Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (3 August 2014)

Contents

Lectionary

  • Genesis 32:22-31 & Psalm 17:1-7, 15 (Isaiah 55:1-5 & Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21)
  • Romans 9:1-5
  • Matthew 14:13-21

 

Gospel: Bread and fish

It seems that an open table was an integral aspect of the way Jesus engaged people in the experience of God’s domain as a present reality, unrelated to the Temple ritual. Many of his sayings and miracles are remembered as having their life setting in the context of a communal meal.

The complex 016 Supper and Eucharist provides some insight into this dimension of the early Jesus tradition:

(1a) 1 Cor 10:14-22
(1b) 1 Cor 11:23-25
(2) Mark 14:22-25 = Matt 26:26-29 = Luke 22:15-19a[19b-20]
(3) Did. 9:1-4
(4) John 6:51b-58

This week’s Gospel takes us to another way in which that tradition was preserved. Since the meal features the everyday fare of Galilean fish and Mediterranean bread (rather than the ritual elements of bread and wine), it is possible that this preserves an authentic memory of a meal involving a large number of people. On the other hand, the miraculous dimensions of the story seem to reflect some development in the tradition, and perhaps even a post-Easter setting for the core event.

In any case, it may be worthwhile to review the texts that John Dominic Crossan associates with this complex in the historical Jesus inventory.

1 Corinthians 15:6

Next he appeared to a crowd of more than five hundred believers at the same time, most of whom are still alive, although some have died.

This short text comes from the list of resurrection appearances cited by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. It has been suggested by some scholars that this event, which seems otherwise unattested in the New Testament, may be the core event for either the multiplication of the loaves or the Pentecost story (or both). No matter what view we hold on those possibilities, it is clear that this is a very early reference to a tradition about some miraculous event involving a large crowd of people. The tradition predates Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, and may be dated to some time in the 40s and traced to the earliest Jesus community in which Paul’s own Christian instruction took place after his conversion. We cannot really say whether that community was located in Antioch, Damascus or Jerusalem. Paul’s own statement in Galatians leaves the question open:

For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin;12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
13 You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it.14 I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.15 But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased16 to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being,17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.
18 Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days;19 but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother.20 In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia,22 and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ;23 they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.”24 And they glorified God because of me. [Gal 1:11-24]

John 6:1-15

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9″There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

It may be something of a surprise to see a passage from the Gospel of John listed as a source and dated prior to Mark’s Gospel, but this is presumably because this event is understood to be one of the items from the “Miracle Collection” that may have served as a source for both Mark and John.

11. Miracles Collection now imbedded within the Gospels of Mark and John. Of the seven miracles in John 2-9, the five in John 5,6 (two),9,11 which have Markan parallels, appear in the same order in Mark 2,6 (two),8 and Secret Mark. Collections of Jesus’ deeds, like collections of Jesus’ words, were already being composed by the 50s CE. [Crossan, Historical Jesus, 429]

The various common elements in Mark and John are impressive, and the more so if they share a common source in a pre-gospel tradition rather than John using Mark as a source.

Mark 6:33-44 and 8:1-10 (and parallels)

Five Thousand Fed – Mark 6:33-44

Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 35 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And all ate and were filled; 43 and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.

=Matt 14:15-21
When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

=Luke 9:12-17
The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.” 13 But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish -unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” 14 For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15 They did so and made them all sit down. 16 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17 And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

It is clear that Mark (followed later by Matthew and Luke) knows a tradition similar to that found in John 6. The common elements include:

  • location near the Sea of Galilee
  • questions about the cost (and availability) of food for such a crowd
  • five loaves and two fish
  • reference to grass
  • all are satisfied
  • fragments and left overs are collected afterwards
  • twelve baskets
  • 5,000 figure

However, Mark has also given us a variant of the same tradition and there are some subtle differences between the two stories.
Four Thousand Fed – Mark 8:1-10

In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, /2 / “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. /3/ If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way -and some of them have come from a great distance.” /4/ His disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” /5/ He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” /6/ Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. /7/ They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. /8/ They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. /9/ Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. /10/ And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

=Matt 15:32-39
/32/ Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.” /33/ The disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?” /34/ Jesus asked them, “How many loaves have you?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” /35/ Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, /36/ he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. /37/ And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. /38/ Those who had eaten were four thousand men, besides women and children. /39/ After sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.

(Note that Luke omits the duplicate account of the multiplication miracle.)
What are we to make of this variant?

The following suggestions come from Dean W. Chapman [The Orphan Gospel. Mark's Perspective on Jesus. Sheffield, 1993] and they invite us to see the symbolic layers to these familiar stories:

… why did Mark feel it necessary to have two feeding stories? In a work as short as Mark’s Gospel, it seems odd that the author would devote so much space to the same kind of miracle, especially since it did not seem to impress the participants. Since Mark had Jesus stress the number of baskets, it may be that the numbers twelve and seven were both necessary, in Mark’s eyes, if the disciples were going to discover Jesus’ identity. It is not much to go on, but there must be some reason why Mark devoted such a large part of his work to the telling of two nearly identical stories.
The Village Idiot Theory does offer a solution: Mark told the story twice because he did not know any better. This suggestion has been made by more than one Markan scholar. But here too the Village Idiot Theory stretches the limits of credulity, especially considering the eight verses (8.14-21) that Mark spent on interpreting the feeding. …
There is an alternative hypothesis: that both numbers, in fact both feedings, were essential parts of the sign which revealed Jesus as the Christ. Only when both parts were in place could the disciples be expected to ‘see everything clearly.’

Chapman notes that many people have suggested (“since at least as early as the fourth century”) that one feeding miracle was performed for Jews and the other for Gentiles. Jewish features of the feeding of the five thousand have been said to include the location in Galilee rather than in the Decapolis, the different Greek words used for “basket” in the two stories, and the significance of five loaves (suggesting the five books of Torah?). Chapman notes many of these proposals and even suggests some more of his own. However, his comments on the significance of the Greek terms for “desert” seem especially interesting.

In the story of the five thousand, the word for desert is eremos: “the same word that describes where John was preaching (1.4), where Jesus was tempted (1.9), where the Israelites received the Ten Commandments (Exod. 19.1-6), and where the prophet Hosea envisioned the Lord forming a new agreement (covenant) with his people … (Hos. 2.14).” (p. 63) However in the second story Mark uses the word eremia, which has a similar meaning but occurs nowhere else in the NT except in Matthew’s parallel to Mark’s story. Chapman observes that while eremos occurs 374 in the Greek version of the Old Testament, eremia occurs only 5 times — and always refers to Gentile territory:

  • Those nations (which will not serve Jerusalem) will be utterly laid waste. (Isa. 60.12)
  • [Edom] shall become a desolation. (Ezek. 35.4)
  • I will make [Edom] a perpetual desolation. (Ezek. 35.9)
  • The [Egyptian] workman … toiled in the wilderness. (Wis. 17.17)
  • [Babylon] will be grieved at her own desolation. (Bar. 4.33)

On balance, Chapman suggests that Mark was affirming the priority of Jews among the followers of Jesus while also asserting the proper place of the Gentiles within the early Jesus movement. There was a symbolic meaning, as Mark tells the story, in the five loaves and twelve Jewish baskets (kophinos) of scraps, and also in the seven loaves that resulted in seven Greek baskets (spuris) of scraps. Could the layers of meaning have also included the fact that the sum of five and seven is twelve, and traditionally there were twelve loaves of sacred bread before the altar in the Temple? Why does Mark’s Jesus focus the attention of the disciples on the meaning of the loaves and of the baskets left over?

Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying,”Watch out–beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” 16 They said to one another, “It is because we have no bread.” 17 And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them,”Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 Then he said to them,”Do you not yet understand?”

Luke 24:13-33, 35

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

This much-loved Easter story, found only in Luke, preserves a memory of meals together (“the breaking of the bread”) as moments of encounter with the risen Lord present among his followers. The historicity of the episode is dubious, but the understanding of sharing bread with one another as a profound moment of encounter seems to lie close to the center of Christian experience. As Michael Morwood reminds us (for example in Praying the New Story), this is not so much about invoking an absent God to come join our celebration as recognizing that God is always present, and that God’s presence is identified and named in the breaking of the bread together.

Luke 24:41-43

While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

John 21:9,12-13

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

These two brief references to bread and fish again occur in the context of the Easter traditions.

Crossan (Historical Jesus, 398) cites two archaeological reports that also point to the significance of bread and fish in the meal traditions of early Christianity:

… paintings on the walls of the earliest Christian catacombs in Rome, dating from slightly before 200 A.D., characteristically depict seven or eleven male figures, presumably the apostles, seated at table, about to partake of two fish and five loaves … [and] … two fish also appear accompanied by five loaves of bread, in early Christian funerary carvings and inscriptions. (Richard Hiers & Charles Kennedy , 21-23). This data matches with independent findings that “there are no known Last Supper scenes in catacomb or sarcophagus art” (Irvine, 25)

In other words the common meal tradition, with its simple fare of bread and fish, may be a more authentic reflection of the practice of Jesus and his first followers than the last supper tradition with its stylized ritual of “the bread” and “the cup.”

Jesus Database

  • 003 Bread and Fish – (1?) 1 Cor 15:6; (2) John 6:1-15; (3a) Mark 6:33-44 =Matt 9:36; 14:13b-21 = Luke 9:11-17; (3b) Mark 8:1-10 = Matt 15:32-39; (4) Luke 24:13-33,35; (5) Luke 24:41-43; (6) John 21:9,12-13.
  • 232 The Disciples Return – (1) Mark 6:30-32 = Matt 14:12b-13a = Luke 9:10.

 

Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site

Other recommended sites include:

 

Music Suggestions

See the following sites for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre:

Posted in Lectionary | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (27 July 2014)

Contents

Lectionary

  • Genesis 29:15-28 & Psalm 105:1-11, 45b (or Psalm 128) [alt 1 Kings 3:5-12 & Psalm 119:129-136]
  • Romans 8:26-39
  • Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Gospel: More parables from Matthew

The notes gathered here highlight comments on the various parables from a select group of scholars.

Mustard Seed

Crossan [Historical Jesus, 276-79] treats The Mustard Seed as one of 5 parables and 7 other items that comprise a list of 12 multiply-attested complexes that refer to the kingdom of God. He notes that this is the only extant parable with triple independent attestation. He notes three “converging vectors” along which the tradition has adapted the parable as it was handed on:

(1) developing the original contrast between seed and plant to emphasize the transition from smallness to greatness; (2) transformation of the mustard plant into a substantial tree (as in Sayings Gospel Q); and (3) inter textual links with the biblical traditions such as Ps 104:12; Ezek 31:3,6; Dan 4:10-12

Crossan cites the comments on the mustard plant by Pliny the Elder (fl. 23-79 CE) in his Natural History 19.170-71:

Mustard … with its pungent taste and fiery effect is extremely beneficial for the health. It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.

Citing his own earlier work on the parable (In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus. Harper & Row, 1973), Crossan points out:

When one starts a parable with a mustard seed one cannot end it with a tree, much less the great apocalyptic tree, unless, of course, one plans to lampoon rather crudely the whole apocalyptic tradition. After noting the way in which mustard plants tend to proliferate in both field and garden with negative results for both, so that the Mishnah (around 200 CE) would regulate its cultivation, Crossan cites with approval Douglas Oakman’s observation: “It is hard to escape the conclusion that Jesus deliberately likens the rule of God to a weed.”

In the end, Crossan concludes:

The point, in other words, is not just that the mustard plant starts as a proverbially small seed and grows into a shrub of three or four feet, or even higher, it is that it tends to take over where it is not wanted, that it tends to get out of control, and that it tends to attract birds within cultivated areas where they are not particularly desired. And that, said Jesus, was what the Kingdom was like: not like the mighty cedar of Lebanon and not quite like a common weed, like a pungent shrub with dangerous takeover qualities. Something you would want only in small and carefully controlled doses—if you could control it.

The Mustard Seed secured a combined red and pink score of 89% in the deliberations of the Jesus Seminar, putting it just marginally behind The Leaven (see below). The notes in The Parables of Jesus. Red Letter Edition (Polebridge:1988) read as follows:

The Mustard Seed originated with Jesus because the proverbially small mustard seed is a surprising metaphor for the kingdom. In everyday usage, the proper figure for the kingdom of God is greatness, not smallness. As the parable was handed on, interpreters converted the parable into the contrast between small beginnings (small seed) and great outcome (great tree). This process can be observed in both Mark and Thomas, where the small seed becomes a great shrub or plant; in Matthew and Luke, the shrub (plant) has actually become a tree, probably under the influence of Ezekiel 17:22-23—the great cedar representing Israel. In the hands of Jesus, the Mustard Seed is a parody of the noble cedar. Subsequent interpreters transformed the modest shrub into the traditional towering tree. (p. 34)

Brandon Scott [Reimagine the World, 35-40] provides a fresh look at this parable, but I shall cite just a few observations that he poses about the nature of the Jesus tradition within the church:

… for Jesus, God’s empire is more pervasive than dominant. It is like a pungent weed that takes over everything and in which the birds of the air can nest; it bears little if any resemblance to the mighty, majestic, and noble symbol of empire of Israel or Caesar. Take your choice, says the parable. The history of this parable’s interpretation is a clear example of how Jesus’ own language betrayed him, because the tradition had a clear preference for the cedar of Lebanon … Why did the parable of the Leaven and the Mustard Plant fail in the later tradition? Why did Christian preaching so perversely misunderstand them? The fault lies in the language of the parable. In these two parables Jesus took on the fundamental assumptions of his society—and nearly every human society—about how God acts. How are we to imagine God’s activity? As leaven or unleavened? As mustard plant or mighty cedar? The tradition either pretended or preferred not to hear in parable his re-imagined God. (p. 39-40)

The Leaven

Crossan discusses this parable as one of several in the section “A Kingdom of Undesirables” (Historical Jesus, 276-82).

The essential point is “that leaven in the ancient world was a symbol of moral corruption,” according to Brandon Scott, since it was “made by taking a piece of bread and storing it in a damp, dark place until mold forms. The bread rots and decays … modern yeast … is domesticated.” Furthermore, “in Israel there is an equation that leaven is the unholy everyday, and unleaven the holy, the sacred, the feast” (324). Once again, we are confronted with an image of the Kingdom that is immediately shocking and provocative. And it is compounded by the fact that, again from Scott, “woman as a symbolic structure was associated in Judaism, as in other Mediterranean cultures, with the unclean, the religiously impure. The male was the symbol for purity.” Furthermore, “the figurative use of hiding to describe the mixing of leaven and flour is otherwise unattested in Greek or Hebrew” (326). With mustard and darnel, then, stands another and triply shocking image for the Kingdom: a woman hiding leaven in her dough. It’s there, it’s natural, it’s normal, it’s necessary, but society has a problem with it.

In the considerations of the Jesus Seminar, this parable received the highest rating of any saying attributed to Jesus. The combined red and pink vote was 90% and not a single black vote was cast in this case. That strong vote seems to have rested primarily on the reversal of expectations when Jesus used leaven (an agent of corruption typically associated with impurity in Jewish thought) as a metaphor for God’s kingdom. Brandon Scott [Reimagine the World, 21-34] has an excellent discussion of some key dimensions to this parable. (1) the inter textual allusion of the “three measures” to Abraham’s hospitality to three anonymous sacred visitors in Genesis 18:

When the parable employs the term three measures it conjures up from the audience’s repertoire the story of Abraham and the birth of Isaac. In parable it suggests a comparison between the woman’s actions and the birth of Isaac. Now we begin to understand the difference between parabolic or oral thinking and our own literate, more abstract way of thinking. In parable “three measures” serves to compare the event of Isaac’s birth with the event of the parable. Literally and abstractly it makes little sense. But parable is a concrete way of thinking, not an abstract way. (p. 28)

(2) leaven as a symbol of decay and corruption:

In the ancient world the process of leavening frequently stood as a metaphor for moral corruption. … The New Testament contains several examples of this negative use of leaven. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus warns the disciples concerning the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod (Mark 8:15). .. Twice Paul quotes the proverb, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” … In the Hebrew Bible unleavened bread is a powerful symbol of the holy. During the feast of Passover, the feast of unleavened bread, all leavened bread was to be cleansed out of the house. When we reflect how leaven is a product of rotten bread and is associated with a corpse, we begin to see how it can serve as a powerful metaphor for corruption and how its opposite, unleavened bread, can serve as a metaphor for the sacred and holy. The very beginning of the parables with the simple word “leaven,” would throw an audience off guard and maybe into panic. For leaven is surely no correct symbol of the kingdom of God. (pp. 25-27)

(3) a woman concealed … :

In the normal process of baking one might expect a woman to be kneading the dough. There is nothing untoward about her role here. But as a parable for the kingdom of God, a woman’s role as an emblem of the sacred becomes highly problematic. Again, there is nothing wrong with the kingdom of God being hidden. But in this parable an unexpected word is used for hiding. “Concealed”—krypto (Luke) or enkrypto (Matthew)—is a much more negative term, for hiding than the more neutral kalypto. Krypto has some sense of concealment. (p. 27f)

Finally, under the delightful subheading “Kneading the parable,” Scott begins to sketch out a way of hearing this parable:

… my contention is that Jesus told parables to let people in on his experience of God. Parables were his way of making God available to them. Actually, empire of God is a symbol used to make God available to folks, to provide them with an alternative to their everyday life in the empire of Caesar or in the kingdom of Caesar’s puppet, Herod Antipas. If we listen to the parable it says something like this. “The empire of God is like moral corruption.” Well of course that is a very bad start. Most folks in Jesus’ audience would have blanched at the first term “leaven.” Perhaps they would snicker that the empire of Caesar is more like leaven. “which a woman took.” Again how can a woman, weak as she is, have anything to do with God’s empire? But if it is like leaven, then there is a certain logic, a weird logic, to the parable. “and concealed …” Does she do it while no one is looking? How can she keep it concealed? Will folks be unaware that it is leavened bread? After all most bread in the ancient world was flat bread, like tortillas or pita. “in three measures of flour …” Now we are getting somewhere. Finally an image of great size, an image appropriate to God. And this tells us we are on the right track. Three measures assures us that this is after all the empire of God. What a huge banquet she is preparing, enough for a hundred people! This is an event like the birth of Isaac. Is she preparing the messianic banquet? “until it was all leavened …” Until it has worked its way through everything, until it has corrupted the whole mass of dough. Surely such total corruption is nonsense as a way of talking about God or experiencing God. What is this about?

Scott then poses the question: “for whom would this parable be good news?” Whether or not it seems good news for me probably depends on whether I see myself as doing well under the status quo, or whether I yearn for change and freedom. The following poem by Gene Stecher explores some of the themes relating to this parable:

GIVE US TODAY A LEAVENED LOAF Nothing is hidden that won’t be revealed, nothing is veiled that will not be unveiled! The Leaven was placed and no one knew, but can you miss the 50 pound flour effect? (Th 5:2, Lk 12:2; 13:20-21) The mustard seed will burst from the earth. The treasure and pearl are going to be found. Wedding garments and fruit reveal the truth. The spotlight shines on what comes out of you. (Th 20, Mt 13:44, Th 76, Mt 7:16; 22:11, Mk 7:15) The lamp goes on top of the bushel. The lost are found, whether sheep or coin. The seed ripens, and it is harvested. Log removal brings one’s friend into focus. (Lk 8:16, Lk 15:4-9, Mk 4:26, Th 26) Investment matters, so expect good gifts. The embers smolder. Uh oh, the jar is empty! The leavened demon came out screaming! This Jesus is now exalted to Lord and Messiah! (Mt 25:14, Th 97, Mt 7:9, Th 10, Lk 11:20, Acts 2:32-36) Is there any better feeling, than finding or discovering something of value that had been hidden, even rising to giddiness at seeing the hidden emerge, like when one’s ten year old daughter picks up a basketball for the first time, walks up to the playground, and knocks down shot after shot. [Gene Stecher - Chambersburg, Pa.]

The Treasure

There is a rabbinic parallel to this story:

R. Simeon b. Yohai taught [that the Egyptians were] like a man who inherited a piece of ground used as a dunghill. Being an indolent man he went and sold it for a trifling sum. The purchaser began working and digging it up and he found a treasure there out of which he built himself a fine palace. He began going about in public followed by a retinue of servants, all out of the treasure he found in it. When the seller saw it, he was ready to choke and exclaimed, “Alas, what have I thrown away?” So when Israel was in Egypt they were set to work at bricks and mortar, and they were despised in the eyes of the Egyptians. But when the Egyptians saw them encamped under their standards by the sea in military array, they were deeply mortified and exclaimed, “Alas, what have we sent forth from our land.” [Midrash Rabbah, Song of Songs 4.12.1 tr. H. Freedman and Maurice Simon] (London: Soncino Press, 1939. Vol 9, pages 292-20)

The Jesus Seminar (The Parables of Jesus) voted both the Matthew and Thomas versions of this parable pink, but Matthew seems to be closer to the presumed original form. The version in Thomas is closer to the rabbinic parallel than the version in Matthew, suggesting that perhaps it has been adapted to conform to the better-known rabbinic parable. The Matthean version also has a slightly more scandalous character as the person who finds the treasure is not the rightful owner, but secures title to the treasure by deceit. This twist to the tale is also seen in parables such as 466 The Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-7). John Dominic Crossan (In Parables) suggests that The Treasure, The Pearl and The Fishnet belong together as stories that affirm the advent of God’s kingdom, describe the reversal of fortunes flowing from its arrival among us, and create new possibilities for action. He then goes on to structure his study of the parable tradition around those key descriptors: parables of advent, parable of reversal, and parables of action. He writes:

These are surely humble and everyday examples and yet they are startling in their implications. It has always been clear that Jesus criticized many of the notions open to the religious experience of his contemporaries: the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Zealots, the Essenes. But usually, and especially since Paul and the Reformation, it is his critique of the Law that is to the forefront. It is here suggested that the basic attack of Jesus is on an idolatry of time and that this is the center whence issued forth what Yeats called that “Galilean turbulence” which set Jesus against all the major religious options of his contemporaries. It should be quite clear that he forged a two-edged sword which strikes as lethally against his contemporary Judaism as it should have done against primitive Christianity; thereafter it was much too late. The one who plans, projects, and programs a future, even and especially if one covers the denial of finitude by calling it God’s future disclosed or disclosable to oneself, is in idolatry against the sovereign freedom of God’s advent to create one’s time and establish one’s historicity. This is the central challenge of Jesus. The geographers tell us we do not live on firm earth but on giant moving plates whose grinding passage and tortured depths give us earthquake and volcano. Jesus tells us that we do not live in firm time but on giant shifting epochs whose transitions and changes are the eschatological advent of God. It is the view of time as man’s future that Jesus opposed in the name of time as God’s presence, not as eternity beyond us but as advent within us. Jesus simply took the third commandment seriously: keep time holy! (p. 35)

 

The Pearl

The Jesus Seminar (The Parables of Jesus) simply notes that Matthew and Thomas seem to preserve independent versions of this saying, with each source developing the underlying tradition in slightly different directions. The saying was voted pink in both its versions. Another poem by Gene Stecher:

The surprise within and the systematic search among. The subject of the surprise, the subject of the searching. Pearls and treasures come from either direction. Better stay alert for the knock! or maybe we’re talking about JOY! The joy of the surprise, the joy of priceless discovery, the joy of paying the full value. A pearl in a field? Hard to find! After you rush to buy the field, the joy of walking barefoot through luscious HJ grass. But you have to pay the full value, everything you have! [Gene Stecher - Chambersburg, Pa.]

The Fishnet

There is a parallel to this story from Aesop:

A fisherman drew in the dragnet he had cast <into the sea> only a short time before. As luck would have it, it was filled with all kinds <of fish>. The small fish made for the bottom of the net and escaped through its porous mesh. The large fish were trapped and lay stretched out in the boat.

While Crossan gives this item a positive historical assessment, he notes [Historical Jesus, 350f] that it is also a prime example of the ambiguity inherent in the traditions associated with Jesus:

Nothing could illustrate more clearly the problem of deciding original materials even within the first stratum. Jesus could use a more or less proverbial or parabolic image that is radical only in its application, namely, that his vision, his message, or his challenge is as obvious, ordinary, or necessary as this or that action. It is as clear as a fisherman choosing the better fish or a harvester choosing the right moment to begin reaping. But the transmission could just as easily interpret common sense as sapiential mystery hidden from the dawn of creation or eschatological secret to be revealed at the imminent eschaton. Jesus, like all the Cynics, would claim that their life was simply the wisdom of common sense open to all with eyes to see and ears to hear

The Jesus Seminar (The Parables of Jesus) notes that both versions of this parable were given a black vote as the saying seems to originate from the common lore of the ancient world:

The Fishnet, like the Planted Weeds, reflects the necessity of the young Christian movement to mark off its social boundaries from the larger world, hence the interest in sorting out the good from the bad. The separation to take place at the close of the age (Matt 13:49-50) is a typical Matthean theme and represents the way he understood the parable. (p. 70)

The Kingdom’s Scribe

The Jesus Seminar report on this item in The Five Gospels reads as follows:

This saying has probably been composed by Matthew as the conclusion to his collection of parables. For Matthew, scholars schooled in Heaven’s imperial rule will understand the parables in much the same way that the disciples respond in this exchange. The toastmaster at a banquet produces both mature and young wine from a large cellar (drawing images and stories, old and new, from a large repertoire and then explaining what they mean for those present). This is the way Jesus tells and explains parables according to Matthew. (p. 198)

Jesus Database

  • 035 The Mustard Seed – (1) GThom. 20:1-2; (2) 1or2?Q: Luke 13:18-19 = Matt 13:31-32; (3) Mark 4:30-32 = Matt 13:31-32
  • 104 The Leaven – (1) GThom. 96:1; (2) 1or2?Q: Luke 13:20-21 = Matt 13:33

Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site Other recommended sites include:

Music Suggestions

See the following sites for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre:

Posted in Lectionary | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (20 July 2014)

Contents

Lectionary

  • Genesis 28:10-19a and Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24 [or Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19 (or Isaiah 44:6-8) and Psalm 86:11-17]
  • Romans 8:12-25
  • Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

The Parables — Matthew 13 (continued)

This week the major western lectionaries offer a set of sayings (mostly parables) from Matthew 13, although there is some variation in the set offered by each lectionary:

Saying

ECUSA

RC

RCL

The Planted Weeds

Yes

Yes

Yes

Mustard Seed

Next Sunday

Yes

Next Sunday

Leaven

Next Sunday

Yes

Next Sunday

Speaking in Parables

No

Yes

No

Hidden From Eternity

No

Yes

No

Planted Weeds Explained

Yes

Yes

Yes

Who Has Ears

Yes

Yes

Yes

Gnashing of Teeth

Yes

Yes

Yes

As the parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven will be considered in the ECUSA and RCL cycles next week, these notes will focus on the Planted Weeds.

Before looking specifically at this week’s parable, it is interesting to note the diversity of attestation enjoyed by the items in Matthew 13. Bold type is used to indicate the probable source of each item, following the suggestions in The Five Gospels so far as possible, while ordinary type is used for secondary sources.

Item

Paul

Thomas

Q Gospel

Mark

Matt

Luke-Acts

John

Other NT

Outside
NT

From the Boat

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No
No
The Sower

No

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No
Yes
Who Has Ears

No

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes
No
Knowing the Mystery

No

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No
No
Have and Receive

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No
No
Eye, Ear, Mind

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

No

No
Yes
Interpreting the Sower

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No
No
The Planted Weeds
No
Yes
No
No
Yes
No
No
No
No
The Mustard Seed
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
The Leaven
No
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
Speaking in Parables
No
No
No
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
No
Planted Weeds Explained
No
No
No
No
Yes
No
No
No
No
Gnashing of Teeth

No

No

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

No

No

Yes

Hidden Since Eternity
Yes
No
No
No
Yes
No
No
No
No
The Treasure
No
Yes
No
No
Matt
No
No
No
No
The Pearl
No
Yes
No
No
Yes
No
No
No
No
The Fishnet
No
Yes
No
No
Yes
No
No
No
No
The Fishnet Explained
No
No
No
No
Yes
No
No
No
No
The Kingdom’s Scribe
No
No
No
No
Yes
No
No
No
No
Prophet’s Own Country
No
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
No

The Planted Weeds

It is clear from the following horizontal line synopsis that the version in Matthew has undergone additional development beyond the simpler version found in Thomas.

Thom: Jesus said,
Matt: He put before them another parable:

Thom: The Father’s imperial rule is like a person who had [good] seed.
Matt: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field;

Thom: His enemy came during the night and sowed weeds among the good seed.
Matt: but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.

Thom: –
Matt: So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.

Thom: –
Matt: And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’

Thom: –
Matt: He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’

Thom: The person did not let the workers pull up the weeds,
Matt: The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’

Thom: but said to them, “No, otherwise you might go to pull up the weeds and pull up the wheat along with them.”
Matt: But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.

Thom: For on the day of the harvest the weeds will be conspicuous, and will be pulled up and burned.
Matt: Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”

 

Samuel Lachs [Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament, 224] notes that there are no rabbinic parallels to this saying, but he does offer this comment on the rabbinic view of darnel (Lolium temulentum):

Heb. zun, Aram. zuna. Darnel closely resembles wheat, and since it cannot readily be distinguished from wheat, it is left in the field until harvest time. The Rabbis looked upon darnel as a degenerative form of wheat, the product of sexual excesses that took place in the plant world before the Flood. The Rabbis fancifully derive its meaning from z-n-h, which means “to commit fornication.”

This is one of the sayings considered at the opening session of the Jesus Seminar, but it was then reconsidered at the second session later in 1986. At the first session, both versions were given a Gray vote but at the second session they each were voted Black.

While the Seminar recognized that its occurrence in Thomas showed that it was circulating in Christian circles from a very early time, this parable’s eventual Black vote marked it as an item that could not be considered for inclusion in the database of sayings attributed to Jesus. The summary opinion of the Seminar is stated as follows:

The parable reflects the concern of a young Christian community attempting to define itself over against an evil world, a concern not characteristic of Jesus. Letting the wheat and weeds grow up together suggests the final judgment rather than agricultural practice. [Five Gospels, 194]

The main shift of opinion between the two sessions seems to have concerned the “distant echo of the final apocalyptic judgment” in the Thomas version of the parable. The allegorical interpretation appended to the parable in Matt 13:16-43a makes the theme of judgment on the last day explicit:

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

The Seminar comments as follows on this interpretation of the parable:

Matthew certainly created the allegory that interprets the parable: it reflects his notion of a mixed domain, made up of good and evil, that is to be separated only at the final coming of Jesus as the son of Adam. [Five Gospels, 196]

John Dominic Crossan, who was co-chair of the Jesus Seminar during the period when it studied the sayings of Jesus, is more optimistic about the authenticity of this parable as a saying of Jesus. He gives it a positive historical rating and suggests a kind of ironic humor that might often persuade people that this saying can be understood on the lips of Jesus.

Crossan writes:

When I first worked on this parable I thought that it intended to praise the wisdom of the landowner’s decision caught, as he was, between twin evils (In Parables. 1973:64,85). But I find Oakman’s recent arguments entirely persuasive, as is also his contention that Jesus’ hearers are being asked to laugh a little at this relatively well-to-do landowner. Since darnel is a natural problem, only its great extent in a specific field would need to be explained, within the narrative of the parable and not just the paranoia of the owner, as due to an enemy’s action. So he is stuck. “Weeding after the appearance of grain might pose the danger of uprooting wheat along with the darnel,” according to Oakman, “but it possibly can lay claim to be the lesser of two evils.” (Jesus and the Economic Questions of His Day. 1986:118) And that, says Jesus, is what the Kingdom is like. From the viewpoint of the well-to-do with their fields of best wheat and plural servants, it is a noxious weed. But they are stuck with it. Mustard and darnel, then, stand together, surely with some ironic humor, as twin images of the Kingdom, seen, however, from the angle of the landless poor. [Historical Jesus, 280]

Jesus Database

  • 035 The Mustard Seed: (1) GThom. 20:1-2; (2) 1or2?Q: Luke 13:18-19 = Matt 13:31-32; (3) Mark 4:30-32 = Matt 13:31-32
  • 104 The Leaven: (1) GThom. 96:1; (2) 1or2?Q: Luke 13:20-21 = Matt 13:33
  • 009 Who Has Ears: (1a) GThom. 8:2; (1b) GThom. 21:5; (1c) GThom. 24:2; (1d) GThom. 63:2; (1e) GThom. 65:2; (1f) GThom. 96:2; (2a) Mark 4:9 = Matt 13:9 = Luke 8:8b; (2b) Mark 4:23 =Matt 13:43b; (3) Matt 11:15; (4) Luke 14:35b; (5) Rev 2:7,11,17, 29; 3:6,13,22; 13:9
  • 125 Gnashing of Teeth: (1a) 2Q: Luke 13:28a = Matt 8:12b; (1b) Matt 13:42b; (1c) Matt 13:50b; (1d) Matt 22:13b; (1e) Matt 24:51b; (1f) Matt 25:30b; (2) Dial. Sav. 14e

Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site

Other recommended sites include:

Music Suggestions

See the following sites for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre:

Posted in Lectionary | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Palestine of Jesus 2014 – Day Fifteen

Today we completed our Palestine of Jesus course at St George’s College in Jerusalem. It has been a fascinating two week experience as we combined several smaller sets of participants from Australia and the USA into a new short term  learning community. We have shared so much, learned so much, and come to love one another so much that the series of goodbyes that will begin later tonight will be very sad.

140709 Abu Ghosh Chalice

 

We began the day with an early morning walk to the Old City, entering through the Herod Gate at the bottom of Salah al-Din Street and joining the Via Dolorosa at the Church of the Condemnation.

140709 Via Dolorosa SGC

 

Participants took turns to carry the cross at the head of our prayerful procession, and to read selected Scriptures at the various stations.

140709 Via Dolorosa Station 7

 

We returned to College for breakfast and then headed out to Abu Ghosh, one of the traditional locations for Emmaus (Luke 24). Our destination was the French Catholic Convent of the Ark of the Covenant, whose large figure of Mary towers over the Muslim village of Abu Ghosh. As we approached this morning, I wondered about the lack of sensitivity that the architects of this structure demonstrated towards the faith of the local residents.

140709 Abu Ghosh

 

After spending an hour in small group discussion, as we reflected on the Emmaus story and its significance for us as we prepare to leave Jerusalem and return home, we shared in a Eucharist with the modern city of Jerusalem serving as the backdrop for our outdoor altar.

140709 Abu Ghosh Eucharist

 

The afternoon was left free, so that people could make last minute purchases and begin the process of packing for our departures during the next 24 hours. Meanwhile, the exchange of missiles and rockets continued, with reports of Hamas rockets striking Haifa in the north and of extensive destruction in Gaza as the air attacks by Israel continue. As all this is happening, life in Jerusalem continues almost without missing a beat, a sad testimony to the routine nature of the conflict.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Palestine of Jesus 2014 – Day Fourteen

Today the focus of the Palestine of Jesus course has been on the events of Holy Week, as we visited several sites associated with Gospel traditions from the final days of Jesus. As I write this blog the events from this morning seem a long time ago, as we are currently experiencing an upsurge in the violence between Israel and Hamas, with air raid sirens sounding across several Israeli towns—including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile, back on the schedule …

We began the day with a visit to the Mosque that celebrates the Ascension of Jesus. This mosque is on the site of an earlier Byzantine Church, and some of the original columns of the open structure (which had no roof) can still be seen:

140708 Mosque of the Ascension Mt Olives

 

From the Chapel of the Ascension we continued our exploration of holy sites on Mt Olives by going to the Church of the Pater Noster (that celebrates Jesus as a prophetic teacher, in this case the Lord’s Prayer) and the Palm Sunday Church at Bethpage:

140708 Pater Noster Church Mt Olives
140708 Bethpage Church Mt Olives

 

We then walked down the slope of Mt Olives towards the Kidron valley and the Old City:

140708 Walking down Mt Olives

 

We spent some time at the iconic Dominus Flevit church with its wonderful views across to the Dome of the Rock:

140708 Jerusalem from Dominus Flevit

 

Finally we went down to the Church of All Nations in Gethsemane that commemorates the agony of Jesus and his arrest:

140708 Church of All nations Gethsemane

 

In the afternoon we visited the traditional site of the Last Supper and Pentecost. This is one of the most hotly contested sites in this city, as a Jewish nationalist organisation has occupied the lower level with its ‘Tomb of David’ and is destroying the material evidence of many centuries of Islamic presence in the building. For our part, the Cenaculum is a large 14C Gothic structure, that has been venerated for centuries but has little claim to authenticity—not least because the events commemorated are themselves most likely fictional. Clearly, such questions do not deter the crowds.

140708 Cenaculum

 

I especially like this detail of a mother pelican feeding her young with her own flesh and blood—a nice Eucharistic touch.

140708 Cenaculum Pelican

 

After leaving the Mt Zion area we walked a short distance down the hill to the modern church of St Peter in Gallicantu that commemorates the trial of Jesus and his denial by Peter (‘before the cock crowed’). This is another impressive modern Catholic church, built on the remains of an earlier Byzantine or Crusader church, and offers some unusual angles on the Old City and the nearby Palestinian neighbourhoods.

140708 St Peter Gallicantu

140708 Old City from St Peter Gallicantu

 

On the way back to the College I stopped  by my friend Ibrahim’s store in Nablus Road, and we went through some of his coins that were for sale. To my single coin from Year Two of the Jewish Revolt (ca 67/68 CE), purchased yesterday, I have now added these three coins:

140708 3 Coins Obverse

 

As the day drew to a close we learned that Israel had called up 40,000 army reserves to supplement its significant standing army in preparation for an invasion of Gaza. IDF planes have been bombing Gaza throughout the day, while rockets continued to be fired from Gaza into southern Israel. By early evening the government had ordered public bomb shelters to be opened, and we were soon given our first taste of an air raid siren. We assume the night will mostly pass without significant incidents, and look forward to our final day of the course tomorrow.

 

 

Posted in Archaeology, Bethsaida, Coins, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Palestine of Jesus 2014 – Day Thirteen

This morning the participants in our Palestine of Jesus course had an extended opportunity to soak up the special places along the NW shore of the Sea of Galilee. We had a late checkout from our rooms at the Pilgerhaus, and people were able to visit the nearby Benedictine monastery or walk along the shore to Capernaum. Apart from the ubiquitous gum trees, this is about as close to ‘walking in the footsteps of Jesus’ as anyone could hope to experience.

After a light lunch at Tabgha, the course went to Mt Tabor for an extended visit to reflect on the Transfiguration traditions. They then returned to Jerusalem by bus, arriving around 5.30pm.

While this was happening, I left early so that I could pick up Clare from Ginosar and drop her to some friends at Tel Aviv University for a few days, before returning my rental car to the Avis service centre in King David Street. On the way we detoured via Ramat Hasharon, so that we could enjoy a coffee with Hanan Shafir, the dig photographer at Bethsaida.

As I walked back to the College via the Mamilla Center and the Old City, everything seemed pretty calm and there were no unusual security measures. On the way I treated myself to an ancient coin, using some funds given to me for that purpose by Clare and Lizzie at Christmas time. My wee treasure is a prutah (small bronze coin) issued by the rebel Jewish government in the second year of the Great War with Rome (66/73 CE).

IMG_8071

 

Since then the security situation seems to have deteriorated somewhat. There are reports of rockets fired from Gaza towards towns in central Israel, and there are helicopters circling over the Old City and the Arab neighbourhoods. It is yet to be seen if this is simply a precautionary measure, or whether we are going to see a repeat of the civil unrest experienced in Arab towns throughout Israel since the murder of a 16 year old Arab by Jewish nationalists last week.

Posted in Archaeology, Bethsaida, Coins, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (13 July 2014)

Contents

Lectionary

  • Genesis 25:19-34 and Psalm 119:105-112 [or Isaiah 55:10-13 and Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-13]
  • Romans 8:1-11
  • Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

The twin sons of Isaac: Esau and Jacob

For those wishing to continue following the ancestral narratives, the following excerpt from Nahum Sarna’s comments in the New JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis (1989:169-71) may provide some helpful material.

The second series of patriarchal narratives, that relating to Isaac, now begins. The data about him are exceedingly sparse. Much of what is preserved—his birth and circumcision, the Akedah, and his marriage—is integrated into the biography of Abraham, while other episodes belong to the large collection of traditions regarding Jacob. Nothing is recorded of the first twenty years of Isaac’s marriage. Only a few isolated events in his life are preserved in the literature, where he is eclipsed by the towering figure of his father Abraham and overshadowed by the dynamic, forceful personality of his son Jacob.

Yet Isaac is more than a mere transition between Abraham and Jacob, and the biblical account does contain unmistakable elements of individuality. Isaac’s name, uniquely bestowed by God, is not changed; his pastoral wanderings are restricted to a narrow range and largely center around Beer-sheba; unlike Abraham, he does not live at Hebron-Kiriat-arba but settles there only in his old age; he alone remains monogamous; he is the only patriarch to engage in agriculture and the only one never to leave the promised land; finally, the unique divine name pachad yitschak (31:42) suggests some episode, not recorded, in which this particular name would have been meaningful. References in Amos 7:9, 16 to “the shrines of Isaac” and to “the house of Isaac” as an epithet for Israel seem to indicate that a more extensive account of his life once existed.

The story of Isaac, interrupted by the genealogies of chapter 25, now resumes with the main emphasis on the birth of Esau and Jacob and the rivalry between them. These narratives present an ancient belief that the bitter hostility that marked the later relationships between the peoples of Israel and Edom had its origin in the prenatal experience of their founding fathers, who were twins.

The idea that Jacob/Israel and Esau/Edom were siblings finds expression in several biblical texts. Deuteronomy 23:8 says: “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your kinsman.” Numbers 20:14 reports that in the course of the wilderness wanderings Moses sent a message to the king of Edom that opened with the phrase, “ Thus says your brother Israel.” The prophet Obadiah, in his indictment of Edom, also refers to “your brother Jacob” (v. 10), and Malachi (1:2) assumes it to be common knowledge that “Esau is Jacob’s brother.” This tradition is so extraordinary, given the long and bitter history of enmity between Israel and Edom, that it must reflect authentic historical experience. The two peoples must have shared memories of an early common ancestry, blood kinship, or treaty associations.

According to Genesis 36:6–8, the clan of Esau originally lived in Canaan but later settled in “the hill country of Seir.” The national territory of Edom lay east of the Jordan in the southernmost part of the country. It stretched from the Gulf of Elath northward for a distance of about 100 miles (170 km.) to Nachal Zered (Wadi Chasa’), which formed the natural boundary between Edom and Moab. It shared a common boundary with Judea along the rift of the Arabah, which extends from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Akaba.

It was this geographic reality that engendered the hostility between the two peoples. The western side of the Edomite homeland enjoyed a strategic and climatic advantage. Its steep precipices, rising to 5,000 feet (1,525 m.) above sea level, overlook the Arabah. Their westerly exposure assures the receipt of respectable amounts of precipitation, thereby sustaining agriculture and forests. The “king’s highway,” one of the main arteries of communication in the ancient world, traversed the country from north to south. This gave it control over the precious caravan trade from India and southern Arabia and connected it with Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia. Punon, an important copper mining and smelting site, was also situated within Edom.

On the western side of the rift lay the Arabah, arid and far from the Judean centers of population. This necessitated long lines of communication and the hauling of supplies over considerable distances and treacherous terrain. The copper deposits of the Arabah were unexploitable without a local supply of fuel. A strategic highway led through the region from the Gulf of Akaba across the Negeb to Beersheba, where it split into a network of roads joining the important towns of Judea and Northern Israel. Without control of the Arabah, the nomadic tribes that roamed the Negeb were a constant menace.

Both Edom and Israel had abundant incentive to encroach upon each other’s territory. It was easier for the Edomites to infiltrate westward into the Arabah than for the Judeans to penetrate Edom. The Edomites exploited their strategic advantage to the full, while the temptation to shorten communication lines, to have a supply source close by, and to have access to fuel for the copper mines as well as control over the lucrative spice trade proved irresistible to the Judean kings. It was David who defeated the Edomites, stationed permanent garrisons in their land, and made them vassals of his kingdom, as described in 2 Samuel 8:13f.

These observations do not foreclose the literary questions that attend the ancestral narratives of ancient Israel and Judah. As readers separated by more than two millennia from the cultural and historical details of everyday life in biblical Palestine, we find it helpful to be reminded of the physical, cultural and political realities that would have needed no explanation to the original audiences for whom this narrative was composed. But such information only gives us an approximate parity with those first hearers, and should not be mistaken for an explanation of the story’s significance.

The more important questions are not whether younger sons could displace elder brothers in ancient Middle Eastern societies, but how such a story would have been experienced by the struggling Judean community in the post-exilic period (5C BCE / 4C BCE). Whether the “historical David” was anything more than a local Judean chieftain, or whether he actually conquered the Edomites as described in 2 Samuel 8, is less significant to us as “people of the Book” than the question of why those who understood themselves as successors of the legendary David now saw advantage in telling the story of their ancestors (and thus themselves) in a way that simultaneously affirmed common origins and asserted a superior claim to the sacred blessing (covenant, land, progeny).

Gospel: Jesus and the Parables

This week’s Gospel brings us to a major collection of parables, and provides an opportunity for us to reflect on the significance of Jesus as a composer of parables. In Reimagine the World: An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus (Polebridge, 2001), B. Brandon Scott suggests that the history of parable studies can be divided into two major stages.

First Stage

This stage is dominated by a number of important European scholars: Adolf Jülicher, C.H. Dodd and Joachim Jeremias. Scott gives the following “report card” comments of the contributions of these pioneer studies into the parables of Jesus:

Adolf Jülicher (Die Gleichnisreden Jesu – 1910) attached the traditional method of interpreting the parables as allegories, but also showed that the parables themselves often fit rather poorly with their immediate literary context in the NT Gospels. The parables had a life prior to their incorporation into the Gospels, and the allegories that are sometimes found in their Gospel context do not represent the original interpretations of the parables.

Gain – Rejection of allegory
Loss – Parables are not dependent on their Gospel context

C.H. Dodd (The Parables of the Kingdom – 1935) built on the foundation laid by Jülicher but added the suggestion that the parables had a distinctive interest in eschatology. Dodd used the phrase, “realized eschatology,” to describe the parables’ interest in a kingdom which is already present for the hearers. As Scott notes, Dodd also crafted one of the most influential definitions of parable:

At its simplest the parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.

Gain – Introduced the question of the parables; eschatology

Joachim Jeremias (The Parables of Jesus – 1947) adopted the insights of Form Criticism to develop a convincing account of the oral transmission process for the parables prior to their inclusion in the written gospels. He applied these “laws of transmission” to specific parables in order to reconstruct the original words of Jesus, even suggesting the Aramaic phrases that he believed lay behind the extant Greek version of the parables. Jeremias understood the original life situation (Sitz im Leben) of the parables to have been oral disputes between Jesus and the Pharisees, although scholars these days are more cautious about the presence of Pharisees in Galilee during Jesus’ life time. Interestingly, despite his conservative theological tendencies, Jeremias was a pioneer in using the Gospel of Thomas as an independent witness to the parable tradition.

Gain – Outlined the stages for a history of the parables from Jesus to the Gospels

Second Stage

The next stage of critical study of the parables reflects the contributions made by American scholars: Robert Funk, Dan Via, John Dominic Crossan and Brandon Scott.

Over a number of studies beginning in the 1960s, Robert W. Funk and Dan Via independently drew on the well-established models of literary studies familiar to students in English departments across North America. Both scholars studied the parable as an object in its own right (an “aesthetic object” for Dan Via, and a “metaphor” for Funk).

Dan Via (The Parables: Their Literary and Existential Dimension – 1967) overcame the limitations of historical criticism by focusing on the parable as an autonomous text. What matters is the “internal meaning” of the parable, not the historical context or its possible original sense. The original audiences may not have fully understood the meaning of the parable, just as later generations find new layers of significance while finding older interpretations unconvincing. Like any aesthetic object, the parable can be appreciated but never fully understood.

Gain – The specific historical situation does not determine meaning, or the meaning of the parable cannot be reduced to a specific situation in the ministry of Jesus.

Robert W. Funk (Language, Hermeneutics and the Word of God – 1966 and Jesus as Precursor – 1975) contrasted the logic of discursive language and metaphorical language, and proposed a way of reading the parables that took seriously their character as metaphorical languages that creates (new) meaning by juxtaposing “two discrete and not entirely comparable entities.” In a sense this project built upon Dodd’s definition of parables as incongruous metaphors that provoke thought.

Gain – Parables function as a metaphorical structure or system
Loss – Attention must be paid to the very metaphorical nature of the words themselves.

John Dominic Crossan (The Dark Interval: Towards a Theology of Story – 1975 and In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus – 1973) explored and expanded the creative insights of Dan Via and Robert Funk, consolidated their gains, and made this new approach to the parables accessible to a wide audience. Crossan understands the parables as promoting what he calls “permanent eschatology” as the “permanent presence of God” confronts, challenges and shatters the complacency of human individuals and systems. Where Jeremias had sought to recover the very words (ipsissima verba) of Jesus, Crossan argues that what was remembered in the oral parable tradition was not the words themselves but the structure (ipsissima structura), the form, and the pattern of the parables.

Gain – We are dealing not with the very words of Jesus but with the structure (the memory and performance) of the parables.

Bernard Brandon Scott (Hear Then the Parable – 1989) was the first person since Jülicher to deal with all of the parables in a single study. Scott took seriously the different dimensions of orality and literacy in the parable tradition, and drew on reader-response criticism to develop a comprehensive literary strategy for interpreting (hearing) the parables. He asks not so much what Jesus intended by the particular parable, but what effect the parable might have on its audiences. Scott also drew on insights from the social sciences to develop what he calls the “repertoire” of a text — those social conventions and assumptions that the teller and audience hold in common.

William Herzog (Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed – 1994) also draws on social science studies to make sense of the parables, but has rejected the embrace of literary criticism by Via, Funk and Crossan. For Herzog, the parables encode first century structures of oppression and, as Scott says, “Herzog often produces illuminating readings of the parables, making sense of details that have often left one confused.”

Gain – Literary methods and social science method are both necessary to interpret the parables.

The tradition of critical study of the parables was to play a significant part in the work undertaken by the Jesus Seminar in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The seminar was jointly chaired by Robert Funk and Dominic Crossan, and many of their graduate students (including Brandon Scott) were included among the Fellows. Crossan’s compilation, Sayings Parallels: A Workbook for the Jesus Tradition (Fortress, 1986) provided the basic text for the Seminar as it went about its work, and a careful analysis of the sayings attributed to Jesus was the primary focus for the first phase of the Seminar. The results of that phase were reported in the bestseller The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (Macmillan, 1993).

This creative new work on parables allowed the Jesus Seminar to break new ground with its inquiry into historical Jesus research. By giving primacy to the sayings of Jesus rather than the deeds of Jesus, the Seminar believes that historical Jesus research reaches back to an earlier stage of the tradition as well as drawing closer to the heart of the Jesus tradition.What Jesus himself may have said has a certain spiritual cache that no third party report of events involving him can ever have. In addition, with each performance of the parables their spiritual power may be experienced afresh.

The actions of Jesus are another matter. Particular events happen just once. The reports of them are always second hand. They are especially susceptible to legendary development, and they seem to be used in the tradition for theological purposes rather than as simple accounts of specific events. As Lane McGaughy (“Why Start with the Sayings,” p. 20) notes:

The best one can hope to recover with respect to deeds are the earliest reports of bystanders about what they thought they saw, whereas the authentic sayings indicate what Jesus himself thought or intended …

McGaughy cites with approval the couplet coined by (Jesus Seminar Fellow) Julian Hills: “sayings are repeated, deeds are reported.”

Jesus Database

  • 034 The Sower – (1) GThom. 9; (2) Mark 4:3-8 = Matt 13:3b-8 = Luke 8:5-8a; (3) 1 Clem. 24:5.
  • 009 Who Has Ears – (1a) GThom. 8:2; (1b) GThom. 21:5; (1c) GThom. 24:2; (1d) GThom. 63:2; (1e) GThom. 65:2; (1f) GThom. 96:2; (2a) Mark 4:9 = Matt 13:9 = Luke 8:8b; (2b) Mark 4:23 =Matt 13:43b; (3) Matt 11:15; (4) Luke 14:35b; (5) Rev 2:7,11,17, 29; 3:6,13,22; 13:9.
  • 092 Knowing the Mystery – 1) GThom. 62:1; (2a) Secret Mark f2r10;(2b) Mark 4:10-12 = Matt 13:10-11,13-15 = Luke 8:9-10.
  • 040 Have and Receive – (1) GThom. 41; (2) 2Q: Luke 19:(25-)26 = Matt 25:29; (3) Mark 4:25 = Matt 13:12 = Luke 8:18b.
  • 014 Eye Ear Mind – (1a) 1 Cor 2:9a; (1b) 1 Clem. 34:8; (2) GThom. 17; (3) 2Q: Luke 10:23-24 = Matt 13:16-17; (4) Dial. Sav. 57a [140:1-4].

Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site

Other recommended sites include:

Music Suggestions

See the following sites for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre:

Posted in Lectionary | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment