Musings on Mark: Jesus and Wisdom

Marie Noonan Sabin, The Gospel According to Mark, New Collegeville Bible Commentary (Liturgical Press, 2006), 32.

In chapter 2, Mark dramatizes the way that Jesus, like Wisdom, restores human beings to wholeness, both physical and spiritual. In the opening incident, he shows Jesus equating forgiveness with healing. He next shows Jesus, again like Wisdom, seeking out sinners to be his followers. In particular, he shows Jesus singling out Levi, who stands for all the Jewish religious leaders who were selling out to Rome and thus weakening Jewish faith. By calling him to be his follower, Jesus/Wisdom is implicitly calling him, and Israel in general, to turn away from worldly power and back to the wisdom of their fathers.

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The Weekly Roundup – 4.12.19

“Mark, wanting to make a theological point, locates the event in a place whose name is associated with casting out demons – the language, as Marcus points out, does kinda support this. This strengthens the exorcism theme of the pericope– seems legit. A few years later, Matthew, using Mark as a source for his own gospel, either misses Mark’s theological point or wants to achieve something else with his text and attempts to “correct” the event’s location. He deals with a remaining issue by locating the herd “some distance away” rather than on the hillside next to the lake. Around 150 years later Origen comes along, and, knowing that Matthew’s attempted fix isn’t watertight, relocates the event to Gergasa based on what is probably an ancient tradition.” – @bibhistctxt

  • Last month @MiraScriptura interviewed biblical scholar Tzemah Yoreh on topics including the Supplementary Hypothesis, his academic work (the guy is working on a second PhD), New Testament source criticism (i.e. the Synoptic Problem), and more. @MiraScriptura utilizes Yoreh’s website when working on his mirror reading material and so I know that he was excited to get to interview him!
  • @Bibhistctxt wrote a piece covering the geographic issues inherent to both the Markan and Matthean versions of the exorcism of Legion (Mark 5:1-20; Matthew 8:28-34). The central issue is over the location of Gerasa (Mark) and Gadara (Matthew) and their relationship to the Sea of Galilee. The portrait painted in Mark is that the exorcism happens on the shores of the Sea such that when the demon-possessed pigs rush off the cliff they don’t have to run very far. Matthew apparently recognized this problem in Mark and changed the town to Gadara but even this doesn’t help as much as you’d think. And then there are textual variants and interpretations of early Christian writers! It’s a freakin’ mess!
  • I got behind in @StudyofChrist’s ongoing series covering the book of Isaiah but I’m nearly caught up! Here is what I’ve watched recently.
    • His video on Maher-shalal-hash-baz (Isaiah 8:1) covers the attack of Assyria on Israel in the eighth century BCE. Maher-shalal-hash-baz means something like “rush to the spoils” and is intended to be a preview of how the Assyrians will carry off the spoils of Israel in war (8:4).
    • The next video begins to cover the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah. One prominent figure that plays a central role in all of this is Merodach-baladan who, as @StudyofChrist points out, foments rebellion against Assyria which leads ultimately to the siege on Jerusalem.
    • The siege itself, described in both the book of Isaiah and in Assyrian records, is the topic of the next video. My favorite part is all the trash-talk between the Assyrian king’s representative and the king of Judah which amounts to, “Hey, your army sucks and your god will be of no help to you.” He also teases that we have three sources for the siege: the Hebrew Bible, Assyrian records, and Herodotus (with Egyptian records).
  • Back in November Candida Moss wrote a piece on the Pericope Adulterae (i.e. John 7:53 – 8:11). In it she discusses a new book that has come out on the text entitled To Cast the First Stone: The Transmission of a Gospel Story. As Moss discusses, the book shows that the pericope has long been noted as missing from manuscripts of John’s Gospel. This was first observed in the fourth century but it apparently was a significant issue. The pericope’s varying interpretation has made it a classic and Moss’ piece discussing it and To Cast the First Stone is a great introduction to it.
  • Does morality depend on God’s existence? This is the question Jason Thibodeau answers in a post from November of last year. The argument he puts forward is based on the suffering of children caused by torture. Step-by-step he shows that torturing a child is morally wrong for reasons that are valid whether or not God exists.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Invasion of the Bible Snatchers: Ray Comfort’s ‘Scientific Facts in the Bible’ – Hand Washing and Running Water

“When the one with a discharge is cleansed of his discharge, he shall count seven days for his cleansing: he shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in fresh water, and he shall be clean” (Leviticus 15:13).


To see other posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.

Ray Comfort continues to amaze and astound with his inept reading of biblical texts in his book Scientific Facts in the Bible.1 Quoting Leviticus 15:3 he writes,

The Bible states that when dealing with disease, hands should be washed under running water. Up until the 1800s doctors washed their hands in a basin of still water, leaving invisible germs and resulting in the death of multitudes. We now know that doctors must wash their hands under running water. The Encyclopedia Britannica documents that in 1845, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis in Vienna was horrified at the terrible death rate of women who gave birth in hospitals. As many as 30 percent died after giving birth. Semmelweis noted that doctors would examine the bodies of patients who had died, then go straight to the next ward and examine expectant mothers. This was their normal practice, because the presence of microscopic diseases was unknown. Semmelweis insisted that doctors wash their hands before examinations, and the death rate immediately dropped to 2 percent.2

Comfort’s recounting of Ignaz Semmelweis is more or less accurate and so there is no need to address it. Instead our focus will be on Comfort’s (mis)understanding of the regulations found in Leviticus 15:13. Comfort’s central claim is that “[t]he Bible states that when dealing with disease, hands should be washed under running water.” Is Comfort correct? Is this evidence of advanced epidemiological knowledge in the Priestly text of Leviticus?

Determining the Context

Leviticus 15 is primarily about what ordinary people are to do when they have some ritual impurity. The text is divided into two basic categories: male genital discharges (15:2b-18) and female genital discharges (15:19-30). These two categories can be further subdivided.

  • Male genital discharges (15:2b-18)
    • Abnormal genital discharges (15:2b-15)
    • Normal genital discharges (15:16-18)
  • Female genital discharges (15:19-30)
    • Normal genital discharges (15:19-24)
    • Abnormal genital discharges (15:25-30)

Regardless of gender, for normal genital discharges there is no sacrifice required. Instead those experiencing such discharges are unclean for a specific period of time: “until the evening” for males and seven days for females. If a man and woman engage in sexual intercourse and the male achieves orgasm then both of them are unclean until the evening.

Things are quite different for abnormal genital discharges. If a woman experiences a “discharge of blood” that is not part of her normal menstrual cycle or if her menstruation lasts longer than it normally does she remains unclean and all she has touched are considered unclean as well. Once her discharge has ceased, she is to count seven days before she can be considered clean. Then on the eighth day she is to take either two turtledoves or two pigeons to the priest at the tabernacle so he can offer up a sin offering and a burnt offering to “make atonement on her behalf before the LORD for her unclean discharge” (15:30).

Similarly, males who experiencing an abnormal genital discharge are considered unclean during the period of discharge. Once the discharge has ceased he is to count seven days, wash his clothes, and “bathe his body in fresh water” before he is considered clean. Then on the eighth day he is to take two turtledoves or two pigeons to the priest at the tabernacle so he can offer up a sin offering and a burnt offering to “make atonement on his behalf before the LORD for his discharge” (15:15).

The role of mayim ḥyym 

As noted earlier, Comfort capitalizes on the phrase rendered in the NKJV as “running water” (mayim ḥyym). Literally, mayim ḥyym is “living waters” with ḥyym functioning adjectivally to mayimTo what is mayim ḥyym referring? The NRSV renders the phrase as “fresh water” which doesn’t truly capture what is being said here. The NKJV is much closer to the Hebrew in this regard. But considering that modern plumbing was not a feature available to ancient Israel, what exactly does running water entail?

The key is what we read in Leviticus 14:5: “The priest shall command that one of the birds be slaughtered over fresh water [mayim ḥyym] in an earthen vessel.” In context, the passage is describing what must be done to declare and make one with a skin disease ṭāhēr – “clean.” Normally such a slaughter would take place at the tent of meeting but because of the nature of skin disease everything happened outside the camp to avoid spreading the infection. As part of the ritual, a priest would take one of two birds that were brought for the ritual and slaughter it over a vessel containing mayim ḥyym. But how can it be considered running water if it is in a container? Well, it depends on how it got to be there. If it came from an underground source like a well (cf. Genesis 26:19) or from a river or stream then it was suitable for use.3 Such water could be stored in a vessel for later use in rituals as it was considered mayim ḥyymIn other words, if the water was taken from a source that was flowing then it was deemed appropriate for use. It did not matter that in a container like the earthen vessel it was no longer flowing.

Let’s return then to Leviticus 15:13. When the texts says that the one with the genital discharge is to “bathe his body in mayim ḥyym” it isn’t saying necessarily that he must wash in water that is currently flowing. Rather, the water must have come from a source that was, i.e. a river or an Artesian well. Water in an earthen vessel as we read in Leviticus 14:5 is still considered mayim ḥyym even though it is no longer flowing.

Another Failure

And so yet again Comfort has misunderstood the biblical text, this time by failing to look at surrounding context and how mayim ḥyym is used.

NOTES

1 Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible (Living Waters Publications, 2016).

2 Ibid., 6.

3 John E. Hartley, Leviticus, WBC vol. 4 (Zondervan, 1992), 195.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Weekly Roundup – 4.5.19

“One would certainly not expect any literary reference to Christians or Christianity or Jesus himself in Roman authors of the first century.  Christianity was simply a tiny (TINY) religious movement that no one had heard of.  Most Romans would not even have heard the name Christian until probably the middle or end of the second century, well over a century after the movement started.” – Bart Ehrman


  • Biblical scholar David Glatt-Gilad addresses the issue as to why Elijah is able to sacrifice to Yahweh at an altar other than the one in Jerusalem. The Deuteronomic law prohibited sacrificing anywhere except the one designated by God which just so happened to be at the temple of Solomon. Yet in 1 Kings 18 Elijah sacrifices to Yahweh upon Mount Carmel in his famous contest with the prophets of Baal. How is this possible? Glatt-Gilad briefly discusses the rabbinic interpretations for this issue and then goes over some historical-critical responses to it.
  • @bibhistctx has continued his series on Israelite origins with a post on the Late Bronze Age collapse. As he points out, the consequences of this event are enormous but provided the opportunity for a people group like the Israelites to arise. His summary of the influence the Peleset people (i.e. Philistines) had on Egypt is vital to understanding their role in the biblical texts, including anachronistically in the book of Genesis. They loom large in Israelite memory.
  • Last year in The Journal of Theological Studies New Testament scholar Max Botner published a piece addressing Mark 2:25-26 entitled “Has Jesus Read What David Did? Probing Problems in Mark 2:25-26.” It is an interesting take on how we should understanding Jesus’ citing of scripture to support his disciples’ actions. There is much I disagree with but it is a well written and well thought out piece on the text. (See my post covering the same passage.)
  • About three years ago Justin Scheiber produced a video on the Real Atheology YouTube channel discussing the problem of divine hiddenness. For those unfamiliar with the problem, it is an argument against theism which asserts that the existence of sincere unbelief is incompatible with a God who wants to be known by and in a relationship with humans. The existence of sincere unbelief is contested by many Christians a la Romans 1:20. However, most reasonable people would agree that there are those who do not believe in God’s existence and that they do so for rational reasons.
  • Over on his blog Bart Ehrman posted an interview he did with History.com on non-Christian sources for the existence of Jesus. He brings up Josephus, Tacitus, and others. It is a good little post discussing why we can be relatively certain there was a historical Jesus.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Musings on Mark: Mark and the Cynic Tradition

John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina, vol. 2 (The Liturgical Press, 2002), 193.

If Mark reacts in any way to the Cynic tradition it is rather to distinguish Jesus and his disciples from that tradition and implicitly to reject it as a lifestyle for Christian missionaries. Jesus’ disciples are to wear sandals and not carry the begging bag that was characteristic of the Cynics. They are to stay with settled communities and are to move on only when their stay is unfruitful. Further indication that the Markan Jesus is not the Cynic Jesus is the Markan Jesus’ fidelity to the Torah. Rather than rejecting traditional values, Jesus promotes true observance of the Sabbath, encourages marriage, accepts and even welcomes children, and is constantly in the presence of crowds and disciples. He is far from the solitary and individualistic rejection of human contact attributed to the Cynics. The Cynic Jesus is a problematic reconstruction of the historical figure and a nonexistent model for the Markan Jesus.

Examining the “Conservative Bible Project” – Mark 1:8

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m reading Robert Alter’s The Art of Bible Translation or that I’m in love with the Gospel of Mark, but reading through the translation of the Markan Gospel over at Conservapedia has got me fired up. Setting aside the lunacy of trying to translate biblical texts in a “conservative” or “liberal” manner, the Conservative Bible Project makes so many errors in their translation that it reveals either a lack of concern about what the Greek text underlying Mark says, a lack of appreciation for how Mark told his story, a lack of knowledge on how to conduct proper translation, or all of the above.

Let’s consider the CBP’s translation of Mark 1:8.

Mark 1:8 (cf. Mark 1:10, 12)

Greek Text

Conservative Bible Project

My Translation

ἐγὼ ἐβάπτισα ὑμᾶς ὕδατι, αὐτὸς δὲ βαπτίσει ὑμᾶς ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ. “I have baptized you with water, but He shall baptize you with the Divine Guide.” “I baptized you in water, but he will baptize you in the holy Spirit.”

The most obvious difference between the CBP and my translation is that I have chosen to render πνεύματι ἁγίῳ as “the holy Spirit” as opposed to “the Divine Guide.” A first semester Koine Greek student would recognize that πνεύματι means “spirit” and ἁγίῳ means “holy.” So what in the world inspired “Divine Guide” as the translation? The talk page reveals the thought process of Andy Schlafly, the project’s manager.

First, there was debate over “Holy Ghost” versus “Holy Spirit.” Then there was some consideration of the word “force” for πνεύματι since such a word might appeal to teenagers and “the physics-students-headed-for-atheism crowd.” Then Schlafly revealed he wasn’t tied down to the word “holy” and thought “divine” was a decent substitute. But apparently “Divine Force” sounded too much like something you’d find in the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses and so it was abandoned for “Divine Guide” which is what appears as the translation for πνεύματι ἁγίῳ in CBP.

I appreciate the fact that all translation, by its very nature, is interpretation. But rendering πνεύματι ἁγίῳ as “Divine Guide” is just bizarre. There is nothing inherently divine about ἅγιος. In Schlafly’s translation of Matthew 27:53 he renders τὴν ἁγίαν πόλιν not as “the divine city” but as “the Holy City.” And shouldn’t we expect ταῖς χρείαις τῶν ἁγίων in Romans 12:13 to read not “the need of the saints” (CBP) but “the needs of the divine ones” or “the needs of the divinities”?

Also problematic is the inconsistency of Schlafly’s work. For example, in Romans 5:5 he renders διὰ πνεύματος ἁγίου not as “by the Divine Guide” but “by the Holy Spirit,” the more traditional way of translating the phrase. And in Matthew 3:11, a passage that parallels Mark 1:8, the CBP says that Jesus would baptize the people “in God’s will,” despite the fact that the Matthean construction of ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ is identical to the Markan!

Finally, “Divine Guide” obscures the allusion to passages like Ezekiel 39:29 and Joel 2:28-29 that predict the eschatological pouring out of God’s “spirit” (רוּחַ) upon his people. Since Jesus was proclaiming the impending reign of God into the world, the Markan author through the character of John the Baptist was connecting these ancient texts to the work of Jesus.

I went to a very conservative Christian college and it was in that context I received my Greek training. Had I on a Greek translation quiz rendered ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ as “with the Divine Guide” I would have received negative marks and maybe even had my salvation questioned! “Divine Guide” isn’t a conservative translation of πνεύματι ἁγίῳ. It is, however, a bad one.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

(Re)Considering Christianity: A Skeptic Looks at the Christian Religion – Introduction, part 6

To see more posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.

As the summer of 2002 came to an end it became time for me to head back to Pensacola for my sophomore year. This time instead of flying down my parents, brother, and I took the family RV and made our way from New York to Pensacola. By mid-August we arrived in Pensacola, toured some sights, and then my family dropped me off on campus before returning back to New York.

Scan
Yours truly standing in front of my dorm on the day my family dropped me off before leaving to go home.

Classes my sophomore year included a survey of the Old Testament, an in-depth study of the book of Romans, courses on American history, biology, evangelism, and Koine Greek.

As one might expect from a college like PCC, the biology class was taught from a decidedly young earth creationist vantage point. The first paragraph from the first chapter reads as follows:

Biology, the study of living things, has fascinated mankind since the Creation. The word comes from the Greek root bios, which means “life,” and the Greek suffix -logy, which means “science of” or “study of.” As you think about living things, your mind may picture the larger scope of life such as a pond or a forest, each area thriving with many different plants and animals. As you step outside in your thoughts into the world of nature, you may visualize a field with numerous kinds of plants and small animals, a mountain stream flowing among the trees, or the ocean with its vast number of creatures. This is where man began to study biology. Adam and Eve were given the responsibility by God to subdue the earth and use it for their benefit. From the beginning, man has been naming, using, and studying living things.1

This theme runs throughout the text and there are even two chapters devoted to challenging evolutionary biology.2 Though I agreed wholeheartedly that evolutionary theory was hogwash, the class wasn’t all that exciting and I think I passed it with a low B.

More challenging was BL101 – an introduction to Koine Greek. Our teacher was Mr. Huddleston, a man probably in his late 20s or early 30s, who had a great passion for biblical languages. For extra credit on a quiz he asked us to answer the question “What is your teacher’s favorite biblical language?” Most of us guessed Greek but we didn’t realize it was Hebrew. I needed that extra point. When I took Hebrew the following year I discovered he wrote the textbook for the class! But Mr. Huddleston didn’t write the textbook for BL101. Rather, we used the classic text written by J. Gresham Machen entitled New Testament Greek for Beginnings. Though dated, Machen’s volume is still a valuable resource that I refer to from time to time.

Switching Majors

By the end of the first semester of my sophomore year I began to have second thoughts about majoring in evangelism. It wasn’t because my zeal for becoming an itinerant preacher had diminished; on the contrary, it had only grown. But the major difficulty for me was my experience in the program. The arrogance exhibited by many in the program was disturbing and we were often told in class how much more valuable evangelists were to the church than were pastors. In December, not long after final exams, I decided I would switch my major to history with a minor in biblical languages (i.e. Greek and Hebrew). The way I saw it, I would be an evangelist with a B.A. in history. I could still take Bible classes and speech classes as electives. I just wouldn’t be stuck in the evangelism seminar having to deal with the Dave Young wannabe’s.

When I returned to PCC in January of 2003, I was now taking US History courses in addition to Greek (BL102), Reformation History, and more. One class that stands out in my memory is Church History taught by the monotonous Joel Mullenix. Rather than reading any primary source material or learning about Christian history century by century, we were taught from a dispensational perspective wherein the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2-3 represented the different periods of church history.

  • Ephesus: the apostolic era (30-100 CE)
  • Smyrna: the era of persecution (100-313 CE)
  • Pergamum: the era of Constantine (313-600 CE)
  • Thyatira: the Middle Ages (600-1517 CE)
  • Sardis: the Reformation era (1517-1648 CE)
  • Philadelphia: the era of the missionary movement (1648-1900 CE)
  • Laodicea: the era of apostasy (1900 CE – present)3 

For anyone unfamiliar with the book of Revelation, the church in Laodicea is the last church addressed by Jesus. Consequently, our current age is the final age. Thus dispensationalists are looking for the rapture to happen very soon.

The Freshman Fifteen

My sophomore year was the year I finally gained the infamous “freshman fifteen.” Better late than never, I suppose. But it wasn’t simply due to the all you can eat buffet that we enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I had become friends with another sophmore in the dorm room next to mine and we regularly spent time after dinner running the track and playing basketball. So thankfully, some of that fifteen was actually muscle weight. And I most certainly got a good workout as he was not only faster than me but was a far better basketball player.

I also began to tutor another student in my Greek class since he was falling behind and needed the help. Twice a week he would come by my room and we would go over noun declensions, verb conjugations, and vocabulary. But despite my best efforts he couldn’t pass the class and ended up switching his major from Pastoral Ministries (emphasis in youth ministry) to Physical Education. I tried!

Next Time

I had planned to discuss my junior year along with my sophomore year but this post is long enough as it is. So next time we will continue looking at my college journey.

NOTES

1 Gregory Parker, Keith Graham, Delores Shimmin, and George Thompson, Biology: God’s Living Creation, second edition (A Beka Book, 1997), 2.

2 Ibid., 358-407.

3 Thomas Ice, “The Church Age,” in Tim Lahaye and Ed Hindson (eds.), The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy (Harvest House Publishers, 2004). C.I. Scofield, one of the foremost popularizers of dispensationalism in 20th century America, claimed that the seven churches in Revelation represented “seven phases of the spiritual history of the church from, say A.D. 96 to the end” (C.I. Scofield, The Scofield Study Bible [Oxford University Press, 1996], 1331).