The Weekly Roundup – 3.1.19

“Israel did not ‘believe’ in dragons anymore than their neighbors did. When Israel says God defeated the dragon, they use this myth in two ways. Most of the time, as in Psalm 74; Isaiah 27:1, where the dragon is named Leviathan just as in the Canaanite myth; and Isaiah 51:9, they are saying, ‘Whatever you Canaanites mean when you say ‘Our god defeated the dragon’–it’s true of our God, not yours. Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is the one who defeated the dragon, whatever that means.’” – Robert Miller II

  • @StudyofChrist’s video on the identity of Immanuel in Isaiah 7 is superb. He analyzes the text, draws from commentaries, and shows that at least in the context of Isaiah the reference is to a child born in the 8th century BCE and not Jesus. The video is longer than usual but it is well worth the twenty minutes it would take to watch it.
  • Back in October of 2018 Robert Miller II wrote a short piece for ANE Today on “Dragons in the Bible and Beyond.” He notes that dragon myths typically involve a conflict between the dragon and a storm deity. In the Baal Cycle the Litan is the creature Baal defeats, a beast who is depicted as a “fleeing serpent” (cf. Isaiah 27:1). Considering how often dragons appear in some form or fashion in prophetic literature, this is an excellent introductory article. Miller has also written a book on the topic entitled The Dragon, the Mountain, and the Nations: An Old Testament Myth, Its Origins, and Its Afterlives
  • New Testament scholar Michael Bird has a brief review of Donald Hagner’s latest book How New is the New Testament: First Century Judaism and the Emergence of Christianity. I have benefited from Hagner’s commentary on the Gospel of Matthew and will hopefully get my hands on this volume in the near future. Bird notes that this volume is based on lectures Hagner gave in the Philippines and that in their written form the author suggests that Christianity is not something other than Judaism but is rather “the fulfillment of Judaism.” Perhaps, but I would be interested in seeing how my Jewish friends might view such a position.
  • Phil Long over at Reading Acts posted a short piece on whether Saul’s encounter with Jesus in Acts 9 constitutes a call or a conversion. He writes, “Using modern Christian categories like “conversion” and “call” to describe Paul’s experience is a mistake. Paul’s experience in Acts 9 is quite unique in salvation history.” He also notes that while some have tried to place Paul’s theology within the spectrum of Judaism, this misses the radical nature of some of Paul’s teachings.
  • A couple of years ago Pete Enns wrote a brief post over on his website on how the biblical genealogies were not intended to convey “history” but rather something else. He writes, “The biblical writers were not ‘historians’ writing ‘accounts’ of the past. They were storytellers accessing past tradition to say something about their present. That includes genealogies.” Amen.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Bart D. Ehrman: Jesus and the Law

Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 139.

Contrary to what many Christians have thought throughout the ages, for Matthew, following Jesus does not mean abandoning the Jewish Law and joining a new religion that is opposed to it. Even in Matthew’s day some Christians appear to have thought this is what Jesus had in mind – that he sought to overturn the Law of Moses in his preaching about the way of God. For Matthew, however, nothing could be further from the truth.

Bart D. Ehrman – The Pharisees in the Days of Jesus

Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 73-74.

It is important to recognize that the Pharisees were not the “power players” in Palestine in Jesus’ day. That is to say, they appear to have some popular appeal but no real political clout. In some ways they are best seen as a kind of separatist group; they wanted to maintain their own purity and did so in relative (not complete) isolate from other Jews. Many scholars think that the term “Pharisee” itself originally came from a Persian word that means “separated ones.” Eventually, however, some decades after Jesus’ execution, the Pharisees did become powerful in the political sense. This was after the Jewish War…which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in the year 70 CE. With this calamity the other groups passed from the scene for a variety of reasons, and the descendants of the Pharisees were given greater authority by the Roman overlords. The oral tradition continued to grow and to be invested with greater authority. It was eventually written down around the year 200 CE and is today known as the Mishnah, the heart of the Jewish sacred collection of texts, the Talmud.

Bart D. Ehrman – Modern Christian Misunderstandings

Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 66.

Christians in the modern period frequently misunderstand the intent and purpose of this Jewish Law. It is not the case that ancient Jews (or modern ones, for that matter) generally thought that they had to keep all of the laws in order to earn God’s favor. This was not a religion of works in the sense that one had to follow a long list of do’s and dont’s in order to find salvation. Quite the contrary, as recent scholars have increasingly realized, ancient Jews were committed to follow the Law because they had already been shown favor by God. The Jews had been chosen to be God’s special people, and the Law had been given to them to show them how to live up to this calling. For this reason, keeping the Law was not a dreaded task that everyone hated; Jews typically considered the Law a great joy to uphold.