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Health Issues and Blogging

The leukemia (AML) for which I was treated here last summer has reactivated, after some 9 months of remission.  The further treatment options are quite limited, and may only be palliative care of various sorts.  In any case, I am now fully occupied with exploring various arrangements for the situation and aftermath of my death on my wife and others.  So, I shall have no time for blogging or my scholarly work.  Signing off unless further notice.  I hope that the archives on the site will continue to prove useful to interested readers.

Keener’s Commentary on Galatians

Craig Keener’s massive commentary on Paul’s epistle to the Galatians has recently appeared:  Galatians:  A Commentary (Baker Academic, 2019).  At xlvii + 848 pages, it is likely the largest commentary on this epistle.  But Keener is noted for his commentaries and their massive size, as especially represented in his four-volume commentary on Acts.

The size of the commentary is not given over to blather.  In addition to the unhurried discussion of the text, as characteristic of Keener’s commentaries, this one too is full of references to primary texts (both early Christian sources and a wide panoply of others), and to a huge body of scholarly publications.  The bibliography is 123 pages, and the indexes to subjects, authors, “scriptures,” and “other ancient sources” take up another 135 pages.

In his Introduction, Keener adopts an early date for Galatians (ca. 48 CE), and a “south Galatian” view of its addressees (that is, churches in the cities referred to in the Acts account of Paul’s mission-journey in that area).  He also aligns Paul’s description of his Jerusalem visit to confer with the leaders there in Galatians 2:1-10 with the “Council” visit depicted in Acts 15.

Keener holds that Paul’s “pre-conversion” opposition to the young Jesus-movement began in Judaea, disagreeing with scholars such as Helmut Koester who confined Paul’s efforts to Damascus.  Keener reads Galatians 1:22-24, especially the reference to him by the Judaean churches as “the one who formerly was persecuting us” as evidence of this.

To cite one matter on which I’ve written, Keener joins the ranks of a number of other scholars who are not persuaded by my suggestion that Galatians 2:10 may be a defensive reference to the Jerusalem collection that occupied a number of years of Paul’s mission.[1]  Likewise, he rejects the suggestion that Galatians 6:1-10 may be a carefully-worded exhortation to participate in the collection, reading the verses instead as simply some generalizing exhortations to support local teachers (although he acknowledges that Paul doesn’t identify any such figures and that it’s not clear who would be teachers entitled to support in such a young congregation).  I won’t present again here my reasons for making my suggestions.  They are that, only suggestions for how to take these two passages in Galatians, but I think they remain worth considering.

In addition to the verse-by-verse commentary, Keener offers 34 excurses on a wide variety of topics pertaining to things mentioned in Galatians.  These include discussions of “conversion,” Nabatean Arabia, Antioch, Justification, Magic, Paul and the Law, Adoption, and many more.

As his custom, Keener acknowledges the various views on contested matters, and gives explanation for why he prefers one over the others.  He also gives his own translation of Galatians, and in the comments deals with specific philological issues.  As one example of his level-headed approach, on the debated question of how to take the Greek phrase “pistis Iesou Christou,” whether it is “faith in Jesus Christ” or “the faith(fullness) of Jesus Christ,” Keener observes that even in the latter option the personal trust of the believer is involved to appropriate Christ’s “faith/faithfulness.”

We don’t usually read commentaries from cover to cover as we do monographs, and given its size this one would take a good deal of time to do so.  But it is a major contribution to all subsequent study of, and reference to, Galatians.

[1] Larry W. Hurtado, “The Jerusalem Collection and the Book of Galatians,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, no. 5 (1979):  46-62.

More on the Texts in Oxyrhynchus Papyri Vol 83

In addition to the fragment of an early copy of the Gospel of Mark, the same volume of Oxyrhynchus Papyri includes a number of other texts that provide data worth noting.

The other identifiably Christian texts include a leaf of a LXX codex of the Psalms (P.Oxy. 5344, Ralfs 2228), dated by the editors to the sixth century AD, preserving Psalm 2:1-8.  The nomina sacra and the codex bookform combine to make it a Christian copy of the Psalms.

P.Oxy. 5346 (N-A P138) is two fragments of the same leaf of a codex that preserves Luke 13:13-17, 25-30.  The uneven quality of the effort at a bookhand led the editors to judge its date to the third century AD.  It has punctuation in the form of an oblique stroke at the end of certain words, indicating either a sense-unit (sentence) or a subordinate clause.  These should probably be seen as readers’ aids in reading out the text, which suggests that this copy of Luke may have been used in ecclesial reading.

P.Oxy. 5347 (N-A 139) is a fragment of a codex leaf dated to the fourth century AD, this fragment preserving Philemon 6-8, 18-20.  The original page size is estimated to have been about 18 x 28 cm.

Note that all these are all fragments of codices.  If we compare these with the several classical (non-Christian) literary texts included in this volume, we get yet another confirmation of the early Christian preference for the codex, and how distinctive that was in the larger literary environment of the time.  All the non-Christian literary texts are either the remains of bookrolls or re-used bookrolls.  This small sampling of items fits into the larger picture obtained, especially when we survey literary texts of the second-third centuries (as can readily be done using the Leuven Database of Ancient Books:  LDAB here.)


That Newly-published Gospel of Mark Fragment: Focusing on It

Recent days have witnessed a dramatic turn of events in connection with the newly-published fragment of the Gospel of Mark (P. Oxy. 5345, now with the N-A number of P137).  One individual involved in the early days when the fragment was first mooted has written his account of things in an article in Christianity Today (here).  Another individual, named in that Christianity Today article, has then posted a response, accusing the author of the CT article of misrepresentation (here).

The allegations and counter-allegations begin to sound somewhat like a messy divorce, and leave a slightly sour taste in the mouth.  I suppose that there will be things to learn from whatever actually transpired, if/when we’re ever sure of what that was.  In the meantime, while the dramatis personae work things out, the rest of us can perhaps more profitably focus on the item at the centre of the controversy, the early fragment of the Gospel of Mark.  I don’t disparage those of an journalistic investigative bent.  I simply offer here some thoughts dealing with the item itself.

It has been published now, in the latest volume of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri series: Dirk Obbink and D. Colomo, “5345 Mark 1:7-9, 16-18,” in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Volume LXXXIII, ed. Peter J. Parsons and Nick Gonis (London: Egypt Exploration Society, 2019), 4-7.  See my notice of the publication in an earlier posting here.

Some things we know and can use in our historical work.  First, it is a fragment of a copy of the Gospel of Mark, and is datable on palaeographic grounds to sometime in the late second or early third century.  This provides us with evidence of a second copy of GMark in the first three centuries (the other one being P45, dated to sometime in the third century).  We have, thus, further confirmation that copies of GMark were being made and were circulating in this early period, although not as often as copies of the other NT Gospels, especially GMatthew and GJohn.

Second, the fragment has a provenance.  It was included in the huge body of papyri unearthed by Grenfell and Hunt in their excavations at Oxyrhynchus, and then sent back to London.  (The overwhelming mass of this material is yet to be published.)  So, this fragment shows more specifically that GMark was being copied and circulated in Egypt at this time.

Third, it is a portion of one leaf of a codex.  We know this because the writing proceeds from one side of the fragment to the other.  This provides us with yet another confirmation of the early Christian preference for the codex bookform, especially for the Gospels and other texts that had begun to be treated as scriptures.

The editors of the item estimate that the codex would have required roughly 20 sheets of papyrus, which would yield approximately 40 leaves or 80 pages, some 78 of which were likely needed for this copy of GMark.   This was probably a single “gathering/quire” codex.  That is, all the papyrus sheets were likely bound together in one bundle.  This is the more common way that earliest codices were constructed.  It is further likely that the codex contained only the GMark, for this also was the dominant way in which the Gospels were transmitted in the earliest period.

The writing of GMark commenced on the side of a papyrus leaf with vertical fibres.  This could suggest that this formed the third page of the codex, the first two pages (or first leaf) left blank and forming a cover.  (This assumes that this single-gathering codex was constructed with the papyrus sheets all laid each on the other with the vertical-fibre side down, which is one known pattern.)

This particular codex was likely about 12.4 x 16.6 cm in page-size.  This isn’t a miniature codex, but it is a smallish one, a little bigger than volumes in the Loeb Classical Library series.  The size of the writing, 0.2-0.3 cm, and the line-spacing of ca. 0.5 cm is rightly described by the editors as giving “a closely-packed appearance.”  These things could suggest a copy made primarily for personal reading, but that is only a suggestion.

The “hand” is, thus, small, but the letters are clearly formed and separated, and the copyist aimed for a “bi-linear” text (i.e., the letters all of the same height and the tops and bottoms of the letters all matching on two imaginary lines above and below the letters).  But the effort wasn’t entirely successful, for both the upsilon and phi violate bilinearity.  Also, the copyist wasn’t entirely consistent in the way he (?) formed certain letters, e.g., the alpha.  So, it looks like a skilled copyist, but not able (or concerned) to produce a truly calligraphic copy.  The result, however, is a clear and fully readable text (although the fragment has suffered some abrasion, especially on the horizontal-fibre side).

Portions of only a few verses of GMark are preserved, 1:7-9, 16-18.  In v. 8, the fragment reads that the coming one will baptize πνευματι αγιω (with Vaticanus and some others) instead of εν πνευματι αγιω (supported by Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Bezae and a good many others).  But this is a minor stylistic preference, and both variant-readings = “in/with the holy spirit.”

The more interesting (though also minor) variant is in v. 17.  Here, where most manuscripts read “Jesus said, ‘Come follow me’,” the fragment omits “Jesus”.  This variant isn’t noted in the N-A text, or in the Legg volume on GMark.  But the editors cite manuscripts Φ and 1194, “and a further scatter of minuscules” as having the same variant.  They cogently suggest that the omission could have happened by the copyist’s eyes leaping from the final letters of ειπεν αυτοις to the final letters of the likely nomina sacra (abbreviated) form of Ιησους (Jesus), which would have been ις.  So the manuscript being copied from may have read ειπεναυτοιςις, and the copyist’s eyes fell on the final letters, accidentally omitting the ις form of Jesus’ name.  In any case, the context makes it perfectly clear who is speaking.  If one infers from this extant portion that the rest of GMark was copied as carefully, we should expect further accidental variants, but otherwise a copy of GMark fully recognizable and not varying much from what we know today.

The only nomina sacra form extant on the fragment is in v. 8, where πνευματι (spirit) is written as πνι.  This likely confirms that the copyist was either a Christian or else somehow otherwise acquainted with this distinctive early Christian copyist practice of writing certain words in a curious abbreviated form, with a horizontal pen-stroke over the abbreviated form.  (For a brief online explanation of this practice, see here.  I discuss the matter more fully in my book, The Earliest Christian Artifacts:  Manuscripts and Christian Origins, 95-134.)

In sum, though only a small fragment (4.4 x 4 cm), P137 gives us some interesting data nevertheless.  It confirms that GMark was copied and circulated (apparently on its own), that early Christians preferred the codex especially for the NT Gospels and some other texts, that the copyists in this early period were generally competent and didn’t take wild liberties with what they copied, and (though this is more a suggestion than a firm conclusion from P137) that Christians in the second/third century were making copies of the Gospels both for ecclesial reading/usage and also for personal usage.


“Honoring the Son”: An Entree Work

As I’m often asked for a short introduction to the line that I take in discussing earliest Jesus-devotion (some finding the 600+ pp. Lord Jesus Christ a bit too much to take in), I think that now I would recommend my little volume that appeared last year:  Honoring the Son:  Jesus in Earliest Christian Devotional Practice (Lexham Press, 2018).

Here are the main points that I lay out in the small book:

  1. In the ancient Roman world, worship was the key expression of what we call “religion,” not doctrines or confessional formulas.
  2. The key distinguishing feature of Roman-era Judaism in the larger religious environment was its exclusivity of worship, and an accompanying refusal to worship any deities other than the God of Israel.
  3. This exclusivity extended also to a refusal to worship any of the adjutants of the biblical God, such as angels, messiahs, etc.
  4. In light of these things the emergent place of Jesus in earliest Christian worship and devotional practice along with God in a “dyadic” devotional pattern was highly noteworthy, even more remarkable than the familiar christological titles and confessional formulas.
  5. The place of Jesus in earliest Christian devotion can be described in specific actions that allow us to consider any putative parallels, and so to note and confirm any innovation in comparison with the wider Jewish context in which Jesus-devotion initially appeared.

I note that the book can be had in traditional soft-cover paper format and also in e-book form.

Irenaeus of Lyons: A KeyFigure

Today (28 June) in the church year marks the martyrdom of Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 130-200? CE).  Likely born in Smyrna (in the Greek-speaking eastern area of the Roman Empire), at some point he moved to Roman Gaul, to Lugdunum (Lyons).  He became prominent in the church there, and after the martyrdom of its elderly bishop (among the martyrs of Lyons) Ireneaus was elected bishop of the church.  (The site of the martrydom of the Lyons Christians is known today and can be visited.)

He claims to have learned from Polycarp of Smyrna, who was martyred as well.  But he became an influential writer, most known today for his large work, Against Heresies, although Eusebius (4th century CE) mentions some eight works by Irenaeus.  None of Irenaeus’ works are preserved in Greek.  Against Heresies survives in a Latin translation, but is itself not complete.

He is the earliest extant figure to name the familiar four NT Gospels and to confine the number of scriptural Gospels to these four.  Indicative of interest in his works, we have a scrap of Against Heresies (in Greek) found at Oxyrhynchus (P. Oxy 405) that is dated palaeograghically to the late second century.  If correct, this would mean that the work had reached Egypt within only a few years after its composition (ca. 180 CE).

Against what he called “false gnosis,” Irenaeus advocated a doctrine of salvation in which the material body was central.  Contra those who believed that salvation involved only the soul or spirit, Irenaeus argued that it involved the whole person, particularly the flesh.

But his views were complex and not always clearly coherent with one another, and scholars still probe what we have of his writings to try to understand this important figure in the consolidation of early Christianity.  As one place to begin for those wishing some introduction, consider the volume of essays from a conference on Irenaeus held here in Edinburgh in 2009 under the auspices of the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins: Paul Foster and Sara Parvis, ed., Irenaeus: Life, Scripture, Legacy (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012).

Staudt on”Monotheistic” Expressions

In reading a colleague’s draft essay I was reminded of a book that I found particularly helpful, but has received a disappointing level of notice, even, it appears, in scholarly circles.  I reviewed the book several years ago in the German journal, Theologische Literaturzeitung, but can’t find other reviews.  This is unfortunate, because I think the book deserves better publicity.  So, I provide below a lightly edited version of my TLZ review.

Darina Staudt,  Der eine und einzige Gott.  Monotheistische Formeln im Urchristentum und ihre Vorgeschichte bei Griechen und Juden.  Göttingen:  Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012.  Novum Testamentum et Orbis Antiquus/Studien zur Umwelt des Neuen Testaments, Band 80. ISBN:  978-3-525-55015-1.  Pp. 345.  €69,99.

Originating as a 2009 doctoral dissertation presented to the University of Heidelberg (Gerd Theissen, Doktorvater), this is a well-researched and impressively wide-ranging analysis of the origins and use of key “monotheistic” formulae that appear in early Christian texts.  Although the impetus for her study is the question of how Jesus came to be included in the reverence given to the one God, the specific questions she addresses are these:  (1) What “monotheistic” expressions (“Formeln”) are used in the ancient texts, (2) what are the origins of these particular expressions, and (2) to what extent did Greek and Jewish traditions influence early Christian use of them?

The specific expressions/“Formeln” that she focuses on are εἷς θεός (“one god,” which she refers to as “die Einzigkeitsformel,” “uniqueness formula”), μόνος θεός (“only god,” labelled “die Alleinanspruchsformel,” “alone speech-form”), and οὐκ ἔστιν ἔτι πλήν (“there is no other,” which along with similar expressions she calls “die Verneinungsformel,” “denial formula”).   She posits two “roots” for the Einzigkeitsformel:  (1) an  ancient Jewish emphasis on YHWH as “one” reflected in Deuteronomy 6:4, which originally emphasized one legitimate expression of the YHWH-cult and place of worship, and then developed into an affirmation more recognizably “monotheistic” and more firmly asserted in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, and (2) early Greek philosophy, especially Xenophanes (6th century BCE), which did not, however, have much influence or usage until its “Renaissance” in the Hellenistic period, when εἶς (“one”) came to be used in pagan circles in an “elative” or “doxological” sense to refer honorifically to various deities.

In Jewish texts of the second-temple period (e.g., LXX Deut. 6:4; Zech. 14:9; Dan. 3:17), the expression εἷς κύριος (“one Lord”) and similar expressions represent an adaptation of the Greek formula.  In these Jewish texts, and in early Christian texts thereafter, however, “one God” expresses an exclusivity that did not characterize pagan usage of the “one god” formula.  This exclusivity is most clearly demonstrated in the restriction of cultic worship to YHWH.  Then, in early Christian usage reflected already in the NT, “one God” and “one Lord” are adapted further to acclaim respectively “God” (“the Father”) and Jesus (“the Lord”), and we see also what I have referred to as a corresponding “binitarian” or “dyadic” worship-pattern in which both God and Jesus are rightful and exclusive recipients.

As for the “only god” forms (in which typically μόνος features), she contends that there is an unambiguously OT/Jewish origin, reflected in OT texts from the 5th century BCE onward, especially in the Psalms.  In texts of the Persian period and thereafter this sort of expression clearly has a sharply exclusivist tone, probably reflecting a polemical demarcation from the deities of other nations.  This polemical tone is all the more clear in the Verneinungsformel, “there is no other (god),” its origins in Deutero-Isaiah, and an increasing usage in Jewish texts of the Hellenistic and Roman periods, often combined with the “only God” form.

Staudt also shows interesting variations in Roman-era Jewish authors.  Philo of Alexandria uses both “one God” and “only God” forms together.  But he also freely refers to God as having various intermediary figures to perform his bidding.  Of course, Philo also devotes a major place to the “Logos”, which serves as the expression of the transcendent God that engages the created world and that is comprehensible to humans.  By contrast, Josephus uses the “one God” and “only God” expressions only seldom, mainly in Antiquities, there often in descriptions of Jewish patriarchal figures.  Interestingly, when writing of events in his own time, Josephus typically places these expressions on the lips of Jewish revolutionaries.  Staudt suggests that Josephus reflects an awareness of the polemical tone of these expressions and so refrained from affirming them directly.

In the NT and other early Christian texts, the “one God” form is preferred, the “only God” and “no other god” expressions rarely used (e.g., Mark 12:32, in the mouth of a Jewish scribe, or in prayers and doxologies, e.g., John 17:3; 1 Tim. 6:15-16).  Staudt proposes that the reason for this is the inclusion of Jesus with God in early Christian belief and worship.  Yet, for early Christians, this did not involve positing two deities, but rather an expansion of the cultic worship of the one God to include Jesus, producing a distinctive “Christian monotheism.”  So, the “one God” and “one Lord” language of early Christianity has its origins in the setting of worship-confession/acclamation.  Already in Paul we see the close connection of Jesus with God:  “where Paul speaks of God . . . he always thinks of Jesus Christ also” (p. 320), a key example given in 1 Cor. 8:6.   In only one NT text, however, do we find the Alleinanspruchsformel applied to Jesus, in Jude 4 (“our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ”).

Staudt contends that in the early Christian mission-encounter with pagan religion and philosophy, the name of Jesus played a key role, making more concrete the transcendent God.  Important among the forces against which early Christians contended, Staudt urges, was Serapis-Isis religion.  In her view, although not directly mentioned in the NT, the image of Jesus as Savior was developed over against Serapis, who likewise was a savior-deity.

The range of material covered in Staudt’s book is very impressive.  She has chapters on Greek philosophical traditions (with discussions of pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle, Stoics, Roman-era writers), on OT traditions, second-temple Jewish texts, Philo, Josephus, the NT, the Apostolic Fathers, and “later” usage of the “one God” form.   In each chapter the discussion focuses on specific texts, to which she brings commendable familiarity with scholarly opinion on them.  As well, there are several excurses on various matter, e.g., Gerhardsson’s study of the Shema, and, particularly, a valuable assessment of Erik Peterson’s classic work on “one god” expressions in Greek-language inscriptions.

I can only commend the book as an excellent analysis of the data relevant to the questions posed, specifically the origins and usage of the several formulae identified.  It is not clear to me, however, that (or how) her study addresses the larger question posed in her opening paragraph:  How did self-confessing “monotheistic” Jews come to include Jesus along with the one God as rightful recipient of worship?  Staudt’s examination of the usage of the “one God” and “only God” forms certainly shows the effects of religious developments, among which the emergence of a strong exclusivist “monotheism” in second-temple Judaism and, still more, the eruption of a “binitarian/dyadic” devotional pattern in earliest Christianity were particularly remarkable.  But the use and adaptation of these forms do not explain why these religious developments took place.  Nevertheless, I repeat my hearty recommendation of Staudt’s book as a comprehensive and incisive study of these forms.  A 16-page bibliography and an index of primary sources complete this excellent work.

Reviews of Fredriksen, “When Christians Were Jews”

In an earlier posting I pointed to my review of Paula Fredriksen’s recent book, When Christians Were Jews (here), the review appeared in the online journal, Marginalia here.

I point now to another essay-length review of the Fredriksen book (with some attention also to her studies of Augustine) in the Los Angeles Review of Books, by Brad East here.

East gives an appreciative, accurate review of the main points of Fredriksen’s book, along with some (to my mind) incisive critique of some points.  Kudos to Fredriksen for this kind of scholarly attention, and to East for his intelligent and balanced review.

The Curious Case of the “First Century Mark” Fragment

Readers of this and other blog sites with interest in NT textual criticism will have heard of a supposedly first-century fragment of the Gospel of Mark.  Yesterday, a new report came out from a senior figure connected with the Museum of the Bible (Dr. Michael Holmes), giving remarkable, even startling new information about the item.

This information has come to light in connection with a session focused on this fragment that is scheduled for the 2019 annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature.  Holmes is one of the several panelists booked to take part in that session, and he conducted some advance investigation that produced the new information.  He then sent this information to other members of the panel, who include Dr. Brent Nongbri.

Specifically, it appears that this fragment and several others were proposed for sale to the Museum of the Bible (Green Collection), and Holmes produced a copy of a sales agreement in which Professor Dirk Obbink is shown as the seller.  The items listed in the agreement for sale are actually the property of the Egypt Exploration Society, which has indicated that none of its holdings were put up for sale.  So Obbink’s agreement to sell the items raises serious questions.

For the text of the email from Holmes, the text of the agreement to sell the items, and initial questions and comments on the matter, see Nongbri’s blog post here, which also includes links to other postings yesterday.

This new evidence is personally dismaying, as it raises questions about the actions of Obbink, in whom I placed trust earlier (as in my blog posting here).  It now appears that my confidence may have been misplaced.  In a comment on Nongbri’s posting, Peter Head says these developments now make me and Ehrman look “stupid”.  I’m not clear how he reached that judgment.  I may have been mistaken in my trust in Obbink, but trusting someone until there is reason to think otherwise is hardly stupid, Peter.

I suspect that there will be further information forthcoming about this curious case.  In the meantime, we have the actual fragment of Mark now published in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri series (as described briefly in my posting here), and so scholarly work on it can proceed.

The Jewish Jesus of the NT Gospels

Among the comments responding to my posting about the depiction of the infant Jesus in Christian art, a couple of them prompt me to respond in another post.

One comment points to the way that visual representations of Jesus in art (and the movies too) in the West often give a blue-eyed, blond/light-haired, fair-skinned figure.  This compares with the visual depictions that one finds in the East, giving a rather oriental-looking figure, or in Africa, where Jesus may be depicted as black African.  Another comment inquires whether this re-culturalization of Jesus also might have characterized the earliest literary depictions of Jesus, in the four NT Gospels.

These comments prompt me to reiterate an observation laid out briefly in my book, Lord Jesus Christ:  Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Eerdmans, 2003, esp. pp. 265-70).  One of the major characteristics shared by all four Gospels is

“how fully they site their accounts of Jesus in a specific historical, cultural, and geographical setting.  Each writer locates Jesus in early-first-century Roman Judea (Palestine), and each rendition of Jesus’ activities is rich in ‘local color’.” (265)

The accounts are rife with geographical references to Lake Galilee, Capernaum, Nazareth, Bethsaida, Caesarea Philippi, the Decapolis area, Samaria, Jericho, Bethlehem, the Jordan River, Tyre and Sidon, and Jerusalem, for example.  Incidents set in Jerusalem refer to the temple, precincts of the Roman governor, and nearby villages such as Bethany.

References to the religious and cultural setting abound.  We learn of Jewish groups such as Sadducees, Pharisees, Herodians, temple priests and hierarchy, and Jewish scribes. The issues dealt with have to do with Jewish law and scruples, such as Sabbath observance, food laws, divorce and remarriage, skin diseases, swearing oaths, tithing, and taxation.  Whatever the differences between Jesus and his interlocutors, the issues are thoroughly Jewish.  There are references to Jewish festivals such as Passover, and issues of religious controversy such as resurrection of the dead.  We hear about governing authorities and structures such as Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, the high priest Caiaphas, and the Roman governor Pilate.

The use of Semitic expressions also features.  The frequency varies, with GMark using them most.[1]  Given that GMark was written for a mainly non-Jewish readership (note, e.g., the necessity to explain Jewish customs in 7:1-8), this deliberate reflection of Jesus’ own linguistic context is all the more interesting.

The Jesus of the Gospels confines his activities to his own people, with only a couple of exceptions, and these marked as such in the texts (the Syrophoenecian woman in Mark 7:24-30/Matt 15:21-28; the gentile demoniac in Mark 5:1-20/Matt 8:28-34/Luke 8:26-39).  He observes temple festivals (especially in GJohn), and goes to synagogues on the Sabbath.  He is depicted as wearing tassles at the corners of his garment (e.g., Mark 6:56).

In short, in apparent contrast to the tactics reflected later in much/most Christian art, the authors of the Gospels firmly place Jesus in his own historical context/setting.  The early retention of a Jewish Jesus is impressive, and was, apparently, religiously meaningful, at least in the sort of beliefs of those who wrote and read these texts.  This is so programmatic that it had to have been intentional.  It also contrasts with the more a-historical depiction of Jesus in texts such as the Gospel of Thomas, which gives scant indication of any specific setting, presenting instead a kind of talking head delivering statements that are often riddling as well.

[1] See, e.g., M. Graves, “Languages of Palestine,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Second Edition (InterVarsity Press, 2013), 489-90.  There are some thirty uses of Semitic loanwords in the Gospels, most of them likely Aramaic.

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