History

Trinitarianism in Second Temple Judaism

I’m currently reading Alan Segal’s Two Powers in Heaven in which he argues that certain strains of Jewish theology during the Second Temple and Rabbinic periods believed in multiple divine figures — divine hypostases — which was perceived by some as violating the standard of traditional monotheism. Next semester I hope to do my final research project on the development of Trinitarian thinking during this time, indicating that it was not at all a uniquely Christian invention, but had its roots in a variety of Judaic traditions, such as Philo’s Logos doctrine, second God, and divine triad. Michael Heiser has a nice, small article with a couple good links that I’m quite pleased to have found.

The Exodus and the Hyksos

I find it exceedingly difficult not to associate the biblical Exodus story with the Hyksos expulsion of the 16th century B.C. since there is, admittedly, no evidence for either of the traditional dates ca. 1440 or 1250 B.C. and otherwise no data indicating a mass exodus of Semitic peoples from the Levant (not to mention the fact that virtually every ancient writer conflated the two events). Dr. Stephen Meyers makes one of the more compelling cases for this and addresses quite competently the most frequent objection that a Hyksos association falls outside the scope of Solomon’s 480 year statement at the temple dedication. Besides that, the only other complaints, as far as I can tell, rest on assumptions that may or may not actually be the case. Yes, the records do suggest that Ahmose forcefully expelled the Hyksos, while the biblical account indicates that the Hebrews escaped by divine intervention; but why must we accept either of these sources as entirely accurate, historically speaking? One could go in a variety of ways, after all. Nationalism often led Egyptian rulers to stretch the truth so as to appear in a more favorable light, while the Hebrews could have easily downplayed the political turmoil and their initial desire to stay by interpreting the past theologically as Yahweh’s blessing of deliverance. At any rate, I don’t think there’s any serious reason that scholars should avoid this and I find it baffling that so many don’t even give it consideration.

You’ll Never Look at a Nativity Scene the Same Way Again.

For a lot of us it’s not uncommon to hear someone mention interesting tidbits about the Christmas holiday that highlight the inaccuracies of our most cherished traditions, such as the absence of an innkeeper or donkey/camel in the biblical account, and even the likelihood that Christ was born in the spring rather than the winter, which would mean that there was never a “cold winter’s night that was so deep”. Perhaps the latter aberration was the result of Church authorities placing the Christmas celebration in proximity to the feast of Saturnalia, though such a popular story has seriously come into question among scholars, and the notion that many western, early Christians truly believed December to be the month of Jesus’ birth has gained a good amount of acceptance. Nevertheless, one of my favorite factoids that will ruin just about every nativity scene you encounter this winter is the very real possibility that Jesus was born in a house, not a stable.

I know; it kind of sounds crazy at first, but a couple points work in favor of this theory and make it more plausible than any other at this point. First to note, the Greek word καταὺματι can just as easily mean “guest room” as it does “inn”, which in itself doesn’t fully establish my point, though does start us off, especially since it’s the same word used for the upper room of the Last Supper later on in the story. In other words, Luke is not saying that there was no room in the inn, but rather that there was no space in the guest room. But what guest room? Probably the guest room in a house owned by one of Joseph’s relatives in the area, which leads us to the second point.

When we consider that that Joseph almost certainly had family in Bethlehem (it was his hometown after all), it would almost be inconceivable that he couldn’t find someone to take them in for the short time they would be in town. And even if he had no family in the area, ancient, Middle Eastern codes of hospitality would have never allowed for a pregnant woman to take shelter in an outdoor stable, at least not if there were any other options. But what of the manger? Surely he was laid where animals were fed, correct? Well yes, that’s true; but the poor would often keep their animals in the house, and it’s no stretch to believe that Joseph’s family were more lower class than upper, hence being among those who kept their livestock indoors.

So then, what we have is Joseph, Mary, and whoever else might have been in attendance, constructing a sort of make-shift crib out of a manger in a house that could have easily been a bit overcrowded as it was, due to the census and the resultant travelers. Don’t worry. This doesn’t detract from the biblical story. The point ultimately remains the same: the savior of the world – the God of the universe – became like us and was born into conditions completely unfit for a king.

Why All the Hate?

I’m getting tired of people slamming Reza Aslan for not being “qualified” to write a book about Jesus just because he doesn’t have a Ph.D. in history, religion, or something of that sort. In fact his doctorate was in sociology with a focus on the history of religion, which I suppose doesn’t count. Add to that a bachelor’s degree in religion with a masters in theological studies from Harvard and you’re still left with a man who’s not allowed to write a scholarly book about Jesus all because his Ph.D. isn’t the right kind. Seriously, I think people only bring these arguments out when someone writes a book they don’t like, just as people did when Dr. Lillback from Westminster wrote a book on the Christianity of George Washington a few years back. In fact, I think a doctorate in church history, a discipline which includes studies of the Christian religious climate of the early modern period, makes him far more qualified than someone with, say, a doctorate in ancient history.

But anyway, say what you will about these works, whatever errors are contained within them didn’t come from a lack of training as many assert or seem to imply, but instead from an agenda that leads them to the conclusions that they want to see and possibly even laziness that causes one to overlook information vital to the argument. Competence quite simply isn’t the issue and never was.

Interestingly I just stumbled across this quote from Aslan’s doctoral advisor:

“Since I was Reza’s thesis adviser at the Univ of California-Santa Barbara, I can testify that he is a religious studies scholar. (I am a sociologist of religion with a position in sociology and an affiliation with religious studies). Though Reza’s PhD is in sociology most of his graduate course work at UCSB was in the history of religion in the dept of religious studies. Though none of his 4 degrees are in history as such, he is a “historian of religion” in the way that that term is used at the Univ of Chicago to cover the field of comparative religion; and his theology degree at Harvard covered Bible and Church history, and required him to master New Testament Greek. So in short, he is who he says he is.”

Whether or not this is a legitimate quote I don’t know. Maybe I’ll look it up later. Maybe I won’t. Probably not; but suffice it to say that no matter how good or bad the man’s work is, the training he received was more than enough.