Monday, September 24, 2012

Ancient Gospel Texts

This 4th century CE Codex Sinacticus, Gospel of Matthew, Greek text is part of one of the oldest complete Christian Scriptures existing. Although the gospels are "dated" as being written in the second half of the 1st century CE, no nearly complete physical manuscripts exist until the 4th century. All the texts have variations from one another, ranging from scribal errors and omissions to actual substantial variations in the narratives. The scriptural traditions of early Christianity were diverse and varied, even within an "established" text like a gospel. The oldest gospel fragment contains 18 lines from the Gospel of John and the papyrus is dated to 125 CE.

Rylands Library Papyrus P52 from the Gospel of John dated 125 CE by it's handwriting and papyrus.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Introduction Part 4: Terms for the Divine; and What's the lowdown on the Pharisees, Sadducees and Pontius Pilate

Terms for the Divine


The actual term "God" is a Proto-Germanic word which may have originally meant "that which is invoked" or "to pour or to pour a libation." To keep things simple I will use "God" as the generic term for God rather than introduce a Hebrew term.


YHWH is God’s name in the Hebrew Bible.  Most scholars believe the word, completed with vowels, would be Yahweh, pronounced “Ya-way.”  Based on Exodus 3.14-16, it is generally believed that God’s name Yahweh means “I-Am.  Exodus 3.14 “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM,” and he said, “You shall tell the children of Israel this: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”  Out of extreme reverence, the name Yahweh would not have been spoken by any Jew in Yeshua’s time, except by the high priest at the altar in the Temple Holy of Holies once a year.  Instead, “Adonai” is the word substituted in place of Yahweh.  Adonai means “Lord” or “The Lord” in a form which is only to be used for God and which emphasizes great excellence or magnitude.  To be consistent with the culture, I will use "Adonai" as the name of Yahweh God in keeping with the Jewish practice of Yeshua's time.


Shekhinah means “Presence” or “The Presence” of God.  She is the feminine manifestation of God with the people of Israel; she is the Spirit of God.  Shekhinah was the Presence in the burning bush, the pillar of cloud/fire that led Israel out of Egypt, the Presence that met Moses on the mountain to give the commandments, and the Presence that dwelt in the Holy of Holies.  Shekinah has a direct lineage to the Christian concept of Holy Spirit, the third person of the Triune God.  Shekinah is the name Yeshua used when he says Holy Spirit in our translations.  Shekhinah, the Holy Spirit, is called Yeshua’s Mother in the Gospel of the Hebrews.  I will use "Shekinah" as the name of the Holy Spirit.  In the ancient, extrabiblical Jewish writings of the Targumim, Talmud and Midrash, the term "Shekinah" is often used instead of "God". However, in other places the term "Shekinah" is used to describe only an intermediary or manifestation of God.  But apart from prior ideas, ultimately it should be clear that God and God’s Spirit are one in the same.  So we should just be talking about the One God Yahweh-Shekhinah, which would mean “I Am-Presence” or “I Am-The Presence.”!


Then proceeding on to the Christian concept of Trinity, things can really get confusing, but we are still talking about the One God.  Having established the Holy Spirit is feminine, I think the concept of Trinity as Father-Mother-Child makes more sense than the traditional western Church's sexist Father-Son-Holy Spirit. (A son from just a father?!) 

The Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit Mother provided the love and grace for the human Yeshua to completely and freely accept their love and will, and thus he became the Mashiah, the Human Child of the Trinity. This logically coherent form of the Trinity has for centuries been obscured by sexism.  Just to conclude:  I will use the above concept of Trinity:  "Mother-Father-Child."

Pharisees, Sadducees and Pontius Pilate

The Pharisees were NOT the bad guys!  The Pharisees did follow lots of rules but they would have been for relaxing or bending rules to help people.  The Pharisees were for the people, and the common people liked the Pharisees!  They may have argued vehemently with Yeshua over interpretation of Torah, but that’s what Rabbis who disagreed did (still do, and maybe Christians too!?) all the time without killing each other.  There just wasn’t that much at stake.  So why are the Pharisees portrayed so badly in the gospels?  After the temple was destroyed in the 66-70 C.E. war, the only two sects of Jews left were the Pharisees and the Messianic Jews who followed Yeshua.  So the Pharisees were the competition, and they got slurred in the gospels!  Real Christian of the Christians, wasn’t it?!

The Sadducees WERE the bad guys!  The Sadducees controlled the temple, its revenues and treasury. They were collaborators with the Romans and took bribes from them to keep the people under control. The common people did not like them.  They were notoriously corrupt.  (When the Jewish war of rebellion started in Jerusalem in 66 C.E. the first people the Zealots killed for being collaborators were the Sadducees!)  The Sadducees had Yeshua killed because he threatened their position, power and wealth. He called them out for not taking care of the needy, for taking advantage of widows, misusing the temple funds, and for collaborating with the Romans.  Most of that is not in the gospels because keeping it a “religious” issue makes it safe,  no risk of being accused of stirring the masses up against Caesar over poor treatment.  If you attack the Sadducees who were Roman collaborators, you are attacking Rome and Caesar.  The early Christians wanted to stay on the good side of Rome, so they portrayed the Romans as good guys.  The Sadducees are all dead, no axe to grind there.  As noted above, the Pharisees are their main competition, so they place the blame on them and later in John’s gospel on Jews in general.

Pontius Pilate was a ruthless Roman governor of Judea.  He was notorious for executing people without trial.  He would not have agonized over executing Yeshua or whether he might be executing an innocent man (after all, he was just some Jewish peasant).  Nor would he have had a long Socratic discussion with him about truth.  Pilate put down anyone who started to gain a following among the people.  Yeshua probably did not go after Pilate directly.  Yeshua was concerned with bringing his people back to the true commandments of Adonai, so he would have held the Sadducees feet to the fire over issues of social justice and corruption, but Pilate then is indirectly indicted as well.  He most certainly stepped on Pilate’s toes because of Pilate’s abuses of the oppressed people of Israel, and he got executed for it.

Well I think that gives you enough background to orient you to the gospel, Yeshua’s Kin-dom of Heaven.

Thanks for being part of this process.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Introduction Part 3: The Kin-dom of Heaven; A Womanist Gospel

Kin-dom versus Kingdom

The Kin-dom of Heaven will be used instead of the Kingdom of Heaven.  The original Hebrew phrase “Malkuth haShamayim” has traditionally been translated as "the Kingdom of Heaven". "Shamayim" definitely means Heaven and was used by the Jews to mean God without having to use a direct reference to God, which they avoided whenever possible.  Kingdom does not quite capture the Hebrew meaning of “Malkuth” and certainly doesn’t capture what Yeshua was preaching.  Malkuth and Kin-dom have a more active sense of God's reign breaking into human history bringing about the biblical justice preached by the prophets for the liberation of the poor and oppressed, and creating a beloved community for all. Additionally, to quote Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz*,
 We use kin-dom instead of kingdom because the latter is obviously a sexist word that presumes that God is male; and we do not use reign, because it is elitist. Kin-dom makes it clear that when the fullness of God becomes a reality, we will all be sisters and brothers—kin to each other.” This also fits quite well with what I think is a better concept of the Trinity than can be found in the scriptures, namely that of a Divine Family--Father God and Mother Spirit and Incarnate Child--which I will explain in a later post.
*[From “Solidarity:Love of Neighbor in the 1980s," in Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside, edited by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite and Mary Potter Engel (San Francisco: Harper, 1990), 31-40, 303-305.]

A Womanist Gospel

The important but relatively neglected role of women in general and Miryam of Magdala specifically in Yeshua's ministry will be emphasized. Yeshua’s ministry was radically womanist just by the fact that he taught women, he had them as permanent students, and he travelled with non-related women.  This is lost on us today.  Women were ranked below men and just above chattel in Yeshua’s world.  They weren’t even considered reliable witnesses.  That’s why, even though Miryam of Magdala and the other women were the first witnesses of the resurrection, the traditional formula that Paul sights in 1 Corinthians 15.3-5 says “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”   Ironically, Yeshua's women followers were his financial backers!   Luke 8.2-3 "With him were ... certain women ... Mary Magdalene ... Joanna, the wife of Chuzas, Herod’s steward; Susanna; and many others; who served him from their possessions."   So I will use inclusive language, highlight the role of women in the gospel by placing them in passages the men disciples usually appeared in, and even make some mild embellishments (exactly like Matthew and Luke did with the text of Mark). Miryam of Magdala was the only woman designated by a surname in all four gospels and therefore certainly had special prominence in the ministry of Yeshua and the early church. Therefore, I will highlight her role as supported by the canonical gospels and by the special witness offered in the extracanonical gospels of Thomas, Miryam of Magdala, and Phillip that is not in conflict with the nature of her portrayal in the canonical texts.

Introduction Part 2: Jesus was a Jew, his name was Yeshua, and he was a poor person of color.

Jesus was a Jew, and his name was really Yehoshua in Hebrew, and his everyday name in Aramaic was Yeshua!  Aramaic was the language closely related to Hebrew that the Jews came back from the Babylonian captivity speaking.  Therefore, Hebrew/Aramaic proper nouns will be used in this Gospel. First off, to respect and understand Yeshua we have to know him for who he was, and his whole identity was that of being a Jew.  Everything he understood about God was as a Jew.  He did not pull his good news out of thin air.  It was from his heritage as a Jew, from reading the Torah, the Prophets, the Psalms and Proverbs, which, all combined, is what the Jews call the Tanakh (pronounced Ta-nax).  [We should call it the Hebrew Bible, not the Old Testament which infers that they need an upgrade.  And we should call the New Testament, the Christian Scripture.] Yeshua’s concepts of the Kingdom of Heaven were particularly formed by the prophet Isaiah.

A second reason to acknowledge him as a Jew and to use Hebrew/Aramaic names is to help reverse the unwarranted two thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism that have caused untold suffering for the Jews.  Along these lines Judas of Iscariot will not be portrayed as Yeshua’s betrayer since he is most likely a fictional Jewish scapegoat.  His name, Judas, literally means Judean or Jew.  So he symbolizes for the early Christians the Jewish rejection of Yeshua, even to the point of betrayal, and personifies anti-Semitism.

A third reason is for proper understanding of meaning in the Gospels.  When going to root words, we should, whenever possible, go to Hebrew/Aramaic--NOT Greek! (I will post a Hebrew/Aramaic-English glossary.)

If he was a Galilean Semite, then Yeshua was a person of color, olive to swarthy brown in skin color. So he was brown and poor, joining most of the human race then and today, rather than of white Anglo-European lineage.  Below is an illustration from the BBC Photo Library.  It is a forensic anthropology portrait of a 1st century C.E. Galilean Semite.  Yeshua probably looked similar to this.  This portrait was produced by Richard Neave, a renowned medical artist, retired from The University of Manchester in England.  Using CT scans of skulls from the locale and era, forensic techniques to reconstruct facial features, art and historical descriptions from the time period, he was able to render what the average peasant would have looked like then.  The portrait is shown below.

Here is the link to an artcle about the process of producing the above portrait: The Real Face of Jesus - What Did Jesus Look Like?

For a more in depth, but very layperson readable treatment of this topic, I highly recommend the article "Jesus the Jew" by William Loader, Emeritus Professor of New Testament at Murdoch University, Australia and a Minister of the Uniting Church in Australia. Link to article: "Jesus the Jew" by William Loader

Next post is Introduction Part 3.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Introduction Part 1: How dare I? and Why I am writing an updated Gospel.

Greetings Dear Reader,
Thank you for taking the time to read this modern revision of a gospel of Jesus the Nazarene.  I hope you will return feedback about what you truly think of it.  Below are several issues I think need to be mentioned for you to understand this gospel. Thank you.

How dare I?  Well, because the original gospel writers did same the same thing.  They collected oral and written sayings and stories and wrote narrative gospels that addressed concerns of their communities.  I embarked on this endeavor by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as encountered in my wife, my home Eucharist group, prayer, meditation, and New Testament study.  I am writing this for the following reasons:
  • To make the story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection more accessible to post-modern people, given their world view.
  • To highlight the human Jesus of the earthly ministry against the God-Man presented in the canonical gospels (especially in John).
  • To highlight that Jesus was a Jew.  This will entail using Hebrew/Aramaic proper names and terms for God.
  • To redefine the traditional Kingdom of God/Heaven in inclusive concepts and terminology.
  • To assert the role of women in Jesus' ministry and the early Church.  This role was certainly not represented well in the gospels because of the patriarchal prejudice held by those in Jesus' day and in the second or third generation Christians who wrote the gospels.
  • To set the record straight, that the Pharisees were not “the bad guys" and why they were portrayed that way.
  • To set the record straight, that the Sadducees were “the bad guys," who had Jesus killed and why they were not picked on as much as the Pharisees.
  • To set the record straight, that Pontius Pilate was a brutal governor, portrayed as reluctant to kill Jesus because early Christians did not want to anger Rome.
The original gospels projected a post-Easter resurrected Christ onto the human Jesus of the earthly ministry.
This made sense for their time, trying to prove Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, in a pagan world with many God-Men myths.  Today however, for many post-modern people it presents problems. We can without argument assume Jesus was human, but to assume that he was self-aware of his Father’s entire plan or, more difficult yet, that he had the awareness of God, interferes with us hearing Jesus’ real message—the good news of the kingdom of heaven.  My guiding principles for discerning scriptures are found in the preeminent New Testament scholar, Günther Bornkamm’s book Jesus of Nazareth (1960) written for layperson and scripture scholar alike.  I highly recommend it; you can buy it for less than $10 at

So, to try and “draw back the veil” on that more human Jesus, who was certainly a prophet and Rabbi of the kingdom of heaven, I will make several changes to the gospel texts without changing the nature of the message Jesus is delivering about the kingdom of heaven.  Yeshua was about the kingdom of heaven, not about himself!  After the resurrection the first followers see that he “embodies” the message of the kingdom, and that is why he becomes the primary focus.  But to quote Günther Bornkamm*, “the Messianic character of his being is contained in his words and deeds and in the unmediatedness of his historic appearance.”  So we don’t need to constantly point out what his ultimate identity becomes after the resurrection.  Therefore, I will delete passages that indicate that he knew he was the Messiah, the Christ, Son of Man, Son of God, or I AM.  Statements that he knows he will be resurrected on the third day will be deleted.  Does he see himself as special?  Yes.  A prophet and Rabbi?  Yes. Annointed by the Holy Spirit?  Yes.  Does he anticipate his death?  Yes.  Does he trust in God’s vindication by resurrection?  Yes, but in the larger context of Jewish expectation that the just servant will be resurrected.  Does he think the Holy Spirit is his Mother and the heavenly God is his Father? Yes, but he sees all people as children of the Holy Spirit Mother* and heavenly Father.  And NONE of these things is the same as him thinking himself to be the Messiah who will lead Israel to political power again, Son of Man who judges the world at the end of ages, Savior of the world, THE Son of God, and certainly not God made flesh!
*Note: You'll understand the Holy Spirit Mother part in a few posts. I don't know if his fellow Jews all saw it this way or not.

More introduction to come in the next several posts. And I want to thank my wife, Annette, for her feedback and editing.