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Creative Uses of Numbers in Scripture

Here I resume my interrupted thread on the use of letters as numbers in ancient languages.   As I had indicated earlier, Greek and Hebrew did not use a different system for their alphabets and their numerals, but the letters of the alphabet played double duty, so that each letter had a numerical value.  One pay-off of that system was that every word had a numerical value, discovered simply by adding up the letters.   In Greek, for example, the six letters in the name Jesus, Ιησους , add up to 888. Or another example: in Hebrew, the three letters in the name “David” (ancient Hebrew did not have vowels, only consonants), D-V-D were worth 4-6-4, so that the name added up to 14.   That may have been significant for the genealogy of Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 1:1-17), since, as Matthew presents it, Jesus, the “son of David” had a genealogical tree that can be organized around the number 14:  between the father of the Jews, Abraham, and the greatest king of the Jews, David, was 14 generations [...]

2020-04-03T14:00:26-04:00February 17th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, History of Christianity (100-300CE)|

The Mayan Calendar, Y2K, and the Letter of Barnabas

You may have noticed that the world didn’t end two weeks ago, despite widespread anticipation. Sometimes things just don’t go as planned. It’s a strange phenomenon this expectation that the world is soon going to end; and if Christian fundamentalists and Mayan enthusiasts can’t get it right, who can? When I was a fundamentalist back in the mid 70s, I – and all my friends – were sure that the end was going to come, with the reappearance of Jesus, before the end of the 1980s. We had sure-fire biblical proof of it. I’ll give you the logic in some other post, down the line. For now all I want to say is that we were not alone in our views. Every generation of Christians from the beginning of the Christian religion until now has known fervent believers who maintained that there’s was the final generation on earth, that the end would come in their own day. As I have frequently noted, all of these die-hard prognosticators have had two things in common: every one [...]

How to Date Documents, including Barnabas

QUESTION: In a comment on my recent post on the letter of Barnabas, where I indicated that “it is almost certainly to be dated to the 130s CE (for reasons I could explain if anyone really wants to know….)” – one reader asked: I, for one, would be quite interested in the how these various works are dated. Seems like it would be of utmost importance seeing as the date of composition all but decides the question of authorship. Even if it only provides a general sense of why a particular date is hung on a manuscript or composition, I think it would be helpful.   RESPONSE: Yes, as it turns out, it is very difficult to date ancient writings; but scholars who have worked on such matters (for nearly 300 years now, in some instances) have marshaled pretty good evidence in case after case, although in many instances there continue to be substantial debates. There are several ways to establish parameters, which are fairly commonsensical. If a writing is quoted by an author whose [...]

Why Was Barnabas Attributed to Barnabas: Part 2

In my last post but one, in starting to talk about why the anonymous Letter to Barnabas was attributed by early Christians to Barnabas, best known as a one of the closest companions of Paul, I talked mainly about the mid-second century philosopher/theologian-eventually-branded-arch-heretic Marcion. You may have wondered why. In this post I’ll tell you why. VERY brief review. Recall, the letter of Barnabas is stridently anti-Jewish, claiming that the Jews never were the people of God because they had broken the covenant as soon as God had given it to them on Mount Sinai (by worshipping the Golden Calf); they misunderstood the law, taking it literally, when it was meant figuratively. Even though Jews never realized it, the OT was not a Jewish book but a Christian book, that not only anticipated Christ but proclaimed the Christian message. END of review…. The first explicit reference to this anonymous letter is in the writings of Clement of Alexandria, writing around 200 who quotes it and claims it was written by Barnabas, who, he indicates, was [...]

Why Was The Letter of Barnabas Attributed to Barnabas?

QUESTION: So why was the Letter of Barnabas thought to have been written by Barnabas?   BACKGROUND: This question was asked in reference to my discussion of “Gematria” in the Letter of Barnabas. For fuller background, if you’re interested, you should refer to this post: “Another Instance of Gematria (For Members)” (the search function on the blog is very good, btw; it is in the upper right hand corner of your screen). In that post I note that the “Letter of Barnabas” was not actually written by Barnabas. In fact, it could not have been, since it is almost certainly to be dated to the 130s CE (for reasons I could explain if anyone really wants to know….). Barnabas, the companion of Paul, must have died no later than the 70s CE, more likely the 60s – some seventy years before this letter was written. So Barnabas couldn’t have written it. FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, THE YEAR IS [...]

Another Instance of Gematria

From my last post on the gematria at work (possibly) in Matthew’s genealogy, I can’t resist adding a note about the Jewish use of gematria – or its Greek equivalent – in another early Christian writing, the epistle of Barnabas. First: two bits of background. 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!!! The epistle of Barnabas was seen as part of the New Testament by a number of early Christian writers.  It almost made it in.  It is attributed (not by the author himself, but by later readers) to Paul’s traveling companion – mentioned in Acts – Barnabas.  But the book itself is anonymous, and it was certainly not written by Barnabas, who was long dead by the time it was produced.   Scholars generally date the book to around the year 130 or so (Barnabas would have died at least 70 years earlier).   The book represents an attempt to show its Christian readers that the Jews who [...]

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