Pentecost 7B (15 July 2012)



  • 2 Samuel 6:1-5,12b-19 and Psalm 24 (or Amos 7:7-15 and Psalm 85:8-13)
  • Ephesians 1:3-14
  • Mark 6:14-29


At first glance the readings from the Hebrew Bible and the Gospel passage have little in common. However, they do share a common interest in the question of place: how is the presence of the sacred to be recognised and affirmed?

  • One Jewish response to that question is found in the tradition of the Ark of the Covenant – an object whose exact form and significance is lost to us, but which was remembered as a symbol that was not tied to a specific location.
  • Another Jewish response, and one shared with many other communities in Palestine as well as in other places, is to identify the “dwelling place of the Name” with a specific holy site. In time Jerusalem came to have that significance for the Jewish tradition, but the alternative reading from Amos reflects a stage when there were rival royal sanctuaries at Bethel and Dan. Interestingly, none of the prophets from the 9C BCE or the 8C BCE condemn these northern sanctuaries or criticise their use of the golden calf as a symbol for Yahweh.
  • The Gospel reflects the Christian belief that God is to be found in Jesus, and in the community of people gathered around his message and program—to cite John A.T. Robinson’s evocative phrase, Jesus is “the human face of God.”

First Reading: Putting God in his place

The Ark of the Covenant

For the First Reading, the RCL continues its series of readings from the rise of David. This week we have the account of the transfer of the “Ark of the Covenant” into David’s new capital, Jerusalem.

The Ark was a traditional Hebrew holy object, perhaps some kind of portable shrine. According to sacred legend, it had been created by Moses following divine instructions during the time of the exodus. Along with the large copper serpent affixed to the temple wall, sacred objects such as the Ark later became a theological embarrassment to an increasingly iconoclastic Jewish tradition.

  • Wikipedia article [1]

Photographs of modern reconstructions of the Ark:

  • View of the Ark [2]
  • Detail of the winged figures [3]

Its significance in this passage is to serve as tangible expression of God’s blessing of David. By bringing the Ark of Yahweh to his new capital, David is sometimes thought to have been engaged in a political strategy to align the traditions of the ancient Yahwistic confederacy with the royal ideology of Jerusalem.

Earlier tribal league notions of equality under the covenant are about to be displaced by a centralized royal state which will tax the population to finance the full array of public institutions expected of any self-respecting Middle Eastern power at the time. In time the traditional 12 tribes of Israel become little more than administrative zones for the king’s tax collectors.

In fact, such an interpretation of the text attributes greater historicity to the account than it deserves. It is unlikely that David was engaged in anything as grand as the empire building program attributed to him by the Deuteronomistic historian. Nor was the pre-David political situation anything like the well-developed 12 member amphictyony proposed by classic mid-20C histories of ancient Israel.

However, we can appreciate that the narrative seeks to portray David as a pious Yahwist who was devoted to traditional forms of Israelite religion. Within the world of the biblical narrative, the reception of the Ark into Jerusalem represents a transition from the tribal league model to a royal model. The hopes of the nation now rest on the faithfulness of the king and the end of the story (in 2 Kings) will show that the nation is destined for disaster under such an arrangement.

This episode is a key element in the larger story, but we should not mistake it as a memory of some historical event; let alone speculate on the political and religious strategies of a “David” who is more of a mythical character here than a figure of history.


The prophet Amos appears in the Hebrew Bible as the first of the prophets whose words (rather than their legendary actions) are recorded as a prophetic message to subsequent generations. As such Amos marks an important transition in the development of the biblical religious tradition, as the prophetic book begins to displace both priest and prophet, those two traditional authorities in ancient Israel’s religion.

  • Introductory essay on Amos [4]

In the excerpt set for this week we have an account of Amos confronting the priest in charge of the royal sanctuary at Bethel. While Amos escapes with his life (unlike John the Baptist following his confrontation with Herod Antipas), the confrontation serves as a reminder of the inherent conflict between those who speak for God’s values and those who exercise power in human society. Like John and Jesus after him, Amos is a prophet who must declare the message God gives him to deliver.

Second Reading: A letter to the Ephesians

This week we begin a series of readings from the Letter to the Ephesians. In the RCL cycle, 7 successive Sundays will draw on this major NT writing:

  • Eph 1:1-14
  • Eph 2:11-22
  • Eph 3:14-21
  • Eph 4:1-16
  • Eph 4:(17-24)25-5:2
  • Eph 5:11-21(22-31)
  • Eph 6:10-20

Ephesus was a significant Greek city in Roman times, and its physical remains continue to attract tourists and pilgrims:

  • Archaeological Site [5]

The authenticity of the letter to the Ephesians is questioned by most NT scholars, but strongly defended by more conservative scholars. If it is an authentic Pauline writing, Ephesians would have to come from late in Paul’s life (early 60s). On balance it seems unlikely that Paul could have written such a letter. Ephesians may be better understood as revealing how the theology of Paul was modified as his legacy was assimilated into the emerging catholic Christianity around the end of the 1C.

  • Online Resources [6]
  • Introductory Essay on Ephesians [7]

Gospel: Herod kills John the Baptist

Herods in the New Testament

It can be helpful to clarify the various “Herods” who appear in the NT writings. Mahlon Smith’s “Into His Own” site provides a detailed chart[8], complete with brief biographical sketches on each member of the Herodian families.

In this case, we are dealing with Herod Antipas, the youngest surviving son of Herod. Smith describes his reign as follows:

Though only governor of two small provinces, Antipas locally styled himself “king” & used the name “Herod,” to bolster his claim that he was the true heir to his father’s legacy. With the aid of Roman armies he crushed Galilean rebels & then turned to urbanizing southern Galilee, rebuilding the regional capitol [ Sepphoris ] that the Romans had destroyed in the civil war & dedicating it to the emperor Augustus [calling it Autocratoris: “the Emperor’s city”]. After his Roman patron Tiberius became emperor [14 CE], Antipas decided to build a new & even more splendid Roman style capital for Galilee on the western shore of Lake Gennesaret , naming it Tiberias . To protect his southern flank he formed an alliance with the Arab kingdom of Nabatea by marrying the daughter of the king of Petra, Aretas III, whom he later divorced to marry Herodias , the wife of his half-brother, in total disregard for Jewish Torah.

Like his father Antipas was wary of conservative Jewish critics of his regime & quick to crush popular rabble-rousers, most notably John (Johanan) the Baptizer. His Jewish subjects never forgave him for executing one whom they regarded as God’s agent. When Aretas avenged his daughter’s disgrace by dealing Herod a decisive defeat [36 CE], many regarded it as divine retribution for John’s execution. Antipas’ royal pretensions were further humiliated when the new emperor, Gaius (Caligula) , named his brother-in-law, Agrippa I , “king” over the neighboring provinces [37 CE]. Antipas’ protest of the young emperor’s decision & his demand for equal rank, however, caused Caligula to depose him & send him into exile. He died soon after at Lyons [in France].

For further insight into Galilee under the Herodian ruler, see:

  • Josephus: Galilee under Antipas [9]

John the Baptist

L. Michael White (University of Texas at Austin) says of John the Baptist:

Our knowledge of the figure of John the Baptist is very limited. We have only those references to him in the Christian gospels, where he stands alongside of Jesus. We also have references to him in the Jewish historian, Josephus, who was writing toward the end of the first century. So John the Baptist is clearly a very important figure of the time. He was a renowned kind of eccentric, it appears, from the way that Josephus describes him. More … [10]

Harold W. Attridge (Yale Divinity School) comments on the execution of John:

John the Baptist was killed because he was critical of the contemporary Herodian ruler, Herod Antipas. All of the sources agree on that, both Josephus and the testimony of the gospels. Exactly what was involved in that critique is not entirely clear. The material in the gospels suggests that it had to do with Herod’s marital practices and his personal morality. There may have been something more political involved in John’s condemnation of Herod, insofar as Herod Antipas was tied in intimately with the Roman imperial authorities. In any case, John was executed by Herod as a troublemaker and a political upstart. Now, we don’t know how that impacted Jesus, whether on the basis of the death of John he reconsidered the apocalyptic message that had come from John or whether he wanted to continue it and extend it. Both are possible. He never takes a direct stance on that. More … [11]

Jesus Database

See also:

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:

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