Gary Greenberg's blog on biblical studies and related matters

Book Review: Paul vs James

Paul vs James by Barrie Wilson ($1.99 from Amazon)

(Note: This is a Kindle book but at last check it didn’t appear to be downloadable to the Kindle device. I used the Apple kindle app to read it. I assume the Android app will also work.)

Paul vs James is an historical novel that explores the conflicts between the apostolic Jerusalem church of Torah-based Christian Jews, originally led by James the Just, brother of Jesus, and the diaspora Pauline church that rejected Torah and promoted unity among Jews and Gentiles. Set shortly after the deaths of the two title characters, as the Romans prepare to march on Jerusalem to put down the Jewish rebellion, the story focuses primarily on Mattai, and his family. Mattai, a Torah-loving rabbi and craftsman who belonged to the Jerusalem church, fears the imminent Roman assault and flees with his family to Antioch, where they establish a new life among other followers of James and the Jerusalem church, and he brings with him a secret document that he kept hidden for over two decades, one which plays an important role later in the story.

As Mattai and the family settle in to the life and rhythms of Antioch, where he and his church members are a distinct minority, the Sabbath service is visited by some followers of Paul’s teachings, among whom are future leaders of the Christian movement, and they came there to recruit members from Mattai’s congregation. This leads to a series of debates and arguments over the correct teachings of Jesus, a debate over whether to follow the teachings of Jesus while he was alive versus the alleged revelations to Paul after the death of Jesus. Wilson imagines that these sort of debates led to the creation of some of the formative documents in early Christianity.

One of the great virtues of this fiction format is that it can transform the trials and tribulations of the characters from sociological abstracts in a lecture to characters enmeshed in society, traditions, worries and concerns. Rather than a dry lecture about how some unknown individual may have written some document, Wilson’s arrangement allows you to see how characters deal with and react to problems as humans, rather than cardboard cutouts. I particularly enjoyed the fleshing out of the story with the frequent insertion of practices, traditions and diversity of thought within the Jewish community that would have no place in a basic lecture about document source criticism.

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem: Chronological and Narrative Problems

The Triumphal Entry scene in the Gospels depicts a large crowd hailing Jesus as King of the Jews. From a political-historical standpoint, this is problematic. The Romans would not tolerate an unauthorized individual being hailed as the king of the Jews and would likely crack down on such a demonstration and take such a person into custody as soon as possible. The Romans simply didn’t tolerate such actions. However, Mark shows Jesus coming back to Jerusalem day after day with no Roman interaction, although the Romans would have had large numbers of troops stationed in and around Jerusalem during the Passover holiday period. From a literary standpoint, I also note that after Mark depicts Jesus being hailed by the large crowds as the Davidic Messiah that adulation disappears from Mark throughout Jesus’ return visits to Jerusalem. No one during the subsequent visits declares him to be the Davidic heir. Why not?

…Continue Reading “Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem: Chronological and Narrative Problems”

I have an article coming up on the Bible and Interpretation site

I recently submitted an article to Bible and Interpretation titled “Roman Days, Jewish NIghts, and the Gospel Calendar Problem.” It should appear in the latter part of July and I’ll post a link when it is published. The article examines some of the chronological issues affecting the gospel narratives that arise from the fact that the authors of the Gospels used a Roman calendar day (sunrise to sunrise) to describe events unfolding according to the Jewish Calendar day (sunset to sunset.) It discusses the impact on such issues as when the Sabbath started and ended, on what days Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread occurred, and the so-called Day of Preparation.

My latest book now available

My latest book, Proving Jesus’ Authority in Mark and John: Overlooked evidence of a synoptic relationship, is now available. The book offers a new theory of John’s composition techniques and his relationship to the other gospels. A picture of the book jacket and links to the book description, jacket blurbs, and a short excerpt are available in the sidebar. I want to thank Paul Anderson, Adam Winn, and Barrie Wilson for their generous book endorsements. This is an academic study and priced accordingly, so if you’re interested you might want to encourage your local library to buy a copy. Here is the book’s description.

In this innovative study of the Fourth Gospel, Greenberg introduces important new perspectives on synoptic problems and challenges many theories about the nature of John’s sources and composition practices. His analysis shows that the author of John knew a written version of Mark’s gospel, had strong theological objections to how Mark depicted the nature and story of Jesus and the gospel message, and composed his gospel as a theologically corrected rewrite of Mark, using the latter’s gospel as a narrative guideline for his own composition.

By focusing on several seemingly different stories in Mark and John that deal with issues relating to how Jesus proved his authority, Greenberg places each of the incidents in their narrative, sequential, and theological context, demonstrating that John knew Mark’s specific stories in the same sequential order that appeared in Mark, and that John’s stories represented theologically altered rewrites of the ones in Mark. The study examines the nature of John’s objections to Mark, what changes John would want to make to Mark, and the formulaic editorial techniques John used to transform Mark’s gospel into John’s gospel. Of particular interest, Greenberg shows how John transformed Mark’s stories about proof through exorcisms into Johannine stories about proof through words.