Under an Open HeavenJohnson, John E. Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2017. 256 pp. Pb; $15.99. Link to Kregel

John Johnson has served as a pastor and a professor of Pastoral Theology at Western Seminary in Portland. This blend of experience serves him well as he presents thirteen conversations from the Gospel of John. Each chapter is a meditation on an encounter with Jesus in the fourth Gospel. Johnson uses this conversation to present the theology of John’s gospel in a personally challenging way. Some of the conversations are with seekers (Nicodemus and the woman at the well), people seeking healing (the blind men), and others with people antagonistic toward Jesus (his brothers and the Jews in John 8:30-59, even Pilate in John 18:28-19:11).

Johnson presents enough historical and cultural detail (although not exegesis) to set the story in its proper context. For example, he explains the Jesus’s unusual response to his mother in John 2:4 or the clear parallels between Nicodemus and the woman at the well, or the contrasts between the two blind men in John 5 and 9. But since his goal is not to write a fully researched commentary on John, many details are overlooked. For example, there is far more to say about the Feeding of the 5000 than “pointing to a better meal” (116), or the quantity and quality of the wine Jesus provides in John 2 than “Jesus can be so generous” (50). Still, Johnson’s goal is a devotional reading of the text, it is not fair to expect him to fully tease out all of the theological implications of John’s Gospel.

The thirteen chapters of the book read like sermons, with introductory illustrations drawn from pop culture or personal experience, and chapter sections with alliterative headings. He even cites Bob Dylan, which is always a plus. Since the book is written on a conversational level, it would work well in a small group environment or as personal devotional reading. Johnson has included a few questions at the end of each chapter to prompt discussion. Johnson also maintains a blog which touches on some of the topics in this book.

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

 

 

Our full final day included a walk through Ephesus. This really the highlight of any tour to western Turkey. Although Perge and Heriopolis were large sites and restored very nicely, Ephesus has more to see and it is a far more significant location historically.

The drive from Izmir approaches the city at the upper entrance at the Magnesia Gate. There is an Odeon dating to A.D. 150 just inside the entrance to the site, but the first thing to interest me is the Square to Domitian, an indication of the strength of the imperial cult in Ephesus at the end of the first century and the early second century. In the Square to Domitian there is a reproduction of a Nike relief (the real on is in the Ephesus Museum). From this spot tourists can get a great photo of the sloping Roman street (the “Avenue of the Curate”) leading to the Library of Celsus and the Agora.

There are several interesting things to see on this street, including a public toilet and bathhouse. The entrance to the bathhouse has inscriptions dedicated to both the Empire and Artemis. For some reasons people love to see the ancient toilets, although Ephesus has roped these off so tourists can no longer take those awkward photos. The Hadrian temple has been largely replaced with replicas, but still offers a view of the imperial might of Rome in Ephesus.

Although an additional ticket is required, the Terrace Houses were a highlight for me. These six residences are across from the Hadrian Temple and demonstrate how the wealthy and elite citizens of Ephesus lived in the Roman period. These houses look like modern condos, with open air courtyards, water pipes (and at least one indoor toilet). Many of the walls have the original art and a few have ornate mosaic floors. The entire complex is covered to protect it from the elements, and the stairs work their way up the hill, exiting with a view of the street which passes by the agora, leading to the large theater. From this point on the hillside you could hike to the Cave of Paul and Thecla, assuming you have arranged for the visit (and paid the fee).

Terrace Houses at Ephesus

Terrace Houses at Ephesus

The Library of Celsus dates to the second century (completed about A.D. 114), so this is not the place Paul rented space from Tyrannus (Acts 19:9). Although the library was destroyed in a earthquake in A.D. 262, the reconstructed façade of the library is spectacular, with replica statues of Sophia (wisdom), Episteme (knowledge), Ennoia (intelligence) and Arete (virtue). The library was eventually converted into a bathhouse, although only a large pool remains.

Next to the library is the entrance to the entrance to the agora. This is the largest we have visited on this trip (525×240 feet), although very little has been excavated or restored. The Hellenistic agora sits lower than the street running from the Terrace Houses and the theater (Roman period). This theater seats up to 25,000 and is the location of the riot in Acts 19:21-34. Since it faces the harbor, the noise of the riot would not have been heard in the boule near the Magnesia Gate, explaining why it took some time for the town clerk to arrive. A street leads from the theater to the ancient harbor.

After our tour of Ephesus, drove a short distance to what is left of the temple of Artemis. There is not much to see, only a single pillar and a few stones remain. The temple of Artemis at Sardis was a far better was to see the grandeur of this kind of temple.

Following Artemis, we ate lunch at a Turkish rug factory. This is fairly typical of a tourist visit, and the shop gave a very interesting demonstration on how they obtained from the worms and how the women who make the rugs work the loom. They brought out about 50 rugs while we waited and I am glad someone in our group bought one to offset our free lunch. I would have preferred to skip the rugs and spend another hour at Ephesus, but that it was not a total waste of time.

We tried to visit the Basilica of Saint John, the traditional burial site of the apostle John. Despite a sunny morning during our walk through Ephesus, a serious rain storm rolled in while we were entering the church as we needed to retreat to the van.

It was much warmer in the Ephesus museum, and there is a great deal to see there. The museum houses some of the major finds from Ephesus, including two statures of Artemis, one dating to the first century.  These are on display at the very end of the walk through the museum along with the gigantic head and forearm from a statue of Domitian (or possibly Titus). In addition to these more spectacular displays, the museum has a large display of statutes from Ephesus, all very clearly arranged and labeled. A number of displays were dedicated to items discovered in the Terrace houses. These illustrate the lifestyle of the wealthy in the city. In the courtyard between the two buildings are several important inscriptions, but these lack transcription and translation.

 

 

Our main visit today was Pergamum, primarily the acropolis of the city. Unfortunately the city is quite a drive from Izmir, but we had a nice stop for bathrooms (and a nice Turkish coffee for me). Although it turns up on Seven Churches of Revelation tours, the city has a long and important history. Augustus permitted an imperial cult center to be built in 29 B.C. It was also the birthplace of the physician Galen in A.D. 129. Although we did not have time to visit it, there is a nice Asclepium at Pergamum which is visible from the acropolis.

The Theater in Pergamum

The Theater in Pergamum

After winding through narrow streets of the modern city and the up the narrow road to the top of the acropolis (1300 feet above the valley and Cayster River), we saw the platform of the temple of Zeus (the rest of the temple is now in Berlin). The temple would have been visible high above the ancient city. The theater in Pergamum is the steepest theater in the ancient world, and anyone who does not have a fear of heights will enjoy a fantastic view of the valley.

The imperial temple of Trajan is the highlight of Pergamum. From the theater we crossed an open space which once housed a Temple of Athena and the ancient library of Pergamum. Construction on the temple was completed by Hadrian. The temple has several monumental pillars and a stoa. There is an inscription recognizing the establishment of a Roman imperial cult, specifically referring to emperor as “Lord of the land and sea,” calling to mind the two beasts in Revelation 13.

We had a more traditional Turkish at a restaurant called Saglam. I had a nice lamb kabob with lots of bread and a lentil soup. Naturally I rounded out the meal with a Turkish coffee.

Smyrna

Smyrna

Returning to Izmir we visited the excavations at ancient Smyrna. Since the area had been an Ottoman graveyard, the city never built on the site. This has permitted archaeologists to work on some of the Roman era buildings, but more interesting is the word below the ground. We went down into several vaulted chambers under the agora.

Since Mark Wilson was with us, he was able to get an archaeologist to open an area which is not yet open to the public where a large number of ancient graffiti have been discovered. These have been published in a NYU volume, so we were not permitted to photograph anything. There were several fascinating drawings (and a few dirty ones), including one example of using letters for numbers and a word square. Both of these have been interpreted as possibly Christian. This was really a thrill to get a behind-the-scenes look at these new finds.

We walked out of the Smyrna excavations through a more traditional market (plenty of fresh fish and meat…really too fresh). Tutku Tours hosted a nice meal for us at a nice Italian restaurant, a fine end to a very long day.

We left the Hotel Colossae and headed to two cites where there is just not much to see, Philadelphia and Thyatira. The problem is both of these locations have modern cities built over them, making the kind of archaeology seem at Hierapolis or Laodicea impossible.

Philadelphia

Not much to see in Philadelphia

Since we are traveling in a small van, we were able to drive up to the acropolis of Philadelphia, although there is nothing excavated. Mark Wilson knows where the bits and pieces are, so we saw a few stones of a theater on the road to the top as well as the outline of a stadium on the back side of the acropolis.

Moving on to Thyatira, there is a small excavation in the center of the town, including an inscription mentioning Titus. There is a small city museum in Thyatira with a handful of artifacts from the dig. More interesting were the few items from Ben Tepe, the so-called Turkish pyramids. We drove past those burial mounds from the Lydian period on the way to Thyatira.

The highlight of the day was Sardis. (We visited this before Thyatira, but I thought I would adapt the order to be more dramatic). Sardis is not a large site, but it has three very significant features. First, there is a very large synagogue dating to the fourth century A.D. The mosaic floors are partially restored including several mentioning the donors who contributed to the synagogue. There are two niches which could have been used to store a Torah scroll or possibly individual scrolls of the Septuagint (since nobody spoke Hebrew out here, Mark Wilson said).

Artemis Temple at Sardis

Artemis Temple at Sardis

Although is is surprising to see a synagogue in Turkey, Sardis is probably mentioned in Esther 3:12-14 and Josephus reports Antiochus III moved a large number of Jews to Sardis (Ant 12.148–49). There are several strange features, including the reuse of a Lydian stone table with lion motif. There were not benches along the walls as in other early synagogues, but rather a set of seats which looked more like a boule to me.

Second, the façade of the gymnasium has been restored by a team from Harvard. Although much is not original, the reconstructed façade give the visitor a sense of the grandeur of the building. The inscriptions on the cornice pieces appear to have been colored in so they are more clearly visible, as they would have been when the building was new.

Third, a short drive from the main city is a huge, although unfinished Temple of Artemis. We can tell it was unfinished because the bases of several of the huge pillars have not been trimmed or decorations are started and left incomplete. Like the temple at Jerash (in Jordan), several massive pillars have stood since construction stopped. A small Byzantine chapel was eventually built on the sight and there are several examples of Christian graffiti on the temple walls. This temple is well worth visiting.

We managed to hit Izmir at rush hour, bit since we are staying in the Mövenpic, a little traffic should not bother us.

Today began with a long drive north out of Antalya, following the general route of the via Sebaste. I was struck by several things on the four hour drive to Laodicea. First, most people reading Acts do not realize how high the Tarsus Mountains are. Paul traveled more than 3000 feet above sea level on a Roman Road to reach Pisidian Antioch. Second, our guide Mark Wilson did a masterful job explaining the network of roads in the area and relating this to the beginnings of the second missionary journey in Acts 16.

There are two prohibitions in that chapter (to not preach in Asia and to not enter Bithynia). By observing the Roman province names and the location of the roads, The prohibitions make sense. Paul was in Asia already, so he was not to preach there, but the road went north toward Bithynia, so he was command to even to enter there. A third observation is simply that this part of the country is sparsely populated both then and now.

IMG_0981Before arriving at Laodicea we made a brief stop at Colossae. There is virtually nothing to see there except the unexcavated mound. The city was small and unimportant in Paul’s day, and it is still a sadly overlooked site by the archaeological community. Despite several efforts in recent years, there is not much to see there.

Laodicea on the other hand has received a great deal of attention lately. Year round excavations by the local university and the support of the Denizli community has revived interest in this large Roman site. Although the two theaters have no been restored, some work has been done once smaller, morning theater. The skene has been exposed and a great deal of work is being done there. A very large fifth century church has been excavated and restored, but was closed when we visited. I suspect this was to force me to buy the book.

Menorah and Cross at Laodicea

Menorah and Cross at Laodicea

Another recent discovery is a marble pillar with a menorah, shofar and perhaps and etrog, with a prominent cross cut into the top of the menorah. Mark Wilson suggested is was an indication the pillar was used in a synagogue, and the cross was added later (perhaps as a sign of supercessionism after Christianity became dominant in the city). I wondered if this was the intent, since it would be just as easy to obliterate the menorah. Based on Josephus, there is little doubt of a Jewish presence in Laodicea in the first century Josephus (Ant 14.241–3). Nevertheless the menorah seems to be evidence of a Jewish community in Laodicea well into the Christian Era.

From Laodicea we drove the short distance to Hierapolis. Hierapolis is a very large Roman city, although the association with the white cliffs of Pamukkale, a Turkish word meaning something like “Cotton Castle.” There was an early Christian community in Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13) but there is no evidence Paul ever visited the city.

We took a shuttle up to the martyrion of Philip, an octagonal church built on the site of the martyrdom of Philip (although which Philip is unclear). The walls of the church have been nicely reconstructed and the arches between the sections of the octagon are restored. Next to the martyrion is the recently discovered tomb of Philip and accompanying chapel.

The shuttle the took us down to the large theater. This theater has been restored, although visitors are only allowed to walk on the upper section. The skene has been partially rebuilt and there are two statues in the niches. Originally the theater seated up to 15,000 people. From the theater we walked down the hill past the Temple of Apollo and tried to get a peek into the recently discovered Plutonian. If you visited Hierapolis more than a few years ago, you would have been shown a different location since this new (and certain) location is a recent discovery. Unfortunately the area was fenced off, so I was unable to see if the gates of hell will not prevail.

The Hot Springs at Pamukkale

After a short time on the white cliffs of Pamukkale we walked out the northern gates and through the necropolis where over a thousand tombs are located, with about three hundred inscriptions. I took photographs of many, but so many of the tombs were well off the main path and we had to be out of the park by 6:00 PM. It was also bitterly cold and windy (which is good for a walk in a necropolis I suppose!)

We ended the day at the Hotel Colossae, one of the thermal hotels just a few minutes from Hierapolis. The rooms are comfortable, although this is the first hotel in which we have encountered huge tourist groups. Unfortunately the internet was down in the hotel, so I was not able to post this until our next night in Izmir.

This is my second full day in Turkey, heading south to the Mediterranean Sea. The day started earlier than a day ought to start, since we needed to be on the bus at 5:30 AM. We had an early flight to Antalya (Turkish Air, great flight except I needed more coffee than they served). After the fifty-two minute flight we drove a short distance to Perga, a well excavated Roman city.

Roman Perge

Roman Street in Perge

Perga is the place Paul and Barnabas visited after Cypress in Acts 13:13. They do not appear to do any ministry at Perga at that time, traveling to Psidian Antioch. However, Acts 14:24-25 indicates they preached the gospel at Perga at the end of the first missionary journey, possibly resulting in a church (although Luke does not mention it).

The excavations at Perga are extensive and merit far more than the two and a half hour we could stay on this trip. I could have spent most of the day there, exploring the restored areas and examining the many inscriptions. Although not as extensive as Ephesus and many area are not restored, it is well worth the time.

Later in the day we visited the Museum in Antalya. The main feature of the museum is a collection of the major finds at Perga. The skene of the theater (which is closed to the public) contained statures of gods and other important figures, these are all in the museum, along with a large statue of Alexander the Great and several Hadrian statues. The major sarcophagi from the necropolis are housed in one of the galleries as well. Although there is far more in the museum than Perga, travelers to Perga ought to plan on visiting this museum for a few hours. At only 20 Lira (about $5), it is a bargain!

Before the museum we walked through the Hadrian Gate to Antalya’s Old City. Many of the old Ottoman houses have been renovated and now host trendy restaurants and artists. There are are Roman remains everywhere and Mark Wilson does a great job pointing out obscure bits that many will overlook. We walked to the port and had a nice view of the cliffs of the harbor.

For lunch we stopped at the St. Paul Cultural Center (soup, salad, chicken and rice, with drink, dessert and tea, $5.50), and I added a Turkish coffee, which was more or less medicinal at that point in the day. I will post some additional information about this very interesting ministry at some point in the future, they do far more than coffee and lunch.

Tomorrow we head north and east, to Laodicea.

Blue Mosque

It was a cold and rainy day in Istanbul, but we were able to see all we planned. The day began at the Hippodrome and Blue Mosque. Nothing remains of the Hippodrome other than three obelisks. Of the three, the Obelisk of Theodosius is the most interesting. The obelisk was created by Pharaoh Thutmose III (1479–1425 BC) but moved to Constantinople A. D. 390 by Theodosius I. The Obelisk was erected on a marble base depicting the emperor awarding a victor’s crown (stephanos).

The Blue Mosque is the popular name for the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, named for Ahmed I who constructed the mosque beginning in 1609. The interior is lined with blue İznik style ceramic tiles (explaining the popular name of the site).

Next we walked to the Hagia Sophia. When John Chrysostom was patriarch he was based in the first version of the church (369-404) This church was Eastern Orthodox cathedral from 537-1453 when it was converted to a mosque. For most of that time it was the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople. The church was converted to a mosque in 1453 by Mehmet II, but in 1935 the first President Mustafa Atatürk converted the building to a museum. There is a great deal of restoration going on in the building, but there is still a great deal to see.

Hagia Sophia Pulpit

Hagia Sophia Pulpit

After an excellent lunch at the “World Famous Pudding Shop” (stuffed eggplant and lots of fresh bread and water), we walked to the Istanbul archaeological museums. On the way we visited Hagia Irene, a lesser know and smaller church which was never converted to a mosque as Hagia Sophia was. The church was partially destroyed in A. D. 532 in the Nika revolt and restored by Justinian in 548. Although never converted to a mosque, it was used as an ammunition store my Mehmed II in 1453. There is not much to see there ad much of the basilica is closed.

In contrast to Hagia Irene, there is too much to see in this collection of museums in a short afternoon visit. There is a museum dedicated to Ancient Near Eastern archaeology, a second with a huge collection of Greco-Roman sarcophagi and dedication stones (as well as a new room with artifacts from the temple of Artemis in Magnesia, and a multi-floor museum for Greco-Roman period artifacts.

There were three items of interest for biblical archaeology. First, the Gezer Calendar is is one of the earliest examples of Porto-Hebrew. Second, the inscription from Hezekiah’s tunnel was placed in the museum by the Ottomans. Third, one of the two warning inscriptions from the Temple in Jerusalem is here, displayed in a not-very-prominent place on the floor at the end of a hall. This inscription is in Greek (the one in Israel is in Latin) and it warns non-Jews to stay out of the Court of the Men under threat of death. This may be what Paul refers to in Ephesians 2:14. In addition to these items, there are three small altars dedicated to unknown gods (cf., Acts 17).

This is only a small overview of the museums. I did not walk through the hall dedicated to the archaeology of Troy and did not take much time in the sections on Istanbul simply due to time constraints. I took around 200 photographs, and that was not nearly enough!

Tomorrow we fly to Antalya, which I hope means better weather.

This week I am on a short trip in Turkey, visiting many of the typical sites you might expect in Istanbul. I am obviously looking forward to Ephesus, but our short tour is packed. Usually these kind of tours overplay the “seven cities of Revelation” angle, but the group seems more interested in the Pauline studies aspect of these sites. Our guide Mark Wilson has an excellent article in the most recent Tyndale Bulletin on Paul’s second missionary journey, so I am expecting great things over the next few days.

I will try to post a few notes and pictures as I have the chance. I am relying on the WordPress app on my iPad, hopefully that works out okay.

I plan to return to the Second Temple period series next week.

Porter, Stanley E. When Paul Met Jesus: How an Idea Got Lost in History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. 435 pp. Pb; $34.   Link to Cambridge

Second Corinthians 5:16 is usually read as if Paul is denying that he knew Jesus prior to the dramatic event on the Damascus Road. When confronted by the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul asks “who are you, Lord?” This too is taken as an indication Paul did not recognize Jesus and is used as evidence Paul did not know Jesus prior to his conversion. But there have been a few scholars in the early twentieth century who suggested Paul may have seen Jesus in Jerusalem prior to the crucifixion and perhaps even heard Jesus teach at some point.

paul met jesus stanley porterIn this monograph, Stanley Porter attempts to revive this idea by examining the relevant texts in the Pauline epistles as well as the book of Acts. Beginning with William Ramsay, Johannes Weiss, and J. H. Moulton, Porter suggests it is at least plausible to understand some of the texts used to show Paul did not know Jesus as meaning the opposite, he did recognize Jesus on the road to Damascus and he had heard Jesus teaching in person (chapter 1).

Although he admits he has not survey every work on the life of Paul (a nearly impossible task these days), Porter claims to have found only one recent scholar who is open to the possibility Paul heard Jesus teach at some point before the crucifixion (Tim Gombis, in Paul: A Guide for the Perplexed). Even works with a vested interest in connecting Jesus and Paul dismiss the possibility Paul knew Jesus prior to his conversion. Porter cites David Wenham who wrote a popular book on Jesus and Paul. Wenham simply states “Paul did not have firsthand experience of Jesus’ ministry (cited by Porter 175).

So what happened? Porter lays the blame for the common assumption that Paul did not know Jesus at the feet of F. C. Baur, followed by William Wrede and most significantly Rudolf Bultmann. As Porter says, “The short answer in Rudolf Bultmann and the long answer i the general history of Pauline scholarship” since Baur (45). There are several assumptions which make the possibility Paul knew Jesus less likely. First, Baur reduced the Pauline canon to Romans, 1-2 Corinthians and Galatians. Second, he assumed Acts altered history in order to make the contrast between Paul and Peter more clear. This led to the third assumption, Peter and Paul represented the two sides of the early church which eventually resulted into the synthesis of the next generation of Christianity. Bultmann argued Jesus’ teaching was irrelevant (and unknowable), and Pauline theology does not really depend on Jesus. Porter interacts length with Bultmann’s 2 Corinthians commentary since the meaning of 2 Corinthians 5:16 s critically important for the thesis he wants to defend in this monograph, that Paul not only knew the teaching of Jesus, but had heard Jesus teach, perhaps on several occasions, and may have interacted with Jesus during his earthly ministry.

As a result of the influence of Baur, Wrede, and Bultmann, most scholars reject the idea Paul knew Jesus or do not even raise the question. For many, there is a gap between the teaching of Jesus and the theology of Paul. Porter cites James Dunn, “Paul’s influence in determining the beginnings of Christianity was almost as great as that of Jesus” (Porter, 71).

With respect to method, Porter realizes many scholars reduce the number of authentic epistles and often reject the Pastoral Epistles, but there is little in the disputed epistles which supports his case. He fully accepts the book of Acts as evidence for the details of Paul’s life and prefers to date the book as early as A.D. 63 (an early date even for conservative Acts scholars). Scholarship on Pauline chronology often favors the epistles, Porter sees no problem using both as sources this study.

His third chapter surveys the data in Acts and the Pauline epistles, including the three reports of Paul’s conversion in Acts, focusing especially on the phrase “Who are you Lord?” For Porter, both Jesus’ statement and Paul’s response imply recognition, that is, Paul saw Jesus a recognized him because he knew him before the encounter (94). Porter gently suggests the phrase “I am Jesus” is similar to a Johannine “I am” saying, so that Jesus is using a Christological formula to identify himself (the human Jesus) with the God (92).

Turning to the epistles, Porter begins with 1 Corinthians 9:1, “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” Porter offers a detailed exegesis of this passage, comparing it to 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 to argue that Paul had seen Jesus just as the other apostles had. With respect to 2 Corinthians 5:16, Porter interacts at length with Bultmann’s highly influential commentary. Bultmann understood this verse to say Paul did not know Jesus before the Damascus road encounter, that he did not know Jesus “according to the flesh.” Porter offers a detailed exegesis of eleven key points in this verse and concludes it is plausible the verse indicates Paul once knew Jesus only as a human, but now (after the resurrection) Paul knows Jesus as the resurrected Lord. He is careful suggest this as a possible reading of the text, but along with 1 Corinthians 9:1 and the book of Acts, there is a strong possibility Paul had known Jesus prior to his conversion experience.

In chapter 4 Porter develops some of the implications of Paul knowing Jesus before the resurrection. This would imply all had firsthand knowledge of Jesus’ teaching because he had heard it for himself at some point in the ministry of Jesus. To support this, Porter examines five passages inn Paul’s letter which seem to reflect the teaching of Jesus: Romans 12:92-21 (loving, blessing, cursing); Romans13:8 and Galatians 5:14 (loving one’s neighbor); 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 (on divorce); 1 Corinthians 9:14 and 1 Timothy 5:18 (paying ministers of the Gospel); 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 (the Lord’s return).

After examining these passages in detail, Porter concludes Paul had firsthand knowledge of the teaching of Jesus corresponding to three phases of Jesus’ ministry. Romans 12:9-21 alludes to the Sermon on the Mount (which Porter argues was a single sermon preached in Galilee). Loving one’s neighbor alludes to Jesus’ encounter with a lawyer during Luke’s travel narrative, or the road to Jerusalem who asked him how he might inherit eternal life.  1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 alludes to the Olivet Discourse, part of Jesus’ teaching to the disciples in Jerusalem. Although Porter does not offer details, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 is perhaps a better example of a possible allusion to the Olivet Discourse. Obeying the government in Romans 13 may allude to Jesus’ saying to “give unto Caesar.”

I have several questions about this section of Porter’s argument. First, acquaintance with the teaching of Jesus does not necessarily mean firsthand knowledge. If Romans12:9-11 does allude to the Sermon on the Mount, it is not necessary for Paul himself to have heard Jesus teach the words himself. The writer of the Didache also alludes to the Sermon, but no one would assume that author personally heard Jesus teach. Although it is not necessary to argue Paul had a copy of Q with him wherever he traveled, it is just as plausible that he knew of some sayings sources often attributed to Q. This would account for material in Paul’s letters which would later be used by Matthew and Luke.

A second and related issue concerns the method for used for demonstrated Paul had firsthand knowledge of Jesus’ teaching. Porter must walk a fine line between verbal parallels with the Gospels and general allusions. If Paul heard Jesus teach in Galilee and wrote his recollection of that teaching in Romans some twenty or more years later, it would be remarkable if the words he used were exactly the same as the gospel of Matthew. Porter recognizes this as a problem for the vocabulary for divorce in 1 Corinthians 7 (148-50), eventually concluding Paul offers a paraphrase of what Jesus said.

This raises a third concern. Sometimes a common Jewish source is a simpler solution than Paul heard Jesus teach. For example, that both Jesus and Paul summary the law as “love your neighbor” is not remarkable at all since this was a well-known summary of the Law in Second Temple Judaism based on Leviticus 19:18. That a Jewish lawyer would respond to Jesus in this way is not a surprise. In addition, it is possible to find parallels to Romans 12:9-21 in Jewish wisdom literature.

Finally, sometimes Porter makes a suggestion that goes well beyond the evidence. He very tentatively suggests Paul was the “the lawyer who asked the question” in Luke 10:25-28 (147). Similarly, that Paul “overheard Jesus’ words regarding the worker being worthy of his/her wages” (159) seems to go beyond the evidence or that Paul overheard the Olivet Discourse and “heard enough” of Jesus at that point (167). All of these are of course possibilities, but move into the area of speculation which cannot be supported by evidence.

In his conclusion, Porter cites A.M. Pope who asked what benefit to understanding of Paul if it can be shown Paul knew the life and teaching of the human Jesus. Aside from historical curiosity, the connection between Jesus and Paul would serve to further strengthen Pauline studies which place Paul in a Jewish context. The wedge driven between Jesus and Paul ought to be removed, but so too the wedge between Judaism, Jesus and Paul.

Conclusion. This is a fascinating book which makes a bold claim and supports that claim with detailed evidence and careful argumentation. Porter makes his case that it is at least plausible Paul knew the teaching of Jesus prior to the crucifixion and that he had personally seen Jesus on occasion.

NB: Thanks to Cambridge for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Image result for third maccabees elephantsThird Maccabees is perhaps best remembered for God’s dramatic actions rescuing the Jews from Ptolemy IV Philopater (221-205 B.C.). Josephus narrates a similar story, but dates it to the reign of Ptolemy VIII Physcon (169-116 B.C., Contra Apion, 2.52-55). The story narrated by 3 Maccabees is fanciful, but as Livia Capponi comments, the intention of the author was “to offer a testimony to the courage and firmness of the Egyptian Jews even in the face of death” (293).

Although he Jews maintain a respectful attitude toward the king, Philopater is enraged when the Jews refuse to obey his demands (3 Macc 3:1-10). Philopater commands that Jews be rounded up and arrested.  The Jews are not honest, Philopater argues, because “they accepted our presence by word, but insincerely by deed, because when we proposed to enter their inner temple and honor it with magnificent and most beautiful offerings, they were carried away by their traditional arrogance, and excluded us from entering; but they were spared the exercise of our power because of the benevolence that we have toward all” (3:17-18, NRSV).

The decree was read “to the heathens” at public feasts, but the Jews reacted with great mourning.  Jews are “dragged away” in iron bonds to Alexandria.  The chapter is filled with tragic descriptions of old men led off in chains and virgin brides are taken away from their bridal chambers. They are taken to Alexandria and brought to the hippodrome to be made a public example for those who might defy the king.

The king intends to kill the Jews he has taken captive by charging five hundred elephants (5:1-51).  He ordered the elephants to be driven into a frenzy with a mixture of wine and frankincense, but when the appointed hour came, God caused the king to fall asleep so that he never gave the order to kill the Jews. Philopater is enraged and intends to kill the Jews the next day. Again, the whole town turns out for the spectacle, but when the time comes for the king to give the order, the Lord made his mind go blank and he threatens to toss his friends to the elephants instead.  Finally the king himself drives the crazed elephants toward the Jews, who are praying, weeping and embracing one another in full expectation of their deaths.

At this moment, a priest named Eleazar prays to God, asking God’s will to be done (6:1-15).  If that means dying, then let it be, but God ought to act for his own glory and “let the Gentiles cower today in fear of your invincible might, O honored One, who have power to save the nation of Jacob” (verse 13, NRSV). As Eleazar finished his prayer the heavens open and two angels descend, visible to all but the Jews (6:16-29). So awesome was their appearance the king began to shudder and he repented of his plans to destroy the Jews.  He commands the guards to “release the children of the almighty and living God of heaven, who from the time of our ancestors until now has granted an unimpeded and notable stability to our government.”

These dramatic events are narrated as a kind of theological drama. The hand of the Lord is against Philopater and he cannot harm the Jews as he once intended. But like the three young men in Daniel 3, the Jews gathered in the hippodrome are more than willing to die rather than obey the orders of the king. Eleazar’s speech alludes to both the fiery furnace in Daniel 3 and Daniel’s refusal to pray to Darius in Daniel 6 (3 Macc 6:6-7). He also refers to God’s rescue of Jerusalem from Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:35) and God’s rescue of Jonah. In all four biblical cases, there is no human way for the person to be saved. They are only rescued by the “most high, all conquering God who governs all creation” (3 Macc 6:2).

As I suggested in a previous post, this book was written after Rome took control of Judea. The story of a large number of Jews resisting the king’s demand to give up their ancestral traditions may have encouraged those who sought to upset Roman rule in the years leading up to the first Jewish rebellion.

 

Bibliography. Livia Capponi, “‘Martyrs and Apostates: 3 Maccabees and the Temple of Leontopolis’”, in Hellenistic Judaism: Historical Aspects, Henoch 29.2 (2007), 288-306.

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Christian Theology

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