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Akhenaten and Moses

Defying centuries of traditional worship of the Egyptian pantheon, Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten decreed during his reign in the mid-14th century B.C.E. that his subjects were to worship only one god: the sun-disk Aten. Akhenaten is sometimes called the world’s first monotheist. Did his monotheism later influence Moses—and the birth of Israelite monotheism?

In “Did Akhenaten’s Monotheism Influence Moses?” in the July/August 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, University of California, Santa Barbara, emeritus professor of anthropology Brian Fagan discusses this tantalizing question.

Egyptian King Akhenaten, meaning “Effective for Aten”—his name was originally Amenhotep IV, reigned from about 1352 to 1336 B.C.E. In the fifth year of his reign, he moved the royal residence from Thebes to a new site in Middle Egypt, Akhetaten (“the horizon of Aten,” present-day Tell el-Amarna), and there ordered lavish temples to be built for Aten. Akhenaten claimed to be the only one who had access to Aten, thus making an interceding priesthood unnecessary.

In the BAR article “The Monotheism of the Heretic Pharaoh,” Donald B. Redford, who excavated Akhenaten’s earliest temple at Karnak (in modern Thebes), describes how Akhenaten instituted worship of Aten:

The cult of the Sun-Disk emerged from an iconoclastic “war” between the “Good God” (Akhenaten), and all the rest of the gods. The outcome of this “war” was the exaltation of the former and the annihilation of the latter. Akhenaten taxed and gradually closed the temples of the other gods; the images of their erstwhile occupants were occasionally destroyed. Cult, ritual and mythology were anathematized, literature edited to remove unwanted allusions. Names were changed to eliminate hateful divine elements; and cities where the old gods had been worshipped, were abandoned by court and government.

Akhenaten destroyed much, he created little. No mythology was devised for his new god. No symbolism was permitted in art or the cult, and the cult itself was reduced to the one simple act of offering upon the altar. Syncretism was no longer possible: Akhenaten’s god does not accept and absorb—he excludes and annihilates.

Did Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten’s adamant worship of one deity influence the Biblical Moses, leader of the Israelite Exodus? Was Akhenaten’s monotheism the progenitor of Israelite monotheism? According to BAR author Brian Fagan, we are talking about two different kinds of monothesisms:

“Israelite monotheism developed through centuries of discussion, declarations of faith and interactions with other societies and other beliefs,” Fagan writes. “In contrast, Akhenaten’s monotheism developed very largely at the behest of a single, absolute monarch presiding over an isolated land, where the pharaoh’s word was divine and secular law. It was an experiment that withered on the vine.”
When Tutankhaten—the second son of Akhenaten; we know him as the famous King Tut—ascended to the throne, he, working with his advisers, restored worship of the traditional Egyptian pantheon and its chief god, Amun. Tutankhaten also changed his name to Tutankhamun, meaning “the living image of Amun.”

First Person: Misogyny in the Bible

Christopher Rollston is one of the world’s leading paleographers of ancient Near Eastern inscriptions. I have been harshly critical of some of his views, principally regarding unprovenanced inscriptions—inscriptions that have surfaced only from the antiquities market, not from a professional archaeological excavation. They may be forgeries, he argues. Although my criticism of Chris’s position is intense,1 we remain good friends and regularly share a meal. Chris is also a master carpenter. Above my office door hangs a beautiful polished wooden plaque expertly carved with my name in paleo-Hebrew script—the kind of Hebrew letters used before the Babylonian destruction of the Solomonic (First) Temple in 586 B.C.E.

Several years ago, when Chris was teaching at Emmanuel Christian Seminary, a Tennessee seminary affiliated with the Restoration Movement, he wrote an article about the Bible’s sometimes “unfair” or unequal treatment of women.2 He recently published a revised and augmented version of this controversial article.3

Here are some examples from his article:

Noah and his wife had three sons (Shem, Ham and Japheth—Genesis 5:32) who were each married. All eight were on the ark. We know the names of all the men, but none of the women (Genesis 8:18), not even Noah’s wife.

Rollston finds the marginalization of women obvious and “clear” in the Ten Commandments: “The wife is classified as her husband’s property, and she’s listed with the slaves and work animals. There is also a striking omission in this commandment: Never does it say, ‘You shall not covet your neighbor’s husband.’”

Rollston continues with other examples:

An unmarried woman could be compelled to marry her rapist, as long as the rapist could pay the standard bride price and the woman’s father was comfortable with the marriage (Deuteronomy 22:28–29). Polygyny (a man having multiple wives at the same time) was not condemned, but was an accepted and legal custom (Deuteronomy 21:15–17; Genesis 4:19–24; and 2 Samuel 3:2–5). A woman’s religious vow could be nullified by her father or her husband (Numbers 30:3–15). And the assumption of the text is that the priesthood is all male (Leviticus 21). In short, within the legal literature of the Bible, women were not accorded the same status as men.

Other examples come from the New Testament; here is one of Rollston’s examples:

[1 Timothy 2] begins by stating that “men should pray” (and the word used here for men is andras, a gendered word that refers only to males) and then says “women should dress themselves modestly and decently” (vv. 8–9). So men are to pray, and women are to dress modestly. That’s quite a contrast. But there’s more: “Let a woman learn in silence and full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to be silent” (vv. 11–12). The author’s rationale: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve, and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (vv. 13–14). According to this text, women were to be silent in worship gatherings (and men were certainly not told to be silent), and the rationale for this mandate is that woman (Eve) was created second and sinned first. And the final blow is this: A woman “will be saved” (the future tense of the standard word for “be saved,” “be given salvation”) “through childbirth if she remains in faith and love and sanctification with modesty” (1 Timothy 2:15).

 
Rollston recently told us in writing what we already knew. This criticism of the Bible led to his “forced ouster” from Emmanuel Christian Seminary.

Not long after his “forced ouster,” I saw Chris and told him that this could be the best thing that ever happened to him. And so it turned out. Eventually he obtained a tenured position at the George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, D.C. Soon thereafter the prestigious position of editor of the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (BASOR) opened up, and Chris and his distinguished colleague Eric Cline at GWU were appointed as coeditors to fill the position. Seldom do we write stories with such happy endings.
 

Notes:

1. See Hershel Shanks, “Predilections—Is the ‘Brother of Jesus’ Inscription a Forgery?”Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2015.

2. Christopher Rollston, “The Marginalization of Women: A Biblical Value We Don’t Like to Talk About,” Huffington Post, August 31, 2012.

3. Christopher A. Rollston, “Women, the Bible, and the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” in Frances Flannery and Rodney Alan Werline, eds., The Bible in Political Debate (New York: Bloomsbury, 2016).

‘Invaders of Obscure Race?’ Understanding the Hyksos

By: Anna-Latifa Mourad

From the time of the first pharaoh, ancient Egyptian civilization saw over a thousand years of unbroken development, with dynasty after dynasty of divine kings building pyramids and overseeing the growth of a rich culture. But after this ‘classical age’ of the Old Kingdom, toward the end of the third millennium BCE, Egypt faltered and splintered into separate realms. Then, in the early second millennium, it experienced something unprecedented: foreign rule by the ‘Hyksos.’ Their origins and impact on Egypt are deeply controversial issues, clouded by the bitterness of Egypt’s own memories.

Manetho

The term ‘Hyksos’ has its origins in the works of third-century BCE Egyptian priest, Manetho, quoted by later writers like Josephus. Despite their late date, these Greek works formed the basis of inquiry into the Hyksos for most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries CE. Thus, we learn that

… unexpectedly, from the regions of the East, invaders of obscure race marched in confidence of victory against our land. By main force they easily seized it without striking a blow… Their race as a whole was called Hyksos, that is ‘king-shepherds’…

Manetho, Aegyptiaca, frag. 42, 1.75-83

The Hyksos apparently destroyed cities and temples, massacred locals, and placed one of their own as king and founder of the Fifteenth Dynasty. Tribute was levied from the Egyptians, and the citadel of Avaris, fortified with both men and high walls, was built in the Delta. The Hyksos became associated with ruthless invaders who forced control over Egypt.

Egyptian Records

Agreeing with Manetho’s perception are texts from the Seventeenth Dynasty (contemporary with the Fifteenth, dating ca. 1650-1550 BCE), and from the subsequent Eighteenth Dynasty. A leader from the southern city of Thebes, Kamose, evidently mounted a campaign to expel the foreigners from Egypt. He designates the Hyksos king and his people as an ‘Aam’ group who had desecrated the land. Their king was titled ‘heqa ny Retjenu’, ‘ruler of Retjenu’, and his city, Avaris, was described with high walls and harbours docked with 300 cedar ships filled with a plethora of goods including gold, silver and ‘all the fine products of Retjenu’. Around a century later, Queen Hatshepsut is quoted as having restored what was destroyed during the Hyksos period when the Nile Delta was occupied by the abominable ‘Aam’ people.

Such texts link the Hyksos with (1) the ‘Aam’, (2) Retjenu, and (3) a fortified city, known as Avaris, in the Delta. But who were these Aam? Where was Retjenu? And is there truly a city by the name of Avaris?

The term ‘Aam’ is a well-attested ethnonym that labels individuals from the Levant, the area that currently incorporates Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Translated by Egyptologists as ‘Asiatic’, the term first appears in the late Old Kingdom, becoming more frequent from the second half of the Twelfth Dynasty (ca. 1900 BCE) in texts naming newly migrated northeasterners as well as those of mixed Egyptian-Levantine origin (see Figures 1-3).

Figure 1. ‘Aam’ men in a procession of Asiatics. The first on the right is labelled ‘heqa khaset’, ‘ruler of a foreign land’. The tomb of Khnumhotep II, Beni Hassan, Dynasty 12. Image courtesy of the Australian Centre for Egyptology (photograph by Effy Alexakis).

Figure 1. ‘Aam’ men in a procession of Asiatics. The first on the right is labelled ‘heqa khaset’, ‘ruler of a foreign land’. The tomb of Khnumhotep II, Beni Hassan, Dynasty 12. Image courtesy of the Australian Centre for Egyptology (photograph by Effy Alexakis).

Figure 2. ‘Aam’ people in a procession of Asiatics. The tomb of Khnumhotep II, Beni Hassan, Dynasty 12. Image courtesy of the Australian Centre for Egyptology (photograph by Effy Alexakis).

Figure 2. ‘Aam’ people in a procession of Asiatics. The tomb of Khnumhotep II, Beni Hassan, Dynasty 12. Image courtesy of the Australian Centre for Egyptology (photograph by Effy Alexakis).

Figure 3. A ‘Aamet’ woman with the Egyptian name Senebheqa. Stela of the Egyptian ‘overseer of the treasury’, Senebsuma, Dynasty 13. After H. de Meulenaere, ‘Les monuments d’un haut dignitaire de la 13e dynastie’, CdE 40 (1985), fig. 1 (drawn by Anna-Latifa Mourad).

Figure 3. A ‘Aamet’ woman with the Egyptian name Senebheqa. Stela of the Egyptian ‘overseer of the treasury’, Senebsuma, Dynasty 13. After H. de Meulenaere, ‘Les monuments d’un haut dignitaire de la 13e dynastie’, CdE 40 (1985), fig. 1 (drawn by Anna-Latifa Mourad).

The Aam are also recorded to have come from Retjenu, a toponym which remains unidentified. Egyptian texts do, however, suggest that it is located in the Levant, possibly north of modern Israel. So, if Kamose’s stela refers to a ‘ruler of Retjenu’, how is this associated with the Hyksos and Manetho’s ‘king-shepherds’? Here, Manetho’s translation can be explained as a garbled reading of an Egyptian title used for foreign lords, ‘heqa khasut’, or literally ‘ruler of foreign lands.’ The title was not only used for the Hyksos but it is also attested for a range of individuals from the Levant as well as Nubia (see Figure 1). What distinguishes the Hyksos is that they used this title while ruling parts of Egypt. In other words, they defined themselves as both rulers of Egypt, as well as rulers of a foreign realm. But how were they able to do so? What led them to become such powerful rulers?

The Discovery of Avaris

In recent decades, significant data has emerged from excavations at a site located in Egypt’s northeastern Delta: Tell el-Dab’a (see Figure 5). Explorations by the Austrian Archaeological Institute in Cairo and the Institute of Egyptology at the University of Vienna have revealed the remains of a harbour city dating from the First to Third Intermediate Period. Spanning an area of approximately 1200 hectares, the site features administrative districts, palatial complexes, cemeteries, temples and residential sectors that were occupied during the Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period. These occupations included widespread cultural remains that are not wholly Egyptian. Due to the magnitude of this settlement as well as its remains, the city is now identified with Avaris, capital of the Hyksos.

 Figure 5. Map of Tell el-Dab’a. After M. Bietak, ‘The Impact of Minoan Art on Egypt and the Levant: A Glimpse of Palatial Art from the Naval Base of Peru-nefer at Avaris’, in J. Aruz et al. (eds), Cultures in Contact. From Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean in the Second Millennium B.C. (New York, 2013), fig. 1 (drawn by Anna-Latifa Mourad).
Figure 5. Map of Tell el-Dab’a. After M. Bietak, ‘The Impact of Minoan Art on Egypt and the Levant: A Glimpse of Palatial Art from the Naval Base of Peru-nefer at Avaris’, in J. Aruz et al. (eds), Cultures in Contact. From Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean in the Second Millennium B.C. (New York, 2013), fig. 1 (drawn by Anna-Latifa Mourad).

The identification of Avaris has helped illuminate the nature and rule of the elusive Hyksos. Contrary to Manetho, the evidence from Tell el-Dab’a does not point to a sudden invading foreign force. Instead, it suggests that Egyptians founded the site but that foreigners were present from the very beginning of the Middle Kingdom. By the late Twelfth Dynasty, the variety and number of foreign elements increased. Vessels imported from the Levant are found in Egyptian temples and tombs, burials began to include non-Egyptian, Levantine traditions, and houses were designed with Levantine features. The inhabitants practiced both Egyptian and Levantine customs, signifying that they were (a) a largely Egyptian populace heavily influenced by the Levant; (b) partly of Levantine origin but influenced by the Egyptian culture (‘Egyptianised’); or (c) a mixture of both.

This ‘heterogenous’ character evolved into the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Dynasties. The population grew, displaying both hybrid elements that merged Egyptian and Levantine features, as well as completely new and innovative creations. Pottery of Levantine style was locally made. Temples following Levantine architecture were built and utilised for non-Egyptian rituals. Trade flourished with the Levant, Cyprus and Nubia. By the Fifteenth Dynasty, Tell el-Dab’a was a thriving commercial hub that was controlled by an elite with close ties to the Levant, if not of Levantine origins. Inhabited by a multicultural populace, the metropolis progressed from a harbour town under Egyptian rule to an independent centre and capital of the Hyksos.

Understanding the Hyksos Period

Recent excavations and studies agree with the picture painted by the remains at Avaris. The Twelfth Dynasty itself was likely established and secured with the help of Levantine warriors. Trade and diplomacy ensued as Egypt imported a variety of goods from its northeastern neighbours, while Levantine sites, such as Byblos, Sidon, Ashkelon and Tell Ifshar, also received Egyptian commodities. The Levantine elite was even involved with the Egyptians in an expeditionary venture in Sinai that spanned over 20 years. Such demand for and persistence of Egyptian-Levantine relations led to the growth of Tell el-Dab’a’s commercial significance, its lords steadily gaining power and wealth.

These developments not only affected the elite. Finds throughout Egypt point to an increasing number of Asiatics and individuals of Asiatic origin working and residing across the land (see Figure 3). By the end of the Thirteenth Dynasty, many had already been in Egypt for over 100 years, occupying various positions within Egyptian institutions, industries, and households. Migrations into major sites as Tell el-Dab’a also continued as Levantines sought opportunities in the land of Egypt.

As such, the rise of the Hyksos can no longer be seen as an invasion by an ‘obscure race.’ There was no invasion; rather, people gradually and peacefully entered Egypt throughout the Middle Kingdom. By the end of the Thirteenth Dynasty, native Egyptian administration had weakened, control over the Delta was lost and Egypt became fragmented. In turn, this allowed Tell el-Dab’a’s increasingly rich and powerful lords to become independent, establishing the Fifteenth Dynasty. As they provided prosperity and security, the population of their capital increased, the settlement expanded, and additional sites in the Delta were developed, their inhabitants also bearing mixed Egyptian-Levantine traits. The Hyksos became a formidable force in the Mediterranean, managing both local and regional trade across land and sea.

It is, therefore, no surprise that such a force would come into conflict with other emerging powers in the fragmented land of Egypt, particularly one in the south at Thebes. Ultimately the Thebans were victorious, their succeeding rulers misrepresenting the defeated enemy. The Levantine-influenced Hyksos as well as their ‘Asiatic’ people became the scorn of Egypt: the first ‘foreigners’ in Egyptian memory to rule their land, and the first to evidently do so with the support of both locals and foreigners. Despite attempts to cloud their reign, archaeological and historical inquiry will continue to illuminate the true nature of the Fifteenth Dynasty and its cross-cultural attributes, enhancing our knowledge of Egyptian-Levantine affairs, and strengthening our understanding of the Hyksos.

 

Ancient Mayan Superhighways Found in the Guatemala Jungle

Ancient Mayan Superhighways Found in the Guatemala Jungle – Seeker
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An ancient network of roads that stretched over 150 miles has been discovered in the jungle of Guatemala, according to high-tech scanning carried out in the area.

Used by the Maya for travel and transporting goods, the causeways were identified in the Mirador Basin, which lies in the far northern Petén region of Guatemala, within the largest tract of virgin tropical forest remaining in Central America.

Also known as the Kan Kingdom, El Mirador is considered the cradle of Mayan civilization. Prior to its abandonment in 150 A.D., it was the largest city-state in the world both in size — 833 square miles — and population. It boasted the largest known pyramid in Central America, and was home to at least one million people.

Researchers have known about the presence of these roads since 1967, when British Mayanist Ian Graham published a map of Mirador showing causeways crossing the swamp regions. Now laser-based remote sensing has been used to map the area, providing new insights into the massive system of superhighways.

The Light Detection and Ranging tool, known as LiDAR, is capable of penetrating the thick jungle vegetation at a rate of 560,000 dots per second, producing detailed images that mimic a 3-D view of the scanned areas.

“LiDAR uses laser pulses that bounce from the Earth’s surface through leaves and back to a computer mounted in a plane,” said Arlen Chase, an archaeologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who is working on the project. “While most people felt the technology would not be successful based on past experiments in Central America, we became convinced by 2006 that it could be used to determine what was on the ground in terms of Maya sites under the jungle canopy.”

Researchers with the Mirador Basin Project, which is led by archaeologist and anthropologist Richard D. Hansen of the University of Utah, have so far scanned and analyzed more than 430 square miles of the basin.

“The results were beyond our wildest expectations,” Chase said.

LiDAR-derived images accurately portrayed structures, agricultural terraces, pyramids, canals, corrals and a network of 17 roads.

Hansen, who has been excavating causeways since 1990, has found detailed evidence of the roads’ construction, destinations and locations.

“With the LiDAR technology, we have been able to investigate the incredible size and complexity of these causeways,” he said, revealing that the Maya rivaled the ancient Romans in road construction skills.

LiDAR was capable of penetrating thick jungle vegetation at the northern Guatemalan regions where the roads were detected. Credit: FARES 2016“These causeways are 130 feet wide, up to 20 feet high and in some cases they extend as far as 25 miles,” Hansen said.

The first building of the causeway between Mirador and Tindall and Mirador and Nakbe dates to 600 and 400 B.C., while other causeways date from 300 BC to 100 A.D.

“The creation of these causeways allowed unification of what appears to be the first state-level society in the Western Hemisphere,” Hansen added.

According to Hansen and colleagues, the sophisticated system of corrals, or animal pens, that was identified through the LIDAR scans may have been established first by the inhabitants of Mirador.

This would suggest that meat production in the Mirador Basin existed at an industrial level, with transportation relying on the superhighways.

“The causeways allowed transport of food, materials, tribute, rulers, armies and all the trappings of political, economic and social complexity,” Hansen explained. “The system is similar to the autobahn system in Germany, or the freeway system in the U.S., and allows unification, homogeneity of society and permits the administration of centralized government.”

LiDAR image showing features and causeways within the Guatemalan forest. Credit: FARES 2016.The discovery of the ancient network of roads will provide the Cuenca Mirador researchers with more Maya sites to investigate. Hansen and his colleagues believe the new findings may help to understand why the Mirador Basin civilization declined after 150 A.D.

The collapse is being investigated by a variety of researchers from 34 universities and institutions from around the world.

The Mirador Basin is currently being considered for protection by the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala as a wilderness area. The site lies in the heart of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, which is considered one of the environmental and cultural lungs of the Americas.

The Parables of Jesus

Jesus’ parables were among the earliest of his sayings to be collected. One collection of parables formed the basis of the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. The author of the Gospel of Matthew then used this Markan material and added more parables from other sources, thus assembling in a unified speech in chapter 13 seven parables: the parables of the Sower (Matthew 13:1–9), the Tares (13:24–30), the Mustard Seed (13:31–32), the Leaven (13:33), the Hidden Treasure (13:44), the Pearl of Great Price (13:45–46), and the Drag-net (13:47–50). Most of these parables will be read this summer from church lectionaries, which provide biblical passages to be read during Sunday services.

By the time these parables were written down, they had gone through a long period of use by Christian churches, sometimes significantly altering their original meaning. That is most evident in the Parable of the Sower, to which already Mark (4:13–20 = Matthew 13:18–23) had added an allegorical interpretation in which each feature of the parable is given a special meaning. In the Parable of the Sower, the allegorical interpretation understands the different types of earth on which the seed falls as four types of people who receive the word of God: (1) those from whom Satan is able to snatch the word, (2) those who receive it at first joyfully but then lose faith in times of persecution, (3) those in whom the word cannot grow because they are deceived by wealth, and (4) those in whom the word takes root and grows and brings fruit 30-, 60-, 100-fold.

Such an understanding is fundamentally different from the original meaning of Jesus’ words. As Jesus told the parable, it was much shorter, more like the brief version found in the recently discovered non-canonical Gospel of Thomas (#9):

Now the sower went out and took a handful of seeds and scattered them. Some fell on the road; the birds come and gathered them. Others fell on rock, and did not take root in the soil and did not produce ears. And others fell on thorns; they choked the seed and worms ate them. And others fell on good soil and it produced good fruit; it bore 60 per measure and 120 per measure.

In this form, the parable focuses only on the seed that fell on good soil and brought unbelievably rich fruit, while the seeds that were wasted and produced nothing are mentioned only for the sake of contrast. This is what the kingdom of God is like: Although much of the seed is lost, and although the sower is rather careless throwing so many seeds on the road, on rock and under the thorns, the results are nevertheless rich beyond belief. Thus Jesus originally illustrated God’s power to do miracles. The point of this parable was therefore analogous to the parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven.

The Parable of the Tares (Matthew 13:24–30) also received a secondary allegorical interpretation in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 13:36–43): the “sower of the good seed” is the Son of Man, the “field” is the world, “the good seeds” are the sons of the kingdom, “the bad seeds” are the sons of the evil one, the “enemy” is the devil and the final burning after the harvest is the last judgment. However, the parable originally did not speak of wheat and weeds and burning with hidden meanings. Rather, it told a simple story about a farmer who had sown good-quality seed in his field and had the patience to wait, as a wise farmer would, in spite of all the weeds growing up together with the wheat. Jesus thus admonished his hearers to be patient and trusting and not to be alarmed if they see so much evil in the world.

Matthew’s tendency to understand parables as allegories with hidden meanings is finally all too evident in his interpretation of the Parable of the Drag-Net. In its original form the parable spoke about the wisdom of selecting that which is good. As the parable is told in the Gospel of Thomas (#8), it is still clear that it wants to illustrate wisdom:

The man is like a wise fisherman who cast his net into the sea and drew it up from the sea full of small fish. Among them the wise fisherman found a fine large fish. He threw all the small fish back into the sea and chose the large fish without difficulty.

 


One of the most famous parables of Jesus is the Good Samaritan parable, yet it is frequently misunderstood. Read “Understanding the Good Samaritan Parable” in Bible History Daily.


Matthew 13:49–50 on the other hand, changed the conclusion so that it pointed to the Final Judgment: “So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire.”

As the parables were told originally by Jesus, they were addressed to all people and could be understood by all. They did not communicate a hidden meaning that only the initiated insider could discover through complicated allegorical interpretation. Scholars have come to recognize that the allegorical meanings were added to the parables at a later stage of transmission. By the time the parables appear in the canonical Gospels, they were thought to be understandable only to those who have received “the mystery [or mysteries] of the kingdom,” and that they conceal their true message so outsiders would not be able to comprehend them (Matthew 13:10–15 = Mark 4:10–12). The church, characterizing the parables as secret teaching, claimed them as a peculiar Christian doctrine and used them to explain experiences in the life of Christian communities. Christians wanted to know why so many people were losing their faith during persecution (“the word had not taken root in their soul,” Matthew 13:21), why others could not develop their faith to bear fruit (“wealth had deceived them,” Matthew 13:22) and whether evil-doers would eventually be punished (“at the end of the age, they will be thrown into the eternal fire,” Matthew 13:42, 50). However, the original parables are still preserved and their message can still be heard: They speak of patience, wisdom and trust in God’s power.

 

Helmut Koester was the John H. Morison Research Professor of Divinity and Winn Research Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Harvard Divinity School, where he had taught since 1958. His research was primarily in the areas of New Testament interpretation, history of early Christianity, and archaeology of the early Christian period. He passed away on January 1, 2016.

Neolithic Man’s Face Reconstructed

LONDON, ENGLAND—The face of a man who lived 9,500 years ago in Jericho, near the Jordan River in the West Bank, has been reconstructed based on a scan of his skull, according to a report from Seeker. The “Jericho Skull” is one of seven discovered by archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon in 1953 and is now housed at the British Museum. It consists of a face modeled in plaster over a man’s skull. “He was certainly a mature individual when he died, but we cannot say exactly why his skull, or for that matter the other skulls that were buried alongside him, were chosen to be plastered,” says Alexandra Fletcher of the British Museum. “It may have been something these individuals achieved in life that led to them being remembered after death.” The 3-D reconstruction of the man’s face was produced using a micro-CT scan of the skull, which detected the structure of his face bones. The scan revealed that the man had broken and decayed teeth and a healed broken nose, and that his head had been bound from a young age to alter the shape of his skull, which suggests that he had elite status.Jericho skull facial reconstruction

http://www.archaeology.org/news/5086-161212-jericho-skull-facial-reconstruction

Does the Gospel of Mark Reveal Jesus’ Anger or His Compassion?

 

Codex Bezae

In the fifth-century C.E. Codex Bezae, an early edition of the New Testament written in Greek, the Gospel of Mark describes Jesus’ anger before healing a leper (Mark 1:41). While later scribes changed Jesus’ anger to compassion, it is likely that Codex Bezae preserves the original reading. Image: Cambridge University Library/ff.288v & 289r from Nn.2.41.

Textual variants among ancient manuscripts aren’t usually as controversial as chapter 1, verse 41 of the Gospel of Mark. Sometimes one scribe spelled a word differently on his manuscript, while another might have accidentally skipped or repeated some of the text he was copying. These cases are minor variants and don’t really change the meaning of the text. Other times, however, scribes added to or even changed text to clarify a passage or suit the theological preferences of their communities. That’s when things get interesting, and this passage in the Gospel of Mark offers an especially intriguing example.

In Mark 1:41, a leper has approached Jesus seeking to be healed. Most Greek manuscripts (the New Testament was originally written in Greek), as well as later translations, say that Jesus was moved with compassion and healed the man. A few manuscripts, however, say that Jesus’ anger was kindled before he healed him. So did the verse mean to convey Jesus’ anger or his compassion? If this were a popularity contest, the “compassion” reading would surely win. In 1998, the authoritative book Text und Textwert recorded only two Greek manuscripts (and a few early Latin ones) that contained the reading expressing Jesus’ anger. But, as Dr. Jeff Cate announced in The Folio,* the bulletin of the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center at the Claremont School of Theology, close examination of one of those two Greek manuscripts has shown that it does not contain the word for either anger or compassion. Just as Matthew and Luke did when retelling Mark’s story in their gospels (cf. Matthew 8:2–4; Luke 5:12–16), the scribe of this Markan manuscript simply left it out.

This now leaves the other Greek manuscript, the fifth-century C.E. Codex Bezae, as the sole Greek witness to the reading expressing Jesus’ “anger.” Much like the cheese in “The Farmer in the Dell,” Codex Bezae stands alone.

Mark

Mark composes his account of the life of Jesus in this scene from a 12th-century manuscript from Constantinople.

But most interesting of all, the Codex Bezae may in fact have the better (i.e., original) reading. As New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman pointed out in a 2005 article in Bible Review, “one factor in favor of the ‘angry’ reading is that it sounds wrong.”**It is much easier to believe that early scribes were troubled by Jesus’ anger and changed it to his feeling compassion, rather than the other way around. Later scribes also would have preferred the easier “compassion” reading and copied it until it became the more popular reading. (As Ehrman explains, there are other passages in the Gospel of Mark that seem to support the reading conveying Jesus’ anger.) Thus does Codex Bezae now stand as a lonely witness to what is very likely the original Greek text of Mark 1:41.

Gospel of John Commentary: Who Wrote the Gospel of John and How Historical Is It?

Gospel of John Commentary: Who Wrote the Gospel of John and How Historical is It?

The Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, tell the story of the life of Jesus. Yet only one—the Gospel of John—claims to be an eyewitness account, the testimony of the unnamed “disciple whom Jesus loved.” (“This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true” [John 21:24]). “Who wrote the Gospel of John?” is a question that remains unanswered, though noted theologians throughout the ages maintain that it was indeed the disciple John who penned the famous Biblical book.

Gospel of John commentary is easy to find—some of the most famous theologians in history have closely examined the text and underscored its importance from as early as the beginning of the third century. It is believed that Origen, an Alexandrian Christian scholar and theologian, wrote his Gospel of John commentary while in Alexandria at some point after 218 A.D. St. Augustine—a famous fourth century church father—contributed no fewer than 124 tractates in his Gospel of John commentary, while St. Thomas’s Gospel of John commentary of the 13th century is still highly regarded today by modern scholars.

We may never know for certain who wrote the Gospel of John, any more than we can know who wrote the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke. We do know that John is a gospel apart, however. Early Matthew, Mark and Luke are so alike in their telling that they are called the Synoptic Gospels, meaning “seen together”—the parallels are clear when they are looked at side by side. Matthew and Luke follow the version of events in Mark, which is thought by scholars to be the earliest and most historically accurate Gospel. John, however, does not include the same incidents or chronology found in the other three Gospels, and the fact that it is so different has spurred a debate over whether John’s Gospel is historical or not, something that has been noted in Gospel of John commentary for hundreds—even thousands—of years.

Several hypotheses have attempted to explain why so much of Jesus’ life not portrayed in the Synoptics is present in John and vice versa. One hypothesis claims that John recorded many of the events that occurred before the arrest of John the Baptist, while the Synoptics all have Jesus’ ministry beginning only after the arrest. Another holds that John was written last, by someone who knew about the other three Gospels, but who wished to write a spiritual gospel instead of an historical one. This would mean that the person who wrote the Gospel of John would not have been a contemporary of Jesus, and therefore would not have been an eyewitness as the author claims. There is also the possibility that the author of John did not know of Mark and hence did not have the same information.

One of the facts in dispute among the four Gospels is the length of Jesus’ ministry. According to the Synoptics, it lasted only about a year, while John has Jesus ministering between two and three years. The Jesus of John’s telling also knew Jerusalem well and had traveled there three or four times. The Synoptics, however, have Jesus visit Jerusalem only once. In John, Jesus had friends near Jerusalem, including Mary, Martha and Lazarus of the town of Bethany, which is just outside of the city on the east slope of the Mount of Olives.

The author of John also knew Jerusalem well, as is evident from the geographic and place name information throughout the book. He mentions, among others, the Sheep Gate Pool (Bethesda), the Siloam Pool and Jacob’s Well. The geographic specificity lends credence to the John’s account.

Another aspect of John that may be more historically accurate than the Synoptics is the account of the crucifixion and the events that led up to it. The Synoptics say that Jesus’ Last Supper was the Passover meal—held that year on a Thursday evening (Jewish holidays begin at sunset)—and they would have us believe that the Sanhedrin, the high court, gathered at the beginning of a major holiday to interrogate Jesus and hand him over to the Romans. John, in contrast, has Jesus handed over for crucifixion on “the day of Preparation of Passover week, about the sixth hour.” According to John, the Last Supper is not a Passover meal (because the holiday that year did not start until Friday evening), and Jesus is crucified and buried before Passover begins. In John’s account Jesus becomes the Passover sacrificial lamb, which was offered the afternoon before the Passover holiday. Some scholars suggest that John may be more historical regarding the crucifixion than the other three Gospels.

Given John’s familiarity with Jerusalem and its environs, it is very possible that he had visited the Pool of Siloam, which he mentions in connection with the story of the curing of the blind man (a story that appears only in John’s Gospel). It is that pool that has only recently been uncovered.

What’s Missing from Codex Sinaiticus, the Oldest New Testament?

Compare differences between the King James Version and Codex Sinaiticus

Two hundred years after Constantine Tischendorf’s birth, questions remain as to the conditions of his removal of Codex Sinaiticus from St. Catherine’s Monastery. Dating to the mid-fourth century C.E., Codex Sinaiticus is the oldest complete manuscript of the New Testament. In his article “Hero or Thief? Constantine Tischendorf Turns Two Hundred” in the September/October 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Stanley E. Porter contends that Tischendorf should be considered a hero, not a thief.

codex-sinaiticus

 

The text of Codex Sinaiticus differs in numerous instances from that of the authorized version of the Bible in use during Tischendorf’s time. For example, the resurrection narrative at the end of Mark (16:9–20) is absent from the Codex Sinaiticus. So is the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer: “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” (Matthew 6:13). The woman caught in adultery from John 8 is omitted in Codex Sinaiticus. According to James Bentley, Tischendorf was not troubled by the omission of the resurrection in Mark because he believed that Matthew was written first and that Mark’s gospel was an abridged version of Matthew’s gospel. If this were true, the absence of resurrection in Mark would not be a problem because it appears in the older Matthean gospel. Modern scholarship generally holds that Mark is in fact the oldest of the Synoptic Gospels, which could cause theological concerns over the omitted resurrection.

One other omission in Codex Sinaiticus with theological implications is the reference to Jesus’ ascension in Luke 24:51. Additionally, Mark 1:1 in the original hand omits reference to Jesus as the Son of God.

Below, see a visual comparison of these and other differences between the King James Version and Codex Sinaiticus.

The Markan Resurrection (Mark 16: 1–14)

King James Version
1 “And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary themother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.
2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.
3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?
4 And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.
5 And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted.
6 And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.
7 But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.
8 And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to anyman; for they were afraid.
9 Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.
10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.
11 And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.
12 After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.
13 And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them.
14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.
15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
20 And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
Codex Sinaiticus
1 “And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.
2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.
3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?
4 And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.
5 And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted.
6 And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.
7 But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.
8 And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to anyman; for they were afraid.

 

The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13)

King James Version
9 Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
Codex Sinaiticus
Father,
Hallowed be thy name,Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done, as in heaven, so upon earth.

Give us day by day our daily bread

And forgive us our sins, as we ourselves also forgive every one that is indebted to us.

And bring us not into temptation.

 

The woman caught in adultery (John 8: 3–11)

King James Version
3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
Codex Sinaiticus
Completely absent.

 

Significant omitted verses

King James Version
Luke 24:51: “And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.”Mark 1:1: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;”

Luke 9:55–56: “But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.”

Codex Sinaiticus
Omits “carried up into heaven.” Leaving no ascension in the Gospels.

Omits “the Son of God.”

Not present.

 


 

Alterations perhaps due to later theological beliefs

King James Version
Mark 1:41: “And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean.”Matthew 24:36: “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”

Codex Sinaiticus
“Jesus, angry, stretched out his hand and touched him…”

“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only.”

 

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