Our Identity In Christ

From time to time we hear on the news of some people who through a traumatic experience in their lives lose their memories.

Maybe they have been beaten up with serious brain injuries and they cannot remember who they are; whether they are married or single, where they work or where they live. Their identity has gone. Sometimes their memory returns to them but in many cases it does not.

They have no idea who they are, no idea of their past, present or future. Their identity has gone. It is a terrible thing to happen.

Did you know that Satan is trying to erase your true identity and mine? He is you know. There is a spiritual war going on over your identity. Satan cannot create anything. Only God can create.

What Satan does though is, he perverts, he destroys, and he distorts your identity. Gradually he wants to rub it out.

So anything that God creates, he takes what God has created and perverts, distorts and destroys. He takes sex and perverts it; he takes relationships and destroys them; he takes thoughts and distorts them. He takes God’s truth and alters it too.

Satan cannot hurt God because he is not as powerful as God, if he was as powerful he would do it, but he can’t. Incidentally God created Satan, Satan did not create himself.  So because he cannot hurt God he hurts God’s children. He is very skilled at this.

If he can keep you from being you, and hide your true identity he has succeeded in hurting God.

How does Satan do this? How does he keep you from knowing your true identity.? Well He uses different tools to do this and they are generally always the same tools. They seldom change over the centuries.

One of them is the Opinions of other People.

Parents, friends, colleagues, family members have said things about you all through your life; some of the things have been good some of them bad; some of them true; some of them not true; and most of the time they have said these things to mould you and shape you to be like them.

They want you, to be what they want you to be. Not what God wants you to be. And Satan uses the opinions of others to prevent you from finding out the real you.

Secondly; he also uses hurt and pain to deceive you in your life. If he can get you guilty, angry, bitter, resentful, ashamed, hating, he knows you are going to miss your true identity. He wants to fill you up with these sort of things.

He can use hate or bitterness in your life to the extent that it becomes all consuming; that’s all you ever think off. Getting you own back or how to hurt that person.

Thirdly he uses the MEDIA all the time. The messages are why can’t you be like that person. You should look them, you should dress like them, you are never going to have their talent or their ability.

Be more like them, be more like everybody else. Why don’t you buy what they buy and have what they have; Not to be you – but to be like everybody else.

And Satan puts thoughts in your mind. When God puts a thought in your mind its inspiration, it’s a great thought; like a light coming on. When Satan puts a thought into your mind its temptation; there’s a twist to it; a hidden agenda.

We have thoughts as well; but most of those thoughts are stupid; one or two are good; most are stupid. WE choose which thoughts we are going to hold on to.

However; the thoughts that Satan puts in our minds are; you have to earn God’s acceptance to be loved and liked by him; you have to earn it. He says things like; you don’t matter, you’re not important, your worthless.  That sin you committed 3 years ago you could never be forgiven for that. You should be ashamed of yourself.

What are people going to say when they find out you did this.

It is tragic and it seems to be a daily occurrence when a young person takes their own life over comments made or photographs taken that have gone public, or the threat to do so; on social media. Something is very badly wrong in our society with social media.

All shame comes from Satan. It doesn’t come from God; shame comes from Satan. These are the things he says to you to prevent you from understanding your true identity. I hope you can see his methodology.

But the number one tool he uses is to erase your true identity is; to repeat what he has told you. How can that be, you may ask yourself??

Well He will plant a seed in your mind at some point, he walks away and allows you to keep on repeating it.

You heard and you believe it. I’m worthless, I’m no good, I’m never going to amount to that. I can’t do this and I can’t do that. I’m guilty, I’m ashamed and that’s me, that’s the true me. That’s my identity.

Things stick with you. You can believe your own assessment of yourself very easily.

Has that ever happened to you.  In my home church in Bangor we had very fine preachers in that church over the years. Very articulate, very well educated, natural orators.

Satan used to say to me you could never be like those men. You’re not educated to their level; you’re not an orator like them, you don’t have their command of English. You don’t have their presence. You not smart enough. Besides your too old; your past it.

Do you know what – I believed it?

Maybe you have convinced yourself through the seed Satan has planted or the seed he has got others to plant for him, that you are not good enough, too old, too stupid; you don’t have that talent.

Now then you may well ask;……If all these tools are being used against me to conceal and hide my true identity, how can I know the real me??

Blaise Pascal was a very famous French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher in the 17th century. An extremely intelligent and clever man. He invented many things but as a Christian he wrote; ‘not only do we know God through Jesus but we only know ourselves through Jesus Christ. Apart from Jesus Christ we cannot know the meaning of life. We cannot know ourselves, we cannot know God; except through Jesus Christ.’

Now this term ‘in Christ’ is found 140 times in the bible which is a lot. It is the most used term to describe a disciple or believer. By contrast a ‘Christian’ is used only a few times.

About 35 of those times God says; because you are ‘IN Christ’ here is your true identity, here is who you truly are. Here’s who you were made to be, here’s the real you.

This is what it means to be ‘In Christ’.  These are the 4 finger prints of your true identity. Can you find the 4 marks? This is your test. What are the 4 marks:

  • You are chosen
  • There’s a Royal Priesthood
  • You are Holy
  • You belong to God

And because of these things God wants us to praise him, which is right and proper.

All of these fingerprints of your true identity given to us by God point to ONE thing that I am completely accepted. I am completely accepted by Christ.

The deepest wounds in our lives have come from Rejection. All of us have these wounds. Generally, they are hidden concealed wounds that we carry around with us.

They have been caused mainly by spouses, family, friends, or people at work. We have felt rejected through their actions; a divorce, cut out from the will; dumped from a relationship; ignored at work.

Out of that wound or wounds we try to find acceptance in our lives. But We look for it usually in the wrong places; we look to parents, family, work, partners; the pub; entertainment, activities; and what happens is that you see the same pattern emerging again and its usually based on how well we are doing. Am I wearing the right clothes; am I going to the right bar, driving the right car.

If You look back to the sixties, seventies or eighties and see what people are wearing; you say to yourself what on earth were they wearing those things or why did they have their hair in that way. Why because they needed acceptance. We’ve all been there.

The pain of not being Chosen is too great. Not being chosen in the school playground can last a lifetime and can lead on to other things.  At school I was good at sport so I was generally chosen first or second and you know what; it made me feel good.

I can still remember being chosen first for the football, cricket or basketball.

When you are chosen it makes you feel good doesn’t it. When you are selected to play for the first eleven or first 15 and your name is pinned up on the notice board it makes you feel good. Or chosen to represent your school or your work in a particular event. Being part of a promotional team for your work.

But invariably unless we are naturally talented and gifted in some particular way which most of us are Not; we run the risk of chasing after this acceptance from other people and other things and get disappointed.

But with God we don’t have to do that. With God he accepts you as you are.

It doesn’t matter to him if you are broken and hurting or bleeding inside. In fact, sometimes that is a good thing. You have been chosen by God himself. That is the truth.  But How do I know this even though I don’t feel it?

Because God chose me before everything. Eph 1:4 he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight by his love.’

Think about that for a moment. Before God chose to make the oceans he chose you. Before he made the solar system he made you. Before he put the moon, sun and stars in their orbit he chose you. Before he placed a flower, a tree, a mountain, or elephant on this planet; he chose you.

That’s how I know my true identity. He chose me because he has said so.

Jesus made me acceptable. Titus 3 v 7. Jesus treated us much better than we deserve. He made us acceptable to God and gave us the hope of eternal life.’

God Made us and gave us.’ Do not try to perform your way into acceptance by God because it is not based on performance it’s based on a gift. This is where the true identity starts.

That’s the mistake the rich young ruler made with Jesus. His idea of being accepted by Jesus was based on performance. He told Jesus that he had kept all the commandments since he was a boy. There was no one like him, very few could keep the commandments as he had.

His acceptance by Jesus was based on his spiritual performance.

God’s view of me ‘ IN Christ’ is this; I am extremely valuable. But We actually want more than acceptance, we want to be valued.

God says I don’t just accept you; …… I value you.

Holy’ and valuable. Holy means valuable. The Holy Bible is extremely valuable the holy land the holy city, holy of holies is considered more than just normal it is considered extremely valuable. God says your true identity is extremely holy and very valuable.

What is it that makes something valuable? First thing is who owns it. Things owned by famous people are of more value than things NOT owned by famous people.

Tennis shoes. You go on line and see that a football shirt worn by Messi is for sale and one worn by Alan Wilson is for sale. Which one will you buy. It’s a no brainer. It’s the same with a rare book or rare letter that has been hand written.

It’s not the owner of the book that is valuable but who wrote it. God is the author of your life.

If God is your owner/author you are extremely valuable. If you belong to the King of Kings you are his treasured possession because nobody values you more than God. Others may not value you, but God does.

Why am I extremely valuable; because God is my father and I am in his family. One day in heaven he will share all his glory and all his inheritance with me. He will share everything with his children. God wanted children and he has millions of them.

Now this is important; everybody is created by God, but NOT everybody is a child of God. Everybody is loved by God; but NOT everybody loves God.  I think we would all accept that.

You have to choose to be in God’s family and a lot of people do not choose to be in his family. You do not automatically qualify to be in God’s family because God happens to love you.  You are to love God.

Nor do people choose to trust in his Son Jesus Christ. And that’s the key to finding your true identity. Trusting in Jesus.

When we choose to trust in Jesus there’s that phrase again, In Jesus. When we choose to trust in Jesus our heavenly father promises to take care of all our needs.

Jesus says, “consider the ravens; They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn, yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds.” God takes care of birds, and animals and insects. If he does that for them, then He will take care of you

How much are you worth. Look at the cross and see how much you are worth. This is how much you are worth. Arms wide open.  Jesus is saying I’d rather die than live without you. I’m willing to die and shed my blood for you in order that you may have faith, forgiveness, and eternal life.

The greatest ransom ever paid in the history of the world was given by God to buy you and secure your identity in him.  Amen.

 

Alan Wilson is a Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland, where he serves a large congregation, supported by his wife. Before he took up the call to serve Christ, he was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 30-years. He has two children and two grandchildren and enjoys soccer, gardening, zoology, politics and reading. He voted for Brexit in the hope that the stranglehold of Brussels might finally be broken. He welcomes any that might wish to correspond with him through the Contact Page of The Postil.

 

The photo shows, “St. Mary Magdalene in House of Simon the Pharisee,” by Jean Beraud, painted in 1891.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Fifth Epistle

Ezra and some of his friends have suddenly become big time horse lovers. Several of them own one or more and they often go riding in the country together. They recently have been having little contests to see who has the fastest horse.

A local wealthy farmer by the name of Hananiah agreed to lend some of his fields for a friendly race. He had his employees set up markers around the fields for the riders to follow and he cleared  a standing area for those wanting to watch.

On the Friday before the race it rained all day. They considered cancelling it, but when Saturday dawned it was sunny and bright so the race went ahead.

There were twenty entries. They decided to run five heats; the winner of each heat would run for the title.  Ezra won his heat by a good margin and was looking forward to the championship run.

Shortly after the final race started and the horses were just approaching the public standing area, Ezra’s horse hit a loose piece of turf, thrown up during the heats, and stumbled. Ezra was thrown head first into a huge mud puddle! His first reaction was to see if his horse was ok and she was, secondly he started to check to see if he had anything broken, he did not. But his pride was sure smashed!!!

As he laid there covered in mud and barely able to see, he looked in amazement through his muddy eyes, he thought he saw an angel helping him! This angel spoke to him and asked if he was ok, he said he thought so, but was very sore. To his amazement she took off a shawl she was wearing and started to clean his face. He tried to stop her and told her not to ruin her shawl, but she continued. By now she too was getting covered in mud. With his eyes cleared he could see she was beautiful, maybe the most beautiful girl he had ever seen!

She helped him sit up and was continuing to clean off his arms and shoulders when she said Hi, I am Elizabeth, and my daddy owns this farm. Oh, he said I know your father, he comes to our shop! She said now I know who you are, you make sandals! She said look these are the new red ones daddy had made for me. Oh wow he replied, I made those, I thought they were the prettiest sandals I ever made and now I see they are being worn by the prettiest girl I have ever seen. Through her mud splattered face Elizabeth was blushing.

By now friends were also helping Ezra to his feet, he was happy to be uninjured, but disappointed in not finishing the race, he asked if his horse was ok and a friend said yes she was fine and was being washed up too.

Elizabeth, now covered in mud, had removed her sandals and was carrying them, she took his arm and said come to our house, I will give you some of my brother’s clean clothes. Ezra tried to say he would be ok and would just go home and change, but she insisted.

After washing in the pond, he graciously accepted her offer of clean clothes.

Following the race and the winner declared, Hananiah invited everybody to come and enjoy some food and wine and celebrate the first horse race in Jericho! Ezra went with Elizabeth!

The following week when Ezra was working in his shop, he was surprised when he heard a female voice calling his name. He looked up and to his surprise there was Elizabeth standing in the doorway

He put down his tools and walked to meet her.  She explained that she told her Dad she wanted to see your shop and he told me just to stop in, that’s how all the other customers do it. She also explained that she was walking home from her class at the hospital where she was training to be a nurse. He was very impressed. Medicine was something admired as few people understood it or wanted to enter the profession.

They had a nice chat and Ezra asked if Elizabeth would like to go to the Pub Friday evening, she agreed. The young couple were seeing each frequently after that first evening, and it was getting serious.

Meanwhile, Isaac has been very busy working with the Christian disciples. He does occasionally come and help Nahum when he needs him.  His job with the Christians is what could be called a front man. He goes ahead of the leaders and makes arrangements for the Church services for them.

Most of the services are held in homes, preferably large homes, sometimes they are outside in the courtyard. He recently took Nahum to a service in a large home. Nahum noted that the speakers used a stand to hold their bibles and papers so they could glance down and see them clearly. The stand was called a dais and this one was taken from an old synagogue.

It was about chest high for most men. The front was sloped down so the papers could be easily read.

After the service Nahum went up to the home owner and asked if he could look at the dais, he then made drawings and took measurements.

Before he went to his shop the next day he went to a local woodcutter and bought some wood. He took his team of donkeys and wagon and took the lumber to his shop.

Let me interrupt myself here for a minute and tell you that when my father took over his father’s shop their main business was making carts, wagons and cabinets. It was my father who learned the leather business and he liked it better than carpentry. I felt the same way, but I still enjoyed working with wood whenever someone wanted a cabinet or table built I was delighted to build it.

He explained to Ezra what his plan was and they started making a dais! When finished they got some oils and stained the base a light colour and the top a shade darker. Ezra added his own touch by putting two large holes at either side at the top and front, to hold candles.

The following week Isaac told Nahum they would take the new dais to a service at Hananiahs .

When they arrived with the new stand people were very impressed and their comments made Nahum very proud and happy.

The next two weeks Nahum and Ezra produced 19 of the new dais. They had orders for 12 from locals and four more were being shipped to places beyond Jerusalem. They were very pleased to be able to build these new stands and provide them for the new Christian Ministry. This also meant more work and more revenue for their shop. They had actually hired a young man to assist them. He was the son of one of the local Christian families and was enjoying learning new trades. Ezra found that he really enjoyed teaching and coaching him, something he had never experienced before, much like when Isaac was teaching him.

Ruth and Nahum were very happy and thankful for their life at this time. They were enjoying good health and prosperity, Ezra was gradually taking over the shop, and his education was making the business more successful and the tax man never bothered them. Seeing their eldest son in love with one of the most beautiful and talented young ladies in the area was also a reason for happiness! Of course the possibility of having a “daughter” very soon made Ruth excited with anticipation.

The only thing missing was Ezekiel!

It is now over two years since Ezekiel left for Corinth. Ruth and Nahum have had several reports that he is healthy and doing very well in Greece. Ruth is hoping he would be home soon.

Ezra and Elizabeth have become a very popular couple in their community. They are invited to many social events and are often seen either walking hand in hand or riding on their horses. They make a very interesting couple as Ezra is quiet, and a little bit shy, however when he does speak people listen.

Elizabeth is out going and a confident conversationalist, they truly support each other.

Elizabeth has completed her medical training and even though she is still a young lady, she has quickly created a reputation of a caring, tender, compassionate and clever medical person. More than just a nurse! People say that she has a unique ability to diagnose your problem before she even examines you. People are coming from around the country to the hospital where she works and actually asking for her. Fortunately, the medical men in the clinic respect her abilities and often ask for her opinion as well. Ezra likes to tell her she has God-given abilities!  She laughs him off.

Ruth and Nahum are enjoying their roles as leaders of the new Christian Church. They are well respected and people listen and believe what they are saying about Jesus.

Life is good for Nahum the Carpenter and his family.

 

John Thomas Percival continues working with wood and pondering about the early history of Christianity.
The photo shows, “Christ,” by Eduard von Gebhardt, painted ca. 1890s.

 

Nahum The Carpenter: Second Epistle

My sister Zilpah lives at the foot of Mount of Olives, it takes a full morning to travel there. Her husband  is Joshua, his family owns an olive grove. It has been in the family for generations.

We travelled there last Friday. We took three donkeys, one for the boys, one for Ruth and one loaded with supplies and sandals for everybody. I love giving gifts, and since we are not rich, giving them something I have made seems more special!!

It is almost two months after that man Jesus was crucified. I have been bothered by that scene ever since. However there are all kinds of stories about him rising from the tomb and being seen walking to Emmaus.  It seems a bit odd to me, I have never heard of anyone rising from the dead.  We are looking forward to discussing it with Zilpah and Joshua.

We arrived just after noon, and were warmly greeted by Zilpah, Joshua and their two boys. Joshua was particularly delighted to see us, and he came over and gave me a hug, and said so nice to see you and I hope you brought your tools??? We have a lot of repair work for you!!!

I smiled and said yes, I have my tools. He asked if we could stay an extra day to do the sandal and harness repairs, as well as some baskets that were falling apart! I told him we would be delighted.

Regarding my tools, I have this really nice old bag that my father passed down to me when he died.

When I was old enough to run the shop, my father decided he would make himself two leather, waterproof bags, fill them with supplies and tools and go into the country and visit farms and villages doing repair work.  I was so appreciative when he left me the two bags! I have rebuilt the smaller one and I can now use it to carry tools and basic supplies when I take trips.

We had a nice visit and lunch, and enjoyed some vintage wine. Since Joshua’s family has this huge olive grove, they also have several small vineyards and make wine every year. It is top class!

Joshua and I took a tour of part of his property as the ladies chatted and the children played! Before we knew it the sun was going down.  Joshua has an old stone grill at his house and he had some freshly killed meat he grilled for us while the wives made some fresh salads and of course some olives.

After enjoying a delicious feast, we put the children to bed and relaxed around a nice warm fire.

I quickly turned the conversation to ask what they knew about this man Jesus. We had not spoken to them about him before.

Immediately Zilpah’s face lit up like a star in the sky and she seemed to be in a sort of trance! Even her voice was different. She replied oh I am so glad you asked!!

I told her my story, about giving him sandals, about seeing him perform a miracle on our cousin and then being part of the gang who shouted Nail him, nail him.

Zilpah was very saddened by this news and scolded her brother for what he had done! She had been following Jesus when he preached around Jericho, and was completely taken by his presence!!!! She then shocked me when she told me her friend Mary Magdalene was a friend of Jesus and she witnessed his crucifixion and went to his tomb three days later.

Ruth and I were now so excited to hear more, so Zilpah said to Joshua, put some more wood on the fire and get another jar of wine and I will tell my story. I could not wait!!!!

Zilpah said she and Mary had seen many of Jesus’ miracles and listened to his sermons.  She said, we found them very difficult to understand at first, but usually we figured them out!!!

We were heart broken when he was crucified and our grief over whelmed us. We did not sleep for 3 days. Then Mary decided she would go the tomb where he had been placed. To her shock the huge boulder that was in front of the tomb was moved away!  She went in with a friend and there was no body in there!!!

However, while in the tomb a strange thing happened!  Somebody or something appeared to the women. They said after they thought it was angels, as it had a bright glow around them.

Whoever, or whatever it was said to them the body was not there he has risen from the dead. They were in awe and shocked, they went to tell Jesus’ eleven disciples who also didn’t believe what they heard so they went to the tomb and saw for themselves there was no body there.

Nahum and Ruth were sitting in amazement at the stories as told by Zilpah, however, they had heard similar stories from other friends and were delighted to hear them confirmed.

They tried to ask Zilpah some questions, but she politely asked them to let her finish as there was more!

She told them that friends of theirs were walking to Emmaus when a person appeared out of nowhere and started asking questions,  later that night that person, who was Jesus,  appeared to the disciples and told them he would be leaving soon to return to his father in heaven as  the scriptures had predicted.

Sure enough, forty days after his resurrection, he left his disciples and disappeared like a wisp of smoke into the heavens.

Both Zilpah and Joshua said they had joined a group of friends and they were called Christ People. Later that would change to Christians! One of the disciples, Peter was telling them all about the stories Jesus had been preaching.  The idea of loving your neighbour, asking God for forgiveness and something very special, the idea that Jesus had left something for everyone who believed in him, they called it The Holy Spirit. Zilpah was still learning about it, but said it was something inside of those who believed and it was a way to communicate with the risen Jesus and with God.

It was very late now and we were tired but so excited to learn more. We made a promise to return to their place in the near future to hear more. We went to bed with a new feeling of excitement we had never experienced before.

Nahum, Ruth and the two boys left early morning after spending five productive days with Joshua and Zilpah , family and servants. Joshua treated all his employees like they were part of his family. It made for a very happy working environment as well as an opportunity for the servants to live a respectable life.

We really had a nice time with all of them, and I repaired all their broken items and did not charge them. At least none of the servants, I found out when we got home that Joshua had put some shekels in my tool bag, which I asked Ruth to put in a special hiding place where we save for the boys.

During the trek home both Ruth and Nahum thought about the story Zilpah had told them about Jesus. They did not share each other’s thoughts until later that week when they had some quiet time together.

When they arrived home the two boys went with some friends to the waterfall and pool to cool off and wash the trip dust off!  Ruth unpacked the donkeys and I went to my shop, where I found 12 pairs of sandals, several pieces of harness and a few baskets that customers had left for mending. I started work on them immediately.

The boys came to my shop late in the afternoon and I asked them to go home and ask momma for some bread and cheese and a pouch of wine for me as I wanted to finish the repairs. They returned soon after and I worked until after sunset and finished my work.

On Sunday morning we woke up and had a very nice breakfast, we did not eat a big breakfast during the week, but today we had some bread Ruth had baked the day before, some figs, olives, raisins, cheese and nuts. Most of this came from Joshua’s farms.

After breakfast the boys went out to play and Ruth and I finally started talking about Jesus.

During the trek home they had spent hours in their own silence, with much time to think about what Zilpah had told them. They both claimed to have had some form of spiritual experience during their trip.

When they started chatting, they were both surprised to hear of the other’s experience! They both felt they were being drawn towards this new Christ People movement that had started. They were unsure what to do or how to seek more information.

Their fears were short-lived!! Two days later a friend who owned a market nearby had travelled to Joshua’s farm to buy fresh produce. On his way home he stopped by as Joshua had asked him to tell Nahum and Ruth to please return to their place and to plan on staying for a few weeks. He also asked Nahum to bring extra supplies with his tools as he had many items from neighbours to repair.

Ruth and Nahum were pleased but a bit confused at this request! They had not expected it!

Nahum came up with a great idea. There was a crippled man in the neighbourhood who often spent time around Nahum’s shop, just for something to do. He lived with his sister’s family.

He had been a teacher, one day he was walking home when a team of horses pulling a cart got spooked and he got in their path of destruction and was badly injured and crippled for life. He still did some private teaching but the schools would not hire him. His name was Isaac.

Nahum had made Isaac a fitted pair of boots to assist him with his walking. With the assistance of a cane and the boots, he was able to move about much more easily.

Nahum asked him if he would stay at his shop every day and explain to customers that Nahum was away for a few weeks but would be returning next month. Nahum had already started telling his regular customers too.

Isaac was delighted. They agreed on a salary, which Isaac thought was too much for what he was going to do, but Nahum thought this was his opportunity to show his love for his neighbour as taught by the Christ People. Both men were very happy. Oh, Isaac was also asked to keep an eye on their home too.

The following Monday, Nahum, Ruth, the boys and four donkeys left for Mount of Olives. The fourth donkey was laden with leather pieces, harness fittings and a small bale of special wicker for basket repairs.

Upon arrival at Joshua’s they set up home in one of the empty servants homes and Nahum began his repairs in a farm tool shed.

Every night was spent talking about the Christ People.  On Thursday, they went to their first meeting with Peter.

John Thomas Percival continues working with wood and pondering about the early history of Christianity.
The photo shows, “At the Genisaret Lake,” by Vasily Polenov, painted in 1888.

Nahum The Carpenter: A Tale Of The First Century

Nahum is my name, my two older sisters are are Zilpah and Ilana, my younger brother is Amos. I am living in Jericho with my wife Ruth and two sons, Ezra and Ezekiel.

I am writing this on a Saturday and it is taking me a long time, you see I had to work in my father’s leather shop when I was thirteen and I have not had much schooling!   I am scribing this on a thin piece of leather and will seal it in a clay jar, I hope someone will find it someday and ask for forgiveness for me for my weakness and my betrayal.

You see, yesterday, Friday,   they crucified Jesus and I was part of the crowd yelling NAIL HIM, NAIL HIM!!!

After he was crucified the curtain in the synagogue was torn down the centre, and then the earth went dark! When that darkness came over Jerusalem I too was hit by a cloud of darkness and I was actually struck dumb and unable to speak or even move for over an hour. It was a feeling of total regret and utter humiliation and I believe it was a message from God.

Let me give you some background. I am a shoemaker, I make and repair all types of leather and twine items, but I really like to make sandals. I once gave a pair to Jesus when he came near my little shop!

My father was also a shoemaker; and he went to the synagogue every Sabbath and took his two boys when we were old enough.  When he died, I was 18, I must admit I have not attended synagogue on a regular basis, I am now 38.

About once a month the Rabbis and treasurers call on me, urging me to attend and to bring my sons. When I give them a few shekels they leave me alone.

One day I was working outside my shop, under a sycamore tree when in the distance I noticed some dust rising as a group was walking in my direction.

I had heard from customers that a man by the name of Jesus was marching around preaching and performing miracles, I was very curious so I dropped my awls and needles and went to see what was happening.

The procession had stopped and Jesus was off to the side talking to somebody. I very quietly ran behind some trees where I could see better, and not be seen,  and was surprised to see my poor and blind cousin Bartimaeus  and his buddy calling Jesus’  name. I thought about going over to him and tell him to stop, and don’t embarrass our family, Jesus does not want to see you, looking so poor and dirty, but something stopped me.
Later I was sure glad it did, because Jesus went over to him and his buddy and in no time they both had gained their sight!!! This man Jesus performed a miracle on my cousin and his friend right in front of me.

I listened to some of his sermons and saw some more miracles. After, when I returned to making sandals, I began to think about this man and his teachings. They made me feel different, I had a warm feeling inside of me, and his sermons were meaning more to me than the teachings of the Rabbis at Bet Midrash or Halachot. I really liked what he was saying!!!

I went about my work for the next few weeks, but whenever I could I would talk to someone who had also come to like this man Jesus. I got to hear lots of stories about his miracles and his teachings to love one another. My dad had always taught us to be kind to others, but this man was actually telling us to love them. We really didn’t understand at first.

Then it all changed for me one day when two older men who had known my father and were big supporters of our synagogue came by and said they heard that I gave this man Jesus a pair of sandals and that people have heard that I have been saying nice things about Jesus.

I told them they were correct and I liked his teachings. They asked me to sit down and then they started to say negative things about Jesus, how he was attempting to make changes to our customs that were hundreds of years old and some said that he had been sent from God as his son.

They made fun of him and encouraged me to forget about Jesus and concentrate on the teachings that have been passed down from generation to generation. They really did not threaten me, but they did say that my business would be more successful if I would forget about this man Jesus.

I was very confused, and undecided as to what to do!!! Do I believe what my father taught me, do I forget about Jesus, do I follow the advice of the men who visited me??? What to do???

One day after I finished some baskets I was working on I decided to walk to a bar not far away. It was crowded and much of the talk was about this stranger in our town who is supposed to be performing miracles and preaching about love.

Many of my friends there had consumed a few too many cups of wine and were getting louder and louder! They started to make fun of Jesus and suggested we do something to get rid of him. I did not really participate, but after all many of these guys were my friends and some were my customers.

When they started asking who wanted to get rid of Jesus, the majority signed up! When they asked me I reluctantly said sure me too.

So, you can see now why so many people shouted NAIL HIM, NAIL HIM!!! Me too!

I know it is only Saturday and I do not know what will happen to this man Jesus, will he have a regular burial? Will there be a big funeral, I wonder what will happen???

What I do know is that I regret my decision to reject him, and now I want to find some way to be forgiven.

 

When not whittling another miniature animal, John Percival can be found listening to bird song most evenings.
The photo shows, “Christ in the House of His Parents,” by John Everett Millais, painted in 1849-1850.

The Early History Of The Cross

As often happens in matters of scholarly opinion, what is accepted as “true” turns out not to be so upon deeper analysis or newer evidence.

Thus, for the longest while, it was customary to read in books dealing with early Christian history that the use of the cross only gained currency after endorsement by Constantine.

This view was fully expounded by Graydon Snyder in his now “classic” work, Ante Pacem: Archaeological Evidence of Christian Life Before Constantine.

Many may not know or remember, but poor Professor Graydon was an early casualty in the now-normal “social justice wars.” He was an ordained minister, and had the misfortune of reading a Talmudic account of a man falling from a tree on a woman and “knowing” her by accident.

The Talmud said that this could not be rape. But a female student in the lecture thought otherwise and declared the reading of this passage as the justification of the sexual brutalization of women and forthwith lodged a complaint.

The university, ever eager to forestall offence no matter who gets destroyed in the process, slapped the then-63-year-old professor with a formal reprimand and distributed a memo campus-wide which stated that Graydon had “engaged in verbal conduct of a sexual nature” that had the effect of “creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive” space in his classes.

This was not the end of – the university then assigned a monitor that sat in each of Graydon’s classes and lectures, taking notes of anything that might be considered offensive. Graydon soon retired.

Let the date of this incident come as a valuable lesson to all – the demise of the university system happened long ago. This annihilation of a good man’s character occurred back in 1994…twenty-four years ago.

The 1990s were the halcyon days of such random acts of social justice, when universities eagerly dragged the Trojan horse of postmodernism into the Academy, worshipped it with much fawning, drank the heady wine of relativism and feel into the deep sleep of nihilism – from which they never awoke, for the barbarians descended from the belly of the wooden beast and conquered the hapless “intellectuals.”

And, now only various forms of self-indulgent destruction are offered by universities, where once a proud tradition of civilization held sway. Such is the fate of all Troys, if given into the hands of fools.

But let us return to the matter at hand.

In his book, Graydon categorically decided that no evidence existed for the cross as a Christian emblem before Constantine. This led to the false assumption that Constantine “invented” the cross as a religious sign, because he chose to use it during the famous Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 AD.

Given the popularity of Graydon’s book, this view became the “Gospel truth,” and is still widely repeated without question by historians of early Christianity.

Embedded in Graydon’s argument was a curious turn to psychology…since the cross was a method of execution of criminals, it was, thus, an emblem of shame, and could never have been elevated to a sign of the faith before Constantine’s imperial sponsorship of Christianity.

Popularizers then went to work, imagining Christians in the Roman world desperate to hide their faith, even descending down into catacombs to carry out their worship. And that they invented arcane signs to recognize each other, which only fellow-Christians would know (like the “Jesus-Fish” now often found on car-bumpers).

It all sounds plausible, but is simply not true.

Rather, the primary sign of the faith from its earliest beginnings was not the fish or the anchor or the wheel, or even the Sator-Square – but the cross itself. Graydon’s view is nothing other than an exercise in myth-making, which is finally destroyed by a new book that takes a fresh look at the entire “cross-debate” and offers facts rather than myths.

This book is The Cross Before Constantine. The Early Life of a Christian Symbol by Bruce W. Longenecker, which offers incontrovertible evidence that, from earliest times, the cross bore not only symbolic value but also theological significance.

The evidence Longenecker marshals to bolster this conclusion is impressive indeed, for it engages not only extensive material remains, but also solid literary testimony.

Such an approach also fully justifies the unique character given the cross in Scripture, such as, St. Paul’s famous exposition of the double conundrum of the cross – as a mark of utter shame and the very token of final triumph: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18).

Such singularity of the cross links back to Jesus himself, with his well-known exhortation – “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

In, effect, then, Longenecker proceeds to uncover not simply the “life,” but the double-life, of the cross – as an instrument of painful execution, and as a symbol of life eternal.

He begins by examining the recent discoveries of various Jewish ossuaries that are engraved with crosses, either erect (+) or recumbent (x) – and these engravings are neither masons’ marks nor decorations.

Thus, the cross had significance in Jewish religious life during the Roman era. And this significance is grounded in Ezekiel 9: 4-6, where the cross is also the “mark” of God, which sets apart the faithful from the rest condemned to death, and is thus the emblem of life, a particular gift of divine grace.

Among the examples Longenecker shows are the Nicanor, Yehudah, Shalamsion, and the Jehosah ossuaries.

Thus, the “prehistory” of the cross is deeply rooted in the very “prehistory” of Christianity itself, namely, Judaic religiosity.

And because the early Jesus movement branched out of the faith of the Jews, Longenecker uncovers the earliest record of the cross’s double-life, both as a mark of God for mankind’s salvation, and as the process of execution that God, in Jesus, bears himself to bring eternal life to mankind.

Thus, the cross has importance far older than Constantine.

Next, Longenecker lays out an elaborate inventory of material and literary evidence.

He discusses the Alexamenos Inscription, the inscriptions in the Baths of Neptune in Ostia, the inscriptions in the catacombs of Rome, rings showing the cross, the famous Crucifixion Gem amulet in the British museum, the various inscriptions in Asia Minor, the graphic use of the cross in the gnostic Books of Jeu, the staurogram in Manuscript P66, and even the rather mysterious cross in a Pompeii bakery (Longenecker has devoted an entire book to the crosses in Pompeii, which is reviewed elsewhere in this magazine).

The literary testimony is even more extensive, and Longenecker deftly moves through it all to strengthen his case.

Thus, he makes use of the earliest witnesses from the first half the of the first century, namely, the Acts of Thomas; the Works of Hippolytus; Cyprian’s Testimonies and To Demetrianus; Tertullian’s De corona, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Against Marcion; and Letters; Lactantius’s Divine Institutes; Clement of Alexandria’s Miscellanies; Minucius Felix’s Octavius (the first Christian work in Latin, little known outside scholarly discussion).

Moving on to the second century, Longenecker musters the Acts of Peter; the Acts of Paul and Thecla; Justin Martyr’s First Apology, Dialogue with Trypho; the Odes of Solomon; the commentaries of Ignatius of Antioch’s on Ephesians, the Smyrneans, the Trallians; and the famous Fifth Ezra; the Epistle of Barnabas; the Gospels and the Letters of St. Paul; and the Johannine Apocalypse (Revelation).

The conclusions that Longenecker draws from this extensive evidence is as follows:

  • The cross is found in various locations, always in Christian contexts – from Gaza and Jerusalem, out to Rome, Spain, North Africa, Egypt and East into Asia Minor and Syria.
  • Time-wise, the cross can be located as a Christian symbol from the first century down to the early parts of the third century AD. In other words, it is clearly used by Christians as an emblem of faith before Constantine.
  • Over the centuries, the shape of the cross evolved from the Jewish erect cross (like a +plus sign) to the more familiar body cross.
  • Longenecker also points out that the crosses found on rings may well have had an apotropaic function – to protect the wearer from demons and evil spirits (an attitude revived by Bram Stoker in Dracula’s aversion to the cross).

With his impressive and sedulous book, Longenecker has finally put out to pasture all the old myths about the cross, perpetrated by Graydon and his followers.

In other words, the cross was a well-established Judeo-Christian religious emblem long before Constantine took it up as his “coat-of-arms.”

For Christians, from the very beginnings of their faith, the cross had a double-meaning: it was the “mark” of God which set apart the believer from the non-believer, with all the significance of life and grace which this election signified. And, secondly, by extension, the cross became the “mark” that Jesus, the God incarnate, himself bore to embody an eternal life bought through horrific sacrifice.

The paradox becomes the solution – the “mark” of God becomes the instrument of torture, and then returns as a greater sign of life.

It is this paradox that St Paul explains: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14).

Torture brings about glory, death leads to life eternal.

The cross is, in effect, the summation of the entire Christian proclamation – because of Jesus, death, though horrid, is not the end.

Longenecker persuasively demonstrates this historico-theological process in the great gyre of history.

 

 

The photo shows, “Christ on the Cross,” by Carl Heinrich Bloch, painted in 1870.

How Pagan Is Christianity?

Every Christmas season, the usual myths are hauled out and distributed for popular consumption. You know them. We’ve all heard or read them.

  • That Christmas celebrations were stolen from the Romans
  • The Christmas tree is a pagan hangover
  • That other gods had virgin births
  • That Yule and the mistletoe are all about Odin

These falsehoods are repeated often and loudly, under the guise of being “historical truths.” And strangely they still stump most Christians, who are then filled with doubt about what they believe.

Of course, these myths were designed to elicit precisely this sort of reaction from believers.

All of them were invented in the 18th- and 19th-centuries by specific writers, who were looking for ways to finally destroy Roman Catholicism. It was, in fact, a continuation of the Black Legend (the anti-Catholic propaganda of the Protestants, which continues to this day and has now been taken up by secularists).

Three writers of such legends have had the most long-reaching influence, despite peddling in ahistorical and groundless suppositions.

The earliest is Paul Ernst Jablonski (1693-1757), who in his De origine festi nativitatis Christi (Concerning the Origins of Christmas) set out to destroy Roman Catholicism by claiming that it was all pagan superstition (a view still rather common among many Protestants).

He was the first to suggest that Christmas was nothing other than a pagan celebration for Mithras (the Persian god adopted into the Roman army, like a mascot, if you will). Until recently, in fact, Protestants tended not to celebrate Christmas, deeming it to be paganism.

Jablonski made all his claims without a shred of historical evidence. But his real legacy is the habit of mind that he created – which holds to the supposition that beneath the superficial Christian overlay, there is a jumble of ancient superstitions, myths, pagan folk customs and practices. Scratch a Christian and you find a Roman pagan.

And this habit of mind is now a thriving industry, with everyone and his uncle nursing a pet theory about how “pagan” Christianity really is.

Ernst Friedrich Wernsdorf (1718-1782) picked up where Jablonski left off and claimed that Christmas was just an adapted Roman celebration for the Unconquerable Sun (Sol Invictus). He laid out his case in De originibus solemnium natalis Christi ex festivitate natalis invicti (The Origins of Christmas in the Festival of the Birth of the Unconquerable Sun). These were the good-old days when people actually knew Latin and always wrote in it (but that’s another topic).

Wernsdorf further popularized the trend of finding ways to debunk Christianity via spurious historical references. In this view, Christians were a fraud, foisted upon the world by conniving, power-hungry lot who wanted to control the Roman Empire.

The real historical evidence points to the fact that Christians were always distancing themselves from anything pagan. So much so that they were willing to be slaughtered in the arenas, rather than agree to anything the pagans wanted them to do to fit into Romanitas (being Roman).

In fact, Christians were renowned throughout the Roman world for neither adopting nor adapting to Roman ways.

But Wernsdorf did set an influential precedent – implicating Christianity for “stealing” pagan ideas, festivals, theology, and making them their own. Again, all these assertions were made without a stitch of historical evidence – just a lot of suppositions and assumptions.

His views would find their most eloquent expression in Edward GibbonsThe History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (published in 1776, yes, the same year as the American Revolution).

This, then led to all kinds of suppositions about just how pagan Christianity was. Gibbons suggested that Christians destroyed the Roman Empire and replaced it with a terrible Dark Age, filled with superstition, ignorance and narrow-mindedness.

His explanation as to how Christians managed to do this was by a policy of adapting and adopting everything pagan, giving it a quick whitewash and proclaiming it as sound “Christian” theology – and in this way they won friends and influenced people.

We have to bear in mind that when Jablonski, Wensdorf and Gibbons are writing, there is a lot of interest in history among ordinary people (antiquarianism). Thus, there’s a great demand for books that explore and explain the past.

Antiquarianism would go on to establish history as a science, as well as archaeology, paleography, chronology. In short, the diachronic approach.

So, it’s also at this point that another modern phenomenon began to emerge – popular history, which took on a life of its own, and soon was separated from real, scholarly, evidence-based inquiries into past.

One such popularist was Alexander Hislop (1807-1865), whose life mission was to annihilate the Roman Catholic Church once and for all. He set about doing this by claiming that everything about Catholicism was nothing other than the disguised paganism of ancient Babylon.

It was Hislop who turned Constantine into the great “villain” who connived to create the Roman Catholic Church, building it entirely on the ancient Babylonian. religion.

This cartoon version of Constantine is now widely popular and taken to be the “truth” by many.

Another contemporary, Charles William King (1818-1888), who published his influential work, The Gnostics and their Remains, in 1864, claimed that Christianity was simply Mithraism whose object of worship was the sun. King knew nothing about Mithraism, other than what he could find in Latin sources. And, of course, Mithraism has nothing to do with the sun.

As the work of the historians continued to bring to light more ancient civilizations, the “paganizers” found more grist for their various mills.

The most important among these was Gerald Massey (1828-1907), who went more ancient than Rome and latched on to Egypt as the “real” root of Christianity. It’s he who is responsible for the howler that Jesus is actually Horus (the ancient Egyptian sky god, often depicted as a falcon).

Wallace the went to town as he concocted a heady brew of “proofs” – that Horus was born of a virgin mother; that Horus was baptized in a river by a baptizer named, Anup; that Horus has twelve disciples; that Horus was crucified and rose from the dead and proclaimed as savior of mankind.

None of this is true, of course. It’s all Wallace letting his imagination run amok.

So, this brief exertion into the origins of the still-vibrant Debunk Christianity industry points to something far more important

  • That Christianity is unique. It has no pagan links. All claims that assert a pagan connection are easily destroyed (it would be dull going through them one-by-one)
  • That the message of Christianity is entirely new. Nothing like ut ever existed in the ancient world.
  • That unlike the pagan gods, Jesus is a thoroughly historical figure.
  • That Christian theology is unlike any other, whose main principles (love, forgiveness, charity, and a personal relationship with God) are unprecedented in any other religion.
  • That even the Resurrection is a verifiable, historical event, entirely provable by clear evidence.

The consequences of all the attacks by the “paganizers” (who have now grown in number) are easily disproved.

This means that…

Christmas is only Christian and nothing else, and was established as a Christian feast day from the very earliest time of the faith.

Christmas trees are an ancient symbol of the hope that Christ offers. They are “paradise trees,” and symbolize the Garden of Eden, to which faith in Christ returns the human being. They has nothing to do with Germanic or Roman pagan festivals (for which we have no concrete historical evidence).

The mistletoe represents the love of God, which is why couples kiss beneath it. The Old English word, “mistel” really refers to the herb, basil, which in ancient Christian herbals (book of healing herbs), is associated with the crucifixion.

And, no, the mistletoe is not a hangover from “Germanic” paganism. We have no idea what the ancient Germanic tribes worshipped, because the further back we go, the more Roman these tribes present themselves – and the evidence of Christianity is pervasive among them. By the time, these Germanic people appear in history, they are already Christians. The connection with Baldur is spurious, since none can now say what is ancient and pagan and what is invented by Snorri Sturluson to flesh out his narratives.

As for the term, “yule,” the earliest mention comes from Bede who tells us that it was the name for the month of December among the Anglo-Saxons.

We cannot really use the Scandinavian evidence because it is much later (Snorri Sturluson dates from the 13th-century). So, Bede makes the earliest reference. And Odin is nowhere in sight! All the later mythologizing is merely neo-pagan wishful thinking.

Murdo Macdonald, in his book, The Need To Believe, summarizes all these efforts to make Christ and Christianity into anything but what it really is – the very heart and soul of the West:

“…certain authors tried to prove that Jesus, as a historical person, never existed. He was only a figment of the imagination, a fanciful creation, a mythical figure, giving expression to the religious aspirations of mere heretical tendencies of the time. These attempts have long been abandoned and no reputable scholar gives them a passing thought… It may be possible to ignore the New Testament and to misread history, selecting only those parts of it which lend sanction and support to our own personal bias, but it is difficult all the time to elude the challenge of Christ Incarnate in human character.”

Christianity is not pagan in any way. It is uniquely its own. This is what scholarly history shows us. Though the lies be many, there can be only one truth.

 

 

The photo shows, “The Triumph of Christianity Over Paganism,” by Gustave Doré, painted perhaps in 1868.

Review: The Dangerous Power Of Christianity

“Why on earth did anyone become a Christian in the first three centuries?” This is a remarkable question, posed by Larry W. Hurtado in his 2016 Père Marquette Lecture in Theology.

It has never been asked by historians of early Christianity. Usually, the rapid growth of devotion to Jesus is charted or explained by way of the hows and the whats of group dynamics – that is, by trying to understand how movements spread over time.

Past focus, therefore, has been on examining the external conditions, social and economic, of the Roman Empire, or the study of fringe groups and their interaction with the majority, or the role of missionary work to gain converts.

This is all well and good, and it has given us a precise and often thorough understanding of what was going on in the Roman world which made it ideal ground in which Christianity very rapidly grew and then flourished.

But the more fundamental question is why did people become Christians in the Roman world, given the fact that by doing so they destroyed all hope of a normal, even prosperous life?

Hurtado sets out to examine this problem in is lecture. He is professor emeritus at the University of Edinburgh who has spent a life-time studying early Christianity.

One of his greatest contributions is the now well-established view that Jesus was seen as divine from the time of the very first Jewish believers – it was not a gradual process as had been previously assumed. Therefore, Jesus as both God and man is the foundational belief from the very beginnings of the faith.

One of the most remarkable things about early Christianity is how quickly it spread across the Roman world. By the time Paul became a follower of Jesus (around 30-35 AD), there were already Christian communities in most major urban centers.

This expansion only increased in the first three centuries, so that Christians were found from Carthage to Egypt to Mesopotamia, and from Jerusalem out to Rome, Spain, France, and Britain.

These early Jesus-believers came from all walks of life (rich and poor, gentry and commoners, soldiers and politicians), and therefore included men and women, the young and the old.

It is difficult to know the exact of number of these early Christians, but they must have been significant enough to warrant notice from the Roman government.

Such “notice” came in the form of schemes that might curtail the rapid growth of the new faith, as well as laws that made being a Christian to be equivalent to being an “atheist” and therefore an enemy of the state.

Thus, it is this “notice” that Hurtado discusses at length in his lecture. Simply put, there were very serious costs involved in becoming a Christian in the Roman world. Religious affiliation was not as casual, or unimportant, as it is today.

If you became a Christian in the first three centuries of the last millennium, you immediately put yourself at a very serious disadvantage and even danger, socially, politically and judicially.

Politically, Christians were held to be atheists under law because they denied the existence of the Roman gods and refused to worship them.

There were no niceties as the “separation of church and state” in the Roman world. Both religion and politics were one and the same, in that the state reflected the order and harmony of the universe by way of the various public sacred rituals in which everyone participated throughout the year.

This participation defined your loyalty to the Roman state, because you were helping to sustain its supernatural foundation upon which the state and society rested. To walk away from this maintenance meant that you wanted both the state and society to come crashing down.

When Christians chose to opt out of these rituals, it was seen as a signal that they sought the downfall of Rome. Of course, the Jews also refused such participation, but the Romans simply saw this as a national particularity and tolerated it.

But things were different with Christians because as converts, they were not a nation. They had been born and raised pious pagans who now followed a new cult. The Romans despised cults.

Thus conversion was akin to sedition as far as the state was concerned, because by denying the rituals and the gods, you were inviting the forces of chaos to be let loose, come what may. Christians, then, were like dangerous anarchists.

Conversion also put the convert at odds with his family, because by becoming Christian, the convert was forever abandoning his ancestors; and this in a world in which family was everything was seen as the ultimate betrayal. We must bear in mind that the actual practice of religion among ordinary people in the Roman world was ancestor worship.

Thus, by becoming a Christian, a person became both a criminal and a rootless alien in Roman society. These were powerful disincentives.

Then, why did Christianity continue to grow so much in number? What did Christianity offer that people risked life and limb, social privilege, and even family bonds to become followers of Jesus?

This is the essential point – Christians had to deal with lethal prejudice in the Roman world.

As Clayton Croy puts it, “the threat to Christians’ lives pervaded the first three centuries…Even when martyrdom was not being carried out, all that stood between Christians and the executioner was the lack of a delator (an accuser).”

Being an enemy of the state and a social outcast meant dealing with humiliation, ostracism, threats, hatred, disdain, ridicule, abuse, imprisonment, and death.

The epistles of the New Testament bear out this climate of hostility (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:3 and 8; and Hebrews 10-12; 1 Peter 3:9, 3:16; 1 Peter 3: 12-14; 1 Peter 5:10).

This hatred is also evident in the way Christians are depicted in Roman literary works. They are described as evildoers, prone to incest and murder; or as charlatans and buffoons who believe the most outrageous things; or as lowlifes and scum of the earth; or as intellectually inferior.

Thus, from the highest levels of society down to the street-level, Christians were despised and derided. So, again, given such strong disincentives, why did people convert in such large numbers to Christ?

Here, also we enter into the reality of Christians living ordinary lives in the Roman world, a reality described by Paul, for example, in the First Letter to the Corinthians Chapters 7-10. Paul tries to explain how Christians are to live in a society openly hostile to them.

As for the Christians themselves, how were they to interact with pagans? Should they dine with pagans, where the gods would have to be worshipped first? What should merchants do, who belonged to guilds, where again the gods would have to be worshipped in the guild meetings?

How should Christian slaves serve pagan masters? What should Christian spouses married to pagans do? Should Christians hide their faith to get by and live two lives – a public pagan one, and a private Christian one?

What was to be done with lapsed Christians, who simply could not cope with the hostility and went back to paganism?

Such questions provide insights into the dilemmas that Christians faced – how were they to live their lives in a pagan world that hated them? Being a Christian was dangerous, embarrassing, frightening, confusing, intimidating, and certainly challenging on a daily basis.

All this exemplified by the life of St. Paul. He came from a privileged background, was educated at the best school, and was well-off.

But he gave it all up to follow Christ, and his life thereafter was miserable (from a worldly perspective) – he was abused, threatened with violence, humiliated, routinely and seriously beaten, even to the point of death, and finally executed (beheaded) by the state.

Why would Paul want to undergo all this misery just to be a Christian?

What was it about the Christian message that no amount of violence, threats, disadvantage, abuse, and ridicule could dislodge? What kept Christians loyal, once they converted, to stay with their new faith?

More importantly, what made Christianity grow in such a rapid way, which is unprecedented? Robin Lane Fox aptly sums up this unique occurence: “…no other cult in the Empire grew at anything like the same speed.”

Since Hurtado’s focus in this lecture is to explore the nature of his question, he can only offer two answers to it.

First, for the first time in history, Christianity linked the divine with love, that God is love. The Greco-Roman gods were neither kind nor loving; they were aloof and harsh when forced to deal with humans. Their job was looking after the cosmos, not people.

Second, Christianity, again for the first time in history, offered an everlasting life to the individual, and even an eternal life for the resurrected body. No one in the ancient pagan world really believed that any sort of existence came after death for each individual. Christianity offered something unique.

Whether both these answers were strong enough incentives to sustain a person facing lethal prejudice, Hurtado does not say, since such explanation is beyond the scope of his argument.

Rather, he is to be congratulated for pointing the study of early Christianity towards a new path – in that history is far more than impersonal economic forces and sociological conditions.

Hurtado’s question, “Why on earth did anyone become a Christian in the first three centuries?” shows that history is determined not by materialist causes, but by ideas that people believe, embody, and then live out.

It is this living out of ideas that is the very essence of history.

As to why people became Christians despite hostility, perhaps the answer is to be found in something that Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Justin the philosopher, who became a Christian in this hostile Roman world, wrote of his conversion in his Dialogue With Trypho. He hints at this peace offered by Christ when he says that he became a Christian because he found in the faith a philosophy that was both safe and profitable.

Thus Christianity offered ideas and deep inner peace that no one else offered.

Certainly, the Romans of the first century were no different from people in our own era – everyone seeks inner peace, few know how to find it. Once you find that peace, you will never want to give it up. No matter what. Cue the martyrs.

 

Larry W. Hurtado, Why On Earth Did Anyone Become A Christian In The First Three Centuries? Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2016.

 

The photo shows, “Nero’s Torches,” painted in 1876, by Henryk Siemiradzki.

Review: Zealot. The Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth

[Editor’s Note: This review was written when Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus pf Nazareth, first came out in 2013. Given the book’s curious popularity, we thought it best to republish this review, in order to highlight Aslan’s “scholarship”].

 

 

Reza Aslan’s biography of Jesus is an anachronistic book – it is more about our own era, and the author’s journey within, than it is about the time and place in which Jesus lived. As such, it is a compendium of sweeping statements and unsubstantiated generalities, backed up by lapses in logic and utter fallacy.

On the scholarly level, the entire book is a mishmash of hoary theories, long disproven and rightly forsaken.

Aslan’s supposed explosive and startling revelations are absurdities, like someone passionately trying to prove that the earth is flat. Consequently, he has nothing to offer that might change or advance our knowledge of Jesus in history. But that has never stopped anyone from hoodwinking the naive.

Aslan wants to give us Jesus the man, without any reference to Jesus the Christ. This approach is nothing new – Euhemerus and Leon of Pella, in the fourth century BC, established the fundamental parameters of such analysis: scratch a god and you find a man.

But is Aslan a worthy scratcher? Apparently not, since his book is filled with substantial errors and contradictions, held up by vapid assertions and simplistic assumptions.

Clumsy narratives are far easier to put together – intricacy is harder to deal with.

Terms such as, “Judaism,” “Christianity,” “paganism,” “empire,” “zealots,” “oppression,” “revolution” keep popping up, without any clear understanding of what these terms actually mean in the Roman world of the first century AD.

Antiquity was as knotty and intricate as our own world. Aslan’s book shows no awareness of this whatsoever. He seems to be intent on writing a script for a B-grade movie.

Clumsy narratives are far easier to put together – intricacy is harder to deal with. Aslan ignores the true, historical Roman world and fashions his own imagined one, which is fatuous and (most surprisingly!) conforms perfectly to the points he wants to make about his “Jesus.”

The errors begin rather immediately with the very sub-title of the book, “The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.”

 

ERROR: JESUS OF NAZARETH

Aslan says that he knows ancient Greek – and yet he makes a sophomoric blunder in translation, which leads him to state falsely that Jesus was born in Nazareth and not Bethlehem, and that is why he was known as “the Nazarean…” “throughout his life.” (Correction: he was known as the Galilean).

Aslan bases his assertion on the Gospel (John 19:19-20), where we read that at the top of Jesus’ cross, the Romans placed a wooden sign (the titulus), which displayed a message written in the three languages common in first century Palestine, namely, Hebrew, Greek and Latin.

The Gospel (originally written in Greek) provides the text of the titulus as well. It begins with the phrase, Iesous ho Nazoraios.

As someone who supposedly knows Greek, Aslan should not be making any mistakes with a rather easy phrase, which he says means, “Jesus of Nazareth.” This is grammatically impossible.

The correct translation is, “Jesus, the Nazarene.”

In order to get “Jesus of Nazareth,” the original Greek has to be Iesous ho apo Nazoret. But that is not what John 18:18-20 says.

In a strategy that will be used throughout the book, Aslan then proceeds to fashion “proof” for his mistranslation.

What does “Nazarene” really mean? It is a reference to the famous passage in Isaiah 11:1 (“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots”).

Where is that Occam’s razor?

As Robert M. Kerr very lucidly demonstrated, the term for “branch” in Hebrew is ne ṣer. The term “Nazarene” comes from this Hebrew word.

Thus, the phrase on the titulus literally meant, “Jesus of the branch.” Indeed, “branch” had a deep messianic meaning for first century Jews.

The readers of the original knew what they were reading – Jesus, the branch of Jesse, i.e., the Messiah – this man Jesus, is Jesus the Christ.

Also, the epitaph of the book is taken from Matthew 10:34: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.”

Doubtless, Aslan wants to suggest that this verse summarizes his Jesus, the illiterate, peasant revolutionary.

Of course, this sword-saying is indicating a truth far more profound – that the teaching of Jesus will cut-off people from the world, even from families.

So, indeed, it is a revolution – but of the spirit, not of the world – Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (John 18:36).

 

CONTRADICTION: RELIABILITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

At the very start of his book, Aslan declares the Gospels to be historically useless: “Simply put, the gospels tell us about Jesus the Christ, not Jesus the man” (xxvi). Fair enough. This is nothing new, and dates all the way back to Bruno Bauer, the professor of Karl Marx.

But why then is Aslan’s narrative of Jesus’ life drawn entirely from the Gospels? Why does he look for “proof” for each one of his claims in the Gospels?

Either the Gospels are historically useful sources for the life of Jesus the man, or they are not. They cannot be both useful and useless/

Of course, the Gospels are only useful to Aslan when they back up his claims. Other than that, they are useless to him.

Logic, evidently, is not a strong point/

 

ERROR: BANDITS AND ZEALOTS

Aslan tries to prove that Jesus was a zealot (a very old claim, in fact, first raised two-hundred years ago by Hermann S. Reimarus in his essay, “The Aims of Jesus and His Disciples”).

How does Aslan substantiate this contention? He turns to the Gospels (again).

Jesus was crucified between two robbers. The Greek word used for “robbers” is lestai (singular, lestes). Aslan “translates” lestai as, “revolutionary,” and argues that because Jesus is between two lestai, he must be a lestes also. The ultimate guilt by association! But is Aslan correct?

The word occurs frequently in ancient Greek literature, from Thucydides (Book I.5) down to the New Testament (where it occurs some fifteen times). It stems from the noun, leia, which means “plunder.” Thus, from the fifth century BC to the first century AD, lestes has always meant, “robber,” “bandit,” “plunderer,” “brigand,” “pirate.”

Where is Aslan getting “revolutionary?”

Multilingualism was the norm – unilingualism was very rare.

The Jewish historian Josephus (37–100 AD), first calls lestai two specific violent Jewish groups – the zealots and the sicarii, who were assassins (The Jewish Wars 2.254).

Josephus does not say that lestes means “revolutionary,” or even “zealot.” He is merely saying that these people are “bandits,” or criminals.

But for Aslan this is serious evidence, and he concludes that lestai must mean “revolutionary” because the two groups Josephus mentions did not agree with Roman rule.

Aslan seems not to know that lestes translates also the Latin term latro (“robber,” “brigand,”“bandit”). In most parts of the eastern Roman world, Greek was the common language (a legacy of Hellenism).

Thus lestes was chosen as the Greek equivalent of latro because it was deemed accurate by the people who needed to use these terms.

Both Greek and Latin have perfectly good words for “a revolutionary” (seditiosus in Latin whence comes the English, “sedition;” and stasiastes in Greek).

Why would Josephus and the Gospel-writers not use either of these two words if their intent were to speak about “revolutionaries?” Why say “robber” and really mean “revolutionary?” Again, logic intrudes.

Actually, Aslan is getting all this from S.G.F. Brandon’s two books, The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church (1951), and Jesus and the Zealots: A Study of the Primitive Factor in Primitive Christianity (1967).

Back in 1984, E. Bammel and C.F.D. Moule destroyed this Jesus-as-a-zealot argument, once and for all. It seems Aslan has yet to hear about it.

anyone can be an expert in the age of Google

Simply put, “zealot” in the first century did not mean a revolutionary, or a resistance fighter against the Romans (this is Aslan’s fantasy).

Why? Because during the time of Jesus, there were no “zealots” in Palestine fighting the Romans – all that came many decades after Jesus! Perhaps math is not a strong point with Aslan, either.

Further, “zealot” derives from the Greek zilotes which means an “emulator” (as in Isocrates and Aeschines), or an “ardent admirer”, and therefore a “follower.”

The first one to say that “zealots” were political in any way is Josephus, and we have to be careful with him as a historical source for Jesus, because he is not a contemporary (he was born at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and he died in 100 AD).

Other historical sources do not link “zealots” with politics at all, let alone struggles against Rome – but Aslan knows nothing about this.

During the time of Jesus, “zealot” meant a Canaanite (“Simon the Canaanite” in Luke 6:15 becomes “Simon the zealot” in Acts 1:13). In fact, “zealot” also meant a Canaanite convert to Judaism (such conversions were frequent).

Thus, when Aslan calls Jesus a “zealot” – does he really know what he is doing with this convoluted Greek term? It is obvious that he does not.

Simply put, by asserting that Jesus was a zealot, Aslan is stating that Jesus was a Canaanite convert to Judaism!

Thus, Aslan’s entire thesis is simply an utter absurdity, built entirely on his own ignorance.

 

ERROR: THE FOURTH PHILOSOPHY

Aslan gets further confused when he maintains that brigands, zealots and the sicarii were all followers of the Fourth Philosophy, and he represents them as one unified group whose aim was the ousting of the Romans from Judea.

The sicarii (“dagger-men”) were terrorists who randomly stabbed people they deemed to be the enemy. As to who “the enemy” was for these terrorists? Anyone they labeled as such.

There may be a very tenuous link between the sicarii and the Fourth Philosophy – but there is no discernible connection with zealots.

Josephus is the first to coin the phrase “the Fourth Philosophy” by which he mean a form of Judaism that was different from the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Essenes.

Again, Josephus is not a contemporary of Jesus, and he is writing about political situations that simply did not exist in Jesus’ day.

Of course, Aslan is blissfully unaware of any of this. For him, “Judaism” is some over-arching “religion” that he has constructed to suit his agenda.

In fact, there were many Judaisms – Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, Herodians, Boethusians, Levites, Scribes, Elders, Disciples of John, Samaritans, and (if Josephus is right), the Fourth Philosophy.

Each of these Judaisms was distinct from the other, so we do not really know which type of Judaism Jesus himself followed.

There is no evidence in the book that might suggest Aslan really knows anything about Judaism, and what he does say about it is thoroughly misinformed, misconstrued, distorted, and ridiculous (for example, he actually believes that the Jews carried out crucifixions).

Thus, the Fourth Philosophy just was not around when Jesus lived and preached in Palestine. Aslan is taking a political situation long after the time of Jesus, retro-projecting it back to Jesus’ day – and then concluding that Jesus himself was part of this future political situation – therefore he was a revolutionary.

This is not history – it is mere overzealous fantasy.

 

CONTRADICTION: THE OPPRESSION OF ROME

Another anachronism that Aslan constructs is “the Roman Empire,” which he describes as an organized system of oppression of vast proportions.

This is not surprising given the broad influence of post-colonial discourse in present-day academia (thanks to the silliness engendered by Edward Said).

destroys his own arguments

But does such an analysis have any merit when dealing with antiquity? No, it does not, because the Roman world was far different than that imagined by Aslan.

Needless to say, ancient Rome is another subject that Aslan knows nothing about – but anyone can be an expert in the age of Google.

In complete contradiction to what Aslan declares, the historical record itself cannot sustain Rome as thoroughly oppressive – and this record unravels whatever Aslan has to say about Rome and its supposed “oppression.”

For example, he calls Palestine “occupied territory” (10), under “the boot of imperial” Rome (16).

Then he is forced to admit that Rome was very tolerant: “As generally tolerant as the Romans may have been when it came to foreign cults, they were even more lenient toward the Jews…”(14).

So, was Rome oppressive or tolerant? It cannot be both. Logic once more raises its head.

Aslan likely knows that evidence is stacked against him if he says that Rome was utterly despotic and unjust (although that is how he describes it in his book).

The reality of the Roman world dismantles his reasoning.

If what he says is true, how can he explain the fetiales, the guild of priests who oversaw treaties and foreign relations, and who were often critical of what Rome might want to do, and the caduceatores, the peacemakers, who actively worked to avoid war?

And how can he explain the fact that Roman law forbade the state to wage war (only the collegium fetiales could undertake that duty, after the Roman Senate made a case for a war)?

Further, how can he explain the Pax Romana, when peace endured throughout the Roman Empire for over two-hundred years (an event unprecedented in human history)? Jesus’ entire life was spent in this Pax Romana.

a tedious mishmash of hoary theories, long forsaken

The fact is most nations fought Rome because they wanted to get into the empire – because they wanted to be Romans.

Why would other nations fight to be Roman, if the Romans were brutal and oppressive? Aslan, as usual, has no clue about any of this.

If the Roman Empire were oppressive, would it have lasted until 1452 (when Byzantium fell to the Turks) – that is more than over two thousand years? No empire has endured so long.

Then, the subsequent Ottoman Empire saw itself as a continuation of the Roman Empire in the east, for the Turks came to possess the idea of Rome, that is, Romanitas, or Romanity, Roman-ness – and they called their realm “Rûm,” or Rome. Again, why, if Rome was so horrible and so hated?

Some philosophers, like Rémi Brague, convincingly argue that the Roman Empire still exists and we are very much part of it. The essential character of our civilization is ultimately an extension of the Roman world.

In fact, where would the United States be without a blueprint of the Roman Republic?

All this would be impossible if Rome were inherently oppressive and everyone wanted to be rid it.

Suffice to say that Aslan’s understanding of Romanity is nonexistent, which is curious since the man Jesus, whose life story he wants to tell, was very much a product of Romanitas.

Rome was in Palestine because of treaty obligations that stemmed back to 161 BC. Aslan distorts this when he delves into the paradigm of conquest and hegemony, which serves no purpose other than to highlight his romantic construct of revolutionaries fighting for freedom. (He likely has present-day Palestine in mind).

The fact is the majority of Jews preferred the peace and stability guaranteed by Roman rule over their own indigenous priestly theocracy. Most Jews greatly benefited from being Roman citizens and never supported any sort of insurrection.

Further, the ideals of pacifism were the majority view among the Jews living in the Roman world.

The violent factions came much later, after the time of Jesus, like the sicarii. These factions were in the minority.

However, their selfish actions brought the most harm to the entire Jewish nation. That is why Josephus hated them, because this violent minority destroyed the peace and stability enjoyed by the vast majority.

Aslan knows nothing about the reality of the Roman world in the East. He has created a cartoon version that might serve as entertainment, but which has nothing to do with historical truth.

 

ERROR: THE TRIBUTE EPISODE

Much is made of the famous episode of the tribute owed to Caesar and to God (Matthew 22:15-22: “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s”).

Aslan declares this to be a summary of the zealot’s creed (78). This idea comes from S. G.F. Brandon once again.

To back up this absurd claim, Aslan tries to do some fancy footwork with Greek. He states that “render” is a mistranslation of the original Greek term, apodidomi. (We are already familiar with his “knowledge” of Greek, but he needs to demonstrate it once again).

All he can do is garb his ignorance in folds of plausibility.

He argues, very confusingly, that the real meaning can only be accessed if this term is broken down into its two component parts.

Then, the two parts have to be translated separately.

Next, the two separate translations should be smashed together to yield the most accurate meaning for apodidomi. Right…

Thus, for him, apodidomi actually means, “to give back again” (77). Where is that Occam’s razor?

Aslan has no idea that there is an actual difference between morphophonemics and semantics.

So, by his logic, in order to understand what the word “obvious” really means, we have to split it up into its two parts, which ultimately come from Latin.

First, there is ob, which in Latin can mean “on,” or “against;” and then we have viam, which, again in Latin means, “the way,” “the road.”

Having done such needless gymnastics, we can now declare that the word, “obvious” really means, “to be on your way,” or “to go against the road, or against traffic.” Of course!

In brief, apididomi means exactly how it has been translated by real scholars of Greek, “to render,” or “to pay back an obligation, or a debt.”

Thus, Jesus is teaching about fulfilling one’s obligations – both mundane and spiritual. There is nothing here about fighting Romans, as Aslan wants to argue.

 

CONTRADICTION: ILLITERACY OF JESUS

Aslan claims that 97 percent of the Jewish peasantry was illiterate (34). He does not divulge the actual Roman records that provided him this figure, since Roman statistics on literacy in their empire have yet to be unearthed by archaeologists.

Nor do we know if they even did such surveys. Why would they? But that cannot stop Aslan’s “scholarly” insights.

He gets this figure from the convoluted reasoning offered by Catherine Hezser, although Aslan does not mention her in his Bibliography (as with so many of his mentors).

Aslan needs this fake illiteracy rate to further his contention that since Jesus was a peasant, he was therefore illiterate. He just assumes that Jesus did not belong to the educated 3 percent. Again, logic is an issue.

a compendium of sweeping statements and unsubstantiated generalities

Whatever the literacy levels were of the Jewish peasantry, the fact remains that there is enough evidence to indicate the importance of writing in ancient Judea, as epigraphic finds (papyrus hoards and the library at Qumran) clearly demonstrate.

All this material suggests widespread literacy in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. If literacy were so low, why did Paul write letters, and why were the Gospels even written, if 97 percent of the population would never be able to read them?

Three of the gospels (excluding Luke) were written for Jewish readers.

And, there are over 5,000 manuscripts of the New Testament in Greek, some 10,000 in Latin, and thousands in other languages that were part of the Roman world (like, Armenian, Coptic and Ethiopic).

In fact, manuscripts of the New Testament are the most numerous for any text from the ancient world.

Who were all these manuscripts for, if almost everyone was illiterate?

Literary culture in the first century was rich and diverse (there were even Jewish novels in this era) – and it is a culture that is entirely unknown to Aslan.

Interestingly, just a few pages later, Aslan contradicts his own thesis. He states: “By connecting his miracles with Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus is stating…”(111).

Is not this process of “connecting” a literary text with one’s own ideas known as “literary allusion?”

How could an illiterate peasant be involved in genuine literary activity without having read the book of Isaiah?

Complicating matters is the fact that the Scriptures referred to in the New Testament are the Septuagint (LXX) which is in Greek and not in Hebrew. Thus, Jesus would also have to understand Greek, along with Hebrew.

Of course, Jesus could have memorized these passages. But that would suggest intensive schooling, since someone would have had to read Isaiah aloud and enough times for pupils to memorize verses deemed important.

However, Aslan has already told us that his Jesus was unschooled (35).

But now suddenly we have an educated Jesus, intellectually challenging his compatriots, and using bookish arguments. An uneducated, illiterate Jesus makes no sense, even in the make-belief world of Aslan.

As an aside, if Jesus were illiterate, how does he know about the intricacies of Hebrew writing (Matthew 5:18) – the yod w’kotz shel yod (the jots and tittles)?

Which is it, then? Was Jesus literate, or not? He cannot be both. Aslan actually says he’s illiterate but has him behave like a highly educated man. The evidence once again runs counter to the thesis.

 

ERROR: HEBREW OR ARAMAIC

Aslan makes the sweeping claim that Aramaic was “the primary language of the Jewish peasantry: the language of Jesus” (35).

It is not clear if Aslan actually knows any Hebrew or Aramaic, or any other Semitic languages (we have already learned that his Greek is non-existent). Nevertheless, his assertion is completely false.

Aslan’s greatest strength is inventing conspiracy theories

Linguistic reality in first century Palestine was complex, where the majority of people spoke three or four languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin).

Each language had a function which was intimately connected to particular social and economic strata. It all depended on who one was speaking with, since different aspects of daily life required one or more of these four languages.

Multilingualism was the norm – unilingualism was very rare, even non-existent, because people needed more than one language to function in the Greco-Roman world.

This is a concept unilingual North Americans have great difficulty understanding.

In Galilee, the true homeland of Jesus, Hebrew was the spoken language, and it remained so well into the fourth century AD. Thus, Jesus grew up speaking Hebrew – not Aramaic, as Aslan wrongly contends.

Epitaphs, mosaics, and synagogue inscriptions firmly point to trilingualism, with Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek thoroughly intertwined.

For the Jews, Hebrew was, and is, the lashon-haq-kadosh, the sacred language used by God.

Aramaic, also a Semitic tongue, is closely related to Hebrew. It exists in two dialects – western ones used in Palestine, and eastern ones used in Syria, i.e., Syriac, or Talmudic Aramaic.

Many Jews (certainly not all) preferred to use Aramaic in daily life because they deemed Hebrew too holy for mundane purposes. This explains why the Targumim are in Aramaic.

Aslan says that he knows ancient Greek – and yet he makes a sophomoric blunder in translation

Jesus’ use of the three languages current in first century Palestine is clearly evident in the Gospels. Sometimes, he speaks Hebrew and Aramaic (Matthew 27:46); sometimes he speaks only Aramaic (Mark 5:41); and sometime he uses pure Greek (Matthew 16:18).

This complex multilingual reality is also reflected much later in the various documents of Simeon bar Kochba.

And this is why the titulus above Jesus’ head on the cross is in Hebrew, Greek and Latin.

(By the way, why bother with such a placard, if 97 percent of the population is illiterate?).

Aslan’s declaration that Hebrew was “barely” understood by Jews (34) is therefore meaningless. This view was current until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948, which thereafter firmly established Palestine as a multilingual place.

It is strange indeed that Aslan is using a pre-1948 explanation, which has been long demolished. No doubt, Aslan prefers ignorance over fact.

 

FREUDIAN-SLIP

There are quite a few Freudian-slips throughout the book. One example may suffice.

Aslan states: “By the time Jesus set up his ministry…”(95).

Why is a revolutionary setting up a ministry? One would think that he would be busy putting together a deadly arsenal (with the requisite ballistae, a scorpio or two, and various small arms), getting recruits (certainly way more than just twelve), and that he would be hunting around for an out-of-the-way field to establish his boot camp (as Simeon bar Kochba indeed did do some six decades after Jesus).

It would be tedious to go through all such Freudian-slips. They are Freudian because despite Aslan’s best efforts, the truth does manage to slip out – in his own arguments.

 

FURTHER ERRORS

Mary (page 37): In Mark 6:3, Jesus is called the “son of Mary.” Aslan sees this as a record of Jesus’ illegitimacy. This reference, of course, is not about legitimacy – it is about an emergent veneration of Mary (Mariology), which had already begun in the first century.

Despite not knowing any Semitic languages, Aslan proceeds to “translate” the reference to Jesus in Mark 6:3 into Aramaic as, “Jesus bar Mary!” (If he wants the Aramaic version, the proper translation is, “Yehoshua or Yehsua bar Miriam”). Aslan is likely using C. P. Thiede here, though Thiede is not mentioned in the Bibliography.

Crucifixion (page 155): Aslan says that crucifixion was reserved “for the most extreme political crimes: treason, rebellion, sedition, banditry.”

Aslan knows nothing about Judaism

Once again, the unsubstantiated sweeping statement. Aslan needs to closely read the lex Puteoli. Crucifixion was simply a method of execution for crimes that required capital punishment.

It had nothing to do with politics, as Aslan imagines. There are very many instances of non-political criminals being crucified (Roman or not). For example, Verres crucified Roman citizens without any qualms (famously, Gavius); and Galba crucified a murderer who had poisoned his ward.

As well, if Romans citizens wanted to punish, or get rid of, slaves, they could have them crucified (it was cheap). Women also were crucified. Tiberius had the priests of Isis crucified. Cicero frequently mentions crucifixion of Roman citizens. Of course, Aslan is simply ill informed about the Roman world.

Paul (page 183-196): No, Paul did not invent Jesus the Christ. Jesus himself proclaimed his divinity by elaborating the Jewish idea of agency, in that God acts through one person (angel, patriarch, prophet, finally the Messiah). Aslan again displays his ignorance.

Paul was not ostracized and despised by the Jerusalem Christians. Aslan is simply repeating F.C. Bauer’s very old thesis, long discredited. Paul became part of Christianity – he did not create it – and Paul saw Christianity as Judaism fulfilled, and he understood the church as the New Israel.

Throughout the book, there are many, many other such errors, sweeping-statements, contradictions, and outright falsehoods. Detailing these any further would be pointless.

Aslan’s greatest strength is inventing conspiracy theories (which seem always to sell well).

Lastly, a word on Aslan’s style, since he teaches creative writing. Throughout the book there is a tension between two stylistic registers – fiction and nonfiction. It seems Aslan really wants to write a novel.

The book begins with an appeal to immediacy, with a sudden and jarring use of the second-person personal pronoun (“you”).

We are then offered some contrived “sights and smells of ancient Jerusalem,” and we even get to witness an assassination.

Such techniques may work in a cheesy novel, but they have no place in a book claiming to be factual history.

There is also a tendency to over-write, and thereby throw up the fog of purple prose.

Logic…is not a strong point with Aslan.

For example: “Zeal, the spirit that had fueled the revolutionary fervor of the bandits, prophets, and messiahs, was now coursing through the population like a virus working its way through the body”(53).

And, “…the Roman swarm swept through the upper and lower city, littering the ground with corpses, sloshing through streams of blood…”(67).

Then, there are the frequent and needless clichés: the “boot of an imperial power”(16); “large swaths of the countryside”(17); “handful of sects”(37); “rampaged through the countryside, burning with zeal”(44); “Jesus’s neighbors were a different story”(94). And so on.

Lastly, the pluperfect tense is much too liberally used throughout the book.

Hardly a page can be turned without encountering, “would have,” “might have,” “could have.”

No doubt this is a nervous tick that points to Aslan’s tenuous knowledge. All he can do is garb his ignorance in folds of plausibility.

It is customary to look for some merit in a book, and it is this: it is work of psychotherapy.

In the Author’s Note, Aslan describes his encounter with Jesus the Christ, and then his loss of faith (because he could not overcome doubt). Such struggles happen to many, and such people move on.

But Aslan needs to hang on to Jesus in some way. Thus, he creates a Jesus of his own making; a Jesus that he can be happy with.

One can only hope that having worked it all out in the pages of his book, Aslan now feels much better.

As for Jesus, he belongs to history and to faith, and Aslan knows nothing about him.

 

[The photo shows, “The Mocking of Christ” by Carl Heinrich Bloch, painted in 1880]