the period following Cyrus’ decree: Joshua (or Jeshua) the high priest and Zerubbabel the governor of Judah. Both men were part of the first group of exiles to return to Jerusalem when Cyrus made his decree (Ezra 2:1-2). They were also led the effort to rebuild the temple (Ezra 5:2) and are featured in the prophetic literature of Haggai and Zechariah (see Haggai 1:12-14, 2:2-4, 2:20-23, Zechariah 4:6-9). As high priest, Joshua would have had to been anointed and thus fulfills the notion of “an anointed leader.” Zerubbabel would also as he was apparently chosen by Cyrus to serve as governor of Judah (Haggai 1:1).

But now we run into a potential problem. The text says that the time from the decree to rebuild the city to the time of an anointed leader is “one week” or forty-nine years. If we begin with 539 with the decree from Cyrus and end with either Joshua or Zerubbabel, we have only a period of about twenty years at most. What do we make of this?

There are two possibilities. The simplest is to acknowledge that the Danielic author has already gotten his history wrong and this incongruity is no exception. Furthermore, we’ve already seen that the Chronicler believed that the roughly fifty year period between the exile to Babylon in 586 and the decree from Cyrus is 539 was seventy years. Given that authors writing long after the period about which they are writing will sometimes get details completely wrong, this may be what is going on here.

Another possibility is one proposed by George Athas who arranges Daniel 9:25 into three parts:

  • 9:25a – “Know and understand from the issuing of the word to return and rebuild Jerusalem:”
  • 9:25b – “Until an anointed leader there will be seven ‘weeks’.”
  • 9:25c – “In sixty-two ‘weeks’ you will have returned with street and conduit rebuilt, but with the anguish of the times.”

In essence, the seven weeks of 9:25b becomes included in the sixty-two weeks of 9:25c. The result is that there are still seventy weeks but some (i.e. the seven weeks of 9:25b) are subsumed by the sixty-two of 9:25c.5

  • “…and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time.”

The devastation wrought by Babylon in 586 BCE cannot be underestimated. The city’s walls were broken down, its temple to Yahweh decimated, and its population nearly wiped out by battle and exile. In the period between 593 and 450 BCE it has been estimated that the population of Jerusalem was no greater than five hundred people, only growing closer to two-thousand by 332.6 It took time for the city to return to its former glory. And all around Judea the world was changing. The Persian Empire gave way to Alexander the Great’s. Alexander’s empire ended upon his death and was divided into four with Jerusalem falling under the authority of Ptolemy I. But even that wasn’t to last as Antiochus III won Jerusalem after doing battle with Ptolemy V in 198 BCE.

These “sixty-two weeks” were indeed a trouble time in which Jerusalem was being restored. But the worst was yet to come.

9:26

  • “After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and have nothing….” 

Like we saw in 9:25 with the reference to “an anointed prince” (māšîaḥ nāgîd), here we read of “an anointed one” (māšîaḥ). Again, because māšîaḥ lacks the Hebrew definite article it makes sense to translate it indefinitely.

Who is this “anointed one” that is “cut off” and is left with “nothing”? The previous reference to one who was anointed in 9:25 was to either Joshua the high priest or Zerubbabel the governor of Judah. So it makes sense that this anointed one may be a religious authority. And since the phrase “cut off” probably refers to his death, we should probably look for a religious authority who met his demise. One candidate in particular stands out: Onias III.

Keep in mind that the vision of cycles can be dated to the second century CE and Onias’ death has already been alluded to in the vision of Daniel 11:22 where he is referred to as “the prince of the covenant.” Onias was murdered in 171 BCE by Andronicus, an official in the administration of Antiochus IV. The author of 2 Maccabees relates that following Onias’ death there was significant backlash such that Antiochus had Andronicus executed because of “the unreasonable murder of Onias” (2 Maccabees 4:35-38).

  • “…and the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed.

This portion of 9:26 belongs with what follows in 9:27.

9:27

  • “He shall make a strong covenant with many for one week…”

In 1 Maccabees we read of “certain renegades” among the Jews who were sympathetic to the Greeks. They told the people, “Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles around us, for since we separated from them many disasters have come upon us” (1 Maccabees 1:11). So around 170 BCE, an agreement was reached between those Jews and Antiochus that resulted in a gymnasium being built in Jerusalem where Greek ideologies were discussed, much to the chagrin of more traditional Jews.

  • …”and for half of the week he shall make sacrifice and offering cease…” 

In 167 BCE, about three and a half years after the death of Onias and the “covenant” between Hellenized Jews and Antiochus, the king sends his military to Jerusalem and ends sacrifices in the temple. But why?

First, in 169 Antiochus arrived in Jerusalem following his campaign in the Ptolemaic regions. He proceeded to take treasure from the temple treasury in the city which raised the ire of the faithful. When in 168 he was again in Egypt, a rumor spread that he had been killed. Jewish leaders in Jerusalem saw this as an opportunity to rid the city of their enemies, both Greek and Jewish, and to reassert control of the city. However, Antiochus was alive and well and in 167 sent his military to Jerusalem to put an end to the rebellion. They destroyed the defensive walls of the city and they also forbade the observance of Jewish customs.7

All Torah scrolls were to be seized and burned. All sacrifices and offerings to God at the Jerusalem Temple were abolished. Anyone who persisted in carrying out these or other Jewish rites was subject to the death penalty.8

And then they did the unspeakable.

  • “…and in their place shall be an abomination that desolates, until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.”

In the temple of Yahweh in the city of Jerusalem Antiochus’ forces erected an altar to Zeus, a Greek deity and upon it they sacrificed a pig. The author of 1 Maccabees wrote that

the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land, to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and festivals, to defile the sanctuary and the priests, to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and other unclean animals, and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, so that they would forget the law and change all the ordinances (1 Maccabees 1:44-49).

This altar to Zeus was called “a desolating sacrilege” (1 Maccabees 1:54). This event is mentioned by the Danielic author in Daniel 11:31 and it is reiterated here.

Gabriel’s explanation of the seventy weeks to Daniel ends with the demise of “the desolator.” In Daniel 11, that demise was to come between the Mediterranean Sea and Zion (11:45) but that did not happen. 9:27 is less specific in how it predicted Antiochus’ end but it is no doubt meant to be read in tandem with 11:45. In any event, this ambiguity as well as the erroneous prediction of 11:45 tells us that cycle of visions was written in 167 after the invasion of Jerusalem and the beginning of the Maccabean revolt but before the death of Antiochus IV.

Summary

This very brief and very poor look at Daniel 9:24-27 points to a “fulfillment” in a period long before Jesus’ day and the details found within fit specific historical markers in the period following the decree of Cyrus down to the events of 167 BCE. This is an example of vaticinium ex eventua frequent tool of the Danielic author. This demonstrates that the author was very interested in these specific events and how they fit into the grander scheme of God’s promise to restore Israel to her rightful place as Yahweh’s people. The traumatic events of Antiochus’ oppression of the Jews played an important part.

NOTES

1 SJ Thomason, “Did Daniel the Prophet Accurately Predict the Timing of Jesus’ Death?” (11.18.18), christian-apologist.com. Accessed 27 November 2018.

2 DA Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, second edition (Baker Academic, 1996), 115.

3 Joshua J. Mark, “Xerxes I” (3.14.18), ancienteu.com. Accessed 5 December 2018.

4 J.M. Cook, “Darius,” in Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, editors, The Oxford Companion to the Bible (OUP, 1993), 153.

5 George Athas, “In Search of the Seventy ‘Weeks’ of Daniel 9,” The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures (9.2), 14-15. Accessed 6 December 2018.

6 Mary Joan Winn Leith, “Israel Among the Nations: The Persian Period,” in Michael D. Coogan, editor, The Oxford History of the Biblical World (OUP, 1998), 289.

Leonard J. Greenspoon, “Between Alexandria and Antioch: Jews and Judaism in the Hellenistic Period,” in Coogan, 329.

8 Ibid.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Evangelical Eisegesis: A Dalliance with Daniel, part 1

“Fulfilled prophecies are what distinguish the Bible from other holy texts and are evidence of direct revelations by God.” – SJ Thomason.1


In a bid to demonstrate the superiority of Christianity and the significance of Jesus of Nazareth, pop-apologists often appeal to so-called prophecies found in the Hebrew scriptures that are “fulfilled” in the events described in the New Testament. Theirs is a hermeneutic born of the New Testament authors themselves as those first and second century writers frequently appealed to passages in the Tanakh as proof of Jesus’ divine authority.2 More often than not those appeals are eisegetical; they read into the text what they want to get out of it. This tendency has plagued Christianity for the entirety of its history as it sought to place itself into the Jewish stream in which the historical Jesus and his teachings first arose.

Not that long ago pop-apologist SJ Thomason wrote a piece wherein she claimed that the Triune God of Christian orthodoxy could be found in the items located in the Jewish tabernacle.I wrote a response demonstrating that Thomason’s claims were unfounded for a variety of reasons4 as did DM Spence, a blogger and YouTuber who is currently writing a book responding to Christian claims concerning Jesus’ resurrection and whether the Nazarene fits the description of a messiah.5 Thomason’s woefully inadequate exegetical skills were on full display in her piece and she has not (to my knowledge) responded to either Spence or to me.6 Consequently, she continues unabashed in her ignorance of the biblical texts and writes blog posts to that end. Recently she produced another example of evangelical eisegesis in a post entitled “Did Daniel the Prophet Accurately Predict the Timing of Jesus’ Death?” In it Thomason claims that the text of Daniel 9:24-27 predicted that the death of the messiah would occur in 33 CE.

This response to Thomason will be broken down into two posts: a general introduction to the book of Daniel and a brief examination of Daniel 9:24-27. I would ask readers to please excuse the length of these posts as I tend to be verbose in the interest of explaining things some of my readers may know little about and to make sure I am thorough in my response to Thomason.

DANIEL IN CONTEXT

The book of Daniel can be divided into two main sections: a cycle of stories (chapters 1-6) and a cycle of visions (chapters 7-12). The first cycle opens with the historical events of the fall of Jerusalem (1:1-2), though the Danielic version differs in some ways with the Deuteronomic version as well as that of the Chronicler. Regardless, the author wants us to envision the events of the first cycle as taking place during the Babylonian exile, mostly during the reign of Nebuchadrezzar.7 Daniel and a few others – children of nobility – were taken from their homes and sent to live in Babylon where they were to be “taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans” (1:4) and would be placed in prominent positions in the court of the king (1:5-6). It is clear from the get-go that Daniel is a legendary figure, the quintessential Jew living under the domination of pagans. He is described as one who is exceptional in every way: appearance, wisdom, knowledge, and insight (1:4, 1:20). Because of his exceptional abilities, Daniel serves from the time of Nebuchadrezzar all the way to Cyrus the Great (1:21).

Historical Errors

But within the cycle of stories we see a number of historical errors such that it has led many scholars to believe that the book of Daniel was not composed during the time period it describes. Let’s enumerate a few.

Jehoiakim and the Siege of Jerusalem

The Danielic story opens in the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign on the throne of Jerusalem around 606 BCE at which time Nebuchadrezzar brings the Babylonian army to the city and lays siege to it (1:1). Consequently, “[t]he Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into [Nebuchadrezzar’s] power, as well as some of the vessels of the house of God” which he took back to Babylon (1:2). But there are a few problems with this sequence of events.

For starters, there was no siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar during Jehoiakim’s reign, let alone the third year of it. According to the Deuteronomistic Historian, it was during the reign of Jehoiakim’s son Jehoiachin that Nebuchadrezzar came and besieged the city (2 Kings 24:10-11). Jehoiachin, his family, and many others in Jerusalem were hauled off to Babylon as were both temple and palace treasures (24:13-16). Nebuchadrezzar places Jehoiachin’s uncle, Mattaniah, on the throne in Jerusalem and renames him “Zedekiah” (24:17). This all took place in the spring of 597 BCE.

In general terms, the report of the Deuteronomistic Historian is corroborated by Babylonian sources.

Year 7. The month Kislev. The king of Akkad [i.e. Nebuchadrezzar] mobilized his troops and marched to Hatti. He encamped against the city of Judah and in the month Adar, day 2, he captured the city; he seized the king. He appointed a king of his choice; he took its rich spoil and brought it into Babylon.8

Other Babylonian sources confirm that Jehoiachin and his children were provided for in their captivity.9

With regards to the first siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar, the author of Daniel is spectacularly wrong.

Belshazzar and Nebudchadrezzar

In Daniel 5:1 we read of another Neo-Babylonian king named Belshazzar who is described as the son of Nebuchadrezzar (cf. 5:11, 5:18, 5:22). Daniel suggests that because of his own pride, Nebuchadrezzar was “deposed from his kingly throne” and went insane (5:20-21), leaving Belshazzar to rule in his place. But this is problematic for a couple of reasons.

For starters, the Uruk King List makes it clear that Nebuchadrezzar’s successor was not Belshazzar but Amel-marduk, his son.10 And according to that list, there never was any king named Belshazzar. Nor was Belshazzar Nebuchadrezzar’s son; he wasn’t even related to him! Rather, Belshazzar appears to have been the son of Nabonidus, the final king of the Neo-Babylonian empire. While Nabonidus was away in the Arabian city of Tema, Belshazzar took control in his stead.11 But Belshazzar was not referred to as a “king” but as “the crown prince.”12 When Persian forces began to encroach upon Babylonian territory, Nabonidus returned to Babylon and relieved Belshazzar of his duties.

Darius the Mede

Also in Daniel 5 we read where at a feast Daniel tells Belshazzar that the kingdom would be taken from him and given to “the Medes and Persians” (5:28). That night Belshazzar is killed (5:30) and we are told that Darius the Mede takes over at the age of sixty-two (5:31). However, this simply doesn’t fall in line with the historical record.

The Chronicler notes that what Jeremiah had prophesied concerning the Babylonian exile (see Jeremiah 25:11-2; 29:10) was fulfilled in that the exile lasted for seventy years (2 Chronicles 36:20-21). That exile ended when the Persian empire took control of Babylon and its territories such that in the first year of Cyrus the people were authorized to return to Judah (36:22-23; cf. Ezra 1:1-4). So the portrait painted by the Chronicler and others is that Babylon fell to Cyrus the Great. This is in line with Babylonian sources which state that in the seventeenth year of Nabonidus’ reign over Babylon Cyrus attacked Babylonian forces at Opis, forcing them to retreat to the city of Babylon itself. Shortly thereafter, Cyrus enters Babylon, arrests Nabonidus, and appoints Gubaru as governor of the city.13 There is no mention of a “Darius the Mede” anywhere nor is there any indication that Cyrus was known as “Darius.” What is more is that we do know about Persian kings named Darius: Darius I also known as Darius the Great (522-486 BCE) and Darius II (423-404 BCE). And while Daniel 6:28 implies that Cyrus came after Darius’ reign, other biblical texts are aware of the correct chronological order of Persian kings (i.e. Ezra 4:5).

Dating Daniel 

Despite the attempts by various inerrantists to remedy these problem texts,14 these errors reveal that the cycle of stories probably does not date to the time of Daniel but is instead the product of a later era.15 But the cycle of stories is not the only thing to be found in the book of Daniel. As mentioned before, there is also a cycle of visions that makes up chapters seven through twelve. Can we date those?

In fact, we can. The eleventh chapter of Daniel contains a series of “prophecies” that make it very apparent that it was written during the second century BCE. They are an example of vaticinium ex eventu, a phenomenon whereby an author, writing after specific events, recounts them as if they are yet to happen.16 Daniel 11 is a textbook example of it.17

  • 11:2-4 describe the end of the Persian empire,18 the rise of Alexander the Great, and the aftermath of Alexander’s death (323 BCE) which caused his vast empire to become divided into four regions.
  • 11:5-6 describe the rise of Ptolemy I, “the king of the south,” as well as that of Seleucus I who rules in Syria. The “daughter of the king of the south” is Berenice whose father was Ptolemy II. She marries Antiochus II, the Seleucid king, in 252 BCE. However, she and the “offspring” she produces with Antiochus are killed in 246 BCE.
  • 11:7-9 describe how Ptolemy III, the brother of Berenice and the “branch from her roots” attacks the Seleucid kingdom (“the fortress of the king of the north”) and wins in 241 BCE. It also describes how Seleucus II (“the king of the north”) attempts to invade the Ptolemaic kingdom with mixed results.
  • 11:10-13 describe how Seleucus’ sons, Seleucus III and Antiochus III, continue to wage war which causes Ptolemy IV (“king of the south”) to respond in force. Ptolemy defeats Antiochus in 217 BCE but due to his pride his son, Ptolemy V, would face ultimate defeat at the hands of Antiochus in 198 BCE.
  • 11:14-19 describe how Jewish supporters (“[t]he lawless among your own people”) join forces with Antiochus to defeat the Ptolemaic forces. At the city of Paneas in 200 BCE Antiochus defeats Ptolemaic forces causing some of Ptolemy’s forces to flee to nearby cities, including Sidon, Jerusalem, and others. Antiochus then turns his attention on to other regions to conquer but is effectively cut down by Lucius Cornelius Scipio, a Roman general (“a commander”) in 187 BCE.
  • 11:20-28 describe how after the short-lived reign of Seleucus IV (“within a few days he shall be broken”) Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) takes the throne of the Seleucid kingdom by usurption (“obtain the kingdom through intrigue”). He kills the high priest Onias III (“prince of the covenant”) in 171 BCE. In 170 he invades Egypt successfully and on his way back to Syria he attacks Jerusalem (“his heart shall be set against the holy covenant”).
  • 11:29-35 describe how Antiochus attempts to invade the Seleucid kingdom again but is prevented by Roman emissaries (“ships of Kittim”). Following this Antiochus attacks Jerusalem in 168 BCE and his forces enter the temple, prohibit sacrifices to Yahweh, and “set up the abomination that makes desolate,” a reference to a foreign altar to a false deity (cf. 1 Maccabees 1:54). This results in the Maccabean revolt (“the people who are loyal to their God shall stand firm and take action”).
  • 11:36-39 describe Antiochus’ terrible personality, in that he shows no respect for the true God or even his own ancestral gods.

In 11:40-12:13 we read material that is strictly prophetic in nature. That is to say, what follows is not something experienced by the author or in historical memory. This means that the writing of this and other visions in the cycle can be dated to around 168 BCE after Antiochus IV attacks Jerusalem in that year. This also means that the legendary material of the cycle of stories was probably combined with the cycle of visions sometime after 168.

Summary

Many of the so-called prophetic utterances in the book of Daniel are rooted in the historical circumstances around which the work was written and compiled. Various historical errors reveal that the cycle of stories was not written in the time period about which they describe and the very specific details of the vision of Daniel 11 gives us reason to believe that these texts originated in the second century BCE. This is important because it means that the prophecy of 9:24-27 is rooted in a specific historical circumstance and its interpretation depends on it. As we will see next time, 9:25-27 is another example of an ex eventu text.

NOTES

1 SJ Thomason, “Did Daniel the Prophet Accurately Predict the Timing of Jesus’ Death?” (11.18.18), christian-apologist.com. Accessed 21 November 2018.

2 For example, the author of Matthew’s Gospel explicitly quotes from the Hebrew Bible fourteen times (i.e. 1:22-23, 2:5-6, etc.) and makes numerous allusions to it.

3 SJ Thomason, “Is the Holy Trinity Found in the Old Testament?” (9.26.18), christian-apologist.com. Accessed 21 November 2018.

4 Amateur Exegete, “Evangelical Eisegesis: SJ Thomason, the Tabernacle, and the Trinity in the Old Testament” (9.30.18), amateurexegete.com. Accessed 21 November 2018.

5 DM Spence, “The Trinity IS NOT Found in the Old Testament” (10.8.18), dmspence.com. Accessed 21 November 2018.

6 She has, however, referred to me as a “drain on humanity.”

Screen Shot 2018-11-27 at 1.48.46 PM

7 The common spelling for the king of the Neo-Babylonian empire in the Hebrew scriptures is “Nebuchadnezzar.” However, unless quoting from the biblical texts themselves, I will use the more accurate rendering of Nebuchadrezzar.

8 “Chronicle of Nebuchadrezzar II, King of Babylon,” in Michael D. Coogan, A Reader of Ancient Near Eastern Texts (OUP, 2013), 83.

9 “Administrative Text of Nebuchadrezzar II,” in Coogan (2013), 83.

10 Uruk King List,” livius.org. Accessed 26 November 2018.

11 Amanda H. Poday, The Ancient Near East: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2014), 121.

12 See “Chronicles of Nabonidus, King of Babylon,” in Coogan (2013), 83. See also Donald J. Wiseman, “Belshazzar,” in Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, The Oxford Companion to the Bible (OUP, 1993), 77-78.

13 “Chronicles of Nabonidus, King of Babylon,” in Coogan (2013), 83-84.

14 For example, pop-apologists Josh and Sean McDowell devote an entire chapter in their recent edition of Evidence That Demands a Verdict (Thomas Nelson, 2017) dealing with some of the historical issues within the book of Daniel. Yet even they cannot escape the fact that their solutions are speculative:

Our survey of the critical claims about the historicity of the book of Daniel offers a brief series of possible solutions to the major objections made by critical scholars. In some cases, the best possible solutions are not concrete proofs that guarantee the validity of conservative, evangelical thought. (585)

15 Douglas A. Knight and Amy Jill-Levine note that the cycle of stories dates either to the Persian era (539-331 BCE) or the Hellenistic era (331-168 BCE). They write,

Chapters 2:4b-7:28 are written in Aramaic, the common language of Southwestern Asia from the Babylonian exile until the incursion of Hellenism; chapters 1, 8-12 are in Hebrew, which was experiencing a renaissance in the late second century. (Knight and Jill-Levine, The Meaning of the Bible: What the Jewish Scriptures and Christian Old Testament Can Teach Us [HarperOne, 2011], 384.)

16 This phenomenon is found in various places throughout the Old and New Testaments. For example, in the Gospel of Luke we read of a siege against Jerusalem that results in the destruction of the city (Luke 19:43-44). This passage and others make sense if they were written after the events of 70 CE when Luke is writing to his community.

17 See Lawrence M. Wills, “The Lead Up to Chanukah in the Book of Daniel” (12.6.15), thetorah.com. Accessed 27 November 2018. See also Leonard J. Greenspoon, “Between Alexandria and Antioch: Jews and Judaism in the Hellenistic Period,” in Michael D. Coogan, editor, The Oxford History of the Biblical World (OUP, 1998), 317-351.

18 Though the claim that “three more kings shall arise in Persia” and a fourth would stir up trouble with Greece is problematic. Considering Daniel purportedly served under Cyrus (Daniel 6:29), there were far more than four kings who reigned over the Persian empire after him. It is possible that the author was not up to speed on his Persian history.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Weekly Roundup – 11.2.18

Check these out, comrades!

  • Twitter user @bibhistctxt continues his series over at his blog on ancient Israelite origins in “Israelite Origins: Late Date Exodus.” The “late date” for the Exodus is sometime during the 13th century BCE, before 1207 and after 1270 or so. I briefly addressed some of the issues involved last year in a post that can be read here. But @bibhistctxt is the master of gathering the evidence and stating his case clearly and concisely. So read him before you read what I read on the topic. I would recommend following him on Twitter and subscribing to his blog.
  • For anyone who blogs about the biblical texts and has trouble with transliteration, Logos Bible Software has a free website to help! Over at http://transliterate.com  you can insert the biblical text in Hebrew or Greek (say from https://www.academic-bible.com/en/home/) and the site will automatically transliterate it for you, including in the format used by the Society for Biblical Literature! I’m really excited about this…which means everyone else knew about it before I did. Because that is usually how it goes.
  • Over at thetorah.com Rabbi Zev Farber (PhD, Emory University) has written a brief but excellent overview of what ancient people like the Israelites believed about light and the luminaries (i.e. the sun, moon, and stars). As anyone familiar with the text of Genesis 1 knows, “Light” is created on the first day and God separates day and night. But on the fourth day God creates the luminaries. What is going on there? Farber explains showing that it all fits in with the pre-scentific worldview of Ancient Near Eastern peoples.
  • Reinhard Müller, a biblical scholar and professor at the University of Münster, wrote a section in the 2017 volume The Origins of Yahwism entitled “The Origins of YHWH in the Earliest Psalms.” In it Müller surveys a variety of psalms and points out the various “forms and motifs in these poems that have parallels in Ancient Near Eastern hymns, prayers, and other genres of religious literature” (p. 207). I was familiar with some of these parallels but others I simply had not considered. This is a work I highly recommend.
  • The Non-Alchemist has some questions for inerrantists. I would highly recommend those who hold to the doctrine of inerrancy seriously consider these questions.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Evangelical Eisegesis: SJ Thomason, the Tabernacle, and the Trinity in the Old Testament

Few Christian doctrines are as bizarre as the doctrine of the Trinity. Most people have a vague understanding of what the doctrine entails but far fewer can articulate it without accidentally falling into some cesspool of heterodoxy. Lest I follow suit, I’ll allow the Westminster Confession of Faith1 to define the doctrine:

In the unity of the Godhead there are three persons, having one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Father exists. He is not generated and does not come from any source. The Son is eternally generated from the Father, and the Holy Spirit eternally comes from the Father and the Son. (2.3)

For many Christian doctrines support can be found in both the Old and New Testaments. But the doctrine of the Trinity is one for which an individual is hardpressed to find any clear formulation of it in the New Testament2 and it is absolutely missing in the Old. As theologian Gerald Bray has noted, Christians “must find their models for understanding the Trinity in the New Testament, not in the Old, because it is in the New Testament that this great mystery has been clearly revealed.”3 Bray and I may squabble over whether the Trinity “has been clearly revealed” in the New Testament but he is no doubt correct that the Old Testament lacks any clear model for the Trinity. It is a concept entirely foreign to it and one that is imposed upon it by later Christian interpreters. In other words, reading the Trinity into the Old Testament is necessarily eisegetical.

Of course, this hasn’t prevented Christians from thrusting their post-biblical views into the ancient Hebrew scriptures. A cursory reading of the New Testament makes it quite clear that Christian authors were often quite creative in their reading of the words of biblical texts. One thinks of the Gospel of Matthew and its author’s odd interpretation of Hosea 11:1 of which we read in Matthew 2:13-15. Or of Paul and his treatment of Sarah and Hagar in his epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 4:21-31). But this trend continued even after the canonical New Testament texts had been written as the works of various ante-Nicene church fathers make clear. For example, Theophilus of Antioch, writing in the second century CE, wrote that the three days prior to the creation of the sun and moon in Genesis 1 “are types of the Trinity, of God, and His Word, and His wisdom.”4

Much of this rather creative exegesis is known to us as typology. In his classic text on early Christian doctrines, J.N.D. Kelly notes that typological exegesis

was a technique for bringing out the correspondence between the two Testaments, and took as its guiding principle the idea that the events and personages of the Old were ‘types’ of, i.e. prefigured and anticipated, the events and personages of the New. The typologist took history seriously; it was the scene of the progressive unfolding of God’s consistent redemptive purpose. Hence he assumed that, from the creation to the judgment, the same unwavering plan could be discerned in the sacred story, the earlier stages being shadows or, to vary the metaphor, rough preliminary sketches of the later. Christ and His Church were the climax; and since in all His dealings with mankind God was leading up to the Christian revelation, it was reasonable to discover pointers to it in the great experiences of His chosen people.5

Thus an exegete could pick just about anything found in the Old Testament and correlate it to something in the New. As Kelly writes, “The list of correspondences could be expanded almost indefinitely, for the fathers were never weary of searching out and dwelling on them.”6

But the Trinity is a different sort of animal if for no other reason than its formulation is missing from the New Testament. Reformed exegete Albertus Pieters noted in his book The Facts and Mysteries of the Christian Faith that the doctrine of the Trinity “is an induction made by the early Christians” from a series of “facts.” Per Pieters they are:

  • That there is only one God.
  • That Jesus Christ is God in the flesh.
  • That though he is God, he is subordinate to the Father.
  • The Holy Spirit is God.
  • The Holy Spirit is distinguished from both God the Father and God the Son.

Pieters then writes,

The early Church, having these facts before it, coming from undoubted historical evidence and accredited organs of revelation, sought in form of words that would combine them into the clearest possible conception of the divine nature. The formula of the Holy Trinity is the result. God is confessed to be one in essence and three in persons.7

All of this depends on certain assumptions about the Bible. For example, one must assume that the Bible speaks univocally about Jesus. But this is clearly not the case as even a cursory reading of the Gospels makes clear. The Markan Jesus is so thoroughly human that the Matthean redactor sought to cushion the blow of some of his emotional outbursts.8 And there is a sharp contrast to be seen in how the Markan Jesus is portrayed before his death and how the Johannine Jesus is portrayed.9 Furthermore, of the four Gospels John’s has the highest Christology: his Jesus is divine and existed before the cosmos (John 1:1). We do not see this in the Synoptics.

Strrrreeeeetttttcccchhhhiiiiiiiiing

These complicated theological issues are what make finding types of the Trinity in the Hebrew scriptures a fundamentally pointless task. The doctrine is so thoroughly an invention of Christian minds that seeking it out in the Old Testament involves severe abuse of those pre-Christian texts. But some still believe they are up to the challenge and one of them is no stranger to my readers. In a recent blog post entitled “Is the Holy Trinity Found in the Old Testament?” pop-apologist SJ Thomason takes it upon herself to find the doctrine in the ancient Jewish texts. And where does she find them? Why, in the furniture of the ancient Israelite Tabernacle! She writes,

The three persons of God can be found in the rituals surrounding the Ark of the Covenant. The Lord gave very specific instructions to Moses in the construction of the Ark of the Covenant, which is a gold-covered wooden chest that housed the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments (c.f., Joshua 3:11 and Exodus 25: 10-30; 37; 38; 39) or God’s Word. The Ark of the Covenant was placed in a sanctuary with a candlestick that contained seven oil lamps, which the priests were instructed to continually keep lit with olive oil. The candlestick, or “Menorah,” was the sole source of light for a 30 foot long, 15 foot wide, and 15 foot high room. The sanctuary further included a golden pot of “lechem panim,” which is literally translated as “face bread,” or the bread of the presence. The bread was to be accompanied by wine.

What is interesting about this paragraph is not so much what she says but what she doesn’t. Thomason mentions three items found in the Tabernacle:

  • the ark of the covenant,
  • the golden lampstand, and
  • the bread of the Presence.

Three items for the three persons of the Trinity. But there weren’t three items found in the Tabernacle; there were four:

  • in the Most Holy Place, the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:10-22);
  • just outside the curtain separating the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place, the altar of incense (Exodus 30:1-10);
  • in the Holy Place both the golden lampstand (Exodus 25:31-40) and
  • the table for the bread of the Presence (Exodus 25:23-30).

In what follows, Thomason states that each of the three items she listed signified a member of the Godhead. But this selective reading missed the altar of incense. So what does it represent in relation to the Godhead? Is the Trinity really a Quaternity? This is one of the first problems with Thomason’s take.

Tabernacle Tent.indd
The Tabernacle Tent.10

Thomason explains what each of the items signify. She writes,

When these passages are considered in the context of the Gospels, one can assume that the Ark of the Covenant signifies the Father and His Word and promise to His children. The candlestick (or Menorah) represents the Holy Spirit of fire and ever-burning light. The bread of the presence represents Jesus, the Bread of Life (e.g., John 6.35). The bread and the wine together form a communion, which represents the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Without even an attempt to justify her assumption that “in the context of the Gospels” the texts which describe the furnishings of the Tabernacle signify things other than what they are, Thomason asserts that

  • the ark of the covenant signifies God the Father,
  • the golden lampstand signifies the Holy Spirit, and
  • the bread of the Presence signifies Jesus.

Let’s briefly consider each, beginning with the golden lampstand, moving on to the bread of the Presence, and finishing with the ark of the covenant.

Golden Lampstands

The word used in the LXX to describe the golden lampstand of the Tabernacle is luchnia and it is also the word the New Testament uses for it. In twenty-seven books, luchnia appears only twelve times: four times in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 5:15; Mark 4:21; Luke 8:16, 11:33), once in the Catholic Epistles (Hebrews 9:2), and seven times in the book of Revelation (1:12-13, 1:20 [2x], 2:1, 2:5, 11:4). The author of Hebrews makes a clear reference to the lampstand of the Tabernacle but beyond that there is no explicit mention of the lampstand of the Tabernacle. And in twelve instances of the word, there is no connection between a lampstand and the Holy Spirit.

But one New Testament author does use golden lampstands, like the one found in the Tabernacle, to signify something other than a lampstand. That author is John of the book of Revelation. In the opening chapter of the book we are told that John has a vision and hears a voice telling him to write down everything he sees into a book “and send it to the seven churches” (Revelation 1:11). When he turns to see who was speaking to him he sees “seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands…one like the Son of Man” (Revelation 1:12-13). If it isn’t clear from the mention of the seven churches and the seven lampstands that the latter represents the former, this connection is made explicitly by Jesus: “As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20).

This imagery continues in the very next chapter as John records for the Ephesian church the words of Jesus. He is the one “who walks among the seven golden lampstands” (Revelation 2:1), a metaphor for Jesus’ continual presence among his followers. Jesus also threatens to “remove their lampstand” if the Ephesian Christians do not repent of their sin (Revelation 2:5). In every passage where lampstands appear in the book of Revelation except one (Revelation 11:4) the lampstands represent churches, not the Holy Spirit.

If the Holy Spirit is signified by the lampstand of the Tabernacle, why is there not a single reference to this found among New Testament authors? On textual grounds at least, Thomason’s inference is invalid.

The Bread of the Presence 

Thomason draws a connection between the bread of the Presence and Jesus’ claim that he was “the bread of life” (John 6:35). But do any New Testament authors make this connection?

In the entire New Testament there are only for references to the bread of the Presence. In the Synoptic Gospels we see it mentioned in a story wherein Jesus justifies the disciples’ plucking grain on the sabbath by appealing to David’s eating of the sacred bread when he was hungry (Matthew 12:4, Mark 2:26, Luke 6:4). The final reference to the bread of the Presence comes in Hebrews 9:2 where the author lists the various items found in the Tabernacle. In none of these instances do we find any indication that the writers sought a connection between the bread of the Presence and Jesus.

But what about the bread of the Presence and the “bread of life”? Surely there is a connection! No, not even the Johannine Jesus makes a connection between himself and the bread of the Presence. As is quite clear from the context, Jesus is comparing himself to the manna that God provided to the wandering Israelites during the Exodus (John 6:30-35). Is Thomason suggesting that because the phrases “bread of the Presence” and “bread of life” share the word “bread” that this means there is a connection? Is that all she has?

If Jesus is signified by the bread of the Presence, why is there not a single New Testament text that makes that connection? On textual grounds at least, Thomason’s inference is invalid.

The Ark of the Covenant 

Last but certainly not least is the alleged connection between the ark of the covenant and God the Father. In the entire New Testament, the ark of the covenant is only mentioned twice: Hebrews 9:4 and Revelation 11:9. In the former it is part of a list of the furnishings found in the Tabernacle. In the latter it is part of a vision John has of the heavenly temple. In neither is there a connection made between the ark and God the Father.

If God the Father is signified by the ark of the covenant, why is there not a single New Testament text that makes such a connection? Yet again, on textual grounds, Thomason’s inference is invalid.

Typology Run Amok

So if there is no New Testament textual warrant for such views, on what basis does Thomason make these claims? Why should we accept them as valid?

The fact of the matter is that Thomason’s claims are prime examples of typology run amok. As noted earlier, typological exegesis leaves everything in the Old Testament up for grabs. But if that is the case, how do we know when someone has made the wrong connection? What are the rules of such exegesis?

And there are other questions we should ask. Why does Thomason exclude the altar of incense even though it is counted among the items within the Tabernacle? Why can’t it represent the Holy Spirit or Jesus or God the Father? Why can’t the ark of the covenant represent Jesus? After all, within it was a container of manna and Jesus makes an explicit connection between his identity as the “bread of life” and the manna in the wilderness. Why can’t the golden lampstand represent Jesus? After all, it’s purpose was to bring light to the otherwise dark Tabernacle just as Jesus is “the light of the world” (John 8:12).

Do you see the problem? It isn’t difficult to suggest parallels between the items in the Tabernacle and the supposed members of the Trinity. But that one can make such parallels doesn’t mean that they were intended by the authors of the texts. And if even the New Testament authors didn’t see those connections, why should we?

Answering the Question

So what is our answer to the question of whether the “holy Trinity” is found in the Old Testament? Well, based on what we’ve seen from Thomason here the answer is a clear and resounding “No!” I’m not convinced by such shoddy and selective eisegesis and I hope you’re not either.

NOTES

1 From Westminster Confession of Faith in Modern English (The Summertown Company, 2014).

2 The exception to this may be the Johannine Comma which includes these words: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (1 John 5:7, KJV). However, the Comma is of dubious origin and is absent from virtually all Greek manuscripts of the epistle of 1 John that we have available. For a brief summary of the case against the Comma, see Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, second edition (United Bibles Societies, 1994), 647-649.

3 Gerald Bray, “God,” in Alister E. McGrath and James I. Packer, editors, Zondervan Handbook of Christian Beliefs (Zondervan, 2005), 101.

4 Theophilus, To Autolycus, 2.15.  http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/theophilus-book2.html. Accessed 28 September 2018.

5 J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, revised edition (Prince Press, 1978), 71.

6 Ibid., 72.

7 Albertus Pieters, The Facts and Mysteries of the Christian Faith (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1933), 186-187.

8 For example, in Mark Jesus is said to have been “[m]oved with pity” when approached by a leper (Mark 1:41). But Matthew omits this detail entirely (Matthew 8:3). And while in Mark Jesus’ family comes to Capernaum to seize him because they thought he was “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21), there is no sense of this in the Matthean parallel (Matthew 12:22-32).

9 The Markan Jesus in the garden is described as “distressed and agitated” and he tells the disciples, “I am deeply grieved, even to death” (Mark 14:33, 34). He even prays to God, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want” (Mark 14:36). But in John Jesus is far more resolute and approaches his death would unflinching committment. The entire scene in the garden we find in Mark is a blip on the Johannine radar (John 18:1-2).

10 From Lane T. Dennis, executive editor, The ESV Study Bible (Crossway Bibles, 2008), 186.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Weekly Roundup – 9.21.18

Here’s the Weekly Roundup!

  • Twitter user @bibhistctxt continues his series on Israelite origins with a post entitled “Israelite origins: Biblical Counter-narratives.” I already posted a link to it on Twitter once but I wanted to highlight it again because it should be required reading for any would-be Christian apologists and anyone claiming to believe in inerrancy. I wish I had that kind of command over the texts and history of the period.
  • Randal Rouser, a Christian theologian and apologist (one of my favorite, by the way), has an interview over on his website with Steve Baugham, a lawyer who runs the website Ravi Watch. For those who aren’t “in the know,” the Ravi in “Ravi Watch” is Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias, and Baugham’s interest in him stems from the multitude of lies and misleading claims Zacharias has made about his education, work, and much more. As a teenager I was greatly influenced by Zacharias’ book Can Man Live Without God? and I even patterned some of my apologetic tactics to his style. (I forgave him for not using the KJV.) It’s disappointing to learn that a man I once admired is really just a fraud. Good riddance, I suppose.
  • If you’ve ever been a creationist you’ve probably heard the name Michael Behe. He wrote one of the most important volumes that contributed to the Intelligent Design movement entitled Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. Recently my Twitter friend @Floridaline posted a link to a 2011 interview that Behe’s son Leo had with the The Humanist. Behe discusses his move from Roman Catholicism to general theism and then on to atheism, all in the context of having a father famous for his work promoting Intelligent Design. It is a fascinating interview and one I recommend any atheist read.
  • The Israeli newspaper Haaretz recently published an interesting piece on the Mesha Stele and how its description of Yahweh is less than flattering entitled “When God Wasn’t So Great: What Yahweh’s First Appearance Tells About Early Judaism.” For those unfamiliar with the Mesha Stele, it is a stone piece that features writing very similiar to that of Hebrew but written by the Moabites. In it, King Mesha describes the oppression of his land by the Israelites and that this came because his god Chemosh was angry with his people. But then Chemosh showed favor again upon them and they were able to defeat Israel and “took the vessels of YHWH and dragged them in front of Chemosh.” I don’t want to steal any more thunder from the piece so I recommend you click the link and spend fifteen minutes or so reading it. It adds some more color to the narratives found in the Deuteronomistic History.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Weekly Roundup – 9.14.18

Here are a few things I’ve enjoyed this week.

  • Twitter user @Elishabenabuya has a really good blog post on Henotheism and the OT over at his website. As he points out, multiple gods are mentioned in the Old Testament, many of which were acknowledged to be real in some form or fashion, a sign of henotheism and not strict monotheism.
  • Not too long ago I was sent a link to a post rebutting presuppositionalism entitled The Executioner’s Argument by Twitter user @hackenslash1. It isn’t an exhaustive takedown but does highlight some of the problems inherent to the presuppositional approach to apologetics.
  • Atheists love to point to the absurdity of the talking serpent in Genesis 3 but few consider the import of the serpent in the Ancient Near East. In an older article, biblical scholar John Day discusses the reason that it is a serpent in the garden and not some other animal. Check out The Serpent in the Garden of Eden and Its Background.”
  • Over at his website, Bernard Lamborelle wrote a short post on “Dissociative Exegesis for Abrahammies.” Lamborelle is the author of The Covenant: On the Origin of the Abrahamic Faith By Means of Deification (CreateSpace, 2017), a book I am currently about a quarter of the way through. In this post on “dissociative exegesis” Lamborelle shows that in the texts of Genesis 12-25 Yahweh virtually always appears anthropomorphized, a sign to him that perhaps Yahweh was originally an actual human king who only later turned into an immaterial deity.
  • In response to the work of Lamborelle, Twitter user @mirascriptura has a blog post on his website which compares Lamborelle’s reading of Genesis 12-25, particularly chapters 13, 14, 18-19, and 20-22. The post entitled “Bernard Lamborelle vs. Mirror Reading” does raise some interesting points, though @mirascriptura and Lamborelle have common ground on some of the textual and historical issues. For those of you who are not familiar with “mirror reading,” check out this summary from @mirascriptura. What I like most about both Lamborelle’s take and @mirascriptura’s take is not that I find myself agreeing with all they say but that they force me to dig into the texts and take them seriously. And frankly, that is worth its weight in gold to me.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.