Half a shekel and 2 unlikely messiahs

Students of religion and politics have had a mountain of material to consider recently. One particularly notable theme is the use of Christian/biblical language by the Trump administration and its supporters.

One noteworthy example emerged in the spring of 2017 when allusions to Donald Trump as a messianic figure began to circulate both mainstream and social media. For many, this appeared strange and provocative language. Within Christian tradition, the Hebrew word ‘messiah’ (מָשִׁיחַ – mashiach) , which literally means ‘anointed’ or ‘anointed one’ (rendered in Greek as χριστός – christos), has primarily come to denote the specific figure of Jesus Christ, with its allied associations of sonship, moral perfection and divinity. Consequently, any attempts to attribute messianic status to Donald Trump could be viewed as inappropriate and even blasphemous. Nevertheless, certain religious groups have continued to refer to him in this way. This is particularly interesting as it occurs against a backdrop of an increase in use of religious (Judeo-Christian) language to articulate and justify policy decisions (see earlier post – Weaponising Romans 13), suggesting a closer convergence between religious and political spheres than we have seen in recent history.

Although, many of the Christian leaders who support Trump specifically avoid using the term ‘messiah’ when speaking of him, they frequently refer to him as being anointed by God to lead the nation. This is exemplified by evangelist Paula White‘s comments recorded in 2017:

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Summer Greek at Newman 2019

First Steps into the World of New Testament Greek

1st – 5th July 2019

Newman University

Would you like to hear and read the New Testament in the language in which it was originally written? Have you ever thought of learning New Testament Greek but were afraid that you were just not clever enough? Would you like to spend five days this summer having fun with a group of like-minded people as they begin to discover an old language that shaped the world?

First Steps into the World of New Testament Greek is a fun and informal 5 day course that introduces you to Koine Greek (the type of Greek used by the writers of the New Testament). It assumes absolutely no prior knowledge of the language and will begin with the alphabet. We will work as close as possible to New Testament texts (including working from some manuscripts) and by the end of the course you will be able to read simple sentences from the New Testament.  Continue reading

The death of the Apostle Paul

How, where and when did the Apostle Paul die?
The short answer is, we are not really sure. Although the Paul remains a very significant figure, we actually don’t know a great deal about his life. Texts books (with a greater or lesser sense of certainty) will inform us that Paul was born in the town of Tarsus (now in modern Turkey) sometime around 5 C.E.. However, this is purely conjecture. Paul doesn’t ever mention his birthplace or make any reference to Tarsus! On the other hand, Luke, who features Paul heavily in his Acts of the Apostle mentions Tarsus three times (9:11, 21:39 and 22:3) and records Paul as stating to his opponents in 22:3 that he is “a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia”. Luke is the main source for biographical details of Paul. It is he, not Paul, who tells us of Paul’s status as a Roman citizen (and he may have good reason for emphasising this, but that must be the topic for a different post). However, unfortunately, he is silent on the matter of Paul’s death.

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Why are there no cats in the Bible?

Of the hundreds of different animals named in the Bible, the cat lovers among us might be disturbed to find that there is no mention of their beloved companion/house-guest in the Bible.

‘Helping with research’. Image: Isabella Wray

Were there no cats in biblical Israel?

Confidently identifying the presence of the domestic cat (Felis Silvestris catus), rather than its ‘wild,’ untamed cousins in any ancient setting is difficult. The process of domestication, for most animals, creates certain stresses that result in morphological changes; for example, there is often a reduction in size (see Clutton-Brock, 1981: 21-22; Borowski, 1998: 24-27). Consequently, identifying changes like these can make it possible to distinguish between domestic and wild strains. However, cats tend (at least initially*) to lack such clear markers of domestication. One reason for this might be due to their rather aloof demeanour that often characterises their relationships with humans. Borowski (1998:144) argues that this meant that humans could not so easily control their breeding as they could with other animals. The process of domestication could therefore have emerged from the development of a negotiated collaborative/symbiotic relationship between cats and humans rather than selective breeding (see Driscoll et al., 2009; Russell, 2012: 217). This general lack of evidence for a human-controlled breeding regime creates problems when trying to identify between domestic and wild cats. Current thinking suggests that feline domestication – or the forming of a relationship between human and felines – occurred roughly 5-6000 years ago. Although a recent study by Andrew Kitchener of an apparent burial of a cat with its owner in Cyprus has pushed that date back to about 9000 years (see below). Nevertheless, whether wild or domesticated, zooarcheological evidence shows that cats were living in the ancient Levant at the time of biblical Israel; for example, remains of cats were found during excavations of Neolithic Jericho, ca. 7000 BCE (Borowski, 1998:114). If cats were present in biblical Israel, why then is there this silence about them in biblical writings? Continue reading

The First Immanuel

The First Immanuel: Good news to a frightened people

As we approach the season for carols and Christmas cards you will probably come across one of the names of Jesus that is particularly associated with Christmas; Immanuel or in some translations that follow the Greek it is written as Emmanuel. However few people are quite so familiar with the first Immanuel whose birth had been announced some 700 years earlier during a very dark period in Israel’s history. For those living through these desperate times the future looked extremely bleak. They faced the very real prospect of imminent of captivity and death. These were people who needed good news; to know that their God had not deserted them. They were a frightened people in need of hope to take them through the devastation they were facing. Learning a little more about this period might provide an extra layer of texture and colour to the story that many of us celebrate at Christmas. Continue reading

Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting #5 – free access

The latest edition of the Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting (5) is now out with the great news that it has also secured more funding to ensure that it can continue its commitment to the production of a quality open access journal that maintains the high academic standards that it has set itself.

JJMJS is strongly committed to remain open access.  Moving forward, we, as any other open-access journals, must secure long-term economic stability without compromising academic quality. We are therefore very pleased to announce that, through a unique collaborative effort, JJMJS is now entering a multilateral partnership with Hebrew University of JerusalemDePaul University in Chicago, and the University of Oslo.

This edition is something of a feast for those interested in Paul, Pauline scholarship, and first century CE Judaism and is timed to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of E.P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism. The edition is divided into two parts. Part I considers the “impact of the work of E.P. Sanders forty years after the publication of his magisterial Paul and Palestinian Judaism“. Part II then explores Paul in contemporary research with three articles reflecting on the work of Paula Fredriksen and John Gager. The final article is Paula Fredriksen’s response to these articles. Continue reading

On Graduation

To all our graduates…

We were so proud of you yesterday and it is important that you know that. There must have been so many times over the past three years when it appeared that the opposite was the case and that you would never be good enough for us. But we always knew you were and that is why we never stopped pushing you.

Graduation 2018 image:Newman University

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A new dialogue between biblical scholarship and Religious Education

One of the trends that we have been monitoring at Newman and which has been reflected in a number of the posts on this site has been the use of (or allusions to) the Bible within the public spheres; political and social media (for example see, Migrants, Refugees & the search for a Biblical PerspectiveNo room for the 3 ‘kings’: Refugees, the nativity and the social mediaWeaponising Romans 13). Far from being dismissed, as critics would suggest, as an irrelevant, out-dated text that is only read by an ever reducing number of religious zealots, the Bible’s influence (though not necessarily its content) is very present on the contemporary stage. This means that a critical and informed understanding of the Bible (its texts, history, use) remains an essential part of education. It is therefore of great concern that the recent changes to GCSE Religious Education (RE) syllabi (in England and Wales), although placing a greater emphasis on the study of sacred texts, does not reflect recent developments within biblical studies and, at times, could reinforce negative stereotypical views. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that, at present, only one RE A-Level syllabus includes any in-depth component on the Bible. Consequently, Prof. Susan Docherty‘s article in the current edition of the British Journal of Religious Education is a very welcome and much needed call for a new dialogue to commence between biblical scholarship and the provision of RE in UK schools Continue reading

Weaponising Romans 13

One of the oldest methods of using biblical texts is ‘proof-texting’. This is when a specific text is used to legitimate or ‘prove’ a particular argument or position. The early Church fathers were fond of it and it can be frequently found in the writings of the Bible. It is therefore not surprising that most of the references to biblical texts today take this form. Particularly important texts are even referred to as ‘clobber texts’ (originally associated in relation to the homosexual debate) as they are known to deliver the knockout blow in a debate, thereby rendering the opposing side speechless. Follow any theological argument, whether that be abortion, sexual orientation, or female ministry (and countless others) and you will quickly begin to recognise each side’s favourite ‘clobber texts’.

As someone who makes a living from studying and lecturing on the Bible, I have to admit to finding proof-texting often rather irritating and unsatisfactory – whether that is Matthew’s use of them (although I do recognise they also have other functions), Justin Martyr’s or from a participant in the latest Facebook/Twitter argument. I do, however, accept that this practice has a long heritage and, like it or not, has a place within the community of faith. It is the trend towards clobber-texting that I find very concerning. Whereas proof-texting seeks to advance a scripture that neatly encapsulates a particular viewpoint (albeit in an often simplified shorthand form), clobber texts are often grabbed texts that are used to support an existing ideological view (in other words to argue that that viewpoint is ‘biblical’) and they are employed to shut down the debate. Anyone encountering an argument between two Christian positions will be familiar with this tactic.

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