Last week we reached out to New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman, to get his take on the Cana wedding story and whether it had anything to do with the mythological god of wine Dionysius. He responded!!! Dr. Ehrman said that he has seen that comparison before. And the wine analogy is pretty good. But he said there are many other parts of John’s gospel that are not consistent with the Greek god. So he gives it very little credence.
Poop. We still think it’s a fun idea.
This week let’s do a little genealogy, specifically in the first chapter of Matthew. This is also from Dr. Ehrman’s blog posts this week (we were there anyway, exchanging notes on Dionysius).
Ends at Joseph. Matthew (written after Mark and before Luke) starts off with a lengthy genealogy of Jesus. The genealogy contains most of the prominent Jewish leaders of the past, including Abraham and King David. It’s really long. No one reads it. But it is interesting that it ends at Joseph, who Matthew says was Mary’s husband. Ummm, but Mary was a virgin according to Matthew. So what’s the point of ending at Joseph? Moving on.
Fun with numerology. Matthew also points out that there were 14 generations between Abraham and David, 14 more to the deportation to Babylon, and 14 more to get to the birth of Jesus. But don’t go in and count the generations in Matthew’s list, because they don’t add up to 14. And some of the genealogy links do not match the father/son genealogies in the Old Testament. Matthew evidently needed a quality assurance department. What was significant about 14? In ancient Israel, 7 was the perfect number. It represented the divinity. And what could be better than 7? 2×7 = 14.
Sex and the City. Matthew’s genealogy is also interesting because it contains four women — very unusual in a male-dominated society. The names: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. All four women were Gentiles, not Jews. And all four women were involved in sex scandals (a couple of prostitutes, adultery, etc). But all their stories ultimately turned out to be in line with God’s will. One theory here is that Matthew was trying to draw a parallel between these historic women and skepticism over Mary’s virgin status.
This week we continue with the Moses drama. He’s heard from God through a burning bush that he needs to return to Egypt (where there are likely plenty of people still mad at him for killing that Egyptian over-seer a few years earlier).
But God wants Moses in Egypt to free the Israelites … so they can go take back to Canaan … and enter into a big war with the people who have been occupying the land for the last 400 years. For this and other good reasons, Moses wants none of that. But God proves to Moses that this time he’s going to protect everyone (in comparison to the last time when they all got forced into slavery). God shows Moses several miracles, including turning a staff into a snake and water into blood. So there’s that. In theory, it would have been more efficient for God to appear to the Jews and to Pharaoh in a burning bush. But God is outsourcing.
And then things get weird. A few years (!!?) after the burning bush experience, Moses sets out with his family to return to Egypt. According to Exodus, things got weird one night in the tent when God tries to kill Moses. Zipporah (Moses’ wife and the answer to the question of the week), believes that God is angry that their son isn’t circumcised. So she grabs a flint knife and performs an emergency circumcision on the spot. Then she flings the bloody foreskin at Moses’ feet (we should point out that the term “feet” is likely a euphemism for genitals, which makes this whole story even more disturbing). Then she says: “Surely, a bridegroom of blood thou art to me.”
Really, she says that. To this day, no one is quite sure what Zipporah meant, but it did the trick (the second part of the answer to the Q of the W). She saved Moses, and he went on to lead the Hebrews out of slavery. However, despite her bravery and quick thinking, Moses doesn’t act particularly grateful. Moses sends her and the children away before the Exodus from Egypt. Later, they reunite, but by that time Moses has taken a second wife, a “Cushite” or Ethiopian woman.
Several mysteries in this tale leave experts baffled. Why did Zipporah, a woman, perform the circumcision? Which son was involved? Was God himself the attacker, or did he send one of his minions? Why did Zipporah and Moses separate?
Acknowledgement to the people over at TheFriendlyAtheist.com for providing help with this week’s observations on the usually-boring story in Exodus.
Two weeks ago we left Moses fleeing Egypt after killing an Egyptian slave overseer (but looking around first to see if anyone was watching). We also digressed into speculating about whether he was somehow the illegitimate grandson of Pharaoh.
In any case, Moses is in no hurry to return to Egypt. He’s met a nice girl near a well in the desert and has started a family. Meanwhile, back in Egypt, the Jewish people are still slaving away under Pharaoh. Remember, this is 400 years after Joseph and the family came over from Canaan during the famine.
Now the story gets interesting. God realizes something is amiss and speaks to Moses from a burning bush. In the ensuing dialogue, God informs Moses that his name is, “I Am.” The Chief Editor has heard several metaphysical explanations for this confusing phrase, none of which have been satisfying. But we ran across a theory this week in Quora that has some appeal.
The Jews may have been more like Egyptians. The Jews have been in Egypt for 400+ years. Despite their best efforts at keeping themselves separate, after 400 years they have probably adopted a lot of Egyptian religious beliefs in multiple gods and the accompanying rituals.
What’s God been doing? Meanwhile, the God who spoke from the burning bush was the same Jewish God that they worshipped 400 years earlier. He/She/It never really had a name other than God. So maybe God was miffed at Moses for even asking about the name thing.
New world view. But this mono-God idea is going to be a hard sell to the Jewish people back in Egypt. Moses is going to have to first convince them on the idea of a God who calls himself “I Am” before approaching Pharaoh with the combination of miracles that we know is coming.
Fun genealogy fact: In another interesting genealogy twist in the Bible, we find out that Moses’ father (Amram) married his own aunt. That’s pretty creepy, and not brought up often in Sunday School class. But we suppose those things could happen when you live to be 130+.
Question of the week: Who was Moses’ first wife (she actually has a name), and what role did she play in the keeping God from killing Moses on the way back to Egypt?
We’ll get back to Moses next week. But the Chief Editor opted to spend last Sunday afternoon listening to Professor Bart Ehrman lecture on the Gospel of Mark. Yep … it’s come to this for how to spend Sunday afternoon. But the lecture itself was pretty good. And here are some key insights on Mark that the Chief Editor learned:
Who was the author of Mark? It was not until about 180 CE that the church elders labeled the author of this gospel as Mark. The author never identifies himself as Mark. And no one knows who he was. Only that he wrote the gospel in Greek, probably wrote it in Rome, and was not Jewish, but more likely a converted pagan.
Do we have an original manuscript? We do not have anything close to the original manuscript of Mark (or any of the books of the Bible). The oldest reasonably full manuscript is from around 200 CE, and the first truly complete manuscript is from 370 CE. That means there were several decades of re-copying and editing before getting to what we see today. Professor Ehrman emphasized that the copyists were not professional scribes, and had no idea they were creating something that was going to be considered a holy book for future generations. The typical copyist was more likely some retired guy who volunteered to help out by making a few copies for some of the other churches in the area.
The ending of Mark. Professor Ehrman discussed the original ending of Mark (shown in the panel below with the parchment background) vs the later addendum (also shown below). The short ending corresponds with the tone of the rest of Mark — people were afraid, and Jesus kept warning people not tell anyone about his miracles. But later on, the Christian elders wanted a narrative about a resurrection … plus some other things. So one of those scribes added the rest of the verses (scholars can tell they are different by the writing style). This is where we get the endorsements for snake handling and drinking poison. We wonder if those folks who practice these rituals today know that it was most likely some retired guy recruited as a scribe who inserted that sentence in the back of the gospel of Mark?
When we left Joseph at the end of Genesis, the dysfunctional family had all come to Egypt, Jacob finally died but not before cursing two of his sons, and the story ends. In Exodus, we pick up the story several years — around 1400 BCE vs 1600 BCE for Joseph.
There’s a new Pharaoh in town. This guy has never heard of Joseph, has no need for dream interpretation, and has not been told what a great family Joseph had. What the new Pharaoh knows is that after multiple generations, the Israelites have been … how should we say … fruitful. If you are Pharaoh, and you have a tribe of people who continue to propagate to the point of being a threat to your own livelihood, what do you do? You enslave them, of course. Maybe it was a karma thing — you remember … all that stuff about Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery.
Moses is born. Since the Israelites continued to proliferate, the next thing Pharaoh did was issue an order to kill all the male Jewish babies. Here’s where the story of Moses begins. And it is strange from the beginning:
Moses’ mother first hides him from the authorities for three months.
Then she puts him in a basket in the water. That is when Pharaoh’s daughter ‘finds’ him in the basket. This is where all the rumors originate that maybe Moses was really the illegitimate son of Pharaoh’s daughter.
Then Pharaoh’s daughter pays Moses’ mother to nurse him until Pharaoh’s daughter ‘kidnaps’ him back to be her son.
And suddenly Moses is an adult. All in a single chapter.
Moses kills a man. And just as soon as Moses becomes an adult, Exodus says he kills an Egyptian. The Bible is unclear on why. But it is clear that Moses did this only after he looked around first to see if anyone was watching. The commandment on killing evidently was still in the future. To add to the illegitimate son rumors, Moses (a Jewish slave killing an Egyptian) somehow escapes and eludes the authorities for several years before returning to lead his people out of Egypt.
And we have not even got into the cool stuff we all know is coming.
And a shout out to Hemant Mehta over at The Friendly Atheist YouTube channel for his insightful and amusing observations on the Old Testament.
In today’s post, we’ll look at just when the early Christians thought Jesus became Divine. Was he already Divine while he was alive? Or did he become Divine after he was resurrected? Or something else entirely? We admit that this borders on a debate about the number of angels on the head of a pin, but we’ll try to make it interesting.
Didn’t everyone who followed Jesus think he was the son of God? Maybe some did. But many merely thought that Jesus was a very good teacher, and a good man. But they did not think he was a direct incarnation of God.
What does Jesus say about himself in the Gospels? This is kinda complicated because the Gospels were not eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus, and were written several decades after Jesus’ death. We acknowledge that certain passages in the Gospels indicate that Jesus identified himself as one with God, or maybe even Divine. But Biblical scholars such as Bart Ehrman say it is not clear whether Jesus actually made these statements. Dr. Ehrman posits that Jesus probably thought he was a regular guy during his lifetime, but he was going to return at the end of times (which was supposed to be really really soon) as the Divine Messiah.
What did the disciples think? When Jesus was crucified, his disciples were totally shocked. This was not how it was supposed to turn out. But at some point (and this is where things get really murky), the early followers regained hope when some of them claimed they had seen Jesus and that he was alive again. Word spread. And some (all?) of his followers believed it. According to Dr. Ehrman, the story of the resurrection meant that Jesus had really been favored by God after all.
But why was he not there to talk to people about it (except for the random visions)? More murkiness. The story evolved over time that it was because Jesus had gone to heaven to be with God.
Soooo, it looks like in the period right after Jesus’ death, most of his followers had the idea that a) Jesus was human while he was living here on earth, but b) became a Divine being after his death and resurrection. This way of thinking evolved over the centuries, amid years of Roman persecution, a split from Judaism, and in-fighting among various Christian sects. Eventually we get to the Council in Nicaea in 325 CE, where the majority vote was that Jesus had always been the Divine Son of God, even during his life on earth. Period. No further debate. Moving on.
This week we are going to switch it up a little and look at the Old Testament. In particular, Chapter 38 in Genesis. The chapter is about one of Jacob’s 12 sons — Judah. You remember those sons — the ones who sent Joseph off to Egypt. Let’s see if we can condense the first part of the story.
Judah has three sons. He hooks up Son #1 with a woman named Tamar. Son #1 dies. He hooks up Son #2 with Tamar. Son #2 dies (there’s an embedded story in there about coitus interruptus as birth control). There is still Son #3, but neither he nor Judah are feeling real good about the pattern going on here. So while Judah is thinking about it, he takes off on a buddy’s trip to “shear the sheep.” Really. That’s what they called it in Genesis. It was a thing. And while he goes off with the sheep, he tells Tamar to go live with her father … indefinitely.
But Tamar is having none of that. She sees where this is going. So here’s the plan: She dresses up like a prostitute with a veil, and positions herself along the road she knows Judah will take on his way back from “sheep shearing.” They negotiate a deal (this must not have been Judah’s first rodeo). where she comes away with his signet, cord, and staff. Tamar becomes pregnant. And Judah accuses her of being a prostitute (she must have kept the veil on). As Judah is about to burn her at the stake, she pulls out the signet, cord, and staff. Oooops.
What makes this more interesting. Tamar goes on to have two sons, and is listed in the direct genealogy line of Jesus in Matthew’s first chapter. The 3BT interns searched for possible Christian interpretations for this story. The best we got was this metaphysical interpretation: In the journey from sense to Spirit the soul passes through many phases, misdirects its faculties, and practices multitudinous forms of dissipation or waste.
Sure. That pretty much sums up a great story about patriarchy, misogyny, and human frailties. And we’re pretty sure that Mrs. Wilson, our 6th grade Sunday School teacher, would never have touched it.
We got inspired to tackle this story when we ran across a YouTube lecture on Genesis 38 over on the Patheos website. It was entertaining and thought-provoking; two concepts we embrace here at 3BT. Here’s the link if you want to hear about it first-hand (with even more sarcasm than here).
Let’s continue with Joseph and his tenure in Egypt. In earlier posts we talked about Joseph’s experience with an Egyptian Mrs. Robinson, and how he avoided a long prison sentence through some nifty dream interpretations.
One of these dream interpretations is done for the Pharaoh himself. It’s about having seven good harvest years followed by seven years of famine. And while he’s on a roll, Joseph plants the seed that he would be just the right guy to be put in charge of this food distribution. Because … y’know … he’s great at interpreting dreams.
The seven good years happen. Things are pretty easy. Joseph gets to ride around in Pharaoh’s chariot. He’s given a wife (nameless as usual, but the father’s name is suspiciously close to Potiphar). And pretty much does nothing else. Then the famine happens. Joseph gets a side hustle going selling the excess grain back to the Egyptian people. He makes a ton of money. And apparently has no conscience.
Let’s go metaphysical here. We can see the obvious parallels between Joseph’s comeback from being sold into slavery and Jesus’ resurrection. But 3BT Staff looked into some of the other metaphysical interpretations of the Joseph story. One article said that Joseph’s prediction of the famine is equivalent to Christ “taking pity on the hungers of the world by opening the granaries of divine mysteries that would nourish mankind.” OK, sure. But why leave out the symbolism of Joseph working the cash register selling grain back to the people who had produced the surplus in the first place?
This is a fun story to examine when we can step back from the sanitized summary we got back in Sunday School. There’s a lot more going on with Joseph than we might think. Next time we’ll bring in the brothers (including Judah — the one who went off with the sheep) and the others who sold Joseph into slavery.
This week we wrap up the story of Joseph and the family in Egypt. In the last few chapters of Genesis Jacob finally makes his way to Egypt to join the rest of the family. Side-note: Jacob is also called Israel, and both names are used interchangeably throughout the text. Confusing? Yes. Helpful? No.
Joseph is still in charge of food distribution in the famine. And he’s pretty ruthless. First, the poor people of Egypt give all their money to the rich to buy food. When the money runs out, Joseph makes them give up their livestock. When that runs out Joseph makes them give up their land. Eventually Joseph arranges to provide seed to the people, but takes a 20% cut from the crop yield. Funny how we did not get that part of the story in Sunday School.
In case you were wondering, Joseph and the family are just fine. So are the religious leaders.
Finally, it is time for Jacob to die. He is 147 years old, and the 22nd oldest person in the Bible. In chapter 49, he calls out each of his sons for a final word. Not all the sons get accolades.
He curses the eldest son Reuben for ‘doing it’ with one of Jacob’s concubines on Jacob’s couch. That was 40 years ago.
He also curses two other brothers (Simeon and Levi) for a a combination of forced circumcision followed by an immediate attack on a village back in Canaan. The other nine sons get various levels of blessing.
Who are these people?
And an entourage of 70 people make the journey back to Canaan to bury Jacob. Pharaoh sends several representatives too. It is unclear if that was meant as a tribute to Jacob, or whether he just wanted to keep an eye on Joseph, his best government administrator.
On the way back, the brothers ‘find’ a letter from Jacob clearly instructing Joseph to forgive his brothers for any past transgressions. Evidently, Joseph bought it because that’s where Genesis ends. As an endnote to the book, God said that he would help Joseph and the family leave this place and return to “the promised land.” God is silent on how long it’s gonna take.
We acknowledge Hemant Mehta over at TheFriendlyAtheist.com for his comprehensive, pithy, and entertaining YouTube series on Joseph.
Last time we left Joseph working the cash register during the famine in Egypt. We now bring in the brothers. You remember … the ones who sold him into slavery a few years earlier. They are now at home with Dad (Jacob) in Canaan. Things are not going well there … because there’s a famine. And the brothers take off for Egypt to see if they can get some help. Dad and the youngest brother Benjamin stay home. Dad must have been suspicious about the last time he sent out one of the youngest brothers with the older ones.
The brothers appear before Jacob. This is where the charades begin. How could all 10 brothers not recognize Joseph? And when they leave to go back to Canaan the first time, how could they not know their sacks were filled with silver? And once they got back to Canaan (with a ton of food) why did they sit around for a year or so eating that food while one of the brothers was being held as a hostage back in Egypt?
Joseph finally makes the big reveal when the brothers return. But he says everything’s OK between them because it was God who made all this happen. No hard feelings. OK? But Joseph does rub it in a little when he tells them to go back and tell Dad which brother was the biggest success in the family. And still there’s no explanation for all the charades, the hostage taking, and the trips back and forth to Canaan.
Searching for reasons. The Chief Editor will likely never fully embrace metaphysical thinking on these stories. Nevertheless, we had the interns dig out some of the more interesting metaphysical interpretations from the Unity playbook.
What does Joseph represent? The highest perception of Truth, expressing through the imaging faculty in physical consciousness (Egypt), is represented by Joseph.
Why the multiple trips to Egypt by the brothers?The first trip was in preparation for the final reconciliation that was to take place between the intellect and the body. We cannot have a joyous reunion of soul and body unless we are willing let the higher thoughts (Joseph) descend into the subconsciousness (Egypt).
What does the “land of Egypt” represent?Metaphysically, the “land of Egypt” represents the subconscious mind. It is the realm of substance and life in body consciousness.
OMG. We know some of our readers love this metaphysical stuff. And we’re pretty sure our outside metaphysical consultant will be drafting a strongly worded email to the Chief Editor later this morning. But the Chief Editor just does not get it.
We will return again to Egypt, Joseph and more sheep shearing next week. This week let’s go back to the Gospels — specifically Mark, the first Gospel written. The following observations are based on the ideas of Bishop Shelby Spong. He argues that Mark did not intend for his Gospel to be a historically accurate account of Jesus’ life. Nor of his death.
Mark was written in the late 70s CE. This would have been after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans. Equally important, it was also written before the split between the Christian church and Judaism. (It was not called the Christian Church at the time, but Followers of the Way.) This split occurred around 88 CE, 58 years after the crucifixion of Jesus! The significance: Christianity arose out of the traditions of Judaism. It did not start as a separate religion all on its own.
40% of Mark deals with the last week in the life of Jesus. Mark’s account of the crucifixion in Chapters 14 and 15 are the first descriptions we have of the final hours of Jesus’ life. Paul wrote his letters 20+ years earlier. But he is very cryptic, saying only that “Jesus died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.” Maybe that was all anyone really knew, since even Mark says that “they all fled” when Jesus was arrested. This would mean we have no eyewitness accounts. (Also, regarding the Resurrection, the original Mark is also very cryptic, saying in the last verse that there was an empty tomb … period. The last several verses were added later by someone else.)
Mark’s Intent? Probably what Mark is doing (and we were not there) is back-casting the story to fit the scriptures from Psalms and Isaiah. Mark never intended it to be a historically accurate account. Psalm 22 in particular (written 400 years prior to Mark) talks about mocking crowds, thirst, piercing of hands and feet, and soldiers casting lots for clothes. There are similar parallels in Isaiah.
So, there we go. If we picture Mark in his environment in the late 70s CE, the entire Gospel takes a different meaning. It does not mean the Christian faith is invalid (and Spong is still a bishop in the Episcopal church). But it points out that the Gospels were not meant to be read from a literal standpoint.
Fun Fact: Spong thinks the gospels provide several clues to indicate the crucifixion took place in the Fall, not the Spring.