“The Bible for English Majors”
Dr. Mary Anne Nunn
Throughout this excerpt green highlighting indicates a term treated in the Glossary.
Taken from “Starting Points”
Texts of the Bible—“Old” and “New” Testaments
The “book” we call the Bible is in fact more of an anthology—a collection of texts of various ages and origins, many of which are themselves often made up of several older texts that have been combined by one or more anonymous editorial hands, often multiple times over a period of many centuries, with seams of that merging that are on occasion rather ragged by modern standards of narrative continuity. It can be, thus, quite a challenge to read the Bible as if it were itself a straightforward narrative, since it isn’t straightforward, even when it is a unified presentation by an apparently single author, and it is not invariably narrative in its genre or intent.
Traditionally the Christian Bible has been understood, and therefore presented, as consisting of two different parts—what is called the “Old Testament,” and what is called the “New Testament.” The English word “testament” derives from a Latin translation of a Greek word (which is also sometimes translated as “covenant”)—Latin testamentum, from the verb testari: “to be a witness to or to attest to something.” We speak of someone’s last will and testament, a usage applicable to the biblical story of the Last Supper at which Jesus, conscious of the imminence of his own death, makes his final wishes apparent to his followers. In the designation “Old Testament” (OT) and “New Testament” (NT), however, the reference is, in the first instance, to the ancient Hebrew texts of the Jewish Bible, and in the second to the documents written in Greek that have been drawn together to form the “new” Christian additions to those Jewish texts.
There is also a distinction between OT and NT in terms of the ‘testament’ or covenant in each set of documents. The Hebrew scriptures tell the story of a particular people called by God to whom he gives patterns not only for his formal worship but also for their lives beyond such formal practices, suggesting indeed that all of life is to be a form of worship. Many of these directives appear in what in English is called the Law, a translation of the Hebrew word torah (TOH-rah, or toh-RAH). Both within biblical texts and beyond them, the Hebrew scriptures are often described as the Law and the Prophets. The Torah comprises the first five books of both the Jewish and Christian Bibles: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These five books are also called the Pentateuch—Greek for “five books.” (There are, however, many additional “laws,” or directives for living a life dedicated to the worship of God, contained elsewhere in the Hebrew scriptures as well as in what is called the Mishna—an extensive record written down at the beginning of the 3rd Century CE of what had previously been the “oral” law, passed down from one rabbinic generation to another.) In Judaism, then, the ‘testament’ refers to God’s choosing of Abraham and his descendants and calling his chosen people to be faithful worshippers by following the commandments of the Law. The central mode of formal worship in the Hebrew scriptures is the offering of animal and grain sacrifices (see the treatment of the the Book of Leviticus for a discussion of different sorts of sacrifices—p.#). The Hebrew scriptures tell the story of God’s founding covenants with his chosen people, but it also recounts the many, many times that the chosen people wander away from God into apostasy and are called back by prophets of different voices and times. Always the call is to return to a proper adherence to God’s Law—the ‘testament’ of the OT.
In the Christian scriptures the texts record stories relating to the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as well as the formation of what comes to be called the Christian church. For those who embrace Christianity, Jesus is deemed to be the Messiah, from a Hebrew word, mashiah, meaning “anointed” and translated into Greek as “christ,” hence the Christ-ian church. Initially, the word “messiah” is used in the Hebrew scriptures to describe the reigning king, who has been anointed as the political and military leader of Israel, but in later books there is reference to a human ruler who will overthrow usurpers and become God’s “anointed,” returning the nation of Israel to a sovereign state. So within the Hebrew scriptures the word “messiah” is used without a consistent political or theological meaning. Jesus was born into a community that had practiced Judaism for millennia, and throughout the Christian scriptures the theology resulting from his appearance assumes Jewish history and practice as the ground against which Christianity is set in relief. For those who became Christians, Jesus was believed to be the promised Messiah—the “Christ” anointed by God who has the authority from God to establish a new covenant or testament. Jesus, then, is born into a Jewish tradition, but Christians believe he transforms Judaism. No longer is the emphasis placed on adherence to the many specific commandments of the Law (613 in the Torah alone), a great number of which dictate proper methods of conducting animal sacrifice, but instead on the belief that Jesus is the son of God whose death is a sacrifice for all believers, forgiving their sin and conveying the promise of life everlasting in heaven. Thus the carefully delineated practice of animal sacrifice under the Law is replace by a single completely and permanently efficacious sacrifice of God’s own son. Jesus is called the Lamb of God in that, like a lamb “without blemish” (an appropriate offering under Mosaic Law), Jesus, who is defined as being without the blemish of sin, is sacrificed to remove the sins of those who believe he is as the Christian scriptures define him.
Taken from treatment of the Old Testament
Joseph (Gen. 37)
The saga resumes with a shift toward Jacob/Israel’s sons, and particularly Joseph, Rachel’s firstborn. Jacob/Israel loves Joseph for Rachel’s sake and sets him apart from the other sons with the gift of what is translated as a “coat of many colors,” a mistranslation of a “long robe with sleeves,” the significance of which is not entirely clear, although it is evidently a gift which his brothers envy along with their father’s regard. This envy is sharpened by Joseph’s dreams of his own ascendency over them. The brothers hatch a plot, told in differing versions with various details in Gen. 37:12-36. The upshot is that they either strand their brother where he is found and enslaved, or they sell their brother into slavery. One way or another, Joseph is taken as a slave to Egypt, where he ends up in the household of Potiphar (POT-ih-fuhr), “an officer of Pharaoh” (Gen. 37:36).
Judah and Tamar (Gen. 38:1-30)
Joseph’s saga is interrupted by a self-contained story of his brother Judah, notable for the mention of Judah’s son Onan and the establishment of Judah’s line(Gen. 38:1-30). The story involves Judah’s three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah. Er is married to Tamar, but because he was “wicked in the sight of the Lord; …the Lord slew him” (Gen. 38:7). As was the custom, Judah had his second son, Onan, take Tamar as his wife to raise up sons for his older brother. Because Onan knows any child he fathers will not be his but rather his brother’s, “when he went in unto his brother’s wife, … he spilled [his seed] on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother” (38:9). It is from this coitus interruptus that onanism has become a term for masturbation. Eventually, through a complex process, Tamar lies with Judah himself, becoming pregnant with a son, Perez, whom Judah acknowledges as of his own righteous siring. From Perez will ultimately come Boaz, who features prominently in the Book of Ruth, and, as it turns out, in the genealogies of both King David and Jesus himself.
Joseph (continued from above) (Gen. 39-50)
Gen. 39:1-20: Returning to Joseph’s experiences in Egypt, his new master Potiphar notes that all Joseph’s endeavors prosper, and, believing that God is with Joseph, Potiphar makes Joseph the overseer of his household. Potiphar’s wife (unnamed) propositions Joseph, who refuses her. She waits until the two are alone in the house and seizes him by his garment, again insisting that he lie with her, another euphemism for sexual congress. Leaving his garment in her hand, Joseph flees from her, naked. Potiphar’s wife uses Joseph’s garment to accuse him falsely of raping her, whereupon Joseph is imprisoned.
Gen. 39:21-41:44: As did Potiphar, the keeper of the prison recognizes Joseph’s talents and sets him in authority over the other prisoners. Two of these prisoners are from Pharaoh’s household: the chief butler and chief baker. Each man has a dream while in prison that Joseph interprets accurately: the butler will be released after three days, but the baker will be put to death. Joseph asks the butler to intercede on his behalf once he is restored to his place, but the butler forgets until Pharaoh himself has two dreams—one of the seven fat cows that are devoured by seven lean cows, and the other of the seven healthy ears of grain devoured by the seven thin ears. None of Pharaoh’s soothsayers can interpret these dreams, but the butler remembers Joseph, and Pharaoh sends for him. Joseph tells Pharaoh that the dreams indicate that seven years of plenty will be followed by seven years of famine, for which prophecy Joseph is rewarded hugely: “And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shown thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art. Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou” (Gen. 41:39-40). Joseph is given an Egyptian wife, Asenath, and as Pharaoh’s overseer he ensures that huge stores of grain are laid up during the years of plenty to prepare for the years of famine. Joseph has two sons—Manasseh (muh-NAS-suh—“forgetting”) and Ephraim (EH-fray-im—“fruitful”).
Gen. 42:1-50:26: In the years of famine, Joseph’s brothers, except Rachel’s second son Benjamin (in Joseph’s absence the son most dear to Jacob/Israel), are sent by their father to Egypt to buy food. They do not recognize their brother in Joseph, but he recognizes them. There are differing versions of the machinations Joseph employs to ensure that all his brothers are gathered together in Egypt, but ultimately they are all gathered. He declares himself to them, and, weeping, asks if their father still lives. The brothers are stricken with guilt, but Joseph suggests that their plot actually worked God’s plan since he has been able to prepare bounty to sustain the family through the famine. He sends them back laden with gifts to bring Jacob/Israel to Egypt. Jacob/Israel, old and ailing, is told by God to travel to Egypt, which he does. Thus, the Hebrews are now in Egypt, setting up the story of the Exodus in the next book of the Torah. Jacob/Israel dies in Egypt but is taken back by his sons to be buried in Canaan. The brothers return to Egypt and settle in the land of Goshen. Joseph also dies at the close of Genesis, and his bones are placed in a coffin, but his final resting spot must wait until the end of the Book of Joshua.
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Exodus (Abbreviation: Exod.) (EX-uh-duhs)
The Latin title for this book refers to the Hebrews’ “going out” of Egypt, the land of their enslavement. This is the second book of the Pentateuch or Torah. These five books have traditionally been ascribed to Moses’s own authorship, although scholars no longer give credence to this attribution (see Texts in “Starting Points” p.#). Exodus tells the story of the 40 years of wandering undertaken by the Israelites, or children of Jacob/Israel. The Book of Joshua will tell of their entering and occupying the “promised land”—Canaan, the land God promises to give to Abraham and his descendants.
The dating of the events described is, as is often the case in the Hebrew scriptures, controversial, although most scholars agree that the Pharaohs involved are Seti and Ramses II, indicating a time frame in the mid-13th-century BCE.
Below is an outline of the stories in the Book of Exodus, followed by treatments of those that have had a vivid life beyond the Bible.
• Initial account of “the children of Israel who came into Egypt”—1:1-7
o “Israel” ultimately becomes the name of the northern kingdom in the nation made up of God’s chosen people and then of the entire nation, but first it became the God-bestowed name of Jacob, the third among the Patriarchs.
• With a change in Pharaoh (to Seti?), the Hebrews are no longer privileged as in Joseph’s day, but become enslaved—1:8-22
• Moses is born, and, to protect him from the edict to kill the Hebrews’ male children, he is floated in an ‘ark’ on the river, where he is found and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter—2:1-10
• The adult Moses, forced to flee justice after killing an abusive Egyptian overlord, ends in Midian with the shepherd Jethro and his daughters, one of whom, Zipporah, becomes Moses’s wife—2 :11-22
o Moses names his first son Gershom—“sojourner there”—as Moses says he himself has been “a stranger in a strange land”—2:22
• The Pharaoh dies, and God hears the cries of the “children of Israel”—2:23-25. Scholars presume that the Pharaoh who dies is Seti, succeeded by his son Ramses II.
• Moses and the burning bush—3:1-4:23
• Moses with his brother Aaron confront the new Pharaoh to “let [his] people go”—5:1-6:13, 6:28-11:10
• Ten plagues
1. water of the Nile turned to blood—7:14-25
3. gnats (“lice” in the KJV)—8:16-19
5. disease among the cattle—9:1-7
7. hail with thunder and lightning—9:13-35
10. death of the first-born—11:1-10, 12:29-30
• First Passover—12:1-28
• Journey, guided by pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night—13:17-22
• Pharaoh pursues the Children of Israel—14:1-12
• Parting of the Red Sea—14:13-31
• Ancient song, called variously the Song of the Sea, the Song of Miriam, the Song of the Redeemed, the Canticle of the Song of Moses—15:1-21
• Complaints of the Children of Israel against both God and Moses—hunger is assuaged by the gift of manna—15:22-16:22
• Sabbath set apart as sacred—16:23-35
• Moses provides water from the rock—17:1-7
• Jethro visits the Children of Israel in the wilderness—18:1-27
• Giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai/Horeb—19:1-20:26
• Ten Commandments (Decalogue)—20:1-17
1. Have no other God but God—20:2-3
2. No “graven images”—20:4-6
3. Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain—20:7
4. Keep the Sabbath holy—20:8-11
5. Honor father and mother—20:12
6. Do not kill—20:13
7. Do not commit adultery—20:14
8. Do not steal—20:15
9. Do not bear false witness—20:16
10. Do not covet—20:17
• First provisions of the Law, called the Book of the Covenant—20:22-23:33
• Directions for building the tabernacle—25:1-27:21
• Laws governing the Priesthood—28:1-29:46
• Laws governing worship in the Tabernacle—30:1-31:18
• The golden calf—32:1-35
• Moses sees only God’s back—33:18-34:9
• The second tables of the Law—34:1-9
• Moses’s face shines when he speaks to God—34:29-35
• Constructing the Tabernacle—36:1-40:38
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David and Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11-12) (bath-SHE-buh)
The single most referenced story in the Second Samuel adds both family and sexual complications to the already complex political time, and that is the story of David and Bathsheba. David is established in Jerusalem, but his armies are still battling enemies in the field. One night, David walks on the roof of his house and sees a beautiful woman at her bath. He sends to discover who she is and finds she is Bathsheba, the wife of one of his captains, Uriah the Hittite—meaning that, rather than a member of one of the twelve tribes, Uriah is a Canaanite, a Gentile who has embraced the worship of Yahweh. David sends for Bathsheba, and she conceives his child. In order to cover his crime of adultery, David recalls Uriah from battle on the pretense of gaining news and sends him home to be reunited with his wife so that the paternity of the child would seem to be Uriah’s. Uriah, however, is devout and follows the Law that says the soldier must remain clean by abstaining from contact with women, and he does not go to his home. David tries again by getting Uriah drunk, but still Uriah will not visit his wife. So David sends him back to the field, but also sends a message to the commander requesting that in an aggressive assault on the enemy Uriah be put in the front lines. This is done, and Uriah is killed. David then marries Bathsheba who bears a son.
God is very angry at David—the king remained at home rather than fighting in the field; he coveted and had adulterous sex with another man’s wife; he essentially committed murder—and God sends the prophet Nathan to David to tell him a parable of two men, one rich and one poor. The poor man has only one ewe lamb, which he loves, but the rich man, to make a feast for a traveler, takes this beloved lamb from the poor man to kill for the feast, even though the rich man has plenty of his own sheep. David, who as king is also the source of legal judgments, is angered by this story and declares that the rich man should be put to death: “And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man” (2 Sam. 12:7). David is stricken with guilt, but Nathan makes it clear that, although God will not put David to death for his crime, nevertheless there is restitution to make. The son born to Bathsheba dies, and God declares to David, “the sword shall never depart form thine house, because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah, the Hittite, to be thy wife” (2 Sam. 12:10). This declaration of discord in David’s house is borne out in the stories of his sons. But Bathsheba does bear another son to David, Solomon, also called Jedidiah—“the Lord’s beloved”—who becomes king after this father.
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Song of Solomon (Abbreviation: Song) (also called the Song of Songs)
This book is also known by the more literal translation of its Hebrew title, the Song of Songs—that is, the very best song ever written. If Psalms is the soundtrack of the Bible, the Song of Solomon gives it its “R” rating. This short book is a celebration of sexual love. Exactly when it was written, by whom, and why, and how it came to be canonized are all vexed questions. One answer to the question of “why” (that is, what purpose the text was designed to serve) offers it as an element to be included in a marriage rite. But the text seems to owe much to extant Canaanite celebrations of the male and female deities of fertility, and many of the dialogue lines are hard to place convincingly in the mouths of merely human brides and grooms. Historically the book has been read as a religious allegory—in a Jewish context with God the husband/lover and Israel the bride, and in a Christian context with Jesus, as the Christ, replacing God, and the Church replacing Israel. Reading the text with an eye to literary representation, however, there are challenges to be made to the designation of allegory for the book as a whole. The KJV offers complicated headings that function as stage directions for a drama, treating the book as a play script, although, as with the other approaches, this produces difficulties.
There is no question, however, that the “love” in the text is an explicitly sexual love rather than a more broad and abstract love, as Hebrew has a different word for each. The text is short—only 8 chapters—and thus easily explored. It does not contain many specific constructions that have entered the broader literary sphere (exceptions being the heralding of spring in Song 2:12—“the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land,” and the mention of the “little foxes” in Song 2:15), but its renown for being whatever it is gives it a unique place in biblical influence.
taken from the treatment of the New Testament
The Christian Scriptures
Within the canonical texts in the Christian scriptures, scholars suggest that the earliest to be composed are among the Epistles—that is, letters written in the early years after the death of Jesus of Nazareth (which scholars conjecture occurred in the year we now designate as 30 CE) by men who believed that he was the son of God. Somewhere between 46 and 52 CE, thus only a generation after Jesus’s death, a Jewish convert to what becomes known as Christianity whom we now know by his Latin name Paul, writes to groups of believers in communities often to whom he himself has brought the news of Jesus’s identity, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection. In these letters we trace the grounding ideas that guided the formation of what becomes the Christian church.
Beginning in ca. 65-70 CE, the conjectured date for the composition of the earliest-composed canonical gospel (that of Mark), in communities as far flung as Jerusalem and Rome, those who had known, or known of, Jesus of Nazareth begin to formulate stories of his life. In common with the Hebrew scriptures, these accounts seem to have relied on even earlier documents or oral traditions as sources, although any such documents have not themselves been preserved intact. These two genres—gospels and epistles—make up all but two of the texts in the Christian scriptures. They were composed over a substantially shorter period of time than were the Hebrew scriptures (from ca. 45 CE to ca. 150 CE—barely more than a century, vs. the roughly eight centuries for the Hebrew scriptures—ca. 950 BCE to ca. 165 BCE).
Although the Hebrew and Christian scriptures speak to definitively different worldviews, they are nevertheless closely tied. The Christian scriptures look back to the Hebrew scriptures, quoting and citing them extensively, and many readers of the Hebrew scriptures, both during the early years after Jesus’s death and in contemporary readings of the Bible today, see them as looking forward to the life of Jesus. Such readings of the Hebrew scriptures as prophetic of events central to Christianity are examples of what is called typology—in the stories of people living long before Jesus’s birth readers find “types” of the messiah, or christ, to come, Jesus himself then being the “antitype,” or true revelation. Often these readings take out of context what are only portions of longer stories or texts, or depend upon a Greek translation that subtly changes the meaning of the original Hebrew. This is noted not to discredit a belief in the continuity between the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, but to make clear that Christian typology is only one way of understanding that relationship. Certainly Judaism continues to find truths in the ancient Hebrew scriptures that do not speak to and remain unaffected by the life of Jesus of Nazareth. But the texts in the canonical Christian scriptures take as a starting point the belief that the creating deity of Genesis is the father of the messiah, and that the messiah is Jesus of Nazareth.
The name “Jesus” stems from the ancient Hebrew name “Jehoshua,” meaning “God is salvation.” Throughout this treatment of the Christian scriptures the name “Jesus” is used to refer to the one whose life is at the center of their stories. It is very common to refer to Jesus as “Christ,” the Greek word meaning “anointed” (which translates the Hebrew word of the same meaning, transliterated as “messiah”) almost as if it were a surname—Jesus Christ. Again, in no way is this choice to use “Jesus” rather than “Christ” designed to deny or denigrate a belief in the identify of Jesus as God’s anointed, but because this treatment seeks to build a foundation in the texts of the Bible rather than to explore or assume any beliefs stemming from what the texts include, throughout this text the central character of the Christian drama is called by name rather than by title.
Within the text itself, however, Jesus is given a huge variety of titles (sixty by the count in the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary). Of these, below in alphabetical order are a few of the more commonly referenced.
• Alpha and Omega: These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and this title names the role of Jesus as “the beginning and the ending.” Addressed so in Revelation, this designation aligns Jesus with the creating deity in Genesis (see also “Logos” below)—the beginning—and suggests that, just as the world was begun by this deity, so ultimately will this deity return in “the end times” to reign over a transformed world, whether that world be earthly or heavenly.
• Apostle: A transliteration of a Greek word meaning a messenger, and indeed an esteemed messenger to whom the highest authority has entrusted a message of paramount importance.
• Bridegroom: The Hebrew scriptures develop the imagery of the relationship between human and divine as a marriage. Within the Christian scriptures, Jesus plays the part of bridegroom in this analogy, and the bride becomes the church.
• Christ: A Greek word that translates the Hebrew “messiah,” both of which signify “anointed one.”
• Emmanuel or Immanuel: Hebrew, meaning “God with us.”
• Good Shepherd: From the earliest human stories in Genesis, biblical texts reflect their origins among those who kept flocks. Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures use the figure of the good shepherd as an image of a benevolent, wise, and responsible leader.
• Lamb of God: Jesus is given this title in John’s gospel. It has come to be understood as the characterization of Jesus’s crucifixion as a “sin offering”—that is, a sacrificial “lamb” slaughtered to remove sin. Such a title recalls the story of Abraham and Isaac, where Abraham, asked by God to sacrifice the one child of Abraham’s wife Sarah, sets out to do so, but at the last moment God provides an ram to take the place of the son (p.#). In the understanding of Jesus as the “Lamb of God,” God’s own “son” is in fact actually sacrificed to take away the sin of all God’s people.
• Second Adam: Adam is the first human being created in the older of the two creations stories in Genesis (Gen. 2). As the first, he becomes the representative of all humankind, and by Adam’s eating the forbidden fruit and being expelled from Eden and cursed by God, all humankind suffers the same fate. Paul, responding to this Genesis story, writes in First Corinthians: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). By becoming fully human, the son of God in essence reboots humankind.
o Son of David: The messianic tradition in Judaism that arose during the Babylonian exile expects a descendent of the great King David to arise as the leader who will restore Israel once again as a nation of God’s people. Through Jesus’s earthly father Joseph, he is of David’s line (see the genealogies in the gospels of Matthew and Luke: Matt. 1:1-16, and Luke 3:23-38).
o Son of God: The well-known story of the Annunciation—the angel Gabriel comes to the Virgin Mary telling her that she will conceive and bear the “Son of God”—appears only in the gospel of Luke (1:35), but in the stories of Jesus’s baptism (see p.#) in the Jordan in all four gospels God’s voice is heard proclaiming him as God’s own son. This relationship with God leads to the determination that, as well as being human, Jesus is also divine—God incarnate (“incarnation” has at its root the Latin word for flesh—the divine, without losing divinity, takes on human flesh that makes him fully human, if no less divine ).
o Son of Man: Throughout the Hebrew scriptures the title “son of man” can be read simply as the equivalent of describing someone as human. But the designation also appears in apocalyptic writings, which present the coming of an apparently supernatural “Son of Man” as a sign of the end times (see Dan. 7:13). Throughout the synoptic gospels Jesus refers to himself in the third person as the “Son of Man,” but the exact import of this self-naming is interpreted in a variety of ways.
• The Word: As the Introduction to this text reveals, the premise that language itself has power makes Jesus’s designation as the Word of God of great import within literary circles, but also it has been of great import within theological circles. This title is often given in the Greek—Logos (LOH-gohs) is the Greek word for “word,” and in the theology that identifies differing “persons” of the deity among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost in the KJV), the Son is the Logos, God’s creating word. So, when “God said, Let there be light,” the word he spoke—“light”—is the Logos, the creating Word. By this understanding of the second person of the trinity, it is Jesus, as the pre-incarnate Logos, who does the creating described in Genesis.
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from “Episodes in all three Synoptic Gospels”
Resurrection (Mark 16; Matt. 28; Luke 24)
In all three synoptics women come to the tomb after the sabbath has ended in order to prepare Jesus’s body appropriately. In both Mark and Luke they find the stone already rolled back and Jesus’s body gone. In Mark there is one “young man,” and in Luke there are two men by the tomb, in each case in shining raiment, who explain that Jesus is “risen.” Famously, in Luke, the angelic messenger asks, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5). In Matthew, while the women (and the guards) watch, there is an earthquake, and an “angel” descends and rolls the stone away. The guards, quite understandably, faint. In all three synoptics the women are told to seek the disciples and tell them of Jesus’s resurrection. The three accounts vary, however, on what happens next. In the original shorter ending of Mark (see footnote [p.#]) the women are afraid and do not tell of what they‘ve seen. In Matthew the women, with “fear and great joy,” do run to tell the disciples, and the recovered guards return and tell what they have witnessed and are bribed to keep quiet. In Luke, the women (the two Marys and Joanna [Luke 24:10]) tell what they have seen, but the disciples do not believe them.
With the longer ending of Mark (see footnote [p.#]), all three synoptics tell of appearances of the risen Jesus to various people. Jesus appears first to Mary Magdalene (in Mark) or to all the women as they left the tomb (in Matthew). Jesus then appears to the now 11 disciples (in Mark and Matthew), giving them the commission to preach the gospel and baptize. Luke tells the extraordinary and influential story of the Road to Emmaus (ih-MAY-us)—see below [p.#]. Luke also tells of Jesus ascension into heaven (Luke 24:49-53).
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Taken from the treatments of the Epistles
The letter to Philemon, though only one chapter in length, has been much considered given its focus on the runaway slave, Onesimus (oh-NESS-ih-muss). Paul has become acquainted with Onesimus under unknown circumstances, but apparently Onesimus is not only himself a Christian but has also been of material help to Paul in his current ministry, even though Paul writes the letter from one of his stays in prison. Paul sends the letter by Onesimus’s hand back to the city of Colossae (kuh-LAH-say), where we presume Philemon is the owner from whom Onesimus ran away. Paul urges Philemon to see the returnee not as a slave, but as a brother in the faith, and Paul’s own “son” in that same faith. The name “Onesimus” is related to a Greek word meaning “useful,” and throughout the letter Paul queries what is truly ‘useful’ in the present situation. The letter cannot be called abolitionist in its treatment of slavery, but it strongly presents the notion of Christians as slaves of the gospel (the KJV translates the Greek word as “servant” rather than “slave,” but modern translations use the latter), a common characterization in Paul’s letters, and finally speaks of the great directive that must trump all others, which is love.
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Taken from the Glossary
• From the Greek—“to immerse or wash in water.” Although the word “baptism” does not occur in the Hebrew scriptures, Mosaic Law requires ritual cleansing/bathing. In the Christian scriptures, baptism describes the immersion in water as a powerful sign. In John the Baptist’s ministry it is a sign of repentance, and, as Jesus’s apostles speak of it, a sign of faith in the identity of Jesus as the son of God who will give the baptized the gift of the Holy Spirit (although occasionally the gift of the spirit precedes baptism). Paul in his epistles speaks of baptism as a symbolic death and rebirth—submersion beneath and rising above the surface of the water—binding a Christian believer to both Jesus’s death and his resurrection (e.g., Rom. 6:1-4).
• The name in Aramaic means literally “son of (bar) father (abba).” The character bearing this name is called a “bandit” in the gospel of John, a “notorious prisoner” in Matthew, and a murderous insurrectionist in Mark. During Jesus’s Roman trial, Pontius Pilate asks the crowd whom he should release—Jesus or Barabbas. They choose Barabbas. [see page #]
Daniel (Abbreviation: Dan.)
• Twenty-seventh book in the Hebrew scriptures. [pages #-#]
• The Book of Daniel is the latest written of all the books included in the Hebrew scriptures, composed ca. 164 BCE. Although the book is included among the prophets in Christian Bibles, it is more of a collection of legendary stories about the Jewish hero Daniel than an actual prophecy. In Jewish Bibles it is included in the Ketuvim, or “writings.” The book closes with an apocalypse (Dan. 7-12), a genre that flourishes to this day.
Ecce homo (EH-kay OH-moh) (Greek: “behold the man”)
• These are Pilate’s words as he presents Jesus before the crowd who will clamor for his crucifixion (John 19:5). It is often presented in the transliterated Greek rather than in the English translation.
• The word itself comes from a Greek root that speaks to cause, responsibility, or blame. In literary studies the term describes a story or narrative written to account for an observed phenomenon or situation. The Greek myth of the nymph Echo, for instance, explains the observed phenomenon of an aural reflection. Scholars posit that many narratives in the Bible seem to have been written to account for existing structures, situations, practices, or relationships among peoples.
• The tradition of the fish as a Christian symbol comes from the Greek word for “fish,” ichthus, which becomes an anagram—Iesous Christos Theou Uior Soter, or Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.
• The name of both an ancient tribe and an ancient language spoken by that tribe. One explanation for this tribal name is that it derive from the proper name Eber, an ancestor who appears in several genealogies in the Hebrew scriptures. The term may also mean “the one who has passed over,” in this case a reference to crossing the Jordan into the land of Canaan. The three terms—Hebrew, Israelite, and Jew—outline the history of the rise of Judaism. Abraham is of the tribe of the Hebrews. His grandson Jacob is renamed Israel, and the descendants of Jacob’s twelve sons become the Israelites, who live in what becomes the nation of Israel. Of the twelve tribes, the only one surviving the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests of Israel is the tribe of Judah, whose members become known as the Jews, and whose faith is called Judaism.
• Major river that marks the eastern border of Canaan. The territory east of the river is called the Transjordan. In order to occupy the “promised land,” the Israelites have to cross the Jordan river, which they do by the expedient of their leader Joshua’s parting of the waters, as Moses parted the waters of what is translated as the Red Sea (Josh. 3) [page #]. Jesus is baptized himself and in some accounts baptizes others in the Jordan river (see “synoptic gospels—John the Baptist” [pages #-#]). Thus, both crossing and being immersed in the waters of the Jordan become extraordinarily powerful symbols in narratives both within and influenced by the Bible.
Mishnah (MISH-nah) (Hebrew: “teaching or learning by repetition”)
• Originally the Mishna was the body of oral Law passed down in parallel with the written Law in the Torah. At the beginning of the 3rd Century CE, after a series of Jewish revolts that led to a huge loss of life, particularly among the scholars and rabbis who were entrusted with the oral traditions, these oral laws were set down in writing lest they be lost. Over many centuries they have been annotated but generations of Rabbis, and these glosses and the Mishna themselves make up the Talmud.
sabaoth (SAH-bee-oath) (Hebrew: “armies”)
• A word visually similar to “sabbath,” but unrelated in both etymology and meaning. The word “sabaoth” is rendered as “hosts” in the common phrase in English translations of the Bible—the Lord of Hosts.
Satan (Hebrew: “adversary”)
• The name “Satan” in both the KJV and the NRSV occurs in 1 Chr. 21, where Satan “provoked David to number Israel” (1 Ch. 21:1). The Hebrew satan referred to a human adversary before it became the name of a particular supernatural being. The Septuagint often translates the Heb. satan as “devil,” a word with Greek and Latin roots meaning “to slander,” or “to trespass (throw over).” The KJV often translates “demon” (Greek daimon) as “devil.” Thus a variety of both human and supernatural forces of evil (a word whose etymology also involves overstepping proper bounds) have been treated as linguistically interchangeable. In any reference to any of these supernatural enemies, therefore, it is always wise whenever possible to seek out any specifically cited biblical context before drawing final conclusions about meaning, but much of what “everyone knows” about Satan comes from a complex of extra-biblical elaborations. See the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary for a fine discussion of Judaism’s indebtedness to Persian dualistic theogonies as a background to the character of Satan.
• Beginning with the institution of David’s monarchy in Israel in the 10th Century BCE, Jerusalem becomes the heart of Israelite life and worship, and the temple constructed there is its epicenter. Although King David desires to build God a house in Jerusalem, the prophet Nathan tells him that task will be for his son Solomon (2 Sam. 7). King Solomon builds what is now called the first temple or Solomon’s temple, completed in 959 BCE (I Kings 6-8). In 587 BCE this temple is destroyed by the the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. At this time the ark of the covenant is taken and never recovered, along with many of the rich appointments of the luxurious first Temple. The second temple, built on the foundations of the first, is reconstructed after the Babylonian exile under Zerubbabel between 520 and 515 BCE (Books of Ezra and Nehemiah). Centuries later, Herod the Great (reign 37 BCE-4 CE) oversaw huge building projects involving the temple, beginning in 20 BCE and not completed until 62 CE, so the second temple is often called Herod’s temple. Roman legions burned the second temple in 70 CE. All that remains of it in the 21st century are foundation stones and the “Western Wall.” On the Temple Mount in Jerusalem now are two Islamic structures: the Dome of the Rock (built 691 CE), and the al-Aqsa Mosque (built in 705 CE).
This post was written by Mary Anne