Brief Summary of Apocrypha



Carried away captive to Nineveh. Had a political post with Shalmanesar. Tobit mentions his own righteousness, his givings to the poor, and particularly his burying of Jewish corpses left out. This annoyed the king. He says that those who give to the poor are blessed. He has a son called Tobias. One day Tobit is sleeping outside and bird droppings go into his eyes giving him cataracts and leaving him blind. His son goes on a journey with a young man who is really the Angel Raphael (calls himself Azariah son of Hananiah) in disguise to get money Tobit left with Gabael at Rages. He marries Sarah. She lived in Ecbatana. She had a demon that followed here and that killed seven of her husbands on their wedding nights. Gabriel tells Tobias how to scare the demon away with a fish – and prayer. They return and heal Tobit with the Fish.


A town in Israel called Bethulia is besieged by the Assyrian army. They take control of the water supply. After 34 days the people want to surrender. Judith is a beautiful intelligent widow. She goes down with her maid – dressed up beautifully with fine clothes and jewellery. She pretends to be a deserter. The commander, Holofernes, fancies her and wants to seduce her. At a party after a few days she gets the commander drunk and then cuts off his head. She returns to Bethulia with his head. Israel’s men go out armed – the Assyrians seek out their commander and find him dead. Then their army is in disarray and is defeated by Israel. Judith was honoured in Israel- many want to marry her but she never marries again.

Wisdom of Solomon

Wisdom at creation of world (Chapter 9). Female. Barren women that are wise are well off. A list of deeds that the patriarchs did by wisdom is given similar to Hebrews 11 (Chapter 10). The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God (Chapter 3).


Sirach is a long wisdom book that was very influential with Jews and later Christians. There is an introduction that introduces the author. A particular section of interest is Chapters 44-50 which summarise a large portion of Biblical history and refer to nearly every Biblical book except Esther, … . It mentions Enoch, Elijah, Abraham, Noah, Moses – loved by God, Aaron adorned with beautiful things, Joshua, Caleb – given a long life, Ezekiel – who had the great vision, David and the prophet Nathan, Solomon had peace and was able to build the temple. Solomon led astray by women and idolatry. Rehoboam was foolish and split Israel. Hezekiah was good. Isaiah made the shadow go back and the king live longer. In that time God smote the Assyrians. Josiah is like sweet perfume. David, Hezekiah and Josiah were the good kings, the rest were bad. It also mentions that three groups are not a people – the Samaritans, those among the Philistines and those in Shechem.

Of interest to studies of Galations, it mentions the zeal of Phineas.


Brief Notes on 1 and 2 Maccabees


1 Maccabees

Alexander the Great son of Philip of Macedonia wins against Darius of the Medes and Persians. Kills many kings. When he dies  he splits his empire up among 4 generals who grew up with him.

A bit further on Antiochus Epiphanes defeats Egypt. Then wants all his lands to give up their religions and sacrifice the Greek way, and follow Greek customs to break the law and propane the sabbath. 

A gymnasium is built in Jerusalem. Some rebel and are killed. Some are attacked on the sabbath and refuse to fight back and are slaughtered.

Mattathias was a priest who rebelled against the decree to sacrifice. In medion. He was filled with zeal and killed a Jew who was sacrificing on a Greek alter. He is compared with Phineas who killed an Israelite sleeping with a Moabite. Matthias wins some victories. Then he dies and Judas his son takes over as commander; Simeon also his son is said by him to be wise and will be a father to them.

Judas beats Appolonius, defeats and kills him and uses his sword always after that. Also beats Seron and Georgias, and Lysias. Then they go and cleanse the temple and the sanctuary and strengthen the walls and towers. They then celebrated the feast of dedication for 8 days.  

A Seleucid King comes from Rome and takes over. It seems as if Jerusalem is taken over during this period.

There is a long section concerning the rise of Rome and their treaties. Judas sends an envoy to Rome to make an alliance.

There is a big battle and Judas is killed. The lament is similar to that for Saul and Jonathon. Simon and Jonathan take over. Their brother John is killed and they take revenge during a wedding.

They make peace with Bacchidus and the land has peace. 

The Maccabees family become priests rather than kings.

They have good relations with Rome and the Spartans. They send a golden shield to Rome.

The political climate is complicated. The descendants of Antiochus Epiphanes and also Demetrius are still around.

Ptolemy King of Egypt gets involved. He gives his daughter to Alexander son of Ant. Epi. Eventually he attacks Palestine and is too powerful for Alexander.

There is a lot of deceit which often leads to a Maccabee being killed.

Jonathon is killed late on and Simon takes over. Right near the end Simon and two of his sons are killed and another son John is the new high priest.

There is quite a lot of emphasis on being the friend of many kings 

2 Maccabees

Quite long introduction. Writer says Jonathon has written five books about the events. He will abbreviate. 

No Mattathias. Story starts off in Jerusalem. Judas is alive the whole time.

There is a greater emphasis on Martyrdom. The mother and seven sons in chapter 7 are tortured and killed. They rebuke their torturers, say that they are suffering for “our sins” and look forward to the resurrection. 

Seven sons seen as a great blessing and losing seven sons as an absolute disaster.

Also in Chapter 14 a man is being pursued and commits suicide looking forward to his body being remade by God.

Judas wins victory against nicanor.

There is more emphasis on being oppressed than in 1 Maccabees, where there is more emphasis on wining battles. 

A lot of the time in both books – people who are discontent go to the King or oppressor and report the Jews for doing this or that, hoping to get a position in a new order. 

Strange story about raising money for a sub offering for the dead in chapter 12.


The Early Christians


Thoughts from a short book I read published by Day One.

The conditions were good for the start of Christianity. The Greeks had spread their culture, and consequently language, far and wide throughout the Mediterranean. This meant only one language was really needed to communicate with people everywhere the early Christians went. The Romans had clamped down on Piracy (Pompeii in particular) and bandits, and made a vast network of good straight roads. This enabled relatively safe and speedy travel. Finally, the Jewish Diaspora had resulted in many Jewish communities in all the main towns and cities. There were also many God Fearers – those from pagan background interested in a religion with superior morals and one God. This meant those that spread Christianity had communities to preach to throughout the Roman world.

Morality in the Roman empire was dreadful with orgies, drunkenness, temple prostitutes etc. Christianity, and Judaism too, offered a fresh moral direction.

The early Christians were committed to helping the poor, those in prison, and held hostage. Money was often given by selling possessions or selling church silver or gold plates etc.


Echoes of Scripture in Mark


In the baptism narrative Mark uses the word “torn” to describe the opening of the heavens, and the spirit coming down. The combination of “torn” and “down” echoes Isaiah 63:15-64:4. This implies that the coming story is God’s intervention in Israel’s current situation.

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down
(Isaiah 64:1).

The coming of Jesus is not just about restoration but also judgement. This is not alluded to but was part of the background worldview.

Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
    Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light.
(Amos 5:18)


 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
    “Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight”’,

The first part about sending a messenger is not in Isaiah, this is closest to Exodus, but also Malachi. There the themes are coming into the promised land, and judgement and God coming to his temple.

20 I am going to send an angel in front of you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.
Exodus 23:20


 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.
Malachi 3:1


Initial Thoughts on Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels


I loved this book. It gives wonderfully refreshing ways of looking at how the Gospels are interlinked with scriptures.

Basically, the gospels say that the scriptures speak about Jesus. In Luke on the road to Emmaus, Jesus says that what has happened was in accordance with what was written in the law, prophets and psalms. In John, Jesus  says that Moses wrote about him. In Matthew there is a strong emphasis on fulfilment.

I was surprised  to see the number of echoes of the Psalms, and that in the crucifixion narrative there is a link made with Psalm 22, and no strong link made with Isaiah 53.

There are different types of connections. There are verbal connections where the wording is very similar to parts of the Septuagint. The reader who is well acquainted with the relevant passage will learn something extra. For example with the Isaiah passage alongside John the Baptist (in Mark and Matthew), there is a strong hint towards the divinity  of Jesus. The triumphal entry similarly hints back to the coming King.

As well as verbal connections there are visual connections. For example in John there is almost no verbal correspondence between the passage about the bronze snake being lifted up on a stick and Jesus being raised up from the earth, but there is an obvious strong verbal connection.


Matthew’s interweaving of Old Testament Texts


Matthew often quotes from more than two places. Here he has the main body from Isaiah 9, but hints from Isaiah 42, such as using ‘sat in darkness’ as in Chapter 42 rather than ‘walked in darkness’ as in Chapter 9. The implication is that Jesus is the light to the nations. There is another link with the light dawning echoing the Septuagint in spring forth in 42:9. The implication is of new things bursting forth.


Matthew 4:12-17

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.’
17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’

Isaiah 9:1-2

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.

Isaiah 42:6-9

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
    I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
    a light to the nations,
    to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord, that is my name;
    my glory I give to no other,
    nor my praise to idols.
See, the former things have come to pass,
    and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
    I tell you of them.


Summary: On Rock or Sand? John Sentamu


1. Introduction

“Stability and hope are linked to purpose and productivity”
There are vast swathes of the country, particularly outside of London, that are in serious economic difficulty with few jobs and low output. And in London growth is found at an individual level with poverty never far away.

A lot of different schemes have been tried to bring economic recovery to cities experience a downturn. Often these have not had an affect on surrounding areas, such as in Liverpool. Some successes include Leeds, and Manchester.


Notes on Abridged Talmud


I am having a quick read through an abridged version of the Talmud. Here I will just note some parts that particularly interested to me.

A real surprise was to find a story involving the birth of Abraham that seemed very similar to the star story in Matthew’s gospel.

Now it came to pass on the night of Abram’s birth… Lifting their eyes heavenward, they beheld a large and brilliant star rise before them in the east, and swallow up or consume four stars from the four corners of the heavens. The magicians wondered much at this occurrence, and they said one to the other:

“Verily, this is an omen connected with the newly-born child of Therach. When he grows up he will be fruitful and increase’ greatly in power and excellence, and his descendants will destroy this kingdom and possess its lands.



…And now, if it be pleasing to the king, we would advise him to pay the value of this child unto his father and destroy him while in his infancy, lest in the days to come, through him and his descendants, we and our children be utterly destroyed.

The first question is when was this written, and which came first. Assuming however that the Talmud comes first and that Matthew’s readers would have been familiar with it, then perhaps Matthew is implying of Jesus that “When he grows up he will be fruitful and increase’ greatly in power and excellence, and his descendants will destroy this kingdom and possess its lands.” Or something like that. This would link nicely with the opening Genealogy which starts with Abraham and the closing verses about Jesus possessing all authority on heaven and on earth.

There is also a story about a rod that came from Eden and belonged to Joseph and then Moses. There is also mention of a hairy coat from Eden.


Summary of Paul: A Man of Two Worlds by Den Heyer


This post gives a summary of C.J. Den Heyer’s book Paul: A Man of Two Worlds.

It is important to remember that Paul was someone who wrote letters. He did not write systematic theology. He wrote letters to specific people at specific times addressing specific issues.

The ‘historical’ Paul
There are about 14 letters that have in history been ascribed to Paul. Hebrews does not have the usual greeting or address specific issues but in the closing verses does mention Timothy: “I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been set free; and if he comes in time, he will be with me when I see you” (Hebrews 13:23). Its content and style seem very different to most Pauline letters so it is not believed to be written by Paul. I and II Timothy and Titus are no longer considered to be from Paul as they refer to a highly organised church set up that was not around in the time of Paul. Language and Style are also very different. II Thessalonians has also been doubted. In the first letter to the Thessalonians Paul says that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (I Thessalonians 5:1-3), implying soon and suddenly. In the second letter it will come slower and there will be signs beforehand (II Thessalonians 2:3-8). Finally Ephesians and Colossians are similar (Ephesians building on Colossians). Ephesians deals with issues that Paul would not have encountered such as the issue of a universal church. Colossians seems very close to a Pauline letter with some differences leading some to believe that a close associate such as Timothy wrote it. The author also looks at the relationship between Paul’s letters and Acts. While similar in certain places there are significant differences such as what did Paul do after his conversion. The Letter of Acts is considered to be written by the same person as Luke. As Luke is considered to be written in the 80s or 90s it could not have been written by an eye-witness. Hence discrepancies with Paul’s account.

The Life of Paul: Biographical Information
Paul refers to himself as a Jew. In the Acts he mentions that he coems from Tarsus but in the letters just Syria. He writes in Koine greek, a simpler form of classical greek. There were many diaspora Jewish communities at that time, in Babylon, Alexandria and elsewhere. The community that stayed in Babylon went on to produce the Babylonian Talmud considered better that the Palestinian Talmud. Jeremiah mentions Jewish communities running to Alexandria to escape the wrath of Persia. It was in Alexandria that the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) was written. Also much wisdom literature, for example by Philo. Tarsus was a Roman centre and would have had Roman armies staying there. It is likely that Pauls’ ancestors were tent makers for the army. In those days the Son followed in the father’s footsteps.It is noted that the Pharisees are shown in a very negative light in the gospels, though they are in no way connected to Jesus’ death. At one point they warn him about his safety (Luke 13:31-35). This negativity is said to relate to later developments between the Pharisees, who became the Jewish leaders post AD 70, and Christians. It is estimated that Paul was born in AD15. He makes no mention of being in Jerusalem when Jesus was there, and as Jesus was crucfied in AD30, and the fact that Paul went to Jerusalem as a young man, he could have come any time after AD30, when he would have been about 15 or more.

The Pharisees were very zealous and often had jobs to support themselves. They were more pragmatic than the Essenes and sought to work out lives in accordance with Torah in real-life settings. The issue of Paul being a zealot is raised. Paul often refers to himself as being very zealous. The theme of being zealous goes back to Phineas who killed an Israelite man who took a Midianite woman to his tent and were in the act of fornication. Phineas then leads a revenge war against Midian. Elijah is zealous in his killing of Jezebel’s prophets. Ezra, who is noted as being descended from Phineas (Ezra 7:5), is zealous in his removal of the foreign wives. The zealot movement in the first century got started with Judas during the Census. Although not successful it continued to gather support especially during the 40s and 50s. Some of Jesus’ disciples seem to have a link with the zealots. Most obviously there is Simon the zealot, but also James and John the sons of thunder(thunder could also be terrorist here). And Judas Iscariot – Iscariot could have been the name for a member of the very extreme Sicarii. In Acts Pauls says he was trained by Gamaliel but not in his letters. It is important to remember that Gamaliel was much more moderate towards the early Christian community than Paul. Paul may have moved away from the line taken by Gamaliel.

3. From Persecutor to Preacher
The persecution after the martyr of Stephen does not seem to have affected all the believers. Acts 8:1 mentions that the apostles were able to stay on in Jerusalem. It seems that persecution depended on the extent to which believers followed Torah or not. James the brother of Jesus, who was killed in the early 60s, apparently had a good reputation with the Pharisees. It seems unlikely that a very young diaspora Jew would have led the persecution against the early Church. More likely that he zealously supported it. Then Den Heyer looks at Apocalyptic thought compared to traditional prophecy. Was Paul apocalptic? Yes. He uses that word to  describe his encounter with Jesus.

4. Between Damascus and Antioch
Den Heyer looks at the ‘uknown’ years. Paul hardly mentions Jesus’ life on earth. This is because of his apocalyptic worldview, looking forward to the imminent coming of Jesus, and is dealing with current and future issues (“the time is short”,1 Cor 7:29). More than any other New Testament writer Paul sees the cross as a scandal and a curse. This is in contrast to John where much more positive terms like ‘lifting up’ and ‘glorification’ are used. Unlike Matthew and John, Paul very rarely speaks negatively about ‘the Jews’. He never blames the Jews for the death of Jesus or even mentions Pontius Pilate. The notion of a ‘Messiah’ figure re-gaining the throne of David is a quite late development. In Psalms of Solomon 17:21 (about 50AD) we read “Behold, O Lord, and raise up unto them their king, the son of David, at the time known to you, O God, in order that he may reign over Israel your servant”. Paul  may not always have been a zealot. He later seems to distance himself from Gamaliel, perhaps because he had become more fanatical since being taught by Gamaliel, implying that he was more moderate before. After his vision he seems to return to being more moderate in regards to Torah.

5. It began in Antioch
It is Barnabas who brings Paul into the Christian community in Antioch. The other believers seem to have given him a very frosty reception in Jerusalem and then he goes home! Barnabas was also a diaspora Jew, coming from Cyprus. Antioch was founded by Seleucus in 300BC and Jews had first come to the area as merchants following the army of Alexander the Great, and lived in the city from its beginning. In contrast to Jesus who avoided cities, the early Christians were drawn to the big great cities such as Jerusalem, Damascus and Antioch. Peter and Paul’s argument is discussed. According to Torah Jews could not eat with uncircumcised men. Peter and first accepts this but then pulls back in fear of ‘men from James’. Paul never mentions the meeting of the apostles in Jerusalem to discuss this issue (Acts 15) when dealing with the issue of circumcision in Galations. Maybe Galations came first or perhaps Paul’s beliefs developed from that rather simple compromise. Paul’s missionary zeal seems spurred on by him being a diaspora Jew and so aware of the bigger world and his apocalyptic beliefs that the promises in Isaiah and the prophets were shortly to be fulfilled and that the gentiles needed to be ready for God’s great feast. Interestingly Paul never refers to the Great Commission.

6. The first letter to the Thessalonians
The background is discussed. Paul went over to Macedonia after a dream. Persecuted in Philippi (by pagans?), then went to Thessalonica. Initial success especially with the god fearing gentiles and some prominent women, but then the Jews became jealous and caused trouble, and then Paul had to leave. Then there is correspondence in the future and Timothy visits them.

The letter tells the Thessalonians to avoid idols and immorality, and to be expectant of the Lord’s coming which could come at any moment without warning. Thessalonica had pagan temple with male and female prostitutes, and it was normal for men and women to go to the temples and sleep with them. Hence the instructions to avoid immorality.

7. Correspondence with Corinth
There are divisions in the church. Some people had thought it normal to sleep with temple prostitutes till recently. Also divisions over which leader they followed, Paul, Cephas or Apollos. Also with the city being very busy, some were making a lot of money, and others left very poor. Paul emphasises the importance of love to counteract these divisions. Paul planted the seed, Apollos watered it. Apollos was from Alexandria which was a place famous for religious and philosophical dialogue. Paul views the cross as a scandal and curse. Apart from Jesus only one person who was crucified is remembered in history, Spartacus. They were forgotten because they were failures. The community were ‘bought with a price’; this does not refer to being saved but being owned by Christ, like slaves. Paul discusses marriage. He is not an ascetic seeking spiritual encounters instead of physical ones, as he does mention husbands and wives should give themselves to each other, and not deprive each other. His preference for being single is purely practical, that he can get on with God’s work and also because the time is short and so  it is better to think about things that will last. Unity is a big theme in this letter. 1 Corinthians 12 mentions that believers form one body, and though there are differences they have to work together. The hymn to love in chapter 13 may be based on Jewish wisdom literature. Paul’s collections for the poor in Judea at the time of famine, from mainly gentile believers was not just to meet a need but also to promote unity between the groups.

8. First letter to the Community in Philipi
When reading Phillipians there is an abrupt change in tone at 3:2. It seems that this is because what we have as The Letter to the Phillipians is composed of two letters written at two different times. The first one 1 – 3:1, and 4:2-7,10-23 are looked at in this chapter. There are no big issues. Paul really appreciates their support for him and the letter is a very joyful one. This letter includes the famous Christ Psalm 2:5-11. This contains words which are not used by Paul anywhere else so it probably was not written by him. It has similarities with hymns in praise of wisdom, notably Wisdom 9:1-10 (Send her forth from the holy heavens, and from the throne of your glory send her, that she may labor at my side, and that I may learn what is pleasing to you (v10)).

9. Letter to Philemon
From the way Paul talks to Philemon it seems that they knew each other well. It is likely that he was in Colossae. Archippus and Onesimus mentioned here are also mentions in the letter to the Colossians. Paul is writing from Ephesus about 100 miles away. Onesimus is a slave but may be a higher grade slave. There may have been issues with financial dealings. Paul says if there is any debt I will pay it. Some slaves would have been at home and had little rights; others would have gone on journeys and undertook deals for their masters, and enjoyed a peaceful old age.  While Paul does not advocate the abolishment of slavery he does tell Philemon to welcome Onesimus as a ‘beloved brother’. At least in the Christian Community Paul believed that rank and status had no place.

10. Second letter to the Corinthians.
This letter is generally considered to be by Paul. However, the unity of the letter is doubted. It is believed that chapters 10 to 13 make up part of what is known as the ‘tearful letter’ that Paul refers to in 2:4. This section has a much harder tone than 1 to 9. It is also believed that the letter contains part of the ‘immorality letter’ – the very first letter Paul wrote to Corinth. Paul seems to have visited Corinth and this does not seem to have been a great success. Titus got on better. Paul speaks of a new and better covenant. This theme made it hard for Christianity to stay a part of Judaism. The believers may have been influenced by an early form of gnosticism, and so Paul writes in a way that may attract them (2 Cor 4:16…) Paul is still coming against believers going to temples and sleeping with prostitutes. In Chapter 10 it seems as though the Corinthians do not find Paul impressive in person.

11. Second letter to the community of Philippi
From 3:2 on the canonical letter of Philippians takes a much darker turn. Before the mood was upbeat and worshipful. Then in 3:2 we get “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh!” It seems that this was written on a different occasion. This is similar in content to issues in Galatians. IT could seem that Paul talks about leaving the Torah behind him as ‘refuse’. Paul’s righteousness is not based on Torah but on faith. Christ has become everything important for Paul.

12.Letter to the Galations
The province of Galatia included a region called Galatia and other areas to the south. This latter area includes Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. There are two main themes: first defending his apostleship; second dealing with the issue of circumcision. Paul appeals to the fact that the promise to Abraham that all nations came before the Torah and the Torah did not invalidate it. The Torah was given because of transgressions – in other words to highlight the issue of sin. The Law was meant to lead us to Christ. After the death and resurrection of Christ it no longer had a part to play. This meant the removing of boundaries and the possibility of one family. Part of the reason that Paul does not give a very explicit solution is that he believes the Lord is coming very soon. For Paul there were five key points in history: creation, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and the Parousia (second coming).

13. Letter to Rome
The New Testament books are generally arranged in order of decreasing length. Matthew (28), Luke (24), John (21). Mark is very similar to Matthew hence its position next to it. This is also generally true of the epistles. Romans and 1 Corinthians are the longest and Philemon is the smallest. Romans is different to most of Paul’s other letters in that it does not seem quite as ‘contextual’ – dealing with specific problems. It is also different in that Paul has not yet visited the believers.

The situation in Rome was quite unique. Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome. Seutonius (c. AD 69 – c. AD 122)- Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [the Emperor Claudius] expelled them from Rome.” Acts 18:1-2: “After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.”

This led to a unique situation – a completely gentile church, which Jewish Christians later returned to about five years later. Usually Jewish Christians came first and then were joined by Gentile Christians.

From reading Romans 16 it does seem as though Paul did know many of the believers there. Prisca and Aquilla who Paul met in Corinth have returned to Rome. So he must have been aware of some issues there. It is often considered that this letter is pure theology and does not deal with specific messy issues. It is likely that, given the situation, that unity was a key issue that Paul had to deal with. There are passages on unity in Romans that mirror material in I Cor 12-14, e.g. Romans 12:4-8. His mention of love matches up with the Torah (Lev 19.18) and with the teaching of Jesus (Mat 22:37-40).

Paul speaks about submission to authorities. The believers in Rome were literally very close to the most powerful authorities on earth at that time. The situation was delicate with Claudius being poisoned and Nero taking over at 16 years, and very inexperienced; nationalist resent was brewing in Judea.

Paul was not anti-semitic. His love his fellow Jews is seen in chapters 9-11.

The Gentile believers are called the “strong” as they d not worry about food, idols etc, whereas the returning Jewish Christians are the “weak”.

There is mention of the gospel and of faith, and the righteousness of God. At the end there is mention of parallels with the sacrifices at the mercy seat of the day of atonement.

14. A Retrospect
This is a summary. Paul’s life in two worlds is re-considered. Some of his views are challenged even in other later New Testament writings like II Thesalonians which relativized the imminent parousia of Christ. Other letters such as Colossians and Ephesians start to say more about church structures. With the belief about the imminent coming of Christ starting to wane structures were needed in the church to help it to proceed soothly long-term.

As gentiles came to believe it was apparent that the Torah was a barrier. With the cross and resurrection Paul believed a new age had come and the place of Torah was relativized.

Paul was a charismatic man reacting to issues that he had to deal with. He has to be heard in his context. He is aware that though the messianic kingdom has come, he is still sinful and still living in a sinful world.


Summary of Noah’s Flood: The Genesis Story in Western Thought by Norman Cohn


This book can be bought here:

  1. Mesopotamian Origins
    The origin of the flood story is Mesopotamia. Up till the middle of the 20th Century, when melting snow combined with very heavy rain, the Tigris and the Euphrates burst their banks and there could be lakes a hundred miles wide or so. It seems that there was a particularly bad flood in 2800BC which devastated a Sumerian city called Sharrupak. This name Sharrupak appears in some of the earliest versions of flood stories. As the name of a king and also the place.

In the Sumerian version (earliest) there are not as many details known as in the later Akkadian stories. The high god is Enlil. There is a flood. A pious King called Ziusudra seeks revelation from the gods. He then builds a big boat, is in it for seven days while the flood occurs. Afterwards he worships the sun gods and carries out animal sacrifices. He then comes to live in a heavenly realm called Dilmun.

The later Akkadain versions are found in the Arahasis Epic and the Epic of Gilgamesh. There is a high God Enlil who has lower gods to work the ground creating channels etc. They rebel and so new slave are needed. The result is the creation of man. As people become more numerous they make lots of noise and the gods are angered. Various schemes including plagues are used to keep the numbers and hence the noise down. Eventually there is a plan to flood the world and remove all human beings. One god Enki has a favourite called King Atrahasis. He tells him to build a boat which is a massive cube the size of a ziggurat. It has seven layers and has animals put inside it. After the flood Atrahasis sends out ravens to look for dry land. Then when it is over he sacrifices animals and the gods are pleased with the smell of the sacrifices.

After the flood the gods are sad. They have no food from offerings. The mother god is upset at her creatures being destroyed. There is no-one to do all the work needed. They come up with some strategies for holding back the population like miscarriage and some women become virgin priestesses.

It is thought that these tales could have been embellished by scribes. The wise god Enki seems to be an idealised divine scribe. The tales were spread to Canaan, and Turkey (Hitites), then to Greece and Rome. Greece seems to have suffered a serious flood after the collapse of a gigantic volcano into the sea during the time of Deucalion in the fifteenth century BCE.

2.The Genesis Story

The Genesis account originated from the Mesopotamian account, though perhaps not directly.

This chapter gives details of the biblical account of the flood as found in Genesis 6-9. It notes the similarities such as divine initiative,  singling out of one man, building of a boat, the raven, the sacrifice and sweet smell. It mentions that the Genesis account is composed by weaving two accounts together: J (Yahwist) and P (Priestly) accounts. Then the differences are mentioned which are very important. In the Akkadian account the God decides to kill all humans on a whim, all the gods except Enki are weak and useless; in the Hebrew Bible there is one God who is terrifying but is not morally depraved or weak.

The Jews used the flood story to talk about their experience of exile, which they believed occurred as a result of sin. It was like the world was going back to a primaeval chaos. I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light” (Jeremiah 4:23). Flood and storm were two commons metaphors back then to talk about invasion. Like in the story a remnant is saved.  The righteous are those that believe YHWH is the one true God creator of the world.

George Smith, born 1840, is discussed. He was a very bright boy who fell in live with the culture of the Ancient Near East. He used to be a bank note engraver but switched to working in the British Museum. He read lots of books about deciphering cuneiform. He was the first to decipher a flood story. He then went to Ashurbanipal’s library at Ninevah to find more tablets. He died at 36 from dysentery on his third trip.

3. Hidden Meanings
Christian theologians were very interested in viewing the Old Testament figurally. They believed everything in the OT should be understood in light of Christian revelation. Noah’s flood and ark were a favourite. As many Christian  were concerned with salvation from impending judgement, Noah’s flood seemed to have hidden messages about this. Various theologians interpreted Noah’s flood in this way: Justin, Irenaeus, Origen, Augustine etc. The flood represented the second coming of Christ and judgement and the Ark, the church in which people were saved. Noah was sometimes seen as a ‘type’ of Christ. Some people embellished what he did assigning to him roles of preaching and calling people to repentance. Augustine even believed the dimensions of the Ark were significant in pre-figuring Jesus’ body. Other explanations include the persecution of Christians. The flood also became a ‘type’ of the saving sacrament of baptism; the dove a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The return of the dove with a fig leaf was popular on early Christian graves and symbolized resurrection.

4. Filling Gaps
Many curious intellectuals and Rabis etc were interested in what lay behind the rather brief details of the flood. They looked at issues such as the sins that people carried out before hand, terrible sexual sins, murder and theft. Also details of the ark itself, how the animals were arranged, and food provisions dealt with. Apparently sexual intercourse was forbidden on board. The size and shape of the ark were discussed. Also people were curious to know where all this water could have come to to cover up to the top of the mountains. Many believed in vast subterranean lakes which water came up from in vast droves at the time of the flood. Kircher in the 1660s had found underground streams in the alps.

5. A Ruined Earth
In the late 17th century science was becoming increasingly influential. This however did not bring speculation about the flood to an end. Many tried to come up with explanations that satisfied both scientific and religious expectations. Two particularly influential spokesmen were Thomas Burnet and William Whiston, the latter succeeded Isaac Newton as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge.

Basically Burnett believed that the earth had originally been perfectly flat. According to The Sacred Theory of the Earth, the water for the flood came from subterranean seas. At the time of the flood the crust of the earth split water came up and caused the flood and during this process mountains were created and seas formed.

6. Providential Comets

Whiston believed that a comet could have contributed to the flood along with the subterranean seas. Water came from vapours in the tail and surface of the comet. This comet could also have knocked the earth of the perfect circular orbit it once had. It also caused water to come up from below.

Whiston also believed that the earth would finally be destroyed by a comet. The comet may knock the earth of its orbit so that it becomes closer to the sun and so the surface will burn up.

The famous Edmund Halley also had similar though less known beliefs.

7. Problematic Fossils

Fossils of sea creatures were often found far inland. Was this proof of a universal flood which had washed sea creatures ashore and then left them there when the flood retreated? Scheuchzer believed he had found the fossil of a human being who perished in the flood; it turned out later to be a salamander from the Miocene period. Steno found layers in the Alps which had no fossils in them and believed that these layers dated back to a time when there were no living creatures.

8. Shifting Time-Scales
It was generally believed that the world was 6,000 years old. The advance in science had not yet changed the way time was viewed. There were some who argued for an almost eternal earth, such as Scottish geologist James Hutton. From 1770 on it was considered that Moses had written for non-educated peoples and so should not be taken to literally. The six days may stand for six much longer periods of time.

9. Harmonizers
Many scholars, in particular De Luc, attempted to harmonize the flood in Genesis with recent discoveries in geology. Evidence that was later linked to a European Ice Age was seen as proof of a flood, e.g. the unusual positions of giant boulders, which looked like they could have been moved by vast quantities of water. Buckland, one of the harmonizers, did have problems with the fact that there was no evidence for death of humans or destruction of human dwellings  that would be expected in a very recent universal flood. Adam Seddwick in his last address as President of the Geological Society recanted and declared that he no longer believed in the flood.

10. Fundamentalists
In the 1820s several people affirmed a strict literal belief in the flood. These beliefs resurfaced strongly in the 20th Century particularly in America. Some ventured to look for the Ark. A well know example of this is In Search of Noah’s Ark in 1977. There have been several people try to find Noah’s Ark.

11. Hidden Meanings Again
It became popular in the 20th Century to look into solar and lunar beliefs in ancient myths. Zimmern believed that Noah was the sun god who was rescued from the rains. The eleventh month in Babylonian times would have been a time of hard rains. Other interpretations saw the Ark and everything in it as connected to the moon and the waters as the heavenly oceans. Disciples of Freud saw deep meanings of fantasies of urination, birth and sex! Feminists saw ancient stories that glorified men.