Here There Be Giants

In recent times, the rediscovery of the original ancient context of Genesis 6:1-4 has led to a fascination with the subject of the ‘Nephilim’, who are here said to be produced through sexual immorality involving angelic beings and human women.  In some quarters, this has been developed into full-fledged conspiracy theories regarding these ‘Nephilim’ still existing in our world today.  Those fascinated by crypto-archaeology produce doctored photos of what they hold to be gigantic human skeletons, the remains of these people.  This near obsession has exploded as a counter to a re-reading of the Genesis and later texts, begun by St. Augustine, which reads these texts in a de-mythologized way, seeing all involved parties as human.  The interpretation of these…

Genesis and “the Fall”

The first eleven chapters of Genesis have long been seen as a literary unit which serves as a sort of prologue to the rest of the book of Genesis, the Torah or Pentateuch, and the whole of the scriptures.  Within these chapters, we read of the creation of the world and of humanity, the expulsion from paradise, the descent of man, the flood of Noah, the descent of the nations, and the tower of Babel.  Theologically, particularly in the Late Antique West, Genesis 3 and the expulsion from paradise became the site of major focus, defined as “the Fall” of man.  Debate began as to what precisely this fall entailed and what it represented.  It was taken primarily as a…

4 Ezra: A Biblical Book You’ve Probably Never Read

In one of the earliest postings on this blog, the difficulty of defining the exact limits of the Old Testament within the many language traditions of the Orthodox Church was described.  Though there is clear agreement on a certain set of books and their authority across all of Orthodox tradition, the exact list of books found in a published Orthodox Bible will largely be a function of the language tradition from which that Bible comes.  Many of the books of the Old Testament which all of the local churches agree are authoritative are not read from publicly in our present liturgical life, which further complicates the issue of the canonicity of certain of those books.  One such text is 4…

Queen and Mother

Recent posts have discussed the divine council of angelic beings which surround the throne of God, the way in which certain individuals in the Old Testament were exalted to join that council, and the way the saints in Christ become members of the divine council, sharing by grace in Christ’s rule over his whole creation.  Within these themes, and the mediatory role of the saints and their patronage, the Theotokos, Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ, has a special role, as has been recognized within the Christian faith from the very beginning.  The veneration of the Theotokos in the West developed in ways which ultimately produced Marian dogmas which the Orthodox Church does not recognize.  In response to these developments,…

The Saints in Glory

The word which we commonly read in English translation as ‘saint’ or ‘saints’, derived from the Latin ‘sanctus’, translates the Greek word ‘agios’ (plural ‘agiois’) which is seen constantly in the inscriptions of iconography.  In the New Testament, this word is used to describe both the worshipping community of the church in its sojourn on earth and the ‘dead in Christ’ (cf. Acts 9:13, 32, 41, Rom 1:7, 12:13, 1 Cor 14:33, 2 Cor 9:12, Eph 2:19).  This Greek term is actually the substantive form of the adjective ‘holy’, and could simply be translated ‘holy one’ or ‘holy ones’.  The reason it has traditionally been translated as ‘saints’ is to indicate that by the time of the New Testament, the…

Humans in the Divine Council

In last week’s post, God’s divine council, the angelic beings surrounding his throne with whom He shares graciously his governance of the heavens and the earth, was introduced.  There are several ways in which human persons in the Old Testament encounter and interact with the divine council.  These encounters and modes of interaction lay the groundwork for a transformed relationship in the New Covenant, which will be the subject of next week’s post.  Simply put, every encounter with God the Father in the Old Testament is mediated either through God the Son, as was discussed in a previous series on this blog, or by angelic beings, as will be discussed here. Though these encounters are far from common, the most…

God’s Divine Council

In the scriptures, when the hosts of angels, archangels, thrones, dominions, virtues, principalities, powers, cherubim and seraphim are described, they are described using predominately one of two metaphors.  The first of these has already been used here in the previous sentence, that of the ‘heavenly hosts’.  This reference to the multitude of angelic beings forms one of the names given to the God of Israel in the Old Testament, Yahweh Sabaoth.  Because of the similarity in English transliteration, this title is often confused with a reference to the Sabbath.  It is not, however, the Hebrew words ‘shabat’.  Rather, it is the plural substantive form of the verb ‘tsavah’.  This is the verb that is used in Genesis 1, for example,…

Who Wrote the Bible and Why Does it Matter?

The first question in this post’s title may seem an obvious area of discussion.  There have been articles, books, and documentaries with the title ‘Who Wrote the Bible?’  In any modern commentary on a book of the Bible, a significant amount of space is devoted to discussing the authorship of that book.  Introductions to the Old and New Testaments, the latter in particular, will devote a large portion of their text to various theories of authorship for different texts.  Beyond just the identity of an author for the text, texts of the Old Testament are frequently split into various source documents with various authors then proposed for various portions or layers of the text.  In the debates between liberal and…

Is the Book of Revelation Canonical in the Orthodox Church?

To ask in the present day whether or not any book of the New Testament is truly canonical in the Orthodox Church may seem odd.  While the history of the canonization process of the Old and New Testaments took place over several centuries and is neither neat nor tidy, it is an issue, particularly in the case of the New Testament, which has been settled for more than a millennium at this point.  It is taken for granted that the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Protestants all share the same list of 27 canonical New Testament books.  Delving into the history of the book of Revelation in particular, however, and the arguments for and against its canonicity, reveals…

Christ in the Apocalypse

The book of Revelation takes its name from the first verse, identifying the text as ‘the Revelation (Apokalypsis) of Jesus Christ’.  This is important to understanding the text.  It is not the revelation of ‘end time’ events in the distant future.  It is not the revelation of esoteric spiritual secrets about the cosmos.  It is a revelation of who Jesus Christ truly is.  The Revelation received by St. John is a communication from Christ to seven churches in Asia Minor, who are facing persecution, schism, compromise, and heresy.  In answer to all of these difficulties faced by his people, Revelation proclaims the divine identity of Christ, who he is, what he has done, and what he shortly will do when…