Easter. The Passion of Jesus XXI. Crucifixion part 2.

Crucifixion 2.

Matthew follows Mark for the most part, but he makes some changes. “they came to a place called Golgatha which means the place of a skull and they offered him wine to drink, mingled with gall.” Mark had myrrh in the wine, a flavoring, but gall is bitter, unpleasant. There is another Psalm here, Psalm 69:21. (KJV)

They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

This is a parallelism and it’s two sides of the same coin as usual, saying the same thing twice. Once again, the writer at the time did not treat it as parallelism he saw it as two different acts. Mark is perhaps thinking of the Psalm in his narrative where at the beginning he has the wine with myrrh, and at the end, the vinegar or sour wine. Matthew is more pedagogical: at the beginning it’s gall, at the end it’s vinegar. He’s more precise in his adherence to the Psalm. The parallelism becomes two separate acts and we’ve seen this kind of misapprehension of parallelism before.
[Read more…]

Good Friday

The scandal and offense of Jesus’ crucifixion lies mostly buried under 2000 years of familiarity. Isaiah writes of the shock that the nations experience when Israel, that no-account postage stamp of land they were used to running over en route to fighting more important peoples, turns out not only to be exalted and lifted up on high, but also the means of their salvation, in accordance with the Abrahamic covenant. Similarly, that a minor Jewish political threat hanging like a ragged corpse on a cross outside Jerusalem—just like so many others, before and especially after—should turn out to be the Savior of the World ought to surprise us, or at least inspire a little incredulity. We often say that the Jews were expecting the wrong kind of messiah, but really, who can blame them? According to the Gospel accounts, even Jesus’ closest associates did not expect him to die, and certainly not like this. Their shock still resonates through the stories recorded many decades later. [Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus XIX. Pilate and John’s Gospel. Some Genuine Chiasmus.

Pilate. John’s Gospel.

John’s Gospel gives more detail about Pilate and the trial and it is almosst 3 times longer than Mark’s. Pilate is in the praetorium (probably the Herodian Palace), Jesus is inside, the chief priests etc. are outside. John is the Gospel of Eternal Life, and John’s Jesus is Divine before his life (John 1) and his actions throughout consist of encounters with people who are tested as to whether they choose light or darkness. For John, the Jews have chosen darkness. John has a rule regarding those who dither, who can’t decide when presented with the choice between light and dark. They have already chosen darkness, and this is where he places Pilate. In John’s version of the trial, Pilate is constantly moving in and out of the praetorium, he can’t make up his mind.
[Read more…]

Groundwork: Postponing Heaven II

PostponingHeaven-Front-200x300Postponing Heaven: The Three Nephites, the Bodhisattva, and the Mahdi is a study in what Jad Hatem calls “human messianicity.” Though it pays careful attention to the details of its source materials, Hatem isn’t interested, for instance, in the Book of Mormon for its own sake. He’s interested, instead, in what the Book of Mormon (and Mormonism itself) is about.

That is, Hatem is interested in Christ.

This, in a nutshell, is what makes his work a model for the future of much of Mormon Studies. In Hatem’s hands, the study of Mormonism isn’t about Mormonism; rather, the study of Mormonism is about Christ.

What does it mean to be Christ? What does it mean to be a Messiah? How might different messianic conceptions lead people to be situated differently—redemptively—in relation to their worlds?

More, what differences are made in the flesh? Not just in history or doctrine or philosophy, but in the bloody, existential meat of a present tense, fully embodied life?
[Read more…]

Friendship (Maundy Thursday)

Joseph Smith called friendship “the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism,” so it’s fitting that friendship should resonate so deeply with one of the most sacred days of Jesus’ mortal life: the day when, according to the synoptic gospels, he instituted the sacrament, bathed his disciples’ feet, and went on to pray in Gethsemane while his closest friends slept nearby, and when, according to the Gospel of John, he gave those whom he addressed as friends the vital commandment to love one another. [Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus XVIII. Pilate in Matthew and Luke. Herod Again.

Pilate. Matthew and Luke.

In Matthew, Pilate’s questions are essentially the same as in Mark. Matthew adds, “so the governor wonders greatly.” It’s a little more drama. But in the Barabbas narrative, Matthew has “while Pilate was seated on the judgement seat.” Only John and Matthew reference the judgement seat. And this is genuine Roman practice. The Tribunali, the Bema, judgement seat, it was a show of formal meaningful procedure. “While he was there his wife sent word to him saying have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in a dream.” This is early in the morning, recall the cock crow. This is Matthew all over, the Gospel of dreams. Joseph the dream master who echoes the original Joseph the dream master. The Gentiles worship baby Jesus (Magi) while the Jews try to kill him, and Matthew has king of the Jews there too, and now there is this Gentile woman who wants to protect Jesus, has a dream, etc. There is this excellent parallel between beginning and end.
[Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus XVII. Pilate and the date of Jesus’ death. The Roman Trial.

Pilate and the date of Jesus’ death.

When did Jesus die? The problem here is the differences in the Gospels over the relation of his death to the feast, Passover. They all agree that it happens on a Friday, but for Mark, Matthew, and Luke, that coincides with Passover.

The Jewish day starts in the evening and runs until the following evening. This means that the Last Supper, the Trials of the Sanhedrin and Pilate, crucifixion, and death, all take place on the Passover holiday. Thus, for Mark, Matthew, and Luke, the dinner on Thursday night is a Passover meal. For John, it’s different. When the chief priests come to Pilate, they don’t want to go in, because they want to celebrate the feast that begins on Friday (evening). So for John, Passover runs from Friday evening until Saturday evening. In that case, all the actions take place the day before Passover. And the issue is one of timing Jesus ministry. It’s possible to compute which years Passover occurred on Thursday and which on Friday.
[Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus XVI. Pontius Pilate and the Genesis of Roman Rule in Judea. Why did people dislike Jesus?

Pontius Pilate. Genesis of Roman Rule in Judea. Why did people dislike Jesus?

Pilate lived at Caesarea, the Roman capital on the coast, and there are inscriptions with his name there. When he came to Jerusalem, he probably stayed at the Palace of the Herods built about 23BC, it’s a strategic spot, the highest in the city. In the second century BC, the Maccabees were fighting Antiochus Epiphanes. Desperate for help, they wrote letters to Rome. The Romans wrote back with encouragement, they would rather deal with the Jews than the Syrians at that point, but sent no army. Much later, Pompeii invaded Palestine, to fix conflict there. The competing Jewish priest/kings were fighting and killing each other, and Pompeii came in and set things in order, in fact this begins the uncomfortable interplay of international politics and religion in Jerusalem: the Romans start picking the High Priest, and they change them now and then to show who’s in charge.
[Read more…]

Was King Benjamin a Socialist? #BOM2016

And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.–Mosiah 4:16

BenjieMormon liberals love to quote King Benjamin. He seems to validate the whole social-justice/safety-net program of the contemporary left. He admonishes us to give to the poor, and, like so many of the prophets of the Old Testament, condemns an entire society for allowing deep inequalities in its midst. If there are better liberal-Mormon proof texts in the Book of Mormon than Mosiah 4, I don’t know them. [Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus XV. Matthew and the Fate of Judas. The Theory of Innocent Blood. Zechariah. Ahitophel again.

Matthew and the fate of Judas.

One the three predictions Jesus made was about the betrayal of a disciple, and that it would be better if he had not been born. Matthew tells us what happened to Judas in the aftermath of the kiss in Gethsemane. As the chief priests et al. are taking Jesus off to see Pilate, Matthew interrupts the story to tell how Judas dies (Mt. 27:3-10). The first thing to note is that not only is Peter following the action, Judas is too. Matthew is vague about this, maybe he’s thinking that Judas is outside the palace.
[Read more…]

Endowment and Eucharist V

JKC concludes his guest series.

Finally, the conclusion of my series about how the endowment and the eucharist perform similar functions. (For the rest of the series, see Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.) I’ll apologize in advance for getting a little personal in this one. Thanks for indulging me! [Read more…]

Groundwork: Postponing Heaven

PostponingHeaven-Front-200x300The first published book in our new Maxwell Institute series, Groundwork: Studies in Theory and Scripture, is Jad Hatem’s Postponing Heaven: The Three Nephites, the Bodhisattva, and the Mahdi.

This book offers, in microcosm, a model for the future of Mormon Studies.

The book is written by an established scholar with an international reputation working in a foreign language who is not himself a Mormon, it is fundamentally comparative in nature, and, rather than attempting to adjudicate Mormon materials, it aims to deploy them. [Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus XIV. Peter Denies Jesus. Different Stories. The Invisible Disciple.

Peter Denies Jesus. The details here differ considerably in the different Gospels. The Invisible Disciple.

When Jesus is taken to the High Priest, Peter follows the group and enters the area where Jesus is. The various Gospels interpret the location of Peter differently. One has Peter in a courtyard, one inside a building, one in a court. He’s sitting with guards, warming himself by a fire. Mark has Jesus upstairs, Peter is below in a courtyard. Matthew says Peter is outdoors. Luke has Jesus go to the house of the High Priest, and Peter seems to go into the same house, where a fire is built. John has Peter interrogated before Jesus’ interview with Annas, then twice after. The Synoptics do things differently as usual. Before Luke’s trial, Peter denies Jesus three times.

Just to recap, in Mark, Peter is in the house but downstairs, in Matthew, Peter is outside, in Luke Peter is in the same room as Jesus. One thing the stories have in common is a maid who asked Peter a question. She says, you were with him [Jesus], Peter says, I don’t know what you’re talking about.
[Read more…]

Groundwork: Studies in Theory and Scripture

Groundwork - BlocksJoseph Spencer and I are editing a new series of scholarly books for the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship entitled Groundwork: Studies in Theory and Scripture.

In line with the official description, the series will test the richness of scripture as grounds for contemporary thought and the relevance of theory to the task of reading scripture. By drawing on a broad range of academic disciplines—including philosophy, theology, literary theory, political theory, social theory, economics, and anthropology—Groundwork books offer a deeper understanding of Mormon scripture and contemporary theory alike.

Books in this series, while of interest to a popular Mormon audience, are pitched primarily as scholarly contributions in Mormon Studies. [Read more…]

Monday in Holy Week

As we approach Easter, the Lenten anticipation of a new creation rises to a new pitch. We hope for the healing of all the injustices we see around us—including those smaller things we’ve tried to leave behind for Lent. Sometimes those hopes hinge on what we expect to be a grand and mighty act, but Easter offers something different: the shame of the cross and the quiet, publicly unheralded resurrection. Easter, in other words, teaches us to look for redemption in the small things–the servant who, instead of crushing the nations, will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoking flax. Jesus, rather than shedding the blood of others, spilled his own—once for all. On the side of this redemption are not the mighty, but the meek. [Read more…]

Sneaking Out in the Middle of the Night: The Anti-Exodus Type in the Book of Mormon #BOM2016

Jarom, Omni

The first time that our family read the Book of Mormon, we used the four-volume children’s version by Deta Petersen Neeley. After completing the second volume, I asked my ten-year-old son what he thought of it. “Well,” he said, “I’m not sure what it means, but there sure are a lot of people sneaking out in the middle of the night.” [Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus XIII. Luke and John on the Jewish Trial.

The Trial. Luke and John.

Luke doesn’t have a trial at night, whereas Mark and Matthew have one at night. All three have Peter’s denials at night however. In Luke the trial is in the morning. Luke does have a Sanhedrin meeting at night, but the High Priest plays no role, and he also has mocking at night. Luke’s sequence is better from a legal standpoint. Luke’s rearrangement of events probably comes from a desire for a better sense of order. Trials at night suggest some kind of secretive hurried kangaroo court atmosphere, Luke doesn’t like that sort of thing.

On the questioning, Luke has “if you are the Christ, tell us.” Luke splits Mark’s question in two. He’s emphasizing the dual role of Jesus: Christ, Son of God. Jesus responds in a strange way: “if I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer.” It’s incredibly ambiguous. Maybe this is Luke’s way of saying that Messiah has become a complicated term that means something different to Christians of his era than it did to Jews of Jesus’s time. Then he has Jesus go into the “right hand of the Power” thing.
[Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus XII. The Jewish Trial: Sanhedrin and a bunch of interesting questions.

The Jewish Trial: The Sanhedrin.

Jesus is now alone, that is, his friends are gone. Mark says that they led Jesus to the High Priest, and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes were assembled. Peter followed at a distance, into the courtyard of the high priest, he sits with the police, warming himself at a fire (remember, it’s Passover-ish). Mark is setting up the two parts of the narrative he’s going to explore: the interaction with Jesus and the High Priest and the interrogation of Peter. These are simultaneous events, not consecutive. For the trial part, Mark says that “the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin sought testimony against Jesus to put him to death.”
[Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus XI. The Arrest and more on Judas.

The Arrest of Jesus. More on Judas.

The story of the Passion of Christ has its share of pathos, and certainly a portion of that is provided by the betrayal of one of the Twelve, Judas. Mark 14:43 (ESV): “And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.”[12] Mark has already told of Judas contracting with the scribes and priests to deliver Jesus at a moment when he’s isolated so there won’t be a riot. Riots were not unknown in Judea but they could have fearful consequences, since the Romans didn’t like them at all.
[Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus X. Gethsemane part 8. Passion as Parable. Bloody Sweat, or Just a lot of Sweat?

Gethsemane VIII. This is it for Gethsemane. On to the arrest next time.

The Passion is a parable in itself. The kingdom is not coming in power. It comes by having the King become powerless. (Now, John would not like that idea, he has a much different vision of Jesus’ psychology, his position.) This is remarkable because Jesus has demonstrated power previously, conquering death (Lazarus), calming the sea (storm on sea of Tiberius), healed the sick merely by the touch of his clothing. Now he will soon be in the power of “sinners” as Mark says at the end of the Gethsemane story. And Jesus has to live through this, he doesn’t have power to stop it. He’s asked God to stop it, the answer is no. Finally, he comes to a point of utter aloneness on the cross. It’s through this weakness, isolation, impotence, suffering, that the kingdom will finally emerge. The sleeping disciples fulfill the tale at the end of Mark 13. They aren’t ready for the end trial, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak–they aren’t ready, Jesus must do it alone.

[Read more…]

The Best of All Possible Worlds

I remember once, as a teenager, asking my dad how he stayed in the church back when the church wouldn’t allow black members to hold the priesthood or attend the temple. I was probably 16 or 17, because I’m pretty sure I was driving. I don’t think I was asking an accusatory question, though I was 16 or 17, so who knows. And I don’t remember how my dad responded.

I do remember, though, that his response was complicated, both a bearing of testimony and an acknowledgement that the pre-1978 racial policies of the church were bad. It was messier than the black and white world a teenager craves. [Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus IX. Gethsemane part 7. Jesus Prays. How do we know? Our Prayers are Infected with Aristotle.

Gethsemane 7.

Jesus is coming into God’s presence, and Mark indicates it by saying Jesus falls to the ground. It’s Abrahamic. Luke doesn’t like this drastic picture: he has Jesus kneel—in control of himself always. Luke’s picture of Jesus in his trouble and finally his death is one that models the death of Christians in persecution. You see this in the death of Stephen.
Earlier, Mark reports that Jesus says (three different times) that he must suffer and die. But in prayer he now says, “And going a little further, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me.'” This seems illogical. Why is he praying for the trial to go away, when he’s already predicted that it will come?
[Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus VIII. Gethsemane part 6. Is it twelve or three? Draining the Cross of Meaning.

Gethsemane 6.

In Mark, after Jesus comes to Gethsemane, he takes Peter, James, and John with him a little further on, and then he leaves them and goes off by himself. This separation with the three occurs in other spots. Sometimes Andrew is included so you have two sets of brothers and Jesus. Mark 5 has Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead in the presence of Peter, James, and John. The Transfiguration has the three with him. In Mark 13, it’s Peter, James, John, and Andrew hearing Jesus teach on the Last Days. These four always appear at the beginning of lists of the disciples. As far as the rest are concerned, during Jesus’ ministry they are basically invisible.
[Read more…]

Whither Big Tent Mormonism?

A quick post to start a discussion and get your thoughts.

In talking with friends about Mother In Heaven, it seemed clear that her presence in LDS doctrine is now permanent but that our liturgy and current practice just don’t know what to do with her. We don’t pray to Her, we talk of Her but we have nothing to say; we know nothing of Her except by association. But She is a compelling figure for many and the desire to work Her into a pattern of worship is there.

[Read more…]

Hebrew School in the BoA?

I had a little time to kill this afternoon, so I decided to run a deltaview comparison of Abraham 4 and 5 against Genesis 1 and 2 to get a good visual map of the variations from the latter to the former. The results were fascinating. Some of the changes seem to have been influenced by Joseph’s studies with Joshua Seixas in the Kirtland Hebrew school (as a number of scholars have opined over the years). I’m at work without resources (in particular my copy of the Seixas grammar), but I thought I would try to identify some of the changes that to me seem most likely to have had a Hebrew-based motivation. These are just a series of (very) rough notes for my own future reference, but I thought some of you might find them interestintg as well: [Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus VI. Gethsemane part 4. Luke: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

Gethsemane 4. Luke + Mark – Matthew in between. John: off the ledger.

Luke doesn’t have anything on the conversation at Kidron, but he puts it in the supper. Luke has a more upbeat narrative, he doesn’t like to speak badly of the legends of the church (his Gospel is partly shaped by Acts). So he tempers a lot of it. The prophecy about Peter is still there, but in Acts he tells how Peter is fearless in preaching, he’s a heroic figure. This is always true of venerated religious people of the past. We always ignore or minimize their faults and failures. We did the same thing in writing about Joseph Smith in the 1850s. He was practically sinless by some lights. Of course he was nothing like that, but it’s natural and that’s Luke. Remember, he’s writing 50-60 years after the fact. Luke can’t help Judas, there’s nothing really that can be done to mitigate that story. But for the other disciples and Peter in particular, he puts in positive statements about their ultimate fate:
[Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus V. Gethsemane part 3. Predictions, Failure, and Mark.

Gethsemane III.

Last time I ended with the predictions and they are negative. Going back to Mark 14:27, Matthew 26:31, and Zechariah 13:7. Mk reads “And Jesus said to them, You will all fall away (you will all be scandalized, offended); for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.’ Yet after my resurrection I shall go before you into Galilee.” The last part is the only positive phrase in the whole Markan Passion account (Luke expands on this a lot because he doesn’t care to have Jesus unsure about himself, Luke covers up much of the negative). Matthew has it somewhat differently: all of you will be offended IN ME this night. Offended, or scandalized begins to take on the sense of losing faith. They will be so disturbed that their faith will be completely threatened. In Mark’s audience, he is perhaps looking at a situation in the community where people have failed in some drastic way. Many believe Mark was written in the aftermath of the Nero persecution, when Christians betrayed other Christians to the empire in the threat of martyrdom. It was a time of shock, loss, and depression. Mark’s negative tone, he even has Jesus wavering in his resolve, seems meant to show that the worst kind of failure can be healed by Christ. Take courage he seems to be saying. We are all human, but God can heal us.[7]
[Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus, IV. Gethsemane part 2. Locations: Old Testament Influences, Judas as Antitype.

Gethsemane II.

The Mount of Olives is a large hill, east of the city, separated from it by the Kidron Valley. Kidron is a wadi, it only has water during part of the year, in this case, the winter. So Jesus crosses this winter flow.

Gethsemane (lit. oil press) means a place where there were oil vats. There are olive trees about, and they need oil presses to press out the oil. Gethsemane is a place where this is done. This seems to be part of the earliest tradition, that there was this place called Gethsemane. Mount of Olives has interesting theologizing around it, and it’s mentioned in Luke that on Easter Sunday night Jesus ascends to heaven there, and in Acts, he again does this after 40 days. It’s usually inferred that he will come back to that spot in the future.[5]
[Read more…]

The Allegory of the Olive Tree and the Conversion of the Jews: Jacob 5 as a Response to Romans 11 #BOM2016

Jacob 5

The text of Jacob 5 introduces several new elements into the Book of Mormon, among them: a new genre (extended allegory) and a new narrative voice (Zenos). It is difficult to see how this prophecy relates to Jacob’s original audience, but it is easy to see how it relates to Latter-day readers, as it comments on, and partially revises, a passage from the Letters of Paul that has structured the relationship between Christians and Jews for more than a thousand years. [Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus, III. Gethsemane part 1.

Gethsemane 1. Where to begin? The Gospels give us different pictures. John’s Gospel has the Last Supper, chapters 13-17 and then a break, crossing the Kidron Valley in chapter 18. The break in the other Gospels is not so clear, especially in Luke. It’s hard to make a break there, but the Supper is a complex thing in itself, so I’m just going to start things with Gethsemane, even though that’s not always how the Passion is defined. But this thing has to be finite. It’s a blog post. The same thing happens at the other end. Matthew doesn’t make a sharp divide between death and burial. I think the latter belongs in a treatment of resurrection, something I don’t want to get in to, and I haven’t really carefully reviewed the texts anyway. That’s on purpose. This series focuses on issues we don’t consider with much frequency.
[Read more…]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 12,623 other followers