Saturday, October 29, 2011

Gospel of Philip: Geography and Places

Disclaimer: The quotes of the Gospel of Philip do not imply any approval of the material's accuracy or helpfulness. The quotes are shown so that readers can judge for themselves about the quality of the material.

The Gospel of Philip presents an interesting puzzle when it comes to geography and place names. What if the author mentions a place name -- something that the readers know is a place name -- but the author speaks of it as something else:
The apostles who were before us had these names for him: "Jesus, the Nazorean, Messiah", that is, "Jesus, the Nazorean, the Christ". The last name is "Christ", the first is "Jesus", that in the middle is "the Nazarene". "Messiah" has two meanings, both "the Christ" and "the measured". "Jesus" in Hebrew is "the redemption". "Nazara" is "the Truth". "The Nazarene" then, is "the Truth". "Christ" [...] has been measured. "The Nazarene" and "Jesus" are they who have been measured. (from the Gospel of Philip)
Nazareth, where Jesus lived in his early years, was a small town. It had no great reputation. From what we see here, it's possible that the author of the Gospel of Philip did not realize that "Nazarene" meant someone from a place called Nazareth.

Or again, what if the author mentions a specific place -- like the Temple in Jerusalem -- but speaks of it as several separate buildings:
There were three buildings specifically for sacrifice in Jerusalem. The one facing the west was called "The Holy". Another, facing south, was called "The Holy of the Holy". The third, facing east, was called "The Holy of the Holies", the place where only the high priest enters. Baptism is "the Holy" building. Redemption is the "Holy of the Holy". "The Holy of the Holies" is the bridal chamber.
The reader may well think that the Gospel of Philip's author had no direct knowledge of the place.

So with those introductory cautions, here are the places mentioned in the Gospel of Philip -- regardless of whether I'm convinced that the author of that gospel was aware that they were places or had correct knowledge about them:
  • Paradise (as a place where Adam was, not merely in a symbolic sense)
  • person referred to as Nazarene / Nazorean
  • person referred to as Magdalene
  • dye works / workshop of Levi
  • people referred to as Roman
  • people referred to as Greek
  • Jerusalem
  • three buildings for sacrifice: Holy, Holy of Holy, Holy of Holies
  • Jordan

Like most of the "alternative gospels", the Gospel of Philip makes no attempt to present a biography of Jesus. Unlike some other Gnostic gospels, the Gospel of Philip does not completely skip geography and the physical world, though location does play a relatively small part. The lack of knowledge of the Second Temple shows us that the author of the Gospel of Philip was probably not a Jew of the Second Temple era, and was probably not getting his information from anyone who was a Jew of the Second Temple era. We may also gather that the author was unfamiliar with Nazareth, or with the history of anyone who had lived in Nazareth.

Follow the link for an English translation of the Gospel of Philip.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sayings Gospel of Thomas: Geography and Places

The Gospel of Thomas, an early collection of Jesus' sayings, is more focused on Jesus than the alternative gospels we have recently looked at (Gospel of Mary, Gospel of Truth). Most of the sayings found in the Gospel of Thomas are recognizable from the canonical gospels. I think the most unfortunate thing about this sayings collection is that it does not make any effort to record the settings in which the sayings originally occurred. Without context, the point of a saying is not always clear. And because there is no context -- mostly a series of quotes attributed to Jesus -- there are relatively few references to places or geography. But here, there are at least some.

Here are the references to identifiable places in the Gospel of Thomas:
  • Samaria
  • Judea
That's a short list. Both entries on the list come from a single saying; it can be seen here as saying #60 in this translation. Both "Samaria" and "Judea" refer to areas or regions. Here we do not see references to specific cities, villages, towns, peoples' homes, or other specific buildings the way we see in the canonical gospels.

There are a few places where the sayings hinted at their original settings:
  • "Your brothers and your mother are standing outside." (#99)
  • "No prophet is accepted in his (own) village." (#31)
Like so many of the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas, modern students of the New Testament will recognize these sayings of Jesus from the Biblical gospels. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is not completely cut off from the physical and historical world -- but that is not the main interest of whoever collected the sayings. The main interest is the sayings of Jesus. Whatever Jesus' historical setting was, it does not seem to be of any direct interest to the person who collected the sayings.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gnostic Gospel of Mary: Geography and Places

We're going to continue our look at some of the alternative gospels; we will next take a look at the Gospel of Mary. Here is the list of all the earthly, physical, geographical places listed in the Gospel of Mary:
  • (None)

Again: None. There are no earthly, physical, geographical places mentioned in the Gospel of Mary.

With the Gospel of Mary, we only have a fragment of the original: there are pages missing. It is possible that a copy of the full text will be found at some point, possible that the missing pages may be found one day. If we had the full text, it's possible that it might contain references to actual places. As for the text we have, the text which the scholars have studied and commented on, there are no references to actual geographical places.

Some call this the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, but that's really more than we know from reading it. It does mention a Mary, but she is not called Magdalene here. There were several women named Mary in the Biblical gospels. When people call this the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, they are relying on the earlier Biblical gospels as references to help them identify the people who are not fully identified here. And, as mentioned another time when we looked at alternative gospels, the Gospel of Mary does have an additional problem in claiming to be first-hand material on Jesus: the name "Jesus" does not appear in the text that we have.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Gnostic Gospel of Truth: Geography and Places

Here the point of this series will become plainer. After looking at the four canonical gospels, we will next take a look at the Gospel of Truth, one of the alternative gospels that is mentioned now and then. Here is the list of all the earthly, physical, geographical places listed in the Gospel of Truth:
  • (None)
That's right: None. There are no earthly, physical, geographical places mentioned in the Gospel of Truth. There is no baptism in the Jordan or anywhere else, no journey to Jerusalem or anywhere else, no Sermon on the Mount or anywhere else, no trial before Pilate or anywhere else. It doesn't record earthly events, and takes little interest in this world. If you'd like to see a copy of the Gospel of Truth, you can take a look at it and see for yourself.

The Gospel of Truth has its value -- as a record of what early Gnostic Christians made of Jesus. You can read the Gospel of Truth and see what the early Gnostic Christians considered to be important. You can see how, in their own way, some schools of Greek philosophers longed for beauty, truth, perfection, and fullness -- even joy -- and found these in Christ. It's a testimony to how Christ fulfilled more hopes than those of the ancient Jews who wrote the New Testament.

What you will not find in the Gospel of Truth is anything like historical information on Jesus. No places are named, and no events are recorded -- though it does assume the reader is familiar with some of Jesus' life and teachings from other sources. The text is mainly a commentary on theology and philosophy, and how true knowledge of God through Christ changes our views of that. If you are looking for historical information on Jesus, you will not find it there.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Gospel of John: Geography and Places

Here are places you can find referenced in the Gospel of John, as usual in roughly the order in which they are first named:
  • Jerusalem
  • Bethabara
  • Jordan
  • Galilee
  • Bethsaida
  • Nazareth
  • Israel
  • Cana
  • Capernaum
  • Aenon
  • Salim
  • Samaria
  • Sychar
  • the parcel of ground that Jacob gave Joseph
  • Jacob's well
  • Judea
  • Bethesda
  • sea of Galilee (sea of Tiberias)
  • Tiberias
  • Bethlehem
  • Mount of Olives
  • Pool of Siloam
  • Bethany
  • home of Mary, Martha, Lazarus
  • Cedron (brook)
  • judgment hall
  • Gabbatha
  • Golgotha
  • sepulcher

The Gospel of John was, in a sense, an early "alternative" gospel. That is, there are events and places recorded in it that are more than we knew from the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. We see some familiar events in familiar places, compared to the earlier gospels. But we also see events that took places at Cana, at Aenon, and in Sychar at Jacob's well. The author(s) expand on our previous knowledge -- but the new information is still grounded in the geography of that immediate area of the world. We still find the new events located in identifiable places that were recognizable to the people of that day.

My thanks for bearing with me this long; in the next post the point will become plain.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Gospel of Luke: Geography and Places

I promise that it is not my plan to simply try the patience of any readers (or, for material like this, skimmers). But please bear with me while I finish up the canonical gospels here, before I get to the ultimate point.

Here are places you can find referenced in the Gospel of Luke, once again in roughly the order in which they are first named:
  • Judea
  • Temple
  • At the Temple: the right side of altar of incense
  • Galilee
  • Nazareth
  • hill country
  • Israel
  • Syria
  • Bethlehem
  • Jerusalem
  • Iturea
  • Trachonitis
  • Abilene
  • Jordan
  • Capernaum
  • Sarepta (Zarephath)
  • Sidon
  • Simon's house (4:38)
  • lake of Gennesaret
  • Levi's house (5:29)
  • Tyre
  • Nain
  • house of Simon the Pharisee (7:36-40)
  • person referred to as Magdalene
  • Gadarenes
  • Sodom (historical reference)
  • Chorazin
  • Bethsaida
  • Jericho
  • person referred to as Samaritan
  • home of Martha (Luke 10:38)
  • people referred to as Ninevites (historical reference)
  • Nineveh
  • Siloam (in reference to a tower)
  • Bethphage
  • Bethany
  • house with an upper room
  • Mount of Olives
  • high priest's house
  • person referred to as Cyrenian
  • person referred to as "of Arimathea"
  • sepulcher
  • Emmaus

In Luke's gospel, again we see the author paying attention to the details of where events had taken place. Often we see actions that took place in private -- in the homes of people we know such as Simon Peter, Levi, Martha, or Simon the Pharisee. Sometimes we see a home whose owner is not introduced, such as the home in Jerusalem with an upper room where they ate the Passover.

Luke's gospel, like those of Matthew and Mark, has events that can be placed on a map. Often there is enough information so that someone from that time could have located the house or building -- or even the room within the building -- where something was said or done. In the Gospel of Luke, again we see Jesus spending his time in known places that were identified for the first readers of the gospel.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Gospel of Mark: Geography and Places

I realize that catalogs of names are not on everybody's list of interests. And the point of all this (yes, there is a point) won't become plain for a few more posts. But for the moment, here are places you can find referenced in the Gospel of Mark, again in roughly the order in which they are first named:
  • land of Judea
  • river Jordan
  • Nazareth of Galilee
  • Galilee
  • sea of Galilee
  • Capernaum
  • Jerusalem
  • house of Simon and Andrew
  • Idumea
  • Tyre
  • Sidon
  • (country of the) Gadarenes
  • Sodom
  • Gomorrah
  • Bethsaida
  • Gennesaret
  • person known as Greek
  • Syrophoenicia (person described as Syrophoenician)
  • Decapolis
  • Dalmanutha
  • Caesarea Philippi
  • Bethphage
  • Bethany
  • mount of Olives
  • temple
  • treasury, while at the temple
  • house of Simon the leper
  • Gethemane
  • high priest's "palace"
  • person known as Cyrenian
  • Golgotha
  • person known as "of Arimathaea"
  • person known as "Magdalene"
  • sepulcher

Here we see knowledge of Judea in general, Jerusalem in particular, and the Temple area and the holy precincts in some detail. The author also mentions several bodies of water. Some of the locations are very specific: we see "the house of Simon and Andrew" in Mark 1:29.

When it comes to Mark and geography, there is some difference in manuscripts. From what I've been able to gather, there is one family of manuscripts that says (Mark 7:31) that a journey was taken "from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon" to the Sea of Galilee (which makes sense, geographically) while another manuscript family says "from the borders of Tyre through Sidon" to the Sea of Galilee (which has been questioned, to say the least). I won't belabor the point here; those who have a particular interest in that controversy can feel free to pursue it. For the current topic, it is enough to mention: given that there are different families of ancient manuscripts, of course the one that makes sense is going to be assumed to be closer to the events in question, and the one that makes less sense is going to be assumed to be further from the events in question. That's fairly standard procedure, when there is a difference in quality, to stick with the better one.

One other point deserves mention: in the holy precincts of Jerusalem, Mark's Gospel contains detail down to mentioning events at the treasury at the Temple, as related about a widow's offering, recorded in Mark but not in Matthew. This might suggest an author who was familiar with the Temple area in some detail.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Gospel of Matthew: Geography and places

One interesting thing you can discover, studying the canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) and the non-canonical gospels is the very different way in which they handle places. That is to say, Where did the events take place?

I'll introduce this question first by going over the canonical gospels, starting in this post with Matthew's Gospel. Here are some geographical places mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew, roughly in the order in which they are first mentioned:
  • Babylon
  • Bethlehem
  • Judea
  • Jerusalem
  • Judah
  • Israel
  • Egypt
  • Ramah
  • Galilee
  • Nazareth
  • Jordan
  • Capernaum
  • Zebulum
  • Naphtali
  • Syria
  • Decapolis
  • Peter's house
  • Gergesenes
  • (awareness of nearby land of the Samaritans)
  • Sodom
  • Gomorrah
  • Chorazin
  • Bethsaida
  • Tyre
  • Sidon
  • Gennesaret
  • Canaan
  • Magdala
  • Caesarea Philippi
  • Jericho
  • Bethphage
  • Mount of Olives
  • Zion
  • Bethany
  • Simon the leper's house
  • Gethsemane
  • high priest's "palace"
  • the temple
  • potter's field
  • awareness of: Cyrene
  • Golgotha
  • Jesus' tomb

The places range from nations and regions to fields and houses. Jesus' movements and the disciples' movements can be plotted on a map. If you wanted to place the events on a map, sometimes you would need a wide-angle view of the map, and sometimes you'd need nearly a street view of the cities and towns at that point in history.

The point, for the moment, is this: the Gospel of Matthew is a very down-to-earth book. The events described are very much rooted in first-century Judea and the surrounding areas.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Praying when afraid

Many people seem to have a sense of a big problem looming. With that in mind ...

Great is your faithfulness, Lord,
And great is your kindness to your people.
Heaven and earth may pass away,
But your word remains forever.

When earthly kingdoms fail,
Your kingdom remains.
When treasures on earth are lost,
When thieves break in and steal
Or moths and rust destroy,
Treasures in heaven remain.

Your blessing rests on the poor
Your favor on those who revere you
And comfort is promised to those who mourn.
Great is your faithfulness, Lord,
And great is your kindness to your people.

Related posts:

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Worship - expanding our horizons

A good few years ago, it was a Jewish fellow who first explained to me that the word we see translated as "worship" is usually a word that means to bow or prostrate. It's the posture of a servant, acknowledging the greatness of the one to whom we bow. It offers submission. Sometimes also the word for "service" (the work of a servant) is translated as "worship". Literal bowing and physical prostration is still a part of worship for many people in the world.

When God forbade idolatry, he forbade service to an idol, or bowing to an idol (Exodus 20:5, 23:24). He did not, then, command bowing to himself. He did command service (Exodus 23:25). But what kind of service does he command?

As a side note on "bowing" or "worship", when we keep the commandments we bow to God in a spiritual sense. When we tell the truth even when a lie would benefit us, we bow to God. When we notice our neighbor's spouse and make up our minds to look the other way, we bow to God. When we decline to discuss another person behind their backs, we bow to God. The kind of "worship" that God requests of us is that we love our neighbors as ourselves.

I think the best way to make my point about what God asks is this: In the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), the Jews studied carefully and counted each distinct commandment. There are different versions of the list; one can be found here for reference. This list finds 613 distinct commandments, which is a number you will hear often for lists of this type. The list is organized into topics by what the law is most directly about. Here is a summary of how many commands were counted under each topic:
God: 10
Torah: 6
Signs and symbols of the covenant: 5
Prayer and blessings: 4
Love and brotherhood: 14
The poor and unfortunate: 13
Treatment of Gentiles: 6
Marriage, divorce, and family: 23
Forbidden sexual relations: 25
Times and seasons: 36
Dietary laws: 27
Business practices: 14
Employees, servants, and slaves: 19
Vows, oaths, and swearing: 7
Sabbatical and Jubilee Years: 17
The court and judicial procedures: 36
Injuries and damages: 4
Property and property rights: 11
Criminal laws: 7
Punishment and restitution: 24
Prophecy: 3
Idolatry, idolaters, idolatrous practices: 46
Agriculture and animal husbandry: 7
Clothing: 3
The firstborn: 4
Priests and Levites: 30
Offerings, tithes, and taxes: 24
The Temple, the sanctuary, and sacred objects: 33
Sacrifices and offerings: 102
Ritual purity and impurity: 16
Lepers and leprosy: 4
The king: 7
Nazarites: 10
Wars: 16

A few different sections could apply to worship in the way we normally think of it -- though when you look at the individual commands, you are likely to find a command like "Don't offer an animal with a blemish."

But here's the thing: while not every section applies to "worship" as we narrowly define it, every section applies to service. Fair business practices fall under "service to God"; fair treatment of employees likewise. Farming practices fall under "service to God". So does family. So does having a just court system. When we treat our co-workers well, we bow to God just as surely as someone on a prayer mat.

The laws of the Torah are not binding on Christians in the sense that we are not under the Old Covenant from Sinai, but under the New Covenant. Still, we see the writers of the New Testament talking about treatment of family and treatment of servants right along with generosity towards the poor and traditional "worship", all as part of the same topic of how we live as God's people.

When we think of religion in terms of singing hymns and praying and reading Scriptures one day a week, many of us sense that this is completely inadequate. But often, the answer given is to sing hymns and pray and read Scriptures two days a week, or seven days a week. And a great many Christians do read Scriptures and pray seven days a week. While I would not want to discourage anybody from singing, praying, studying, meditating, or any of the good and healthy things we do, it still remains to be said: that is a small part of what God asks of us. That kind of worship is only one topic among many in how we live our Christian lives. No matter how well we fulfill that one thing, it will always leave us with a sense of things undone because it still remains one topic among many that God asks of us.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

What kind of worship pleases God -- or displeases him?

Worshiping God is a natural thing; cultures all over the world, and across all times in history, have developed ways to worship. But does God appreciate all the things that we think of as worship?

Here are some worship practices that the Bible speaks against:

(Against) Assuming that God calls for sacrifice out of his own need
If I were hungry, I would not tell you. For the whole world is mine, and all the fullness thereof. (Psalm 50:12)

(Against) Claiming protection under his covenant while despising his instruction
Who are you to recite my laws and mouth the terms of my covenant, seeing that you spurn my discipline and brush my words aside? (Psalm 50:16, JPS)

(Against) Doing good things in order to get favorable publicity
So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, to be honored by men. ... But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (from Matthew 6:2-4)

Note - but still for doing the good things.

(Against) Worship done for appearance or human praise
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have already received their reward. (Matthew 6:5)

(Against) Thinking words alone are useful worship, or traditions of men are useful worship
This people draws near me with their mouth and honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:8-9)

And again, things that the Bible commands or encourages:

(For) Remembering the good that God has done
And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD your God brought you out o there through a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:15)

(For) Justice and compassion
Is it such a fast that I have chosen? A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?

Is it not to deal your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor that are cast out to your house? When you see the naked, that you cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own relatives? (Isaiah 58:5-7)

(For) Repentance
I say to you that there shall be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous who had no need of repentance. (Luke 15:7)

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

(For) Prayer that trusts in God's love
When you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. ... Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray:
Our Father ...
(Matthew 6:6,8-9)

(For) Worship in spirit and in truth
The hour is coming, and has now come, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him. (John 4:23)

(For) Turning to God for help, and honoring him for the good he has done
Call upon me in time of trouble and I will rescue you, and you shall honor me. (Psalm 50:15)

A prophet's summary of what God requires
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8, translation mostly following JPS)

What about our usual ways of worship? What about prayer and praise? What about songs and sermons? What about Bible studies?

The Bible says good things about prayer and praise as we've seen above. It contains an entire book of songs -- along with urging for us to sing new songs, which is warrant enough for us to sing and keep singing. And the Bible commands us to learn and to teach what God has said.

Worship, as we think of it, is a good thing. The problem discussed before was when people accuse that God *needs* it to assure his insecurity -- that he wants it in the way that a vain or needy woman wants flattery -- as if the immortal one would seek the praise of mortals, or the holy one would seek the praise of sinners. The problem discussed in the next post is when we limit our religious life to this type of worship that we generally think of, in songs and Bible studies and the like.