Posts Tagged ‘New Testament’


Living On The Edge: challenges to faith

September 1, 2013

Today Christians in the Western world are typically living in a post-Christian society. Christian beliefs are met with skepticism, and people see little reason to believe. Christians are confronted with daily challenges to their faith, and often struggle to understand the relevance of Christianity to modern life.

The book ‘Living On The Edge: challenges to faith‘ (due to be printed in November 2013), addresses those concerns. For an overview of the book, click here.


Is the ‘Secret Gospel of Mark’ genuine?

April 30, 2011

The Text

The text (supposedly discovered in 1958), appears to be a letter from early Christian writer Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c.215), quoting a ‘secret gospel’ by Mark.[1]  [2]


Smith himself noted features of the text which could indicate it was an imitation of Mark’s style by another writer.[3]  [4] [5] [6]

Physical analysis has been impossible since the original letter disappeared after being photographed in 1972,[7] [8] but there is no evidence Smith prevented access to the text. [9] [10]

Photographs show it has the appearance of age,[11] but this could be the product of forgery.[12] [13] [14]  Suspicion of forgery was raised immediately.[15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22]

The provenance and style,[23] content,[24] date,[25] and lack of scribal errors, have all been questioned.[26] [27]

Scholarly Views

Few scholars believe ‘Secret Mark’ is historically useful to studies of Jesus, even if it is genuine,[28] [29] [30] and most question its authenticity.[31] [32] [33] [34]

[1] ‘According to Smith, the letter in question was found on the final blank pages of the works of Ignatius of Antioch, the latter of which was copied in 1646. The handwriting of the extract is written in a different hand from the works of Ignatius and has been dated to c. 1750, about a century later than the Ignatius works of which it is a part. In the letter published by Smith, Clement replies to a certain Theodore who has been troubled by the teachings of the gnostic Carpocratians, a sect that indulges in illicit sexual practices based upon a variant version of the Gospel of Mark. Clement refutes the Carpocratians by citing two passages from the suspect version of Mark, which Morton Smith calls the Secret Gospel of Mark.’, Edwards, ‘The Gospel According to Mark’, Pillar New Testament Commentary, p. 509 (2002).

[2]It was not until 1973 that the text, along with Smith’s translation and notes, was finally published.’, Charlesworth & Evans, ‘Jesus in the Agrapha and Apocryphal Gospels’, in Chilton & Evans (eds.), ‘Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research’, p. 526 (1994).

[3] ‘Smith recognized that Markan vocabulary and sentence construction could point either to Mark’s authorship or to imitation of Mark by another author. Smith noted three features that suggested imitation:’, Brown, ‘Mark’s Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith’s controversial discovery’, p. 6 (2005); Brown is a supporter of the authenticity of the letter, which he defends comprehensively in this work.

[4] ‘More generally, he noted that “The text was more like Mark than a section of Mark should be.”‘, Brown, ‘Mark’s Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith’s controversial discovery’, p. 6 (2005).

[5] ‘‘The style is certainly Mark’s, but it is too Marcan to be Mark’; such was already C.C. Richardson’s verdict in 1974, and E. Best in 1979 confirmed this judgment in detail. In Mark itself the Marcan peculiarities of style are nowhere so piled up as in the ‘secret Gospel’!’, Merkel, ‘Appendix: the ‘secret Gospel’ of Mark’, in Schneelmelcher & Wilson, ‘New Testament Apocrypha: Gospels and related writings’, p. 107 (1991).

[6] ‘Smith refers to three ‘semitisms’, which, however, often occur in the Synoptics; as Smith himself admits, such semitisms are easily imitated.’, ibid., p. 107.

[7] ‘Suspicion surrounded the text in part because after being photographed by Smith in 1958 and then a team of scholars in 1972, the text mysteriously disappeared, making it impossible to subject the text to the testing necessary to authenticate it even as an eighteenth-century production. The text still has its advocates.’, Köstenberger, Kellum, & Quarles (eds.), ‘The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament’, p. 1343 (2009).

[8] ‘M. Smith photographed this text, which breaks off in mid-sentence on the third page, but did nothing about safeguarding the original, which to this day has not been accessible to anyone else. Only in 1973 did he publish the text with an extensive commentary; at the same time he published a popular presentation of the story of the discovery and his work upon it.’, Merkel, ‘Appendix: the ‘secret Gospel’ of Mark’, in Schneelmelcher & Wilson, ‘New Testament Apocrypha: Gospels and related writings’, p. 107 (1991).

[9]The truth is that at least three other scholars and two members of the Greek Patriarchate handled the manuscript. The information obtained by various inquirers, moreover, corroborates Smith’s account that he left the book containing the manuscript among the seventy items that he catalogued in the library at Mar Saba.’, Brown, ‘Mark’s Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith’s controversial discovery’, p. 26 (2005).

[10] ‘It would appear, then, that the manuscript was found at Mar Saba in 1976 rather than 1977, or eighteen years after Smith photographed it, and it disappeared many years after the Archimandrite took it to Jerusalem and a librarian removed it from the book. These facts show how preposterous it is to suggest that Smith prevented other scholars from examining the manuscript.’, ibid., p. 26.

[11] ‘In view of what is known about the fading and browning of inks and the browning of paper in contact with ink, we can conclude that the photos depict a manuscript that looks like it is a few hundred years old.’, ibid., p. 28.

[12] ‘Brown’s research indicates that some formulas of iron gall inks result in writings that would turn brown quite rapidly through exposure to sunlight.’, ibid., p. 28; this would give the ink a false appearance of age.

[13]There was a way of ageing paper artificially that was used in the 1960s by experienced researchers such as Barrow.’, ibid., p. 28; Brown questions whether Smith had the skill for such forgery.

[14] ‘It is also possible to age paper and ink using chemicals that oxidize the ink and paper.’, ibid., p. 28.

[15]Some of the scholars Smith consulted in the 1960s thought the letter was an ancient forgery, although they had difficulty explaining how an ancient author would benefit by creating it. Smith dealt with their arguments in his book.’, ibid., p. 12.

[16] ‘However, the spectre of forgery came back with a vengeance in 1975, when two scholars offered influential arguments that the letter was a modern hoax.’, ibid, p. 12.

[17] Quesnell suggested that an erudite scholar who had access to Otto Stahlin’s 1936 index of Clement’s vocabulary and other modern studies of Clement’s style could have produced the document, especially if he had the help of someone skilled in imitating handwriting. Quesnell added that any scholarly apparatus Smith used to “authenticate” the document could have assisted a forger in imitating Clement. And he pointed out that Smith’s ability to gain access to the tower library at Mar Saba shows that a forger could have planted it there.’, ibid, p. 12.

[18] ‘According to Quesnell, Smith’s approach of not producing the original for scientific study and restricting his analysis to the content is congruent with the pattern of known forgers; that fact raises the possibility of recent forgery.’, ibid., p. 35.

[19] ‘many agreed with Quesnell that the manuscript should be subjected to forensic testing before it is deemed authentic.’, ibid, p. 12.

[20] ‘Their suspicions only increased when Charles Murgia offered arguments for modern forger based on the content of the letter. Murgia suggested that the letter consisted mostly of information that was suspiciously self-authenticating, and noted that the manuscript lacks the major errors that result from a long period of transmission.’, ibid, p. 12.

[21]Murgia noted parallels between the letter and “Classical fakes,” which raised the possibility that this manuscript was written much later than it appears to be.’, ibid, pp. 28-29.

[22]every sentence of the letter, other than the actual quotation of secret Mark, is admirably designed to provide A SEAL OF AUTHENTICITY for the passage of secret Mark. Great care is taken to convince the modern reader of why he has never heard of this gospel before.’, Murgia quoted in ibid., p. 29; Brown notes ‘Smith himself commented in 1976 that Murgia’s “theory of a ‘seal of authenticity’ is the strongest case I have seen yet for the supposition that the letter is a forgery”‘, but criticizes Murgia’s case, ibid., p. 29.

[23] ‘The only manuscript (actually, a photograph of a manuscript) seems to derive from a different provenance than the monastery where it was supposedly found, and evidence seems to suggest that it appeared at the monastery only in recent times. Its attribution to Clement is stylistically open to quesiton;117 it also clearly presupposes modern idiom and perhaps modern custom.’, Keener, ‘The Historical Jesus of the Gospels’, p. 60 (2009).

[24] ‘Attempts to argue that the Secret Gospel of Mark is older than canonical Mark3 are clearly mistaken, and have been judged so by a majority of scholars.4 The most important reason for this judgment is that the material alleged by Smith appears in no other church father and in none of the thousands of ancient manuscript witnesses to the Gospel of Mark. Furthermore, that Secret Mark is a later addition to canonical Mark is virtually proven by the fact that “they came to Bethany” is a glaring anachronism in the text of Mark since Jesus and the disciples have not yet come to Jericho (Mark 10:46), and Bethany lay beyond Jericho. Finally, the Carpocratians mentioned by Theodore to Clement did not arise until the mid-second century, that is, a full century after the composition of Mark.’, Edwards, ‘The Gospel According to Mark’, Pillar New Testament Commentary, p. 512 (2002).

[25] ‘Even if we accept the authenticity of the letter of Clement and grant that he knew a ‘Secret Gospel’, it suffices to posit a mid-second-century date for its composition.’, Klauck, ‘Apocryphal Gospels: An introduction’, p. 35 (2003).

[26] ‘Over against the linguistic indications which speak for authenticity, differences of substance as compared with the rest of Clement’s writing have been noted. Finally, it is striking that the text contains none of the errors typical in manuscript traditions.’, Merkel, ‘Appendix: the ‘secret Gospel’ of Mark’, in Schneelmelcher & Wilson, ‘New Testament Apocrypha: Gospels and related writings’, p. 107 (1991).

[27] ‘the lack of serious errors indicative of transmission weighs in Murgia’s favour’, ibid., p. 33., Brown, ‘Mark’s Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith’s controversial discovery’, p. 8 (2005).

[28]Very few scholars believed that LGM 1 or 2 [the two texts of ‘Secret Mark’] can tell us anything about the historical Jesus or ventured to use this story to reconstruct the tradition that lay behind John 11.’, ibid., p. 11.

[29] ‘Accordingly, everything points to the view that the ‘secret Gospel’ is an apocryphon resting on the foundation of the canonical Gospels. On this ground alone any conclusions relating to the historical Jesus are not possible. The time of origin of the ‘secret Gospel’ probably lies not before the middle of the 2nd century.’, Merkel, ‘Appendix: the ‘secret Gospel’ of Mark’, in Schneelmelcher & Wilson, ‘New Testament Apocrypha: Gospels and related writings’, p. 107 (1991).

[30] ‘Even if the letter is authentic, however, we can deduce no more than that an expanded version of Mark was in existence in Alexandria about A.D. 170. When Smith seeks to go back to the last years of the 1st century for the composition of the expanded Mark, that rests on pure speculation.’, ibid., p. 107.

[31] ‘By the end of the 1970s, New Testament scholars still mentioned “secret” Mark in an incidental manner, but were generally reluctant to take the gospel too seriously and risk looking foolish should it prove to be a fake.’, Brown, ‘Mark’s Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith’s controversial discovery’, p. 14 (2005).

[32] ‘The novelty value of this text and of the reporting of its find justifies the mention of it in this collection, but its antiquity and genuineness are questioned by many scholars.’, Elliott, ‘The Apocryphal New Testament: A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in an English Translation based on M.R. James’, p. 148 (1993).

[33] ‘There can be little question that the extract produced by Smith considerably postdates Mark. On the whole, so-called Secret Mark appears to be a forgery, although whether modern or ancient is difficult to say.’, Edwards, ‘The Gospel According to Mark’, Pillar New Testament Commentary, p. 512 (2002).

[34] ‘If the jury is still out, it is seeming more and more likely that their verdict will be that the work is a modern forgery or hoax.’, Collins, & Attridge, ‘Mark: A Commentary on the Gospel of Mark’, Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, p. 493  (2007).


Did Luke use Josephus when writing Acts?

April 23, 2011

The Claim

It has been claimed that Luke used the writings of Josephus (specifically ‘Antiquities of the Jews’).[1] [2] Since Josephus wrote in 93 CE, this would date Acts no earlier than this time.[3] The following passages are claimed as examples of Luke’s dependence on Josephus.

*  Luke 3:1: Josephus and Luke record the census of Quirinius, but Luke’s differs from that of Josephus and cannot be verified independently; both Luke and Josephus refer to Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene

*  Luke 13:1: Luke’s description of the murder of the Galileans is similar to Josephus’ description of an assault on Samaritans[4]

*  Acts 5:36-37: Luke mentions Theudas and Judas the Galilean, but reverses the order in which Josephus listed them, dates Theudas 15 years before the date Josephus gives[5]

*  Acts 11:28-9: Luke and Josephus both record famine during Claudius’ reign[6]

*  Acts 12:21-3: Luke describes Agrippa I’s death in a manner similar to Josephus, but with certain differences[7]

*  Acts 21:38: Luke describes ‘the Egyptian’ rebel leading sicarii into the wilderness but Josephus’s reference to sicarii in the wilderness is separate from his reference to ‘the Egyptian’[8]

*  Acts 25:13, 23; 26:30: Like Josephus, Luke implies that Agrippa II and Berenice are married, or consorts[9]

*  Acts 24:24-6: Like Josephus, Luke shows he is aware Drusilla (the wife of Felix), is a Jew

Scholarly Commentary

The claim is so insubstantial that most scholars consider it highly debatable at best,[10] rejecting it on a range of grounds and arguing Luke and Josephus used common traditions and historical sources. [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23]

This consensus is even acknowledged by those who argue for Luke’s dependence on Josephus, or the other way around.[24]

[1] ‘This theory was maintained by F. C. Burkitt (The Gospel History and its Transmission, 1911, pp. 105–110), following the arguments of Krenkel’s Josephus und Lucas (1894).’, Guthrie, ‘New Testament Introduction’, p. 363 (4th rev. ed. 1996).

[2] Two recent examples are Richard Pervo’s ‘Dating Acts’ (2006), and ‘Acts: A Commentary’ in the series ‘Hermeneia: a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible’ (2008), and Steve Mason’s ‘Josephus and the New Testament’ (1992); Pervo’s is considered an academic argument worthy of response (though it has failed to convince most scholars), whereas Mason’s is rarely referred to in the relevant scholarly literature.

[3] ‘If Acts is dependent on Josephus for information, it cannot be earlier than 93. But such dependence is not proved and is highly unlikely.’, in Douglas & Tenney, ’New International Bible Dictionary’, p, 13 (1987).

[4] ‘A number of events to which allusion is possibly being made are discussed by J. Blinzler*, 32–37. These include: 1. the affair of the ensigns in Jos. Bel. 2:169–174; Ant. 18:55–59, but this took place in Caesarea in AD 26; 2. the tumults associated with the building of an aqueduct (Jos. Bel. 2:175–177; Ant. 18:60–62), but this incident involved the murder of Judaeans with cudgels outside the temple; 3. an attack on some Samaritans (Jos. Ant. 18:85–87), but this took place in AD 36; 4. the slaughter of about 3,000 Jews offering Passover sacrifices by Archelaus in 4 BC (Jos. Bel. 2:8–13; Ant. 17:213–218). This incident, however, took place some thirty years earlier and was committed by a different ruler; moreover, the murder of 3,000 men would not bear comparison with an accident to 18. It is wisest to conclude that the event is not attested from secular sources. This, however, is no argument against its historicity, since Josephus’ account of Pilate’s career is very incomplete (cf. Philo, Leg. 299-305). Pilate would have been in Jerusalem at Passover time, and the Galileans had a reputation for rebelliousness. The suggestion that Zealots were involved (O. Cullmann, The State in the NT, London, 1957, 14) lacks proof.’, Marshall, ‘The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text’, New International Greek Testament Commentary, p. 553 (1978).

[5] ‘There are two problems: (1) Since Gamaliel was speaking well before AD 44 (the year in which Herod Agrippa I died, 12:20-23), a reference to the Theudas mentioned in Josephus would be anachronistic on his lips. (2). Gamaliel goes on to describe the rising of Judas after this; but the rising of Judas took place in AD 6 before the Theudas incident in Josephus. So, it is argued, Luke makes Gamaliel commit an anachronism and put the two stories in reverse chronological order. It has been argued that Luke was led to this error by misreading Josephus who goes on after the Theudas story to mention the sons of Judas and then to explain parenthetically who this Judas was and how he had led a revolt against Rome. But this supposition is highly unlikely, since Josephus’ works were not published till c. AD 93, and since Luke cannot possibly have got the details of his story (the 400 men) from him. No plausible explanation of Luke’s alleged error has been offered. There is, therefore, much to be said for the suggestions either that Josephus got his dating wrong or (more probably) that Gamaliel is referring to another, otherwise unknown Theudas. Since there were innumerable uprisings when Herod the Great died, and since ‘Josephus describes four men bearing the name of Simon within forty years and three that of Judas within ten years, all of whom were instigators of rebellion’ (cited by Knowling, p. 158), this suggestion should not be rejected out of hand.’, Marshall, ‘Acts: An Introduction And Commentary’, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, volume 5, pp. 122-123 (1980).

[6] ‘Famines are mentioned in various parts of the empire during the time of Claudius. Josephus tells of a famine in Palestine during the governorship of Tiberius Alexander (46/48 C.E.):’, Conzelmann, Epp, & Matthews, ‘Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles’, Hermeneia, p. 90 (1987).

[7]The details of Herod’s death are recorded slightly differently by Josephus, but the accounts are complementary. …Luke’s description of Herod as being eaten by worms is probably directly related to the abdominal pains referred to in Josephus’ account.’, Carson, ‘New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition’ (4th ed. 1994).

[8]According to Josephus (Bel. 2:261–263) there had been an Egyptian false prophet who had led 30,000 men to the Mount of Olives in order to take Jerusalem; he promised that they would see the walls of the city fall down. The governor, Felix, killed or captured his followers, while the prophet himself managed to escape. Clearly the tribune thought that this person had reappeared; the discrepancy between the number of his followers in Acts and in Josephus reflects the latter’s well-known tendency to exaggeration, and the tribune’s estimate will have been nearer the mark.’, Marshall, ‘Acts: An Introduction And Commentary’, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, volume 5, p. 371 (1980).

[9] ‘There was gossip about the relationship between the brother and sister (Josephus Ant. 20.145; Juvenal Sat. 6.156–60). ‘,Conzelmann, Epp, & Matthews, ‘Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles’, Hermeneia, p. 206 (1987).

[10] ‘The use of the LXX is not debatable, but the influence of Josephus and Paul has been and is subjected to considerable debate.’, Tyson, ‘Marcion and Luke-Acts: a defining struggle’, p. 14 (2006).

[11] ‘Arguments for the dependence of passages in Acts on Josephus (especially the reference to Theudas in Acts v. 37) are equally unconvincing. The fact is, as Schurer has said: “Either Luke had not read Josephus, or he had forgotten all about what he had read”‘, Geldenhuys, ‘Commentary on the Gospel of Luke’, p. 31 (1950).

[12] ‘But it is hardly logical to hold that Luke depends on Josephus and yet be obliged to admit that Luke shows wide divergence from him in relating events that are supposedly the same.’, Harrison, ‘Introduction to the New Testament’, p. 240 (1971).

[13] ‘The argument that Luke used the historian, Josephus (ad 93), was never fully convincing (HJ Cadbury, BC 11, 357). Today it is seldom pressed.’, Ellis, ‘The Gospel of Luke’, p. 55 (1977).

[14] ‘Sterling concludes that, while it is impossible to establish a literary dependence of Luke-Acts on the writings of Josephus, it is reasonable to affirm that both authors not only had access to similar historical traditions but also shared the same historiographical techniques and perspectives.’, Verheyden, ‘The Unity of Luke-Acts’, p. 678 (1990).

[15] ‘After examining the texts myself, I must conclude with the majority of scholars that it is impossible to establish the dependence of Luke-Acts on the Antiquitates. What is clear is that Luke-Acts and Josephos shared some common traditions about the recent history of Palestine.’, Sterling, ‘Historiography and Self-Definition: Josephos, Luke-Acts, and Apologetic Historiography’, Supplements to Novum Testamentum, pp. 365-366 (1992).

[16]It seems probable that Luke and Josephus wrote independently of one another; for each could certainly have had access to sources and information, which he then employed according to his own perspectives. A characteristic conglomerate of details, which in part agree, in part reflect great similarity, but also in part, appear dissimilar and to stem from different provenances, accords with this analysis.’, Schreckenberg & Schubert, ‘Jewish Historiography and Iconography in Early and Medieval Christian Literature’, Compendia Rerum Iudicarum Ad Novum Testamentum, volume 2, p. 51 (1992).

[17] ‘A. T. Robinson, Redating, p. 88, regards the Josephus line of approach as almost totally abandoned.’, Guthrie, ‘New Testament Introduction’, p. 364 (4th rev. ed. 1996).

[18] ‘From Krenkel’s remarks it can be seen that this proof can be offered only with very powerful mental contortions. See Hemer, Acts (n.37), 95: ‘the theory of Lukan dependence on Josephus has had in its day a certain vogue, and has been used as a major argument for the late dating of Luke-Acts’; cf. also Sterling, Historiography (n.37),365f. n.281.’, Hengel & Schwemer, Paul between Damascus and Antioch: the unknown years’, p. 325 (1997).

[19] ‘Nevertheless, direct literary dependence on Josephus by Luke is consistently dismissed for various reasons.’, Denova, ‘The Things Accomplished Among Us: prophetic tradition in the structural pattern of Luke-Acts’, p. 207 (1997).

[20] ‘The relationship between Luke and Josephus has produced an abundant literature, which has attempted to show the literary dependence of one on the other. I do not believe that any such dependence can be proved.’, Marguerat, ‘The First Christian Historian: writing the “Acts of the Apostles”‘, p. 79 (2002).

[21]Most scholars today deny any dependence one way or the other, and we think this judgment is correct.’, Heyler, ‘Exploring Jewish literature of the Second Temple Period: A Guide for New Testament Students’, p. 362  (2002).

[22] ‘When we consider both the differences and the agreement in many details of the information in the two accounts, [of the death of Herod Agrippa I] it is surely better to suppose the existence of a common source on which Luke and Josephus independently drew.’, Klauck & McNeil, ‘Magic and Paganism in Early Christianity: the world of the Acts of the Apostles’, p. 43 (2003).

[23] ‘Some attempt to argue a literary dependence on Josephus, and date Luke-Acts after 93CE. But, without a doubt, Luke’s theology is of an earlier type than Justin.’, Hear, ‘Simon Magus: the first gnostic?’, p. 71 (2003).

[24]Neither position has much of a following today, because of the significant differences between the two works in their accounts of the same events.’, Mason, ‘Josephus and the New Testament’, p. 185 (1992).


The Historicity of the book of Acts (5)

April 22, 2011

Paul’s Commission: Acts 9:1-2

It has been claimed there is no historical basis for Paul’s commission from the High Priest to extradite from Damascus to Jerusalem any Jews who had become Christians,[1] and that neither the High Priest nor the Sanhedrin had any jurisdiction in Damascus.[2] [3] [4]

Evidence & Commentary

Peerbolte raises a parallel in the history of the Maccabees, in which a Roman consul ordered Jewish rebels in Egypt to be extradited to the High Priest for punishment according to Jewish law[5] (qualifying this with care[6]); noting support for the record,[7] he still urges caution.[8]

The Maccabean parallel is dismissed as historically inadequate by Légasse[9] and Marshall,[10] but Bruce defends it with reference to a decree by Julius Caesar re-affirming all the previously held rights of the High Priest.[11] Kistemaker and Hendriksen likewise believe the High Priest actually had extradition authority.[12]

Dunn disputes the idea of formal jurisdiction,[13]  but notes the informal influence of the high priest and Sanhedrin over provincial synagogues was far higher.[14]

Bond[15] and Williams[16] note similarly that the letters would have carried influence despite their lack of formal weight.

Wallace and Williams approach the legal-historical background with care.[17] Observing the letters were addressed to the synagogues not local officials, they argue the matter was internal Jewish business in which Roman officials would not become involved.[18] Noting the apparent absence of Roman forces in Damascus at the time, they suggest this would have reduced the probability of Roman interference. [19]

Klauck and Bailey also view the letters as simply letters of introduction rather than legal documents with which to exercise authority over local officials,[20] and note no difficulty with the record. Oepke,[21]  Bond,[22] and Gaertner[23]  take a similar view.

[1] Acts 9: 1 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing out threats to murder the Lord’s disciples, went to the high priest 2 and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, either men or women, he could bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

[2] ‘Neither the high priest nor the Jewish Sanhedrin in Jerusalem ever had such powers of jurisdiction. The persecution would have taken the regular process in the local synagogue:’, Köster, ‘Introduction to the New Testament’, volume 2, p. 107 (2006).

[3]neither the high priest nor the Sanhedrin had judicial authority outside the eleven toparchies of Judaea proper. Their moral authority might be persuasive, but they could not empower Paul to make arrests, particularly on the territory of a Roman province.’, Murphy-O’Connor, ‘Paul: a critical life’, p. 66 (1998).

[4] ‘The jurisdiction of the High Priest and the Sanhedrin would in fact have been limited to the eleven toparchies of Judaea.’, Légasse, ‘Paul’s pre-Christian Career according to Acts’, in Bauckham (ed.), ‘The Book of Acts in its Palestinian Setting’, p. 389 (1995).

[5] ‘The Roman legal system was not built on the territorial principle of law, but on the personal.64 This meant that a Roman citizen fell under Roman law wherever he was. In consequence, it may have been that the High Priest in Jerusalem could extend his jurisdiction to Jews in Damascus.65 That this practice was indeed prevalent is often argued on the basis of a passage from 1 Maccabees: 1 Macc 15, 16-21. Here, the Roman Consul Lucius writes to the Egyptian king Ptolemy (probably VIII) on the subject of the Jews: ‘if any scoundrels have fled to you from their country, hand them over to the High Priest Simon, so that he may punish them according to their law’ Peerbolte, ‘Paul the Missionary’, p. 154 (2003).

[6] ‘However, although the assumption is that this custom was still in use in Paul’s day, it is unclear whether this was correct’, ibid., p. 154.

[7] ‘Many students of the book of Acts nevertheless consider 9, 1-2 as evidence that Paul was sent as a shaliach by the Sanhedrin’, ibid., p. 154.

[8] ‘Still, a more cautious approach is to be preferred: we simply cannot decide with certainty on the historicity of Paul’s commissioning by the High Priest. It is a possibility, but remains far from certain.’, ibid., p. 154.

[9] ‘But, even supposing this letter is authentic,85 it is not addressed, like the letter of which Acts speaks, to the ‘synagogues’ but to a local ruler by the Roman authority. The case is therefore wholly different, as are the period (the events mentioned are supposed to have occurred in 139 BC) and the political situation: whereas at the time of Paul Judaea was a Roman province administered by a Roman governor, Simon, the brother of Judas Maccabeus, was a sovereign, autochthonous vassal of the Seleucids of Antioch.’, Légasse, ‘Paul’s pre-Christian Career according to Acts’, in Bauckham (ed.), ‘The Book of Acts in its Palestinian Setting’, p. 389 (1995).

[10] ‘Haenchen (p. 320 n.2) argues rightly that previous scholars have drawn unwarranted deductions from such passages as 1 Maccabees 15:15–21, which deals with a different and much earlier situation;’, Marshall, (1980). Vol. 5: ‘Acts: An introduction and commentary’ Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, volume 5, p. 178 (1980).

[11]Julius Caesar confirmed those rights and privileges anew to the Jewish nation (although Judaea was no longer a sovereign state), and more particularly to the high-priesthood.5 Luke’s narrative implies that the right of extradition continued to be enjoyed by the high priest under the provincial administration set up in A.D. 6. The followers of The Way whom Saul was authorized to bring back from Damascus were refugees from Jerusalem, not native Damascene disciples.’, Bruce, ‘The Book of the Acts’, New International Commentary on the New Testament, pp. 180-181 (1988); his source for the decree of Caesar is a passage by Josephus, ‘I also ordain, that he and his children retain whatsoever privileges belong to the office of high priest, or whatsoever favors have been hitherto granted them;’, Antiquities 14.195, in Whiston, ‘The Works of Josephus: Complete and unabridged’ (electronic ed. 1996).

[12] ‘The high priest served as head of the Sanhedrin, which as a legislative body had jurisdiction over the Jews living in Jerusalem, Palestine, and the dispersion. Thus the high priest had power to issue warrants to the synagogues in Damascus for the arrests of Christian Jews residing there (see 9:2; 22:5; 26:12).’, Kistemaker & Hendriksen, ‘Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles’, Baker New Testament Commentary, volume 17, p. 329 (1953-2001); as evidence they cite ‘Emil Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.–A.D. 135), rev. and ed. Geza Vermes and Fergus Millar, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: Clark, 1973–87), vol. 2, p. 218.’, p. 329.

[13] ‘the high priest had no formal jurisdiction over synagogues, least of all in other countries.’, Dunn, ‘Beginning from Jerusalem’, p. 337 (2009).

[14]But he had at least two considerable constraints which he could bring to bear on archisynagōgoi and synagogue elders. One was that he was responsible for much of the content and timing of lived-out Judaism; he and his councillors were the ultimate authority in matters of dispute, and it is not at all unlikely that Jerusalem authorities occasionally wrote to disapora synagogues to encourage them to maintain the traditions and possibly to take sides in some dispute on timing of festivals and the like.86 The high priest might even have been willing to claim jurisdiction over a ‘greater Judea’ which included Damascus. In any case, the high priest was not a person whose envoy could be lightly disregarded or dismissed with his mission unfulfilled. The other is that the Temple in Jerusalem held an amazing range of financial deposits for Jews at home and abroad; it was Judaism’s ‘central bank’. It is quite conceivable, therefore, that any requests were backed, explicitly or implicitly, with threat of financial sanctions.’, ibid., p. 337.

[15] ‘Writing letters to Diaspora communities was one of the high priest’s duties (see above, p. 47). Such letters would have had no formal weight (the high priest had no legal jurisdiction in Damascus, situated as it was in the Roman province of Syria), but his position as high priest would have conferred authority on his requests.’, Bond, ‘Caiphas: friend of Rome and judge of Jesus?’, p. 81 (2004); she also suggests ‘Second, and more probably, the rather vague reference to “the high priest” in 9:1-2 and in the flashbacks of 22:5 and 26:12 may be simply another example of Luke’s attempt to give opposition to Christians official backing.’, p. 81.

[16] ‘The letters to the synagogues (v. 2) would be a help, for though the Sanhedrin had no legal authority outside Judea, its reputation did give it some moral authority over the Jews of the Diaspora (see Sherwin-White, p. 100). Paul would also have had to seek the cooperation of the local magistrates, but the name of the Jewish Sanhedrin may have carried sufficient weight even with them for him to be confident of their acquiescence, if not their active assistance.’, Williams, ‘Acts’, New International Biblical Commentary, pp. 167-168 (1990).

[17]Unfortunately, we know very little about the internal affairs of Damascus  in Paul’s day. It is therefore difficult to know how to make sense of Paul’s commission from the High Priest to seize and carry to Jerusalem ‘any belonging to the Way’ (Acts 9, 2).’, Wallace & Williams, ‘The Three Worlds of Paul of Tarsus’, p. 163 (1998).

[18] ‘Since Acts says quite clearly that the letters Paul was carrying were to the synagogues at Damascus (9, 2) and not to the Gentile authorities, whatever he was doing must have been an entirely internal Jewish affair.‘, ibid., p. 163.

[19] ‘Since it is unlikely that the arrest and extradition to Judaea of dissenters was one of the privileges enjoyed by diaspora communities (for discussion see Wallace and Williams 1995:51-2), what Paul was engaged in must have been unauthorised; that is to say, kidnapping. So why was he not stopped? Such evidence as there is suggests that no Roman forces were stationed in Damascus (Millar 1993:37), so that unless an appeal was made to the governor, or serious disorder broke out, the Roman authorities would not have become involved. As for the city authorities, if the business was done discreetly without causing public disturbances they might well have taken the view that what went on in the Jewish community was none of their concern, especially if those involved were not citizens of Damascus, but incomers.‘, ibid., pp. 163-164.

[20] ‘As a persecutor of Christians Paul carried letters with him to gain admittance into the synagogues in Damascus as an otherwise unknown representative of the high priest and the Jewish elders (Acts 9:1-2; 22:5).’, Klauck & Bailey, ‘Ancient Letters and the New Testament: a guide to context and exegesis’, p. 76 (2006).

[21] ‘Oepke, ‘Probleme’, 403/426, who does not exclude a request from Paul to the High Priest, sees it, not as a mandate to arrest officially entrusted to Paul, but a letter like the sustati kai epoistolai to which 2 Cor. 3:1 refers.’, Légasse, ‘Paul’s pre-Christian Career according to Acts’, in Bauckham (ed.), ‘The Book of Acts in its Palestinian Setting’, p. 389 (1995).

[22] ‘The question is whether any evidence supports a situation in which the Sanhedrin had authority over synagogues so far from home.4 The point may be moot, however, in view of the fact that Luke does not say that the letters were papers of extradition. The letters may simply have been letters introducing Paul and his mission, as well as recommendations that such Jews be handed over to him. Such letters would carry no official authority to enforce the arrests.’, Gaertner, ‘Acts’, The College Press NIV Commentary (electronic ed. 1993).

[23] ‘It is possible that Caiphas supplied Saul with letters of recommendation to Diaspora synagogues (rather like those of 2 Cor 3:1), introducing him to their leaders, asking for help to root out troublemakers’, Bond, ‘Caiphas: friend of Rome and judge of Jesus?’, p. 81 (2004).


Textual Criticism: Bart Erhman & the New Testament text

March 20, 2011

The recent book ‘Misquoting Jesus’ (2005), by Bart Ehrman (a professional textual critic and ex-Christian), has been cited widely as presenting an overwhelming case for the unreliability of the textual transmission of the New Testament.

Ehrman’s work is neither a breakthrough nor a revelation.[1] [2] He raises no new textual difficulties, contributes no new evidence, and in a number of cases his arguments stand well outside the established scholarly consensus.[3]

The following key statements made by Ehrman are frequently used to criticize the accuracy of the Greek New Testament.

*  ‘We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them, evidently, in thousands of ways.’ [4]

The overwhelming majority of these differences are of no significance at all.[5]

*  ‘Mistakes multiply and get repeated; sometimes they get corrected and sometimes they get compounded. And so it goes. For centuries.’ [6]

There is general agreement that the original text is recoverable despite these errors.[7] The very fact that they are identifiable as errors is because the genuine text is still available.

*  ‘In almost every instance in which a change of this sort occurs, the text is changed in order to limit the role of women and to minimize their importance to the Christian movement.’[8]

Such claims have been exaggerated; out of the entire New Testament a mere 15 verses are most commonly discussed, and there is no consensus that even all of these are clear indications of deliberate misogynist alterations.[9]

*   ‘The more I studied the manuscript tradition of the New Testament, the more I realized just how radically the text had been altered over the years at the hands of scribes, who were not only conserving scripture but also changing it.’ [10]

Deliberate changes made to the text were extremely rare.[11] [12]

*  ‘Anyone reading a book in antiquity could never be completely sure that he or she was reading what the author had written.’[13]

The accuracy of copies was typically far higher than Ehrman implies.[14] [15]

Ehrman makes a number of concessions which did not receive the same media attention as his sensationalist claims, and are typically overlooked or ignored by skeptics and atheists. He acknowledges that a large number of variants increases the likelihood of the original text being uncovered, [16] that the variants ‘do not detract from the integrity of the New Testament’, [17]and that most are ‘completely insignificant, immaterial’.[18]

Erhman acknowledges the copying process ‘was by and large a “conservative” process’, [19] that the scribes’ major aim ‘was not to modify the tradition, but to preserve it’, [20] that most scribes ‘tried to do a faithful job’, [21] and that most changes ‘have nothing to do with theology or ideology’. [22]

Ehrman does not believe the recovery of the original text of the New Testament is impossible,[23] [24] concluding it is possible to recover ‘the oldest and earliest stage of the manuscript tradition for each of the books of the New Testament’.[25] [26]

[1] ‘Misquoting Jesus for the most part is simply NT textual criticism 101.’, Wallace, ‘The Gospel According to Bart: A Review Article Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (49.2.328), 2006.

[2] ‘There is nothing really earth-shaking in the first four chapters of the book.’, ibid., p. 332.

[3] ‘Chapter 2 (“The Copyists of the Early Christian Writings”) deals with scribal changes to the text, both intentional and unintentional. Here Ehrman mixes standard text-critical information with his own interpretation, an interpretation that is by no means shared by all textual critics, nor even most of them.’, ibid., p. 328.

[4] Ehrman, ‘Misquoting Jesus’, p. 7 (2005).

[5] ‘Once it is revealed that the great majority of these variants are inconsequential—involving spelling differences that cannot even be translated, articles with proper nouns, word order changes, and the like—and that only a very small minority of the variants alter the meaning of the text, the whole picture begins to come into focus. Indeed, only about 1% of the textual variants are both meaningful and viable.’ Wallace, ‘The Gospel According to Bart: A Review Article Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (49.2.330), 2006.

[6] Ehrman, ‘Misquoting Jesus’, p. 57 (2005).

[7] ‘Yet Ehrman remains well aware that textual critics can, in his words, “reconstruct the oldest form of the words of the New Testament with reasonable (though not 100 percent) accuracy”.’, Jones, ‘Misquoting Truth’, pp. 47-48 (2007); the quotation from Ehrman is a statement from his book ‘Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew’, p. 221 (2003).

[8] Ehrman, ‘Misquoting Jesus’, p. 182 (2005).

[9] ‘In a recent contribution to text-critical assessment of Acts, however, Michael Holmes challenges this scholarly conjecture of what he calls an “alleged” antifeminist bias in the Western texts, stating that “the claim, though often repeated, has not, to my knowledge, been examined in a thorough or comprehensive fashion.” In his detailed examination he rightly argues, in my view, that many scholars have taken variants or tendencies that appear in Codex Bezae and over-generalized them to describe Western texts as a whole, overlooking that Bezae is only one representative of this text type, and possesses idiosyncracies of its own.’, Brock, ‘Scribal Blunder or Textual Plunder? Codex Bezae, Textual-Rhetorical Analysis, And the Diminished Role of Women’, in Stichele & Penner (eds.), Her Master’s Tools?: Feminist and Postcolonial Engagements of Historical-Critical Discourse’, Global Perspectives on Biblical Scholarship, p. 257 (2005).

[10] Ehrman, ‘Misquoting Jesus’, p. 207 (2005).

[11] ‘Intentional theological changes make up very, very few of the textual variations in the NT and therefore, on a relative scale, have little significance for determining the overall state of the text. The vast majority of scribes, in fact, did not intentionally change the text whenever they felt like it.’, Kruger, ‘Misquoting Jesus: The Story behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, by Bart D. Ehrman’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (49.2.338), 2006.

[12] ‘If indeed, the number of textual variants is as high as he claims (400,000?), then theologically motivated changes make up such a slight portion of this amount that one wonders why they are being discussed in the first place.’, ibid., p. 338; he adds ‘Not surprisingly, such a discussion of numbers is notably absent from this chapter, because they seem to work against Ehrmans’s point, rather than for it.’, p. 338.

[13] Ehrman, ‘Misquoting Jesus’, p. 46 (2005).

[14]‘In order to argue selectively against Christian manuscripts, Ehrman must show that Christian copying was worse than most, which he has tried to do by arguing that Christian scribes were non-professional (even at times illiterate) and therefore prone to mistakes.’, Kruger, ‘Misquoting Jesus: The Story behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, by Bart D. Ehrman’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (49.2.338), 2006.

[15] ‘Even if there were not formal scriptoriums in the second century (and we are not sure), there are substantial indicators that an organized, structured, and reliable process of transmission was in place amongst early Christians.’, ibid., p. 338.

[16] ‘And so it goes—the more manuscripts one discovers, the more the variant readings; but also the more the likelihood that somewhere among those variant readings one will be able to uncover the original text.’, ibid., p. 87.

[17] ‘Therefore, the thirty thousand variants uncovered by Mill do not detract from the integrity of the New Testament; they simply provide the data that scholars need to work on to establish the text, a text that is more amply documented than any other from the ancient world.’, ibid., p. 87.

[18] ‘To be sure, of all the hundreds of thousands of textual changes found among our manuscripts, most of them are completely insignificant, immaterial, of no real importance for anything other than showing that scribes could not spell or keep focused any better than the rest of us.’, ibid., p. 207.

[19] ‘It is probably safe to say that the copying of early Christian texts was by and large a “conservative” process. The scribes—whether nonprofessional scribes in the early centuries or professional scribes of the Middle Ages—were intent on “conserving” the textual tradition they were passing on.’, ibid., p. 177

[20] ‘Their ultimate concern was not to modify the tradition, but to preserve it for themselves and for those who would follow them.’, ibid., p. 177.

[21] ‘Most scribes, no doubt, tried to do a faithful job in making sure that the text they reproduced was the same text they inherited.’, ibid., p. 177.

[22] ‘It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the only changes being made were by copyists with a personal stake in the wording of the text. In fact, most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple—slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another.’, ibid., p. 55.

[23] Ibid., p. 210.

[24] ‘A number of scholars—for reasons we saw in chapter 2—have even given up thinking that it makes sense to talk about the “original” text. I personally think that opinion may be going too far.’, ibid., p. 210.

[25] ‘For my part, however, I continue to think that even if we cannot be 100 percent certain about what we can attain to, we can at least be certain that all the surviving manuscripts were copied from other manuscripts, which were themselves copied from other manuscripts, and that it is at least possible to get back to the oldest and earliest stage of the manuscript tradition for each of the books of the New Testament.’, ibid., p. 62.

[26] ‘And so we must rest content knowing that getting back to the earliest attainable version is the best we can do, whether or not we have reached back to the “original” text. This oldest form of the text is no doubt closely (very closely) related to what the author originally wrote, and so it is the basis for our interpretation of his teaching.’, ibid., p. 62.


Is Christianity responsible for the ecological crisis?

January 30, 2011

The claim that Christianity was responsible for the ecological crisis [1] has been contested,[2] [3] [4] but is still asserted strongly.[5] [6]

key text has been Genesis 1:26,[7] a common interpretation of which is known as dominium terrare.[8] Such an interpretation is absent from the first 1,000 years of Christianity,[9] and many scholars reject this as the original meaning of the passage.[10] [11] [12]

In 1603 Francis Bacon proposed a dominion oriented interpretation claiming the purpose of science and technology (the ‘natural sciences’), was to recover paradise by dominating nature.[13] [14]

Early Christians expressed both eco-centric exposition and Hellenistic views unfavourable to the environment.[15] The later Christian tradition contains many advocates of ecological care.[16] [17] [18]

Against an unbalanced view resulting from looking at only a few texts,[19] the value of Biblical environmental instructions has been widely acknowledged. [20] [21] [22] [23]

Stewardship[24] is a recognized Biblical teaching[25] and Christian tradition,[26] against the claim that Christianity is inherently destructive.[27] Many environmentalists have identified the value of religion to ecological concerns. [28] [29] [30]

[1] ‘…the American historian and Presbyterian layman Lynn White argued that the Christian tradition itself bears a huge burden of guilt for the worldview of modernity and the economic system that has led to the present ecological crisis. White’s article placed the blame for the ecological crisis squarely upon Western Christianity. His thesis is a variation of Weber’s famous analysis of the relationship between Christianity and capitalism, namely that Protestantism has encouraged capitalism which, in turn, exploited nature.’, Conradie, ‘Christianity and Ecological Theology’, p. 61 (2006).

[2] ‘In an influential argument, John Passmore suggests that the exploitative attitudes in the West originate from Greek dualism more than from biblical sources. Peter Harrison argues that White is correct to suggest that particular biblical texts have served as important ideological sources for Western exploitation of natural resources. However, he denies that this has played a significant role in the history of the West prior to the emergence of modern science in the seventeenth century. ‘, ibid., p. 62.

[3] ‘The Bible, apart from which Western civilization is inexplicable, has powerful ecological teachings that support an ecological worldview and oppose a utilitarian worldview. This is not to say that these teachings have been widely put into practice in our time – by and large they have not. However, continuing degradation of ecological systems by humanity requires re-examination of these teachings by ecologists and the church.’, DeWitt, ‘Ecology and ethics: relation of religious belief to ecological practice in the Biblical tradition’, Biodiversity and Conservation 4, p. 847 (1995).

[4] ‘To be sure, certain strands of Christian thinking have indeed fostered a dualistic anti-material tendency that has provided the impetus for indifference toward nature. But the wholesale implication of Christian theology, let alone Scripture itself, in fostering such indifference is an overstatement at best.’, Moo, ‘Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (49.3.451), (2006).

[5]‘Many secular environmentalists insist that the Christian and Jewish religions are inimical to the environment and have been so for thousands of years.’, Conradie, ‘Christianity and Ecological Theology’, p. 62 (2006).

[6] ‘As James Nash argues, the ecological complaint against Christianity is, on the one hand, essentially valid. Throughout Christian history, the dominant theological and ethical strains have been oblivious or even antagonistic to nature. On the other hand, the ecological complaint is an over-generalization since it overlooks the significance of dissenting opinions in Christian history and underestimates the tradition’s capacity for ecological reformation.’, ibid., p. 64.

[7] Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.”

[8] An interpretation that this verse means God intended humans to dominate, suppress, and exploit the earth.

[9]But in general it can be said that in the first ten centuries there was not really so very much interest in this question. There was rather a static view of the cultivation of nature and the earth which did not always have a connection to the dominium terrare.’, Halkes, ‘New Creation: Christian feminism and the renewal of the earth’, p. 76 (1991).

[10] ‘The dominium terrae is no carte blanche for the exploitation of the world. If one has (unfortunately) (mis)understood this in this way, this is not intended in the text itself.’, Preuss & Perdue, ‘Old Testament Theology’, p. 116  (1996).

[11] ‘Hibert (2000:150-151) concludes that, “By describing the archetypcal human task as cultivating or ‘serving,’ the soil, the Yahwist subordinates human behaviour to the larger ecosystem upon which human survival depends. According to the Yahwist, the human vocation is not to manage the ecosystems of which humans are a part, but rather to align its activity to meet the demands and observe the limits imposed by this system upon all of its members.”‘, Conradie, ‘Christianity and Ecological Theology’, pp. 76-77 (2006).

[12] ‘In response, Christian exegetes have shown that the respective imperative of Gen. 1.28 is to be understood in the sense of the commission of man to care for the earth. On several occasions Gen. 2.15 has been recognized as an adequate help towards its interpretation.’, Reventlow & Hoffman, ‘Creation in Jewish and Christian tradition’, p. 165 (2006).

[13] ‘In Bacon’s opinion, the natural sciences will return to humankind its dominance over nature.’, ibid., p. 76.

[14] The view that a fallen earth could be redeemed by science and technology ironically led directly to ecological destruction; ‘Such a way of thinking lies at the root of the aggressive trait of all further attempts at dominating the world. ‘, ibid., p. 76.

[15]Santmire, ‘The Travail of Nature: the ambiguous ecological promise of Christian theology’ (1985), Boersema, ‘The Torah and the Stoics on Humankind and Nature: A Contribution to the Debate on Sustainability and Quality’, pp. 222-227 (2001.

[16] ‘For Mennonites (one of the historic peace churches) the theme of “peace with the creation” had powerful resonance (see Redekop 2000).’, Haluza-DeLay, ‘Churches Engaging the Environment: An Autoethnography of Obstacles and Opportunities’, Human Ecology Review (15.1.75), 2008.

[17] ‘Many authors (including Lynn White) have pointed to St. Francis of Assisi as an example for ecologically sensitive practice. Dubos (1974) and others have highlighted the Benedictine monks, characterizing them as conservationists to the Franciscan preservationists (stewardship compared to partnership in Rasmussen’s (1991) terms). There are numerous additional exemplars (Attfield 1983; Oelschlaeger 1994).’, ibid., p. 78.

[18] Including Jonathan Swift, James Eliot, William Bartram, John Ruskin, and George Perkins Marsh; Marsh’s work ‘Man and nature: or, Physical geography as modified by human action’ makes specific reference to deforestation as ‘war upon the garden of God‘, p. 279 (1865).

[19]‘The selection of some favourite texts may unintentionally reinforce the perception that ecology is indeed a marginal concern in the Bible. The focus may be far too narrow. It only relates to an aspect of creation theology or, more specifically, to the relationship (of stewardship?), between human beings and nature.’, Conradie, ‘Christianity and Ecological Theology’, p. 69 (2006).

[20] ‘The Bible, without which Western civilization is inexplicable, has powerful ecological teachings that support an ecological worldview.’, DeWitt, ‘Ecology and ethics: relation of religious belief to ecological practice in the Biblical tradition’, Biodiversity and Conservation 4, p. 838 (1995).

[21] ‘The Bible’s portrayal of the dominion issue is actually more detailed and complex than most studies have indicated. The Bible indicates a variety of ways in which nature is subservient to man, but also ways in which man is subservient to nature.’, Kay, ‘Concepts of Nature in the Hebrew Bible’, in Yaffe, ‘Judaism and Environmental Ethics: A Reader’, p. 90 (2001).

[22] ‘Boastful destruction of resources apparently was common testimonial to the might of kings in the ancient Middle East. The biblical condemnation of deforestation for self-aggrandizement may be contrasted with the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh (third millennium B.C.E.), in which the heroic king destroys a cedar forest “to establish his name”.’, Kay, ibid., p. 95.

[23]In the Bible, humans indirectly bring about environmental destruction as the outcome of sin, or do so directly through foolish arrogance. These analyses scarcely support the theory that the roots of the modern environmental crisis rest in perspectives intrinsic to the Bible.’, Kay, ibid., pp. 95-96.

[24] Of God giving humans the responsibility to care for the environment, rather than exploit it.

[25] ”We have said that our “dominion” over animals is granted to us on the condition that we exercise it responsibly. Another way of putting that may be taken from a comment on the Psalm verse, “The heavnes are the heavns of the Eternal One, but the earth God has given to humankind” (115:16). On this Abraham ibn Ezra remarks, ‘Sheha-adam k’mo p’kid elohim ba-aretze al kol mah sheyesh bah – that humanity is like God’s steward on earth in charge of all that it contains” (ad loc.).This concept of p’kidut – of stewardship – is central to our subject, and, as we have already seen, what it primarily entails is conservation. But equally obviously, it has implications for the way we treat animals, especially domestic ones, since by domesticating them we assume responsibility for them. That this requires considerate behaviour on our part is a major theme of Jewish literature, expressed in exhortations, stories and regulations.’, Rayner, ‘Judaism and Animal Welfare: Overview and Some Questions’, in Jacob & Zemer, ‘The Environment in Jewish Law: Essays and Responsa’, p. 60 (2003).

[26] ‘One group might be termed the despotism school because it views Gen. 1:26-28 and subsequent Christian writers as mandating tyrannical human control over nature. The competing stewardship tradition interprets the identical verses and other early Christian writings as assigning humans a caretaker role.’, Kay, ‘Concepts of Nature in the Hebrew Bible’, in Yaffe, ‘Judaism and Environmental Ethics: A Reader’, p. 87 (2001).

[27] ‘First, the assumption that the entity to blame for the modern environmental crisis is in fact “Judeo-Christian” has been challenged. Passmore has argued that the tradition in question was not Judeo-Christian, but rather Greco-Christian. He sees little evidence that the Hebrew Bible was anti-environment, and additional evidence that the Bible constrained human use of nature. Ehrenfeld and Bentley has well as Helfand have pointed out that Judaism and Christianity are two separate religions, and have examined Jewish beliefs in support of a stewardship position.’, Kay, ibid., p. 87.

[28] ‘We have found that the academy is not the source or repository of practical environmental ethics. However, religious institutions are such, although the modern scientist and citizen may have failed to acknowledge this.’, DeWitt, ‘Ecology and ethics: relation of religious belief to ecological practice in the Biblical tradition’, Biodiversity and Conservation 4, p. 840 (1995).

[29]The church may be, in fact, our last, best chance. My conjecture is this: There are no solutions for the systemic causes of ecocrisis, at least in democratic societies, apart from religious narrative.’, Oelschlaeger, ‘Caring for Creation’ (1994), cited in ibid., p. 841.

[30]‘A significant number of contemporary environmentalists are convinced that some form of religion is needed to provide motivational power for the transformation of human attitudes toward the natural world.’, Moo, ‘Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (49.3.450), 2006.


Article: The Historicity of the book of Acts (3)

December 28, 2010

Peter’s address: Acts 4:4

Robert Grant claimed that the population of Jerusalem was too small for 5,000 converts to Christianity.[1] Grant’s estimate of the population of Jerusalem relied on an influential study by Jeremias in 1943, [2] [3] but did not mention that Jeremias calculated a far higher population figure for festival seasons such as passover, at which he estimated Jerusalem would contain up to 125,000 pilgrims.[4]

Furthermore the lower estimate of Jeremias is significantly lower than the lowest of the moderate to high estimates made by Wilkinson in 1974 (70,398 under Herod the Great),[5] Broshi in 1976 (60,000),[6] Maier in 1976 (50,000, with three times that many during festival seasons),[7] and Levine in 2002 (60,000-70,000).[8]

Accordingly, Cousland notes that ‘recent estimates of the population of Jerusalem suggest something in the neighbourhood of a hundred thousand’.[9] Estimates for the number of Christians in the Roman empire by the end of the first century range widely from 7,500 to more than 50,000. [10] [11] [12]

Article here.

[1] Grant ‘A Historical Introduction to the New Testament, p. 145 (1963).

[2] Jeremias, ‘Die Einwohnerzhal Jerusalems z. Zt. Jesu’, ZDPV, 63, pp. 24-31 (1943).

[3] ‘Jeremias, for instance has estimated that there was a population of 25,000 in first century Jerusalem,’, Rocca, ‘Herod’s Judaea: A Mediterranean State in the Classical World’, p. 333 (2008).

[4] ‘Thus one would arrive at 125,000 festival pilgrims.’, Reinhardt, ‘The Population Size of Jerusalem and the Numerical Growth of the Jerusalem Church’, in Bauckham (ed.), ‘The Book of Acts in its Palestine Setting’, p. 261 (1995).

[5] Wilkinson, ‘Ancient Jerusalem, Its Water Supply and Population’, PEFQS 106, pp. 33-51 (1974).

[6] ‘This also gives a figure of around 60,000 at the time of the first Christians.’, Reinhardt, ‘The Population Size of Jerusalem and the Numerical Growth of the Jerusalem Church’, in Bauckham (ed.), ‘The Book of Acts in its Palestine Setting’, p. 247 (1995).

[7] Maier, ‘First Christians: Pentecost and the Spread of Christianity’, p. 22 (1976).

[8]‘According to Levine, because the new area encompassed by the Third Wall was not densely populated, assuming that it contained half the population of the rest of the city, there were between 60,000 and 70,000 people living in Jerusalem.’, Rocca, ‘Herod’s Judaea: A Mediterranean State in the Classical World’, p. 333 (2008).

[9] Cousland, ‘The Crowds in the Gospel of Matthew’, p. 60 (2002).

[10] Stark, ‘The Rise of Christianity’, pp. 6-7 (1996); this influential study dominates the literature, but has been questioned as it involves projecting backwards from fourth century estimates.

[11] Wilken, ‘The Christians as the Romans Saw Them’, p. 31 (1984).

[12] ‘Estimates for the number of Christians by 100 C.E. range from as low as 7,500 to upwards of 50,000 out of the approximately sixty million inhabitants of the Roman Empire.’, Novak, ‘Christianity and the Roman Empire: background texts’, pp. 12-13 (2001).