How ancient near-eastern cosmology can change the way we read and understand scripture
Have you ever wondered where all the water came from for Noah’s flood? Or how the tower of Babel’s builders expected to reach into heaven? Or how many rungs there would need to be on Jacob’s ladder?
In this infographic we see how the Bible describes humanity’s place in the universe, and how this unexpected revelation helps us to break free of modern preconceptions that limit our understanding of the Bible’s message. Rather than undermining our faith, this peculiar subject helps us develop a credible and robust approach to scripture.
We were reading Mark 5 recently and my curiosity was stirred by verse 41 where Mark records the healing of Jarius’ daughter. In raising her to life, Jesus:
“He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!”
This expression “Talitha cum” is Aramaic, it is transliterated into Greek.1 Ie the text is neither Greek or Hebrew, but Greek letters spelling out Aramaic words. This raises several questions. What language did Jesus speak? Why are these expressions in the gospels? What are the implications of these sayings? Continue reading “Jesus spoke Semitic languages not Greek”
I was listening to a bible podcast recently and heard a discussion around a peculiar law repeated three times in the Torah. The specific law is found in Exod 23:19, 34:26 and Deut 14:21. In each it simply reads:
You must not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk
The ethics and legislation relating to servitude and slavery
Servitude in the Ancient Near East
Servitude in the Ancient Near East operated on a spectrum of greater or lesser obligation to another person, and greater or lesser personal protections. Everyone in the Ancient Near East was considered to be the servant of someone, with the key difference being the extent to which you were independent and protected from the imposition of another’s will. Continue reading “Ethics in the Law of Moses: slavery”
To insult someone is to insult the God who created them
The section of the Sermon on the Mount subtitled “Anger” (ESV), “Concerning Anger” (NRSV), or “Murder” (NIV) in Matthew 5:21-27 is both familiar and strange. We understand what it means to insult someone and to be angry with someone, but we may not be sure what “raca” means, nor possibly would we understand why the punishment for doing so is to be “in danger of hell fire”. What is the difference between the “judgement” and the “council”? How does one pay a debt to the last penny when one is stuck in a debtors’ prison? Like much in the Sermon on the Mount, there’s some digging to do before the passage is as clear to us as it would have been to the Galilean fishermen who first hear it. Continue reading “Murder, Anger, and Reconciliation”
Psalm 147 doesn’t get the same airtime as the more well known psalms, e.g. 1, 22, 23, 51, and 110, and yet there is much that we can learn from it that is of value today. In this post we’ll work through the psalm looking at its history, structure, and teaching. Continue reading “Exploring Psalm 147”
Before his untimely death Herod Agrippa I had been quite smart in his dealings with both Rome and with the Jews. He’d prevented a rerun of the Jewish Revolt by talking Emperor Caligula out of setting up a statue to himself in the Temple at Jerusalem1, and he also followed Jewish custom to the point that Josephus records:
…he loved to live continually at Jerusalem, and was exactly careful in the observance of the laws of his country. He therefore kept himself entirely pure: nor did any day pass over his head without its appointed sacrifice.2
One of Paul’s more unusual uses of the Old Testament is found in his warning to the believers in Corinth not to fall into the same complacency as some of the Israelites had on the Exodus. Continue reading “The rock that followed them”
A small example demonstrating the interaction of culture and text
Historical and cultural context matter in matters both big and small when it comes to reading and understanding the bible.
As the bible student Alan Hayward observed “Bible verses only make sense if you study them in their context, that is, their setting. You need to read the verses on either side of the verse in question. As I have pointed out on several occasions, you also need to make allowance for Hebrew idiom.”1Continue reading “Culture and the Widow of Zaraphath”
…he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross
Crucifixion was considered worse than decapitation, being killed by wild animals, or being burnt alive.1 It was considered “a terrible calamity”2, it “was a punishment in which the caprice and sadism of the executioners were given full rein;”3 it was the supreme Roman punishment. Continue reading “The Shame of the Cross”