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.



Summary of the Sources of the Old Testament by James Atwell


Surveying the Scene

This is a summary of James’ Atwell’s book, Sources of the Old Testament.

This can be bought on Amazon here:

Atwell mentions the three civilisations that have a great bearing on the development of the Hebrew Bible. On opposite sides of Israel were Egypt and Babylon. Two of the earliest civilisations. Babylon got there just before but both were very early and very impressive. Closer to home were the Caananites, who we know about through the Ugarit scripts. There are several similarities in their beliefs. They all place great importance on creation epics, and all seem to believe in a pre-creation substance that was formed into order. Some of the gods were even created out of this. The sea features as linked to the pre-created stuff.

Chief God Marduk. Not first God. Won a battle against Tiamat (sea). Enuma Elish. Creation account of Marduk as champion who defeats Tiamat and creates the world, sea and sky out of her body. Human beings made out of the blood of the executed god Kingu. Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh goes on adventure to edge of creation ad is frustrated in his quest for eternal life. Includes flood story similar to Noah.

Ba’al chief God, the storm god. Champion of order. High god El is the creator. Created. Defeats the sea in furious battle (Yam). Passively sinks below the throne of Death (Mot) but is raised up. This raising is linked to a key harvest festival. Ba’al’s kingship not recognized till he has a temple. The high god El gives him planning permission. Ugarit found in 1929 Northern Syria, modern day Ras Shamra.

The Sun god (Re) is a divine pre-figuration of the Pharoah, the former rising from the primaeval ocean (Nun). Female goddess Ma’at personified order, symbolised by a feather.There was sea at the beginning and then a primaeval hill appeared.

The Israelites are introduced as a group on the edge. A nomadic group wanting to settle.

Some particularly nomadic customs they have are the link between a god and the leaders of the clan “the God of Abraham”, the “Fear of Isaac”. The god was not associated with a place like the gods of city states but with a people group.

There seems to be good reasons for believing that Israel did come out of Egypt, at least a small group. Atwell mentions that they may well have gone down because of a famine, and then sold themselves to Pharaoh to pay for food. (“Shall we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land in exchange for food. We with our land will become slaves to Pharaoh; just give us seed, so that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become desolate”, Genesis 47:19). It is noted that Moses is an Egyptian name. The Exodus may have involved the Israelites escaping and then the Egyptian army taking a short cut over the sea and then being overwhelmed by a storm. This makes sense of the “Song of the Sea” in Exodus 15:1-5.

“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
    horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my might,
    and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
    my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior;
    the Lord is his name.

Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea;
    his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea.
The floods covered them;
    they went down into the depths like a stone.”

The link with Midian seems genuine as the Midianites were later hated enemies of Israel. Sinai was in Midian. The divine name YHWH is associated with the earliest accounts we have of the Exodus and of Sinai. That YHWH is linked to Sinai makes sense of 1 Kings 20:23:

Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we; but let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.

Is Hosea 4:2 the genesis for the Ten Commandments?

 Swearing, lying, and murder,
    and stealing and adultery break out;
    bloodshed follows bloodshed.

In the nomadic way of life there was one tribal god; in the settled agricultural life there were generally many gods. The god of the storm (Ba’al) brought the much needed rain, then there were the fertility gods.

Only place the counsell of the gods appears in the Yahwist is Genesis 6 (the Angel marriages).

Every conversation of YHWH is with human beings except with the snake. One other indication of the counsel of the gods is with Babel “Come, let us go down and confuse their language” (Genesis 11:7). Indicates the pre-history of the text in a polytheistic environment.

While the creation accounts are fundamental to Near-Eastern beliefs the human-centredness (love of God) of the OT accounts is not. Poetry very important in nomadic life.

God also seen as judge, as well as creator and sustainer. There is a close parallel between God’s confrontation with Adam and Eve, and Cain, with the prophets and Israel.


David moved his capital from Hebron to Jerusalem. He therefore became involved with Canaanite religion. It was not till the eight century (Hezekiah) and the seventh century (Josiah) that removal of other gods took place.

There seems to have been an annual festival at which YHWH was enthroned, similar to previous festivals with Ba’al.

There were three importanat gods associated with Jerusalem. First El Elyon (God Most High) the Canaanite god who created the world. Melchizidek greets Abram saying:

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    maker of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

This name continues in the biblical psalms, e.g. Psalm 57:2 For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.

Now Melchizidek translates as “(my) King is (the god) Sedeq”. Sedeq also appears in Adonizek: “(my) Lord is (the god) Sedeq”. Also Zadok the priest. This is usually translated as righteousness. In Psalm 85:11 “righteousness will look down from the sky” righteousness is almost personified as a god.

The third god is “Shalem”. Jerusalem can be translated “foundation of (the god) Shalem. In the Caananite religon Shalem (Dusk) was paired with Shachar (Dawn). This names seems to appear in Absolom and possibly Solomon. It is likely that Shalem led to the abiding association of Jerusalem with peace (Shalom). Shalom is about a holistic right order. Sedeq is about this particular thing being right, or that particular judgement. Shalom is about the whole being right.

Righteousness (Sedeq) and Peace (Shalom) often are twinned together. Psalm 85:10: “righteousness and peace will kiss each other”.

After the move to Jerusalem, YHWH was believed to be the creator God.

There was also a belief that YHWH would renew the heavens and the earth and that David’s line would last for ever. That an Anointed leader would establish it.

Tutor I.
This and the next chapter are to do with the influence of other cultures on the Hebrew wisdom tradition. It is pointed out that the wisdom books Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, while referring to YHWH have some striking differences. There is no reference to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac etc, or to Moses and the Exodus; there is no mention of Israel being a special people, or interest in the Davidic line or temple sacrifices.

There is a huge emphasis placed on order. That the universe has a grain to it, and the importance of living so as to go with the grain. If you do, things will work out well for you. Going with the grain means telling the truth, being honest in business, working hard, being kind to the weak, not taking a bribe, and avoiding adultery. The other way involves being dishonest with weights, being lazy, committing murder or adultery.

It has been noticed that there is a very close relation between a famous Egyptian work called The Instruction of Amenemope. Especially Proverbs 22:17-23:11. From Wikipedia:

(Proverbs 22:17-18):“Incline thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, And apply thine heart to my doctrine; For it is pleasant if thou keep them in thy belly, that they may be established together upon thy lips”.
(Amenemope, ch. 1):”Give thine ear, and hear what I say, And apply thine heart to apprehend; It is good for thee to place them in thine heart, let them rest in the casket of thy belly; That they may act as a peg upon thy tongue”

(Proverbs 22:22):“Rob not the poor, for he is poor, neither oppress (or crush) the lowly in the gate.”
(Amenemope, ch. 2):”Beware of robbing the poor, and oppressing the afflicted.”

(Proverbs 22:24-5): “Do not befriend the man of anger, Nor go with a wrathful man, Lest thou learn his ways and take a snare for thy soul.”
(Amenemope, ch. 10): “Associate not with a passionate man, Nor approach him for conversation; Leap not to cleave to such an one; That terror carry thee not away.”

At certain points during the times of Solomon and Hezekiah there was a close link with Egypt. Solomon is meant to have married the Phaoroh’s daughter. Also in Hezekiah’s time. An interesting verse in Proverbs 25 hints that this section of Proverbs may have been written during Hezekiahs’ time, Proverbs 25:1: “These are other proverbs of Solomon that the officials of King Hezekiah of Judah copied.”

Proverbs often uses parallelism e.g. Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old” (Proverbs 23:22). Sometimes the second maxim mirrors the first as in this case, bit other times it contrasts with it, e.g. A false balance is an abomination to the Lordbut an accurate weight is his delight” (Proverbs 11:1).

The book of Job is thought to have been written 500-300BC but there is an old Mesopotamian work that is similar dated to 1500BC. This is called The Summerian Job. From the book of Job as well as beliefs in the order of the world is the understanding that man is flawed, is not prefect, and the transcendence of God. Job asks lots of almost scientific questions abut how things work.

Ecclesiastes mentions the tedium of order, whereas Proverbs and Job celebrate it.

Tutor II
Wisdom is to be found in the Hebrew scriptures outside of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes. For example consider Psalm 49:1-4:

Hear this, all you peoples;
    give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
both low and high,
    rich and poor together.
My mouth shall speak wisdom;
    the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
I will incline my ear to a proverb;
    I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.

The invitation is to all people, not just Israel, to listen to wisdom. Also to all levels of society. The Psalm goes on to mention issues found in Job and Ecclesiastes.

That bad choices lead to bad consequences appears in many places in the Hebrew Bible, e.g. Adam and Eve eating the apple leads to man having to toil for food, and women suffering pain in pregnancy. Also in the narrative of the Israelite and Judean kings – whenever they sin bad things happen and when they do good, good things happen.

The account of Adam and Eve seems to have a definite Sumerian origin. Rib in Sumerian means “the lady who makes live”.

Genesis 1 seems to have an Egyptian origin.

Like in the Epic of Gilgamesh there is a strong sense that people are not allowed to get too much glory. Hubris means excessive pride or confidence (in Greek tragedy – excessive pride towards or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis). Consider the episode of the Tower of Babel or Eve taking the fruit of knowledge of good and evil.

Wisdom is seen in the Joseph Narrative and the Succession Narrative. The Succession narrative is found in 2 Samuel 9-20 and 1 Kings 1-2. The first passage relates the family history of King David of Israel; the second,  the succession of Solomon to the Davidic throne.

Genesis 1-11 at the beginning of the Hebrew Bible tell us what it means that God is creator and that human beings are created by him.

The Foaming of the Sources
This chapter looks at prophecy in the Ancient Near East. There was prophecy in a place called Mari, on the river Euphrates, dating back to the eighteenth century BC. Just before Hammurabi. The prophecy is along the lines of “Thus spoke Annunitum” and goes on to say in effect “The palace is safe and sound”. These prophecies were found in cuneiform on tablets. Prophecy was generally linked to the court, and concerned with the safety of the state. We can already see some links with Israel where we have the name of the prophet and often a message such as fear not. Prophecy was sought at difficult times such as invasion, famines, danger of a coup etc. The King generally wanted to hear that all would be ok. In Israel this is similar – prophecy is sought at difficult times, and is linked generally to the court.

Prophecy in Israel really started with Samuel, linked to Saul, and then continued for the next 500 years. It went with the fall of the monarchy.

An interesting development in Isaiah is that the Holiness of God is much more important that the security of the Judean state.

Prophecy in Israel was quite diverse. You had the bands of prophets which King Saul falls in with. Then there are lone prophets like Elijah, Elisha and the 12 minor prophets. Some like Amos do not consider themselves to be prophets but are just speaking out prophecy. Then there are the prophets linked to the King like Nathan and Isaiah.

The fact that Israel’s prophets foretold judgement and spoke loudly about sin was quite unusual in the Ancient Near East.

Isaiah is well named Isaiah of Jerusalem as he is concerned with Jerusalem, the Temple, the King and its people.

The incident in which Hezekiah faces Assyria is mentioned. There are several layers in the text. First Hezekiah pays out money.

14 King Hezekiah of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, “I have done wrong; withdraw from me; whatever you impose on me I will bear.” The king of Assyria demanded of King Hezekiah of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold.

Second there is the debate between the Tartan, the Rabsaris, and the Rabshakeh with a great army at Jerusalem. Third there is the miracle of the 185,000 slain outside Jerusalem. The latter is theological perspective.

The Healing Flow
Atwell mentions Deutero-Isaiah responsible for Isaiah 40-55. His listeners were in Babylon which seemed very successful with their massive ziggurats and excellent intellectual and liturgical life. Back home Jerusalem is in ruins and the Temple destroyed. This figure was preaching that God was about to create a way in the desert – a way so that they could go back to their own land. Destruction of a temple and exile of a people was usually a sign of a defeated god. The Israelites would have seen idols all over the place and with the power and prestige of Babylon would have been very tempted to think their god was not as good as the Babylonian gods like Marduk. The exile happened because of Israel’s sin and not because of any weakness of YHWH.

Cyrus is mentioned may times in the first half of Deutero-Isaiah (40-48); in the second half Jerusalem features strongly. The way he is spoke about is similar to the Cyrus Cylinder, but there the focus is on the god Marduk.

Marduk, the great lord, rejoiced at [my good] deeds, and he pronounced a sweet blessing over me, Cyrus, the king who fears him, and over Cambyses, the son [my] issue, [and over] my all my troops, that we might proceed further at his exalted command [The Cyrus Scroll].

There is a lot of talk about a new thing that God is going to do, which involves salvation at the hands of a pagan king.

There is also an emphasis on God on creator who will bring order. Before Pace (Shalom) can come, right order (Sedeq) must be established. So this is like with creation, order coming out of chaos.

Regarding the different parts of Isaiah 1 (1-39), 2 (40-55) and 3 (56-66). It is considered by Williamson that Deutero-Isaiah believed that the forst part of Isaiah had been sealed and was waiting for the time of salvation. Deutero-Isaiah believes that that time has come, and so we have more material about this new thing. See for example Isaiah 8:16 ‘Bind up the testimony, seal the teaching among my disciples” or 29:11 “The vision of all this has become for you like the words of a sealed document. If it is given to those who can read, with the command, “Read this,” they say, “We cannot, for it is sealed.”’

The Servant Songs.
Isaiah 42:1-4
Isaiah 49:1-6
Isaiah 50:4-9
Isaiah 52:13- 53:12

The servant songs concern (i)Cyrus, (ii) Deutero-Isaiah?, (iii) Deutero-Isaiah?, (iv) A biography of Deutero-Isaiah after he was murdered, but resurrection accounts talking about the first wave of Jews returning to Jerusalem after the edict of Cyrus.

The Single Stream
It seems that Israel’s beliefs about God evolved. At first there was the God of the Father’s. Then tied up with escape from Egypt and some encounter around Sinai they believe that there God is called YHWH, and is associated with that mountain. As they settle they come to believe that YHWH is the creator God.

During the exile several beliefs evolve. YHWH came to be seen as the only god, not one among many. Also they believed that he was not part of creation. Thus working from outside he could renew, re-create the heavens and the earth. Also the belief emerged that he had created the world out of nothing.


Summary of Fabricating Jesus – how modern scholars distort the gospels


In progress

Chapter 1

A lot of books appeared recently from Scholars coming out of a traditional fundamentalist background. The fundamentalist background is very rigid and ignores serious questions of issues such as who wrote the Bible, and with what purpose, and in what historical context. The majority of Christian scholars stay in the faith.

A popular defence of Jesus as the embodiment of Israel’s God go along the lines of C S Lewis’s famous “lunatic, liar or Lord”. However, this is overly simplistic and misses out several options such as (i) Jesus was Israel’s Messiah and the greatest Jewish prophet, but still only a man, or (ii) the New Testament documents we have are not reliable and so we can’t be sure who Jesus was.

Evans talks about misplaced faith and misguided suspicions. Misplaced faith refers to people having faith in the wrong thing such as an inerrant scripture or the gospels must be harmonizable. And in these cases when scholarly research shows these beliefs to be untrue, loss of faith can result. Misguided suspicions refer to the belief that Jesus contemporaries did not accurately pass on what he said, either incapable of passing on his words accurately or not interested in his exact words. So you have followers of Jesus who aren’t really interested in following him.