Saturday, December 11, 2010

New Qumran Discovery?

Jim West posted a story about the 2004 discovery of a sealed Jar at Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Here is the article.

An intact, sealed, jar has been discovered at Qumran, the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in nearby caves.

A multinational team of scientists have been analyzing the jar and their findings are set to be published in the journal Archaeometry. If you have a subscription (or access to a library with one) you can already see the article on the publication’s website.

“The finding of an intact and sealed storage jar is an extremely rare event,” the researchers write. The discovery “provides a unique possibility to analyse its last contents.”

Altogether nine scientists are credited in the paper. Kaare Lund Rasmussen, of the University of Southern Denmark, is listed at the lead author.

The jar itself was excavated in 2004. It was found about 50 meters south of Qumran in an uninhabited area that may have been used for agriculture. Animal bones and pottery shards were unearthed nearby. The group that found it was led by Randall Price of Liberty University and Oren Gutfeld of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Pictures of the jar are published in the journal article. The rights to them appear to be held by the excavation group and a request to have them republished on this website was not granted as of press time.

“The intact jar, named Jar-35, was sealed with an overturned bowl fastened as a lid,” Rasmussen’s team writes. “When the lid was lifted and a camera lowered into the interior, a deposit up to 3 cm thick was discovered lining the bottom and the sides.”

This is the first I have heard of it. If it is true it would be a major new find. But waiting 6 years to reveal the Jar's contents or even announce the discovery seems suspicious. As Jim says, this could be like when Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone's vault. NOTHING!

The fact that Randall Price is involved makes me suspect it is all hype.

Has anyone else heard about this over the last 6 years?

Zondervan Atlas Giveaway Winner!

Congratulations to Steve Walton! He is the winner of the Bible Atlas.

Many thanks to all of you for participating. Lookout for more giveaways in the future.

Steve, if you could please send me your address I will post the atlas to you at the beginning of the week. You can either email it to me or leave it in the comments section on the blog. I won't publish it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

More on why we don't need to defend Christmas

Allan Bevere, my colleague here at Ashland Seminary, has chipped in on why we should not defend Christmas and why modern Christianity is in a sad state when it fails to give proper recognition to the resurrection rather than the birth of Jesus.

Here are some of Allan's points:

First, the New Testament places the central emphasis on the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Every book of the New Testament refers to Christ's resurrection. One of the central christological claims of the early Christians was "He is risen!" not "He is born!" Of the four Gospels, two-- Matthew and Luke-- have birth narratives, and in Galatians Paul only briefly mentions that Jesus was "born of woman" (4:4). I am certainly not suggesting that the birth of Jesus is unimportant. I am simply pointing out that it does have the central emphasis given to it in the way the New Testament writers focus on Jesus' cross and resurrection.

Second, incarnation is exceedingly significant, but it's significance is highlighted by Jesus' death and resurrection. Without Easter, incarnation makes no sense. Indeed, I submit that without resurrection, the claim of incarnation is irrelevant at best and more likely absurd in its worst form. The classic text on incarnation-- Philippians 2:5-11-- places cross and resurrection as the focal point and climax of incarnation. It is true that Paul mentions the Son being born in human likeness, but the "emptying" of Christ finds its importance in his humbling on the cross and the exaltation of resurrection.

Third, the church did not begin celebrating the birth of Christ until the fourth century A.D., some three hundred years after Jesus, and it took an additional 400 years after that for the feast day to be commonly observed in Europe. Easter, on the other hand, was already being celebrated as a specific annual feast day by the middle of the second century A.D. We also know that very early the Christians were gathering to worship on Sunday, The Lord's Day, not because it was the Sabbath (in Judaism the Sabbath is on Saturday), but because it was on the first day of the week that Jesus was raised from the dead. It is apparent, then, that the earliest Christians viewed the centrality of Jesus' resurrection in a way that they did not also understand his birth.

Allan makes some excellent points and with more precision than my own post. Read his full post here.

Need Jesus? There's an app for that!

The Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can now be found on your IPhone, bringing the Christian community together to reinforce Jesus' philosophy in a hip, sleek production that fits right in your pocket. And you can download it from Itunes all for $9.99.

I thought this was a joke but it is not. Maybe everyone else has heard about this, but it is new to me. Apparently DV8 Media has created the Life of Jesus IPhone App. They claim to use cutting-edge technology to reproduce a classic text to reach a new generation with biggest celebrity in history and the greatest story ever told. The app include such functions as the ability to read/search the Bible, to say/send a prayer, and watch 18 scenes from the Life of Jesus. It even has a Christian GPS that you can use to show every Christian IPhone app on the planet. Oh, and of course the ability to purchase Christian songs and ring tones.

Here is what the article has to say.

Revolutionary new media company DV8 Media has released "The Life Of Jesus", an epic, comprehensive mobile phone application dedicated to the life of the Christian savior. Containing cutting edge original video and audio productions, engaging interactive games, Christian-themed communication tools, and the full text of the New Testament, searchable and book-markable, The Life Of Jesus is designed to bring a new generation of Christians and the Christian community together to reinforce Jesus' philosophy in a hip, sleek and technologically advanced production.

DV8 will enable always-on access to the tech-savvy spiritually minded.

I also found this video on youtube.

Wow, am I ever thankful I don't have an IPhone. They only thing I can figure about this is someone is betting on making a lot of money. I wish I could do a giveaway with this.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Book Giveaway! Zondervan Atlas of the Bible

I have received a copy of the revised edition of the Zondervan Atlas of the Bible from the kind folks at Zondervan. This is a really nice atlas! Dismiss your thoughts of how this is just another book full of maps. It is so much more! It not only contains numerous maps, it also has hundreds of color photos that help to bring the geography of ancient Palestine alive. It also contains extensive explanations of the geography that helps to place the stories of the Bible in historical as well as geographical context. It is complemented by a handy set of indexes and a geographical dictionary.

This is not your grandfather's Bible Atlas!

What makes this volume even more valuable is its author, Carl G. Rasmussen (Bethel University). I have been acquainted with Carl and his geographic expertise since 1993 when I participated in an historical and geographical course in Israel. Carl has lived or traveled in the Holy Land for over 40 years. His firsthand knowledge makes this a first rate atlas. (Check out his Holy Land Photos)

This is a $50 value ($27.97 on Amazon). Oh, did I mention that it also comes with a free poster of New Testament Jerusalem?

So here is how you enter. Simply leave your full name in the comment section of the blog and indicate that you would like to be entered into the contest.

The contest will close Friday, December 10 at 11:55 pm (EST). No entires after that time will be accepted. On Saturday I will use to choose the lucky winner and will announce it on the blog.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Why Defend Christmas?

I have gone back in forth in my mind about this topic over the years. But the recent debut of billboard wars between atheists and Christians leads me to say something about this.

Perhaps you are now thinking that I will blast the atheists and tell them why they are wrong. That Christians did not steal Christmas and that it is not a myth. Well, I am not.

What really bothers me is the Christian response of "defending Christmas". Defending it from what? That somebody says it is a myth? So what, that is exactly what I expect an unbeliever to think and say. What is being protected? Jesus? I hardly think that is either possible or necessary.

I think the problem is that many (American) Christians are just as steeped in the commercialism and greed of Christmas as those who have no faith profession. And we use the claim that it's Jesus' birthday as a shield for our over indulgences. Since the 19th century the holiday has been slowly moving in a decidedly non-religious direction and Christians have helped it along in many ways.

I wonder what percentage of Christians go to church on Christmas eve. Or even more importantly, how many go to Church on Christmas day when it happens to land on a Sunday? I remember the debates a few years ago about whether or not churches should be open on a Sunday that also happened to be Christmas. But if we really believe that Christmas is the significant day in the religious calendar we claim it is, than why not? This would seem to be more important than a tree and presents in the morning. (By way of self-disclosure, I did not go to church that day. I stayed home and opened presents with my wife. So, yes I could be accused of throwing stones in glass houses here).

Some may claim that it is important to defend Christmas because it is a significant event in salvation history. Granted, the Christian celebration of Jesus' birth is important and should be celebrated. But it is NOT the foundation of Christianity. More important is the claim of Christ's resurrection. It does not matter whether or not Jesus was born of a virgin. What is important is that he was raised from the dead.

This seems to be the focus of the New Testament authors as well. Jesus' birth is only mentioned in two of the four Gospels, and with very different details. Mark says nothing about Jesus' birth nor does John. In fact, except for Matthew and Luke no other New Testament writer mentions or alludes to any miraculous circumstances surrounding Jesus' birth. Paul notes that Jesus was born of a woman (Gal 4:4) and that he was of the line David (Romans 1:4). But Paul never mentions a virgin birth. True, he and many of the other New Testament writers call Jesus "the Son of God," but that is not a reference to a miraculous birth.

But the one thing that you read time and time again in the Gospels, Paul and the rest of the New Testament is the importance of Jesus' resurrection. This is what made Jesus different and the Son of God (Romans 1:4). There were numerous stories in antiquity of famous people who had "unusual births" some more fantastic than that of Jesus. But for the early church it was not Jesus' birth, but his resurrection that demonstrated his importance.

Yet modern Christians pay little attention to Easter. This is a day we will go to church. But that is because it always falls on Sunday and we rarely pack the day with the kind and amount of events that we would Christmas. Besides, Easter has that pesky habit of moving its date every year which makes it hard for retailers to plan "Easter sales".

No I am not suggesting that we abandon Christmas. I admit that I enjoy the decorations and the carols and even giving gifts.

But I do think we would do well to rethink it and put more energy into Easter. I also don't we feel the need to "defend Christmas". The truth is we can't. Christmas is a Christian holiday that is not celebrated as such by the Christians. We are just as distracted about the meaning of the day as are the atheists.

Christmas does not need defending.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cleopatra: Mommy Dearest? Black African?

Cleopatra has captured the imagination of the writers and readers of history since the time of Josephus. Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony both loved her, and Herod the Great feared her. And most modern people associate her with Elizabeth Taylor.

Stacy Schiff has a new book out on the femme fatale titled Cleopatra: A Life. Schiff attempts to place the famous Queen within the context of her time as a way to rehabilitate her image. Schiff sees Cleopatra not so much as a woman bent on world-domination, but rather someone who is very concerned for her country.

This past weekend she also had a piece in the Parade Magazine. Here is what she had to say.

Complain all you like about your own nutty family. You have nothing on the Ptolemies, the dynasty that produced Cleopatra VII, the last queen of Egypt. That clan made a habit of stabbing, poisoning, and dismembering each other. Mothers sent troops against daughters. Fathers hacked sons to pieces. It was rare to find one who didn’t liquidate a relative or two, Cleopatra included. Which makes it all the more improbable that the woman who has come down to us as seductress and sex symbol in fact made an artful career of motherhood—and of single motherhood at that.

When Cleopatra was 21 she met Julius Caesar, twice her age and the master of the Roman world. Just over nine months later she gave birth to his son. There were a few awkwardnesses. For a start, each of the new parents was married to someone else. Caesar’s wife was in Rome, and Cleopatra was at the time nominally joined in marriage to her 13-year-old brother.

Nothing better suited her political program than the birth of Caesarion, or “little Caesar.” Like the queens who preceded her, Cleopatra associated herself with Isis, the goddess of marriage, love affairs, pregnancies. Caesarion did more than assure her fertile, family-friendly credentials: With him on her lap, Cleopatra could rule as king. Her subjects were willing to submit to a female pharaoh so long as a male figured somewhere in the picture. She ordered his likeness carved on temples, at massive scale; if anything, images mattered more in a pre-literate age than they do in a televised one. Caesarion assured Egypt’s dynastic future. And with him Cleopatra cemented an alliance with Rome. In all ways, he was the ideal partner. He resembled his father. He was Roman. He was divine in both countries. And, as a 3-year-old, he was unlikely to meddle in any way with his mother’s agenda.

Several years after Caesar’s murder, Cleopatra sailed into Mark Antony’s life, in gilded barge with soaring purple sails. The most distinguished military commander of the day, Antony appeared the likeliest candidate to assume control of the Roman east. The two spent the early winter together. Afterward he married, for political reasons, in Rome. In Egypt 29-year-old Cleopatra gave birth to his twins, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, and later presented Antony with another son. His wife, meanwhile, produced daughter after daughter.

Cleopatra paraded her children out to special effect in royal pageants; here already was the campaign-trail baby, the Palin or Pelosi brood. She also saw to it that the children were well educated, in part by a distinguished, hard-driving tutor. In his care, they devoted themselves to rhetoric, philosophy, and history, which would not be good to them. In 31 B.C., Octavian soundly defeated Antony and Cleopatra in battle. Cleopatra’s options were death or transport to Rome as a prisoner. She chose the former. Caesarion was hunted down and murdered soon thereafter. Her surviving three children sailed to Rome, to be raised by the sister of her sworn enemy, who also happened to be Antony’s ex-wife.

As a teenager, Cleopatra Selene married an African king. She continued her mother’s legacy, posing as Isis and naming her son Ptolemy. Cleopatra’s only known grandson, he would be murdered by a Roman emperor. All traces of her children dissolved on that bloody spot. Less sexually bold than strategically fertile, she had used her brood to great political advantage. The irony was, of course, that had events followed their normal dynastic course, had Rome not intervened, Cleopatra would ultimately have been deposed—exiled, poisoned, hacked to pieces—by one of those four precious children.

Also in the news this week is the question of Cleopatra's race. Over on the Oxford University Press Blog Duane Roller discusses whether Cleopatra was a black African or Macedonian Greek. He is responding to those who have suggested that the famous Egyptian queen was black. Ultimately he concludes that Cleopatra's race is insignificant and what is important is that she was a powerful queen. But he does suggest that the possibility of her being a black African is slim. It is an interesting read.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Jesus or Paul? Whose gospel do we follow? Scot McKnight suggests a way to bridge the divide.

One thing that anyone who studies the New Testament for any length of time comes to realize is that Jesus and Paul and can appear to be very different. Jesus seems to be all about the Kingdom of God, taking care of the poor and outcast and bringing justice to the world. Paul is more interested in justification, how one gets saved and the ongoing problems facing the order of the church. And for many, New Testament scholars in particular, it seems as if reconciling the gospels of Jesus and Paul is impossible.

But an article by Scot McKnight in the recent issue of Christianity Today suggests a way forward. Scot does not deny the challenges, but does suggest a different starting point than is traditionally taken. Below is an excerpt from, the article.

It is not exaggerating to say that evangelicalism is facing a crisis about the relationship of Jesus to Paul, and that many today are choosing sides. I meet many young, thinking evangelicals whose "first language" is Jesus and the kingdom. Yet despite the trend, perhaps in reaction to it, many look to Paul and justification by faith as their first language. Those addicted to kingdom language struggle to make Paul fit, while those addicted to Paul's theological terms struggle to make Jesus fit. I know the experience because I, too, struggled to make the Pauline message fit the kingdom vision, and that was after struggling to make Jesus fit into the Pauline message.

Evangelicals have offered two ways to resolve this dilemma—that is, to bring Paul and Jesus into a more perfect harmony. What stands out is that each approach imagines that it is articulating the gospel itself. One approach is to master Jesus' gospel, the kingdom vision, and show how Paul fits. The other approach is to master Paul's gospel, his theology of justification, and show how Jesus fits. Each approach requires some bending of corners and squeezing of sides but, with extra effort and some special explanations, each thinks it can show the unity of the messages of Jesus and Paul and that the gospel of the kingdom and the gospel of justification are one and the same.

Take the Jesus approach. The kingdom of God, if one follows George Ladd's line of thinking (often called "inaugurated eschatology"), is defined as the "dynamic reign of God." It is grounded in texts like Matthew 12:28, where Jesus says that if he casts out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has (presently) come upon them. Or Mark 1:15: the time has been fulfilled, the kingdom of God has drawn near (so near that its presence is now being felt)—therefore repent and believe. It is not hard to fit "justification by faith" into the mold of the dynamic, personal, redemptive presence of God in the work of Jesus Christ. With some careful nuancing, the witness of Romans to justification and the witness of Ephesians to a cosmic redemption in Christ can be drawn into the ambit of the kingdom.

But a few problems always emerge. They have always given me an uneasy conscience about this kind of harmonizing. First, Paul doesn't talk about the kingdom enough to make me think his theology is really kingdom-shaped. His letters include fewer than 15 references to the kingdom. Fitting Paul into a kingdom mold is more by hook than it is by the book. Furthermore, Paul thinks more in terms of soteriology, justification, and ecclesiology than he does kingdom. So, if we are to be fair to Paul, we have to let Paul be Paul.

Also, here is the first of a set of video interviews with Scot on the topic. There are eight more on youtube.