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The Non-Pauline Oppression of Women

In my previous post I argued that the view of women in 1 Timothy 2:12-15 does not coincide with Paul’s own teachings, and that it therefore is probably not something that Paul wrote.  (This is a standard view among scholars, that Paul did not write 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus; there are compelling reasons for this view, which I could go into if anyone really wants to know….)  But doesn't Paul say something similar in his undisputed letters, in the harsh words of 1 Cor 14:34-35? Indeed, this passage is *so* similar to that of 1 Tim 2:11-15, and so unlike what Paul says elsewhere, that many scholars are convinced that these too are words that Paul himself never wrote, words that were later inserted into the letter of 1 Corinthians by a scribe who wanted to conform Paul's views to those of the Pastoral epistles.  The parallels are obvious when the two passages are placed side by side. (AND if I knew *how* to place them side by side in Word Press, they [...]

Paul, the Pastorals, and Women

Based on what I said in the previous post, Paul's attitude toward women in the church may seem inconsistent, or at least ambivalent.  Women could participate in his churches as ministers, prophets, and even apostles.  But they were to maintain their social status as women and not appear to be like men.  This apparent ambivalence led to a very interesting historical result.  When the dispute over the role of women in the church later came to a head, both sides could appeal to the apostle's authority in support of their views.  On one side were those who urged a complete equality between men and women in the churches.  Some such believers told tales of Paul's own female companions, women like Thecla, who renounced marriage and sexual activities, led ascetic lives, and to taught male believers in church.  On the other side were those who urged women to be in complete submission to men.  Believers like this could combat the tales of Thecla and other women leaders by portraying Paul as an apostle who insisted on [...]

Paul’s View of Women in the Church

In this thread I have been talking about the role of women in the early church, starting with the ministry of Jesus, then in the churches of Paul (the first churches we have any real record of). In this post I continue by reflecting on Paul’s actual *views* of women; this strikes me as a particularly important topic since Paul is frequently condemned as the first Christian misogynist (or at least one of the first bad ones). Is that justified? The following represents some of my reflections as found in my discussion in my textbook on the NT for university students. The apostle Paul did not know the man Jesus nor, probably, any of his women followers. Moreover, many of the things that Paul proclaimed in light of Jesus' death and resurrection varied from the original message heard by the disciples in Galilee. For one thing, Paul believed that the end had already commenced with the victory over the forces of evil that had been won at Jesus' cross and sealed at his resurrection. Not [...]

Jesus’ Association with Women

In my previous point I talked about the traditions that indicated that Jesus associated with women publicly during his ministry – in an attempt to use established historical criteria to know whether the prominence of women in the earliest Christian communities may have had precedence in the life of Jesus himself. What about the contextual credibility of these traditions? It is true that women were generally viewed as inferior by men in the ancient world (see below). But there *were* exceptions: philosophical schools like the Epicureans and the Cynics, for example, advocated equality for women. Of course, there were not many Epicureans or Cynics in Jesus' immediate environment of Palestine, and our limited sources suggest that women, as a rule, were generally even more restricted in that part of the empire with respect to their abilities to engage in social activities outside the home and away from the authority of their fathers or husbands. Is it credible, then, that a Jewish teacher would have encouraged and promoted such activities? We have no solid evidence to [...]

Women in the Ministry of Jesus

In my previous post I tried to show that women – contrary to what one might think – were quite prominent in the ministry and churches established by Paul. One naturally wonders why that might be, given the fact that women came to be silenced in later Christian traditions (continuing on in some rather notable circles today). One answer for why women played important roles in the life of the early church is that they may have played an important role in the life of the historical Jesus. As readers of this blog know, it is not an easy matter establishing what actually happened in Jesus’ life. Historians need to apply historical criteria to all of the traditions that survive about Jesus: independent attestation (if a tradition is independently attested in multiple sources, it is more likely to be authentic); dissimilarity (if a tradition cuts against the grain of what Christians would have wanted to say about Jesus, it is more likely authentic); and contextual coherence (any tradition that cannot make sense in a first [...]

Women in the Churches of Paul

QUESTION: Looking back to June 14 you listed 7 topics you were discussing at the Apocrypha Seminar at the National Humanities Center. I don't believe we have discussed much of anything on feminism. It seems a broad subject for rich discussion. Were women disenfranchised later or were they denied any major roll right from the start? Of course, Dan Brown could be brought into the subject!   RESPONSE: I’ll probably keep Dan Brown out of it! J Well, unless I feel inspired to talk a bit about Mary Magdalene and what we really do and don’t know about her, later on. But maybe it would be good to devote a few posts to the question of women in the early church. Our earliest author, of course, is Paul, and Paul’s views of women are widely misunderstood. In my NT course I have every student participate, as part of their grade, in a formal debate on this or that topic. The topics are meant to be controversial, and one of them, years ago, was “Resolved: The [...]

Suffering and My Blog

For over a week now I’ve been dealing with a question concerning my views on suffering.  I could go on for days and days, weeks and weeks, about how the problem of suffering is discussed by the writers of the Bible and how I see it from my own perspective.   But it’s not the most cheerful of subjects and I need/want to move on to other things.   I’ve said enough to make my basic points, I think (if anyone wants more on any specific related topic, just let me know and I can squeeze it in): suffering is a real problem for anyone who stands firmly within the Judeo-Christian tradition, where God is understood to be the all-powerful Creator of all there is and Sovereign over what he created, and yet there is horrible suffering going on around us all the time – and has been since time immemorial.  How does one explain that? The biblical authors have many different ways of explaining it.   The prophets have one way, the prose author of Job another [...]

2017-12-31T20:43:35-05:00July 25th, 2013|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Evaluation of Job’s View of Suffering

When I evaluated the short story of Job – found now in the first two and the final chapters of the book – I indicated that I love it as a story. But I do not at *all* find its view of suffering (why it happens) satisfactory. Just the contrary – I find it offensive and even somewhat repulsive. That God would kill innocent children in order to see whether their loving father would curse him seems completely beyond the pale to me. And now, what about the poetic section in chapters 3-41, Job’s dialogues with his three, and then four, friends, and God’s final response to Job in which he silences his claims and protestations by revealing himself in all his awesome and completely overwhelming glory? Here too I find the book mesmerizing and powerful, a real masterpiece of dialogue that reaches a breath-taking climax. This is one of the great pieces of literature from antiquity. But again I find the view of suffering it presents to be completely inadequate and offensive. Let me [...]

2020-04-03T18:20:43-04:00July 23rd, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

Suffering in the Poetic Section of Job

To make sense of the following post, you should probably read yesterday's! ********************************************************************************************************************** Over the years scholars have proposed a wide range of options for interpreting this closing back and forth between God from the whirlwind and Job cowing down in awe before him. This interpretive decision is important, for in some sense the entire meaning of the poetic dialogue hinges on how we understand its climactic ending. One thing that is clear to all interpreters: the view of traditional wisdom is wrong: it is not the case that only the wicked suffer and the righteous prosper. Job really was innocent, and yet he suffered. But why? The answer depends on how we understand God’s awesome appearance at the end and Job’s response. Among some of the leading options of interpretation are the following. • Job finally gets what he wants (in a good way): an encounter with God. This interpretation is true to a point, but the problem with it is that Job does not actually get what he wants, which is a chance [...]

2020-04-03T18:20:51-04:00July 22nd, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

Key Passages in Job’s Back and Forth

  As waters fail from a lake                 And a river wastes away and dries up So mortals lie down and do not rise again;                 Until the heavens are no more , they will not awake                 Or be roused out of their sleep. (14:11-12) At times God’s attacks on Job are portrayed in extremely violent and graphic terms.                 I was at ease, and he broke me in two;                                 He seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces;                 He set me up as his target;                                 His archers surround me.                 He slashes open my kidneys, and shows no mercy;                                 He pours out my gall on the ground.                 He bursts upon me again and again;                                 He rushes at me like a warrior. (16:12-14)   FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, NOW'S YOUR CHANCE!!! Throughout it all, Job maintains his own integrity and refuses to confess to sins that he has [...]

2020-04-03T18:21:02-04:00July 21st, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

The Poetic Section of Job

In my last couple of posts I dealt with the short story of Job and evaluated its view of suffering.  For the next two or three posts I’ll talk about poetic section that takes up the bulk of the book, chs. 3-42.   This is how I discuss these sections in my new Bible Intro (due out in the Fall). *********************************************** Since the same characters appear in the poetic section of the book as in the prose narrative, either the author of the poetry was familiar with the story in a written form, or there were various accounts of Job and his friends floating around in oral circulation in ancient Israel.   Along with Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz, a fourth friend comes to be introduced as well into the poetic section, a man named Elihu. I have a called this large middle section a “poetic dialogue.”  That is because, obviously, it is set in poetry and because it involves a discussion between Job and his friends, whose friendly advice is actually filled with animosity and condemnation.   The [...]

2020-10-23T04:15:18-04:00July 20th, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

Evaluation of Job’s Short Story

                In my previous post I laid out the “short story” of Job – the prose narrative that begins and ends the book that was, I contended, originally a free-standing story that existed independently of the poetic dialogues between Job and his friends that take up the great bulk of the book (this isn’t my idea: it’s been a standard view in scholarship for a long time).   This short story has a different view of Job, of the reason for his suffering, of his response to suffering, and just about everything else from the poetic exchanges of chapter 3-42.   Interpretations simply get fuzzy and confused when they treat the book as a literary whole – or at least the views of each of the two constituent parts gets completely altered when they are combined together into a rather large work, as was done by an unknown editor who spliced them into the book that we now have today.                 And so, just sticking with what we find in the [...]

2017-12-31T20:48:41-05:00July 19th, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

The Prose Story of Job

I’ve decided to devote a few posts to the book of Job.   I’ll separate out the two authors and their accounts, and in this post talk about the prose narrative that begins and ends the book – that originally was just one story, without all the intervening materials (chs. 3-39) present in them. The book begins by describing Job, who is not, as it turns out, an Israelite.  He comes from the land of Uz , which appears to be a fictional place.  Job nonetheless worships Yahweh, and is unusually righteous and upright.  As a result God has rewarded him handsomely.  He has a large family – seven sons and three daughters – and an unbelievable number of sheep, camels, oxen, donkeys, and servants.   He is so righteous that he not only makes sure that he himself never sins, but he regularly offers burnt sacrifices to God on behalf of his children in case any of them has sinned. One day the “sons of God” come up to God in heaven, including one called Satan.  [...]

2020-04-03T18:21:20-04:00July 17th, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

The Two Books of Job

In my previous post I mentioned that the book of Job is almost certainly the work of two different authors, with two different views – of Job, of Job’s relation with God, of the reason for Job’s sufferings, of Job’s reaction to suffering, and just about everything else. I’ve been asked to give reasons that scholars have (long) thought that this is the case – that there are two different works that have been spliced together. Here I’ll lift my introduction to Job from my yet-to-be-published textbook on the Bible, due to come out in the Fall. In my next post or so I’ll say a few words at greater length about the views of suffering in the two different parts of Job.   ***************************************************************************** One of the difficulties that most readers have with Job – possibly without realizing that they are having the problem – is that they do not realize that this book is not simply the work of one author with one consistent view of how to explain the problem of suffering, [...]

2020-04-03T18:21:27-04:00July 16th, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

Personal Response to Suffering?

QUESTION: I would like to know more about your personal beliefs regarding the god issue and human suffering in all of it’s forms…all forms…war, poverty, governmental responsibility in suffering, population explosion, church persecutions and tortures…everything.  I’m not just referring to your book on the history of the problem of suffering (God’s Problem) but your personal thoughts about it and how you are involved to help alleviate suffering and what you think the future of humanity is since there seems to be no stop to suffering.  Suffering (not just people but animals) is of great concern to me and I see no solution…ever.   REPLY: For the past week or ten days I’ve been answering questions one at a time, one post per question.  This is the kind of question that makes me feel a whole series of posts coming on, a real thread.   We’ll see. The first thing to say is that God’s Problem is not really about the history of the problem of suffering, or the history of the discussion of the problem of [...]

Jesus’ Literacy

QUESTION: I don't know if you have covered this or not, but how about the issue of whether Jesus was literate or not? I came across a recent book on titled "Jesus' Literacy: Scribal Culture and the Teacher from Galilee" by Chris Keith, and the topic sounds interesting.   RESPONSE: Yes indeed, it’s a very interesting – and much debated – issue. I have not yet read Chris Keith’s book, but it’s on my (very long) list. I do know what he argues (since I just asked him in an email): he thinks that Jesus was not trained in reading and writing, the way scribes in Palestine were; but it may be that lower class people who heard Jesus engage in serious discussion over the meaning of the Torah may well have *mistaken* him for someone who was. Scribes themselves would have looked on him as not up to their standards. I’ll have to read the book before passing judgment. But basically, it sounds like he and I are on the same page. Here [...]

Personal, Executive Privilege: My Daughter and Homeschooling!

I have made an executive decision to post something completely unrelated to Christianity in Antiquity.   So please indulge me!   It’s short... My daughter Kelly launched her new business this month - Lavender's Blue Homeschool.  She supports families who want to homeschool with a thoughtful, holistic, and creative approach over at her website and she just released her first curriculum - the complete guide to Waldorf-inspired kindergarten at home.  If you know anyone who is interested in or is doing homeschooling, this is a top-rate curriculum that really should be on their radar-screen.   You can connect with her on facebook @lavendersbluehomeschool or on her blog at where she writes all about peaceful parenting, holistic homeschooling, magical childhood, and enjoying the early years at home. Any of you who are so inclined, please spread the word!

2013-07-11T11:14:11-04:00July 11th, 2013|Public Forum|

Jesus and Sacrifices

QUESTION: Would it be accurate to say that after Jesus' death the first-century Christians turned him into an enduring symbol of the very sacrificial system that he himself rejected in life? By 'sacrificial system' I'm referring both to the ancient lamb/goat-based traditions surrounding Yom Kippur, as well as to the later lamb sacrifices conducted by the Jerusalem temple priests during Jesus' day, etc. And, by the word 'rejected,' I'm wondering if Jesus having upset the moneychanger's tables at the temple was his way of disparaging the very notion of paying money to buy a lamb for a priest to sacrifice in order to atone for one's sins.   RESPONSE: This is an interesting question, with several intriguing aspects: 1) Did Jesus reject the Jewish sacrificial system? 2) Did his followers borrow their imagery for the salvific character of his death from the Jewish sacrificial system? 3) If so, were they not embracing precisely what he abandoned? I think the easiest question to answer is #2: Yes, I think the early followers of Jesus did see [...]

2020-04-03T18:22:33-04:00July 11th, 2013|Early Judaism, Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Paul’s Chronology

QUESTION: Could you give some of the clues scholars have regarding the dating of Paul's letters?   RESPONSE: This seems like it ought to be an easy question to answer, a real softball. But it’s not; it’s a tough one, a hard curve. Different scholars have different likes and dislikes within their own fields. Most New Testament scholars, for example, do not enjoy doing textual criticism – the reconstruction of the oldest attainable form of the text based on our surviving manuscripts. In fact, most are not trained in it and want nothing to do with it. When I started in my career, on the other hand, that was the one thing I was completely passionate about. Different strokes for different folks. There are some scholars who want nothing to do with the Synoptic Problem, and others who have worked on it for thirty years. And there are scholars who simply cannot get interested in establishing a chronology of Paul’s life and letters, and others who want to do almost nothing else. I’m afraid when [...]

2020-04-03T18:22:40-04:00July 10th, 2013|Paul and His Letters, Reader’s Questions|

Early Christianity in Egypt

About two months ago, in May, I was feeling pretty burned out; I had just finished my manuscript on How Jesus Became God and my brain was reasonably fried. At that point, I had trouble imagining being able to come up with posts for the blog for a while, and so I asked if anyone had any questions they would like to have answered. And so once again I have learned my lesson: Be careful what you ask for! Since then I’ve been answering the questions I received (the long series of posts on Matthew were ultimately from one of the questions). I’m, maybe, half way through the list. And questions keep coming in. So I think what I’m going to TRY to do now is simply answer the remaining ones, one question at a time, one per post (unless I get carried away again, as I did with the Matthew question). Feel free to keep asking questions if there are any that are burning on your brain; but realize that it may take a [...]

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