Ulrich Luz on Jesus’ Burial Shroud

Ulrich Luz’ commentary on Matthew (Hermeneia) is wonderful for many reasons. Not least of these is his ability to be tastefully cavalier. Today I stumbled upon this gem, in which he comments on Jesus’ burial shroud (σινδών), with passing reference at the end to the famed Shroud of Turin:

Why is it that wrapping the corpse of Jesus is so important for the tradition? Although this question is easily answered for the Johannine portrayal, since the cloths lying in the tomb on Easter morning amaze Peter (John 20:5–7), for the Synoptic texts it is difficult to arrive at an answer. Is it to negate Jesus’ nakedness, which was regarded as shameful? I do not know.

The most famous “influence” of our passage (and of John 19:40, which speaks of “binding”) is the Shroud of Turin about which there is today an extensive scholarly literature; indeed, there is a separate scholarly discipline called “sindonology.” As an exegete I can only say, with great relief, that based on the New Testament I have nothing to contribute to this discipline. Here the experts in ancient textiles, chemists, psychologists of religion, and students of the history of piety may have their say.

Well said, Prof. Luz!

Out of the Mouths of Babes

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m a sucker for church art projects (especially those created by children). This past weekend, beloved spouse and I were speaking at a church in Whitewater, WI. Before our talk, we were hanging around in the hallway, and I spotted a series of paper crosses. They were decorated with post-it notes containing what appear to be maxims on how to live better, more faithful lives.

Many of the maxims appear to be written in some dialect of Middle English.

A few of my favorites, with translations (pictures below):

  1. tele the shroth (tell the truth?)
  2. de Helfoe (be helpful)
  3. de kine (be kind)
  4. de nise de gade (be nice to God)
  5. pray to Jesus evrebe (pray to Jesus everyday)
  6. dont swar (don’t swear)

photo 3

photo 2

photo 1


Andrew of Crete and the Immaculate Conception

The focus of my research, the Protevangelium of James, is often cited as the earliest expression of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. As a consequence of my research, I have been reading many Patristic homilies on Mary, some of which speak of her birth and childhood.

Today, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I decided it may be fitting to share one. This is from an eighth-century homily, the Canon on the Nativity, by St. Andrew of Crete (translated by Luigi Gambero in Mary and the Fathers of the Church, 394):

Let all creation dance; let David dance as well, for from his line and his seed arose the branch that will bear the Flower, the Lord and Redeemer of all…

Anna was sterile and barren, but not childless in God’s eyes. For from all eternity, she was predestined to be the mother of the chaste Virgin, from whom the Creator was to come forth in the form of a servant.

Unsullied Lamb, who alone, from your womb, gave Christ the wool of our nature, we all celebrate your birth from Anna with songs.

Stigmata and Christian Apocryphal Literature

I spent the majority of yesterday composing a written statement for a fellowship application. Part of this process involved reflecting on the past 10 years of my life – where I’ve been, what I’ve done, what I’ve studied, and how all of those things have contributed to my present research interests. Self-reflection can be fun, and it forces you to remember things that you’ve long since forgotten.

As I was trying to come up with an answer regarding why I chose to study Christian apocryphal literature, I decided it might be helpful to think about the first time I even heard about Christian apocryphal literature. The answer, which I did not include in my written statement (because it’s stupid), made me chuckle.

During my senior year of high school, I watched a movie called Stigmata. It had just been released. The movie tells the story of a young woman who becomes possessed by the spirit of a dead stigmatic priest. The young woman receives the stigmata, speaks in foreign tongues, and leads an investigator from the Vatican on a wild goose chase to find a lost gospel that the Church was attempting to suppress. The “lost gospel” in Stigmata is none other than the Gospel of Thomas, discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945. At one point in the movie, a priest describes it as “an Aramaic scroll from the 1st century, discovered near the cave of the dead sea scrolls outside Jerusalem. Alameida [the dead stigmatic priest] and I concluded that it is a gospel of Jesus Christ. In his own words: Aramaic.” At the end of the movie, the following text pops up: “In 1945 a scroll was discovered in Nag Hammadi, which is described as ‘the secret sayings of the living Jesus.’ This scroll, the Gospel of St. Thomas, has been claimed by scholars around the world to be the closest record we have of the words of the historical Jesus.”

In retrospect, it’s not a good movie, but my young mind was absolutely enthralled at the time. I remember talking with a friend of mine afterward about how something needs to be done about the Church’s attempts to suppress truth like this…we were both really concerned.

I chuckled to myself as I recalled this experience, as it truly is the first time I became aware that there were “gospels” outside of the New Testament. Like many uninformed viewers of the movie, I assumed in my ignorance that what Stigmata claimed about the Gospel of Thomas was true, and I continued to assume that it was true until I heard otherwise (and I seem to recall embarrassing myself in an undergraduate NT course). Of course, there is little truth in what Stigmata claims about Thomas: it is a codex, not a scroll; it is written in Coptic, not Aramaic; it is from the second century, not the first; it was not found near the Dead Sea (Nag Hammadi is over 200 miles removed); some scholars (you know who you are) consider it to be “the closest record we have of the words of the historical Jesus,” but they are a minority. What’s more, the Dead Sea Scrolls were not isolated to one cave, but were spread out among among eleven!

I suppose this memory is useful, if only to remind us about how much garbage there is floating around about the “lost gospels.”

Anyway, hope you enjoyed my rant for the day.

Enchiridion Biblicum Online

For those interested, I was just made aware that the Enchiridion Biblicum, comprised entirely of Catholic documents pertaining to the study of Scripture, is available online, in English, for free. This is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in theological exegesis, especially in a Catholic context. Not sure how long it’s been up, but it’s new to me!

Find it here.

Proclaiming Truth

When I was in seminary, I took Introduction to Preaching. At some point in our class, a fellow student asked the professor about whether or not it is appropriate to illustrate sermon points with stories that are untrue. The professor’s response to these questions (which I recorded verbatim): “The way I see it, the sermon is the time at which the Gospel is proclaimed as true. If you think that you can preach this Gospel while simultaneously attempting to deceive your congregation, be my guest.” Point taken, Dr. Long.

I recall my professor’s response because this morning I stumbled upon a list of stories that are commonly used as sermon illustrations (I’ve heard each of them more than a few times). These stories, as it would happen, are completely and absolutely untrue, but this is often not known by those who use them. So, spread the word!

How many have ever heard:

  • That the “eye of the needle” is a gate in Jerusalem.
  • That “gehenna” refers to a burning trash dump.
  • That the high priest used to go into the Holy of Holies with a rope tied to his ankle so that he could be pulled out in the event that he died.

Any others you can think of, leave a comment!

See the full list HERE.

HT Trevin Wax and BibleX

The Shadow of the Galilean (review)

I just finished reading Gerd Theissen’s The Shadow of the Galilean. Truth be told, it is one of the finest books on Jesus that I’ve read.

Just a note, the following post is intentionally vague at points, to avoid spoiling the book.

The subtitle of the book (The Quest of the Historical Jesus in Narrative Form) may lead one to believe that it is yet another fictitious account about what Jesus might have done as he roamed around Galilee. To be sure, such narratives do in fact have value, when they’re attentive to questions of historicity and when they don’t completely ignore what was probable (or even possible) in first century Palestine.

Theissen’s book, however, is of a different breed; the book itself has much to do with Jesus, but Jesus himself never appears directly on any pages of the narrative. The main character, Andreas, sees Jesus once (he tells the reader in retrospect), but throughout the book he cannot avoid constantly running into Jesus’ “shadow.” While traveling around Galilee and the surrounding areas, Andreas meets people who have been influenced by Jesus, people who are supporters of Jesus, and people who think that Jesus is a troublemaker. Through these encounters, Andreas learns of those things that Jesus did and said.

In this regard, Andreas’ task is not unlike that of the modern historian whose focus is the historical Jesus. A quote from the beginning of chapter 14 sums the matter up nicely: “I never met Jesus on my travels through Galilee. I just found traces of him everywhere: anecdotes and stories, traditions and rumours. He himself remained intangible. But everything that I heard of him [fit] together. Even quite exaggerated stories about him had a characteristic stamp. They would not have been told about anyone else in this way.”

Throughout the narrative, Theissen also introduces characters that will be immediately recognizable to those who have done work in 1st century history; Philo, Pilate, Bannus (from Josephus, Life 2, 11), Barabbas, etc. all make at least cameo appearances. Generally, when Theissen is introducing a new character who actually (or probably) existed, he will footnote them; the same is true regarding his citation of extra-canonical texts.

The book is also accented by Theissen’s side of a correspondence with a certain “Dr. Kratzinger,” who throughout the book aims to keep Theissen’s narrative grounded in some sort of historical reality.

This book can be both helpful and enjoyable to anyone interested in knowing more about 1st century Palestine. I have studied much of the material covered in the book for years, and I found myself unable to stop reading it. That is to say, this book is not simply for a common audience, although I imagine that even those not terribly familiar with the political, social and religious structures of this time period will still find the book quite enjoyable and informative.