Samson and the Origins of Monasticism

The principles of monasticism are deeply embedded within the scriptures.  The call to monasticism is twofold.  It represents a call to adhere strictly and without compromise to the commandments of God.  It also represents a call to asceticism, to the sacrificing of material goods in this world in favor of spiritual goods in this world and the world to come.  Ascetic practices are performed by figures throughout the scriptures, in the form of fasting and prayers and vigils.  There are also, however, individuals called to whole lives of consistent asceticism, both as individuals for the benefit of their communities and communities as a whole.  The first person whom we see receive a monastic calling, a calling received before his very…

Jacob’s Ziggurat

Genesis 28:10-17 describes a vision which Jacob had in a dream at the place that became known as Bethel (v. 19).  Throughout the patriarchal narratives in Genesis 12-50, altars are set up by the patriarchs at various places, not coincidentally at 12 sites within the later territory of the 12 tribes of Israel.  These narratives regarding the patriarchs represent the collected traditions of the 12 tribes regarding their forefathers.  Bethel would be a cultic site for centuries, notably one of the two sites of Jeroboam’s apostate religion in the Northern Kingdom.  The legacy of Jacob’s dream, however, in Second Temple Judaism and Christianity was untethered from the place where it occurred, and refocused upon the symbolism of the vision itself. …

Cursed is Everyone Who Hangs on a Tree

It is significant in understanding the ways in which the scriptures function as a whole that our Lord Jesus Christ not only died, but specifically died by crucifixion.  As an instrument of torture and death perfected by the Romans, the cross is an odd choice to be the primary symbol of a religion.  Not only does it represent a terrible death for which the word “excruciating” was coined to describe the pain involved, it was also a means of public humiliation.  Crucified individuals were crucified naked, exposed to the elements, and left to die over the course of what sometimes took days.  The Romans often then left the bodies where they were to decompose, only throwing them into massive graves…

The Hosts of Heaven

As modern people, when we think of the sun and the stars, we think of masses of incandescent gas; gigantic nuclear furnaces in which hydrogen is transformed into helium at, literally, astronomical temperatures.  When we think of the moon, we think of a large dusty rock which orbits around the earth every 27 days.  At some level, we are aware that ancient people did not think of them this way.  We believe that our modern understanding is superior because it is based on mathematics and scientific observation.  Ancient explanations and descriptions are viewed as quaint folktales and myths now supplanted by real knowledge.  This creates a difficulty for modern readers of the holy scriptures, as those scriptures are quickly seen…

Jeroboam, Son of Nebat

Though he is far from a household name, Jeroboam, son of Nebat is one of the most important figures in Biblical history.  As the first king and founder of the independent northern kingdom of Israel, he became the paradigmatic wicked king.  He is, in many way, the first schismatic and heretic in the history of God’s people.  In addition to creating the northern political structures, he began an alternative religious system that would not only endure in the northern kingdom throughout its existence, but even make inroads into the southern kingdom of Judah.  Under the later Omride dynasty, the kingdom which he founded would become a regional power and at least for a time far surpass the southern kingdom of…

One God, the Father and One Lord, Jesus Christ

It is a commonplace in St. Paul’s theology for the apostle to refer to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ as a unified phrase (cf. Rom 1:4, 7; 5:1, 11; 6:23; 7:25; 8:39; 15:6, 30; 16:20; 1 Cor 1:2-3, 9-10; 8:6; 15:57; 2 Cor 1:2-3; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2-3, 17; 5:20; 6:23; Phi 1:2; 2:11; Col 1:3; 1 Thess 1:1, 3; 5:9; 2 Thess 1:1-2, 12; 2:16; 1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Phil 1:3).  Within the context of 1 Corinthians 8:6, St. Paul makes this formulation based on integrating Christ into the shema of Deuteronomy 6:4.  This formulation ultimately became the basis for the phraseology of the Nicene Creed.  The relationship between these two persons, the Father…

Biblical Monotheism

It is common in the contemporary world to speak of Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism, and Islam as ‘monotheistic faiths.’  This categorization is intended to imply that, over against polytheistic religions, these three religious traditions have a similar view of God.  Sometimes, this perceived similarity is taken so far as to argue that these three religious traditions worship the same God.  Monotheism, as a term, refers of course to the belief that there is only one God.  Polytheism, on the other hand, describes any religious tradition in which there are many gods and goddesses who are the object of worship and devotion.  Less commonly discussed, and occupying a middle position between these two categories, is Henotheism, which is the view that there…

Paradise

The garden of Eden, the place where God dwells with his divine council, is known in Greek translation as Paradise.  The word Paradise is a Persian loan word to Greek which refers to a particular type of walled garden.  Likely the most high profile example of a paradise garden in the world today is the Taj Mahal, built according to Persian custom.  An aerial photo of the Taj Mahal reveals even four waterways in parallel to the Biblical description.  Modern literalism has sought to locate this garden somewhere on the planet earth, with the assumption that at some point, usually the flood of Noah, it was destroyed.  While a ‘this worldly’ interpretation of Eden is attractive to many, it fails…

Pentecost, Birthday of the Church

In previous posts, the formation and renewal of Israel through Pascha and Pentecost have been discussed.  Israel as a people came into being through a mixed ethnic group around a core of descendants of Jacob being marked out by the blood of the Passover lamb, delivered from Egypt through the sea, culminating in the reception of God’s covenant at Sinai with the sprinkling of blood.  Subsequent generations were integrated ritually into Israel through the celebration of the Passover and Pentecost within the yearly ritual cycle.  After most of Israel had been dispersed to the nations, she was resurrected with Christ at the second Pascha by the reintegration of the nations around a core of the remnant of Judah.  The culmination…

Renewed Israel

In the previous post, the brief history of Israel as God’s people in the Old Testament was outlined, from its creation to its ultimate dissolution.  Despite that dissolution, the prophets promised that God would one day restore and redeem not only the remnant of Judea, but the entirety of Israel.  This had been made seemingly impossible by the fact that the ten northern tribes had been ‘lost’.  They had not been lost to history.  There is clear historical record of the cities and regions in Assyria to which the Israelites had been deported.  Rather, over generations of intermarriage and assimilation, the people of the northern tribes became indistinguishable as a particular people.  Their identity as a people had been dissolved…