Monday, 26 May 2014

Marcan Framework Commentary

Marcan Framework Commentary
James M. Leonard, PhD
May 2014

First, open the link Marcan Framework which puts the framework in a stair-stepped diagram (not yet available).

  1. Mark’s narrative sequence is followed for the most part by Matthew and Luke.
  2. John’s sequence of events is significantly different, excepting of course, the final week of Jesus’ life, leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection. In particular, John depicts Jesus as making several visits to Jerusalem and its larger region of Judea, while the Synoptic Gospels depict a ministry centered in the region of Galilee (to the north of Judea), and but one visit to Jerusalem. The action in the Temple (Temple Cleansing/Temple Demonstration, etc.) is placed near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in John, rather than in his final week as the Synoptic Gospels indicate.
  3. Mark’s Gospel lacks a birth narrative. Matthew and Luke have their own distinctive birth narratives. John opens with the grand depiction of Jesus’ origins going back to the eternal past.
    Rembrandt's Adoration of the Shepherds (Luke)
  4. Mark depicts events seemingly compressed into a single year, while John indicates that Jesus’ ministry took place over a period of three or so years.
  5. The Marcan Framework works toward a climax (at the top of the stairs), where Jesus’ disciples explicitly declare Jesus to be the Messiah. From there, the stairs work downward at a fast pace, with the last five steps (events) happening in Passion Week (i.e., the final week of Jesus’ life).

Marcan Framework Commentary (each point corresponds to each step in the framework indicated in the large diagram in the pdf article “Marcan Framework of Historical Narrative)

  1. Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. In the Marcan Framework, this is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It seems that prior to this, Jesus may have been a disciple of John the Baptist. The Marcan Framework indicates that the baptism was a major moment of revelation for Jesus. It is as this point that Jesus perceives that he is uniquely the Son of God, and specially commissioned to be a suffering Messiah, as indicated in the scriptural allusions as they are spoken by the voice in heaven.
  2. The Temptation. The Temptation centers on Jesus’ newfound self-understanding and commission as the Son of God. Thus, in Matthew’s and Luke’s account, the Tempter repeatedly begins each temptation sequence with “If you are the Son of God....”
  3. Proclamation of the Kingdom of God. The message of Jesus is summed up (repeatedly) as, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repeat and believe the good news.” Thus, Jesus announces the presence of God’s eschatological kingdom in his ministry, and invites people to repent and believe the good news. This profoundly complex message assumes the Old Testament expectation that God would dramatically intervene in human history at the end of the age. Accordingly, Jesus heals people and drives out demons in support of his claim that the eschatological kingdom was present in his ministry, and performs nature miracles to reveal his identity as the divine (messianic) agent with authority to bring about the kingdom. (Note that, contrary to popular narrative, Jesus is not to be reduced to some nice guy going around teaching forgiveness and love and peace—you don’t get crucified for that sort of message.)
  4. Calling of the Twelve Disciples. The list of disciples varies from one gospel to another. But whether the differences in names reflect different people or merely different personal identifiers, the point is that Jesus picked twelve, and exactly twelve. Indeed, even after the traitor Judas’ death and prior to his replacement, the group was still known as The Twelve, as if a technical term. The action of choosing twelve disciples seems to indicate that Jesus was intentionally reconstituting the People of God, making his disciples the theological equivalent to the Twelve Tribes of Israel. This too was a part of his eschatological program, for Jesus tells his disciples that on the last day, they would sit on twelve thrones and judge the nations of the earth.
  5. Healing and exorcisms. These are indicators of the presence of God’s kingdom in Jesus’ life and ministry.
  6. Controversy with Jewish Leaders. Jesus ran into serious troubles with Jewish leaders over issues such as purity laws—questions about what one could eat, or with whom someone might fellowship, and such as Sabbath regulations. The holiness of Jesus was so great that instead of unclean things defiling him, he made defiled things holy. Likewise, in Jesus own person was something greater than Temple or Israelite King, for Jesus is lord of the Sabbath. The controversies arise early on and anticipate a bad ending.
  7. Execution of John the Baptist.
    Bring to me on a platter the head of John the Baptist
    The Synoptics use John the Baptist’s death to foreshadow Jesus’ coming execution. This seems to be a decisive moment for Jesus, assuring him of his mission to give his life as a martyr.
  8. Confession of Jesus as Messiah. This is climactic in the narrative. When Jesus asked his disciples about their perception of his identity, they professed that he was the Messiah, for which Jesus commended them. From then on, Jesus began to teach explicitly on his forthcoming death, forging the paradox of a crucified Messiah.
    Mt. Hermon, possible location of Transfiguration
  9. The Transfiguration. Jesus took his three closest disciples up a mountain where he was physically transformed so as to reveal his divine glory, with the divine voice thundering out Jesus’ identity as God’s Son. This marks the beginning of Jesus’ road to Jerusalem to face a certain death.
  10. Jesus Ministry on His Way to Jerusalem. Jesus continued to teach, heal, exorcise demons, and work his way to Jerusalem.
  11. Triumphal Entry and  Action in the Temple. As Jesus approached Jerusalem, he is received with great fanfare, as if a great king. He enters, however, on a donkey, not a war horse, to symbolize the coming of a humble king, in keeping with his paradox of a suffering Messiah. He then proceeds to the Temple and attacks the institution by overturning tables and preventing regular worship. This was a monumental moment in Jesus’ life, but its interpretation varies significantly.
  12. Controversy in Temple with Jewish Leaders. Jesus overcomes his detractors and poses questions which they cannot answer, and embarrasses them accordingly.
  13. The Last Supper. Jesus partakes in the ceremonial Passover meal with his disciples, and appropriates the meal for his Suffering Messiah program, making his own body and blood to serve as the sacrificial Passover lamb and wine.
  14. Agony in the Garden. Jesus and his disciples go from the Passover meal to the Mount of Olives where Jesus prays intently about his Father’s will and his impending death.
  15. Trial and Crucifixion. Jesus appears before a Jewish assembly that determines his guilt, precipitating his appearance before Pilate and the Roman court. Pilate is depicted as reluctant to sentence Jesus to death, but is pressured to do so. Jesus is crucified as a pretender to the Jewish throne, between two robbers.
    Rembrandt's Crucifixion
  16. Resurrection. Jesus resurrects from the dead. 

Sunday, 25 May 2014

A Very Brief Introduction to the Synoptic Problem

A Very Brief Introduction
 to the Synoptic Problem
James M. Leonard, PhD

The similarities and differences between the New Testament Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke indicate some sort of interrelationship or interdependency. At times, the wording of a story or a saying of Jesus is word for word, and sometimes the sequence of events is all the same between two or three of these gospels. On the other hand, subtle or major differences occur, sometimes unpredictably, but sometimes such changes seem to fit a pattern, or are consistent with a theological urgency, or fit an author’s stylistic tendencies. John’s Gospel does not share this interrelationship, but the interdependency of the other three gospels are sure and beg an explanation.

Pre-critical explanations assumed Matthew was written first, and that Mark and Luke copied and edited his material accordingly. This explanation has fallen out of favor, with most scholars concluding that, whatever else, Mark was written first, that Matthew used Mark, and that Luke used Mark or Mark and Matthew.

With great enthusiasm, many scholars in the last century or so have argued that Matthew and Luke used not only Mark’s Gospel, but also a lost document known as Q (usually explained as short for the German word Quelle, which means source). Q is and must remain for the time being a hypothetical document. We do not know of its existence from ancient references or from actual manuscript evidence. Despite this, Q advocates try very hard to conjure up its existence. Books on Q with over the top titles abound, titles such as Excavating Q and Q—the Earliest Gospel. Q scholars claim to have reconstructed its text, based upon a comparison of Matthew and Luke, and their stylistic and theological tendencies.

Enthusiasm for Q has waned in the last ten years, largely in response to arguments by Duke University scholar Mark Goodacre who argues that we can live in a world without Q. This last year, British scholar Francis Watson’s monumental work on the gospels dispenses with Q. The long-term future of Q may be in doubt.

Our knowledge of ancient persons is usually very sketchy, and dependent on very limited sources. In the case of Jesus, however, scholars are privileged to have multiple primary sources. Mark’s Gospel is the oldest, written within the living memory of the eyewitnesses to Jesus. Although Matthew incorporates much of Mark, Matthew has his own independent material which makes it a second primary source, likewise written within the living memory of the eyewitnesses to Jesus. Same also for Luke, which gives us a third primary source. If Matthew and Luke did indeed use Q (in whatever incarnation), our count of primary sources increases to four. Add to this the Gospel of John which was likely written toward the end of the first century, and the number of primary sources totals at five, if one includes Q. Such multiple attestation by contemporaries of Jesus is probably unprecedented for any ancient personality, and has implications for reconstructing the historical Jesus.

Synoptic interrelationships also allow for a comparison of the theological emphases of the specific gospel writer. An intensive analysis of an author’s style and theological tendencies may help ascertain why Matthew or Luke modified Mark’s account, or to accentuate interpretive differences between Matthew and Luke as they redacted their source. For example, both Matthew and Luke include the famous story of the 100 sheep, one of which was lost, prompting the shepherd to leave the 99 and to go search for the lost one. Luke puts this story into a context of God’s gracious forgiveness of notorious sinners (“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ Then Jesus told them this parable...” [Luke 15:1-3]). In contrast, Matthew applies this story to the faithful community which seeks the restoration of one of its own members who had gone astray (“‘See that you do not despise one of these little ones [i.e., one of Jesus’ disciples]. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.’” Matt 18:10-14).

Given the historical benefits and theological insights of having four or five independent primary sources for the life of Jesus, we might rename this issue as the Synoptic Opportunity.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Background for Temple Veil

Background for Temple Veil
James M. Leonard, PhD (Cambridge)
23 May 2014

The Jerusalem Temple of Jesus’ day was a huge and marvelous wonder, built on a mountain height known as Mount Zion. Its theological significance was in its representation of Israel’s God dwelling with his people. As such, it was fashioned as a house, with household furniture such as a table for meals, a lamp, and a chair. It had its origins in the desert wanderings of Israel, after the Exodus. Under Moses, God led Israel out of Egypt in a cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night, both of which were visible manifestations of God’s presence. After establishing Israel as his people at Mount Sinai by covenant, and after the giving of the Law, God gave instructions on building a tabernacle—a grand tent, that would be placed in the middle grounds of Israel’s encampments, so that the theological urgency that God dwells in the midst of Israel would be fulfilled. As the tabernacle was dedicated, God’s manifestation in fire and cloud came down from the sky and filled the tabernacle with smoke (i.e., the Shekinah glory).

Despite the emphasis on proximity, imminence, and intimacy of God, the tabernacle was designed to convey God’s other-ness, his transcendence, and his utter holiness. The throne room where God was symbolically seated was set off from the people. Indeed, the tabernacle had its own fabric walls clearly marking off the border of God’s house from the rest of the camp. Entry was strictly regulated and required sacrifices, characteristically animal offerings. At times, sacrifices were offered as a means to atone for the worshiper’s sins, reinforcing the portrait of a holy God who does not countenance sin in his presence.

The holiness of God is further emphasized by additional barriers between the holy throne room and worshipers. Worshipers were generally not admitted into the inner shrine of the tabernacle. The inner shrine was called the Holy Place. 
The Holy Place itself was further divided by a heavy curtain veil. This curtain marked off the Holiest Place (KJV: the Holy of Holies), the innermost room of the Tabernacle where God’s throne seat was kept, and where God’s presence was most manifest. While select few could enter the Holy Place under certain circumstances, only the High Priest could enter the Holiest Place, and could only do so once a year, and not without a blood sacrifice for the sins of the people. Bad things happened to people violating this high regard for the holiness of God’s house, a background exploited in the film Raiders of the Lost Ark—the lost ark had reference to the Ark of the Covenant which comprised God’s throne chair in the Holiest Place.

After the Egyptian bondage and wilderness wanderings, Israel conquered and settled in Canaan. The era of the portable tabernacle came to an end, and the Jerusalem temple was built. At its dedication, God filled the temple with his glory cloud, as he had done previously in regard to the tabernacle. The similarity of the two events indicated that the Temple was now the new abode of God, as God dwelt in the midst of his people. For the most part, the design of the tabernacle’s construction served as a model for the temple, and most rules were carried over into the new era. 

God’s presence with his people was contingent upon Israel’s faithfulness. Failure to be faithful would result in divine judgment, the culmination of which would be the departure of God’s presence from the Temple. The temple’s holiness was not innate, but rather was wholly dependent upon God’s presence. It was God’s presence that made the temple holy (holy Temple); it was God’s presence in Jerusalem that made Jerusalem the Holy city; it was God’s presence in Canaan that made Canaan the Holy Land; and it was God’s presence that made the Israelites holy (holy people = the saints). Without God’s presence, the temple, the city, the land, and the people would be common, defiled, and their destruction inevitable.

Indeed, after generations of prophetic warnings, God’s patience came to an end, and judgment ensued. The sixth century BCE prophet Ezekiel depicts the glory cloud of God’s presence very methodically arising from the throne chair, exiting out the Holiest Place and then out of the Holy Place, breaching the both the inner and outer curtains of the inner shrine. After exiting the inner sanctuary, it proceeded to the courtyard, where God’s glory observed the profanity therein, and then departed the temple courts, and then forsook the city itself. It ascended up the Mount of Olives opposite the Temple Mount, and then finally disappeared. The departure of the temple made way for its conquest and destruction by the invading Babylonians.

Decades later, the temple was rebuilt, and centuries later, was damaged again in a conquest of the city. The city’s new king, Herod the Great, expanded its foundations and rebuilt it with unrestrained splendor. Although substantially complete during Jesus’ ministry, improvements and embellishments continued up until a few years prior to its utter and final destruction in the revolt against Rome in 70 C.E.

Jesus’ view of the temple was not at all evident in his early ministry. A better understanding of his perspective, however, arises in his final days, after the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem at which time he threw a fit in the temple precincts, overturning tables and preventing legitimate temple activities.
While much is debated as to the precise meaning of this action (should it be called the Temple Cleansing, or perhaps The Temple Demonstration, etc.), it could be a prophetic action intended to convey the future destruction of the temple, or at least the end of the era of Israel’s temple worship.

In subsequent days (following the order of events in Matthew’s Gospel), Jesus unleashed a vicious attack against the Jewish religious leaders, blaming them for all the blood that was ever shed, from that of Abel, son of Adam and Eve, to the murder of a Zechariah son of Berekiah who was slain at the steps of the temple. The tirade culminated in his pronouncement in Matt 23:38 of the temple’s forthcoming forsakenness, at which time Jesus departed from the temple, a departure that is arguably understood as a prophetic correspondence to the departure of God’s presence from the temple in Ezekiel, especially as Jesus ascended the Mount of Olives, and predicted the coming destruction of the temple.

During the crucifixion, the Synoptic Gospels indicate that the curtain of the inner sanctuary was ripped in twain. An interpretation of the meaning of the ripping of the veil was not explicated in either of the three gospels, but there are clues that might suggest the authors’ intended meaning, meanings which might be substantially different from the meaning explicated in Hebrews.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Jesus and Moses in Matthew 1-4

Many have noticed Matthew’s sensitive contrast between Moses and Jesus.  This is fairly obvious when we get to the Sermon on the Mount where, just like Moses, he delivers something of a new law to the people.  If you read any standard introduction to the biblical theology themes of Matthew, you will find many such examples of how Jesus is the New Moses.

Jesus on Mount 
I’d like to share with all of you a little more of how Matthew portrays Jesus as not just the new Moses, but the one who is greater than Moses.  I will focus my attention on the birth narrative in chapters one and two.  Much of this information depends upon common first century beliefs about Moses, and illustrates how a better appreciation of the primary sources can help us understand the biblical text better.

The Direct Quotation
Let’s begin with the quotation of Exod 4:19 in Matt 2:20.  In Exodus, God tells Moses to return to Egypt, while in Matthew, the angel tells Joseph to return to Israel.  Here’s how the two texts read in the NIV:

Exod 4:19       ...for all the men who wanted to kill you are dead.
Matt 2:20        ...for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.

The Greek texts of Exod 4:19 (Septuagint) and Matt 2:20 are actually as close as they can possibly be, except for the difference of the use of the second person (“you”) in Exodus, while Matthew refers in its place “the child,” an unavoidable difference.

So, we have here two very similar stories of the main character returning to his homeland for the same reason, with Matthew giving an almost direct quotation of the earlier text.  This should give us the interpretive clue that Matthew is comparing Jesus to Moses.

Listing the Other Parallels
However, there are many more clues.  Let’s list them.  (I culled the raw data from the New International Critical Commentary on Matthew, pp. 192-193, for full citation of the primary sources.)

Josephus, a 1st cent. Jewish historian
1.         According to Josephus (whose dates are approximate to Paul’s), the Jews believed that Amram (Moses’ father) was troubled at the news of the coming birth of Moses.  Also, Josephus says that God appeared to Amram in a dream and told him not to despair.  In telling the story, Josephus lauds Amram for his piety and noble character.  Matthew says the same things about Joseph:  Joseph was a righteous and noble man, he was troubled at the news of the pregnancy, and he was told not to be afraid.  (See also Pseudo-Philo, probably first century.)

2.         According to Pseudo-Philo, the Jews believed that an angel appeared to make an announcement of the coming birth of one by whom “I will save my people.”  In the same way, an angel also appeared to Joseph to foretell the birth of the one who would “save my people from their sins.”

3.         Pharaoh ordered the death of all the Hebrew boys.  Likewise, King Herod gave similar orders regarding the boys of Bethlehem.

4.         Josephus says that the Jews believed that Pharaoh ordered the drowning of the Hebrew boys because he learned of the birth of a future liberator of Israel (see also the Aramaic Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Exod 1:15).  Likewise, Herod’s motivation for the slaughter of the innocents was the same.

5.         Josephus says that the Jews believed that Pharaoh learned of this future liberator from sacred scribes (see also the aforementioned Targum).  Likewise, Herod learned of the coming Messiah through the chief priests and scribes.

6.         Just as Moses was forced to leave his home by people who wanted to kill him, Jesus also was forced to leave his home because people wanted to kill him.

7.         Just as Moses took his wife and sons and went back to Egypt (Exod 4:20), Joseph took his son and his wife and went back to Israel.

8.         Finally, the issue in Matthew 2 is, Who is the real king of the Jews?  Obviously, Jesus is, not Herod.  But interestingly, according to Josephus, Philo, and a number of other Rabbinic traditions, the Jews believed that Moses also was a king.

Concluding Comments
Let me just hasten to say that much of the Jewish beliefs about Moses are legendary and found outside of the Old or New Testaments.  However, the primary sources do tell us what first century Jews typically believed about Moses.  When reading Matthew’s Gospel, they would not have overlooked these parallels, even if we moderns don’t get a picture as fully developed as they did.

Now, this is just raw data.  Interpretation of the raw data requires a bit more work.  Minimally, we see that Jesus is being compared with Moses.  Later in Matthew, we see that Jesus’ word is superior to that of Moses.  The theme can be developed much more fully.

The birth narrative in Matthew’s Gospel clearly sets out to compare Moses to Jesus.  It doesn’t quite tell us who is greater, but it gives us a heads up so that we can look for other clues later in the story.

After the Passover, the Israelites departed Egypt and crossed through the Red Sea.  Many have also compared Christian baptism to the same event.  If this comparison is valid we see that Jesus’ baptism might correspond to the Israelite crossing of the Red Sea.  But Jesus’ venture through the waters was followed by the divine pronouncement of his sonship, revealing that he is more so God’s Son than Israel ever was; recall the Matthean quote, “Out of Egypt I have called my Son.”

After the crossing of the Red Sea, the Children of Israel were tested in the wilderness.  Likewise, after Jesus’ water experience, he too went into the desert to be tested.  The Israelites failed in this time of testing, but Jesus Messiah endured the testing successfully.

After crossing the Red Sea, Moses went up to a mountain, received the Covenant and issued it to the people.  In Matthew, after his Jordan experience, Jesus also goes to a mountain and lays out the Covenant to the people (i.e., The Sermon on the Mount).  In doing so, Jesus exerts his superiority to Moses not only by announcing that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, but also by saying, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago....  But I tell you.....”  Clearly the Messiah is a prophet greater than Moses.

My comparison of Jesus to Moses is limited to the first few chapters of Matthew.  However, more could be spelled out.