Tombs as Sacred Space in Second Temple Judaism and the New Testament

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Lightstone book cover

Jack Lightstone has written an interesting chapter on “The Dead and Their Tombs” in his book, The Commerce of the Sacred: Mediation of the Divine Among Jews ni the Greco-Roman World (Columbia University Press 2006). In the chapter he deals with the Hebrew Bible and other Judaic literature of antiquity. What would be very interesting indeed would be if someone would bring Lightstone’s chapter/thesis in conversation with the New Testament, especially with the New Testament’s account of the burial and tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.

“By the end of the Second Commonwealth, then, and possibly several centuries before, the tombs became a gate to heaven, as were the altars of Ancient Israel, rather than a passage to the netherworld.”¹ Lightstone also notes a striking correlation between two of Herod’s magnanimous building projects, namely, the mausoleum in Hebron and the Temple in Jerusalem: “The one is a scaled-down version of the other—with of course one major difference; in place of the Sanctuary, which occupied the center of the Temple compound, one has in Hebron the six raised tombs of the Mausoleum…Here, as at the altar, heaven and earth met.”²

One cannot help but wonder whether the early accounts of Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection are drawing on precisely this aspect of the first century Jewish cultural encyclopedia. One wonders, also, what the empty tomb might have to contribute to the conversation?


¹ Lightstone, The Commerce of the Sacred, 50.

² Lightstone, ibid., 51.

T. F. Torrance on the virgin birth

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I’ve been reading Thomas F. Torrance’s Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ a second time and I am once again struck with how profound Torrance is in his understanding of the incarnation of the eternal Son of God into our human being.

This is evident in his discussion of the virgin birth as a sign in relation to a thing signified:

The virgin birth cannot be understood apart from the whole mystery of Christ, apart from the union of divine and human nature in the one person of Jesus Christ. The virgin birth is the outward sign, the signitive form in humanity which the creative entry of the Son of God takes, when he assumes our human nature into union with his divine nature…[T]he mystery of the birth and the mystery of the person of Christ cannot be separated, and the mystery of the birth has to be understood  in the light of the mystery of his person, the sign in the light of the thing signified, not the thing signified in the light of the sign.

Or the insightful way he thinks about the virgin birth in relation to the resurrection:

In fact the birth of Jesus of the virgin Mary and the resurrection of Jesus from the virgin tomb (‘where no one had ever yet been laid’) are the twin signs which mark out the mystery of Christ…The incarnation is not only a once and for all act of assumption of our flesh, but the continuous personal union of divine and human nature in the one person of the incarnate Son, a personal union which he carried all the way through our estranged estate under bondage into the freedom and triumph of the resurrection…These are then the twin signs testifying to the miraculous life of the Son of God within our humanity, the one at the beginning and the other at the consummation of the earthly life of Jesus. Both these acts were sovereign creative acts of God’s grace in and upon and out of our fallen humanity, and they are, in the full sense, one continuous act including the whole historical life and work of the incarnate Son.

Or once again, explaining what the virgin birth teaches us about a new humanity:

[T]he incarnation of the Son in our humanity has its source in the hidden creative act of God, but it also assumes a form in the entry of the Son into our humanity which is appropriate to and is required by the nature of the incarnate Son as creator  as well as creature…It reveals God as the creator and redeemer actually with us in our estranged human existence, and as God bringing out of our fallen and sinful existence a new humanity that is holy and perfect.

Or, finally, consider how Torrance sees a fruitful analogy between the virgin birth and the salvation of each new believer:

John of Damascus remarked that Mary conceived through her ear: she heard the Word and the Word spoken by the Spirit in her ear begot himself in her and through her, and so the Word which Mary heard and received and obeyed  became flesh of her flesh. That is the normative pattern for the believer in his or her attitude toward the Word announced in the gospel, which tells men and women of the divine act of grace and decision taken already on their behalf in Christ…As in the annunciation of the word to Mary, Christ the Word himself became flesh, so in the enunciation of the gospel, we surrender in like manner to Christ the Word now made flesh, and there takes place in us the birth of Jesus, or rather, we are in a remarkable way given to share through grace in his birth and to share in the new creation in him. That is the Christian message – the Christmas message…What happened once and for all, in utter uniqueness in Jesus Christ, happens in every instance of rebirth into Christ, when Christ enters into our hearts and recreates us. Just as he ws born from above of the Holy Spirit, so we are born from above of the Holy Spirit through sharing in his birth.

 

The above selections of text are all quoted from chapter three, “The Once and for all Union of God and Man: Christ’s Birth into our Humanity” (pgs.87-104).

If you buy and read this book over Christmas it will be the most profound “Christmas book” that you read this year. Guaranteed.

Buy it from Amazon here: Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ

“Etched into the pattern of our life and work”

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[I]f we are to be kingdom-announcers, modeling the new way of being human, we are also to be cross bearers. This is a strange and dark theme that is also our birthright as followers of Jesus. Shaping our world is never for a Christian a matter of going out arrogantly thinking we can just get on with the job, reorganizing the world according to some model that we have in mind. It is a matter of sharing and bearing the pain and puzzlement of the world so that the crucified love of God in Christ may be brought to bear healingly upon the world at exactly that point. Because Jesus bore the cross uniquely for us, we do not have to purchase forgiveness again; it’s been done. But because, as he himself said, following him involves taking up the cross, we should expect, as the New Testament tells us repeatedly, that to build on his foundation will be to find the cross etched into the pattern of our life and work over and over again.

N. T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus, pgs. 188-89

The cross of Jesus was the place, literally and theologically, where the love of God came to bear upon this world. The meaning for us us clear: to carry the cross, to be crucified with Christ, is to bring the love of God to bear upon the world at precisely that point.

One more comment…the above paragraph gets to the heart of why this blog has the name it does: The Cruciform Pen.

George Herbert, poet-priest

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Facts, events, and important dates

  • 1593–Born in Wales
  • Education–Trinity College, Cambridge
  • Held several academic posts in Cambridge, including a Fellowship at Trinity, appointed as Reader in Rhetoric, and then Public Orator.
  • 1624–Served in politics as MP in Parliament.
  • 1625–King James I dies, consequently Herbert decides return to his original intentions for ministry in the church.
  • 1630–Herbert ordained as priest in the Church of England.
  • 1633–Herbert struggled with Tuberculosis and eventually dies after a just a few years of pastoral ministry in the church.
  • All of George Herbert’s poetry was composed privately, not being published until after his death. This fact is a remarkable demonstration of his characteristic refusal to seek self-aggrandizement in life.
  • A Lesser Feast is dedicated to George Herbert in the Anglican Communion church calendar, celebrated on 27 February (hence, this blog post :))

Legacy

Herbert’s prose and poetry has left a lasting influence on others. Henry Vaughan, Charles Wesley, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Gerard Manley Hopkins and C. S. Lewis are just a few names (more could be added) of people who have acknowledged their literary debt to Herbert; and that’s not to mention contemporary poets such as Luci Shaw or Malcom Guite.

He is best known today from two significant works, one prose and one poetry. The prose work is titled A Priest to the Temple or The Country Parson and it lays out his thoughts on the ministerial vocation. His insights in this book find richly suggestive connections in some of his poems on the same topic. His collection of poetry, which he gave to his friend Nicholas Ferrar on his deathbed, is titled The Temple. It is a brilliant masterpiece whose poems can be read individually (that is, as a collection of self-contained poems) or as a larger, longer work complete with thematic development as one progresses through the poems. Throughout The Temple there are dense allusions both to scripture and to other poems within the collection.

Some of his hymns are still sung in churches today (e.g., ‘The God of love my Shepherd is’, ‘Let all the world in every corner sing’, and ‘Teach me, my God and King’).

A poem

Prayer (I)

Prayer the Churches banquet, Angels age,
Gods breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;  

Engine against th’ Almightie, sinners towre,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-daies world transposing in an houre,
A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear;

Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best,
Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest,
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,

Church-bels beyond the starres heard, the souls bloud,
The land of spices; something understood.

~extract from The English Poems of George Herbert (Page 178). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

Malcolm Guite has an insightful reflection on this poem over on his blog. Click here to read it. He introduces the poem by describing it as

a kind of rainbow refraction of many insights, a scattering of many seeds broadcast. For each of these images is in its own way a little poem, or the seed of a poem, ready to grow and unfold in the readers mind. And the different seeds take root at different times, falling differently in the soil of the mind each time one returns to this poem. I have been reading it for over thirty years now and I still find its images springing up freshly in my mind and showing me new things. For the purpose of this Introduction we will delve in and examine four of these little seeds, these poems in themselves within the images, before we take a wider view and see how they all fit together in the larger poem itself.

To read Guite’s reflections on “four of these little seeds” click the link above or just buy his book Faith, Hope and Poetry: Theology and the Poetic Imagination.

Further reading

There are many good editions of Herbert’s poetry that can be found. The books below are helpful introductions to his life and writings. Alternatively, if you are not yet ready to read a whole book, you can start by visiting this website that lots of interesting facts and resources: GeorgeHerbert.org.uk

Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert by John Drury

Heaven in Ordinary: George Herbert and His Writings (Canterbury Studies in Spiritual Theology) edited by Philip Sheldrake

A Year With George Herbert: A Guide to Fifty-Two of His Best Loved Poems by Jim Scott Orrick

A Prayer (from the Book of Common Prayer)

King of glory, king of peace,
who called your servant George Herbert
from the pursuit of worldly honors
to be a priest in the temple of his God and king:
grant us also the grace to offer ourselves
with singleness of heart in humble obedience to your service;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit ,
one God, now and forever. Amen.

*A note on sources…

The biographical information in this post was obtained from the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (edited by Livingston and Cross) and also from Saints on Earth: A biographical companion to Common Worship (by Darch and Burns).

Oxford NRSV

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My default translation is the NRSV (note: I say “default” not “favorite”). Recently the text block started to detach from the cover and so I decommissioned it. I thought about having it rebound but decided to just get a new one instead. I went with the Oxford NRSV without Apocrypha, genuine leather. Here are some pics:

It came with a nice two-piece cardboard box case.

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Genuine leather is typically a little stiff right out of the box. Because “genuine leather” is made from pig skin it is certainly not as supple as calfskin or goatskin, but it is still miles better than “bonded leather”. The gold foil really shows up nice against the black.

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The edge of the cover is stamped with a border which you can see in the picture below, along with the grain which is also stamped (as opposed to a natural grain)PQpuq+KbRbey8%3VM+USGw

The gold gilt line inside the cover is nice and thick.

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The sewn binding allows it to lay flat nicely. And the two golden ribbons complement the black cover.

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The pic below displays the way the two-column text block looks within a narrative book (the pic above displays the poetry format). I like that it is a simple text edition, without references or study notes, though if you want to write in the margins there isn’t much room for that.

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And now for the gymnastics…

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These pics show the relative strength and flexibility of the genuine leather. You can also see the nice shiny gold gilt page edges.

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Although the pages are smith-sewn the spine is glued together so that the sewn pages remain together. The glue that can be seen in the pic below could either be from that process or from glue used to attach the tail band.

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Unfortunately, there is considerable bleed through on the pages.

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Though, it’s not as devastating in the main text.

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There is a 96 page concordance in the back which, interestingly, includes references to the apocrypha. This is a nice feature if you have a separate copy of the apocrypha laying around.

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There are 8 pages of full color Oxford maps.

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My favorite feature of this Bible is the size. I have owned several premium Bibles but most of them are either too thick, too wide, or too small. This one is just right. Perfect size for personal reading, traveling with, and even preaching (if that’s something you do :)).

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All in all, this Bible manages to hold a nice in-between spot between cheaper and premium Bibles. The genuine leather will last much longer than bonded leather but does not cost nearly as much as goatskin or even calfskin.

 

Fortress Press Kindle Sale

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Fortress Press has a great sale going on right now for kindle books. Here are a few that caught my eye (averaging 85-95% off):

These are all great deals!

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Refugee by Malcolm Guite

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Rubens, Massacre of Innocents 2nd version

I have been reading some great poetry lately so I thought I would begin sharing some of it here. Sometimes I may share a few reflections in response to the particular poem. Today I simply share the poem itself. I read it a couple days ago in commemoration of the massacre of the innocents which was observed on December 28. It’s called Refugee by Malcolm Guite.

We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,

Or cosy in a crib beside the font,

But he is with a million displaced people

On the long road of weariness and want.

For even as we sing our final carol,

His family is up and on that road,

Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,

Glancing behind and shouldering their load.

Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower

Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,

The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power,

And death squads spread their curse across the world.

But every Herod dies, and comes alone

To stand before the Lamb upon the throne.

[Image credit: the Baroque painting above is Peter Paul Rubens’ second version of The Massacre of the Innocents]

Forthcoming Books

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Biblical Studies

Conformed to the Image of His Son: Reconsidering Paul’s Theology of Glory in Romans (Haley Grandson Jacob, w/ a foreword by NT Wright, IVP Academic)

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New Testament Christological Hymns: Exploring Texts, Contexts, and Significance (Matthew E. Gordley, IVP Academic)

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Jesus in Jerusalem: The Last Days (Eckhard Schnabel, w/ a foreword by Craig Evans, Eerdmans)

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Second Temple Judaism

T&T Clark Companion to the Dead Sea Scrolls (Ed. by George Brooke and Charlotte Hempel, T&T Clark)

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Commentaries

Galatians: A Commentary (Craig S. Keener, Baker Academic)

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The Letter to the Galatians NICNT (David A. deSilva, Eerdmans)

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Textual History of the New Testament

Can We Trust the Gospels? (Peter J. Williams, Crossway)

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An Echo of Ezekiel in the Mouth of Jesus

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Destruction of Jerusalem

Ezekiel 33:21-33 contains a report of the fall of Jerusalem. On the night before the herald arrived with that world-shattering news Ezekiel received a word from the Lord telling of doom that is to come upon the Judeans who remained in the land, the non-deportees (see v. 24 “the people living in those ruins in the land of Israel”). This is to serve as a warning for Ezekiel’s community who delight in listening to Ezekiel but with no true effect upon their hearts (cf. the repeated pronouncement, “they hear your words but do not put them into practice” vv. 31, 32).

This passage has a profound echo in Jesus’ words to his own contemporaries in Matthew 7:26; Luke 6:49: “everyone who hears my words and does not do them”. Jesus’ word brings with it a somber warning for those of his listeners who have ears to hear the echo of Ezekiel. Just as Ezekiel’s warning against hearing-without-acting preceded the terrible announcement concerning the ominous fate of Jerusalem, so Jesus’ foreboding words should be heard as a warning not unlike that of Ezekiel: if the people don’t respond with their whole hearts then Jerusalem will destroyed, again. 

Jesus came back to this motif again in Mark 13 (“not one stone will be left upon another” v. 2), Matthew 24, and also in Luke 19:41-48:

41 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” 

45 Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; 46 and he said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” 

47 Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.

One curious feature of this passage is the final note that “all the people were spellbound by what they heard” (NRSV). Another translation has “all the people hung on his words” (NIV). This could also be seen as a faint echo of the contemporaries of Ezekiel who was told the following words: “Your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord’. My people come to you, as they usually do, to hear your words, but  they do not put them into practice…to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well” (Eze 33:30-32). In other words, the people were mesmerized by the prophet. This was true of both Ezekiel and Jesus. But the dire predictions concerning the people and the beloved city of Jerusalem was also equally certain for both Ezekiel and Jesus:

Ezekiel 33:33 “When all this comes true—and it certainly will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them”

Matt 24:33-34 “When you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened”

The continuing relevance of Ezekiel’s message for Jesus’ contemporaries lay simply in this: if they did not turn from their zealous festering for violent revolt against Rome and heed his message (in other words, if they didn’t repent from their current aspirations and give allegiance instead to the ευγγελιον of Jesus) then the people of Jesus’ day would experience the same terrible fate as the people of Ezekiel’s day—a fallen city and all the horror that accompany it. 

Repentance: Ethical or Eschatological?

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Mark 1:15 Verse Art

What is the background and meaning of “repentance” as used in the gospel accounts? The word is traditionally understood from within an ethical framework: cease from sinful activities or lifestyles and begin to live morally upright and virtuous lives. But perhaps Jesus’ (and the Baptist’s?) call to “repentance” should be understood primarily from within an eschatological, rather than ethical, framework. The difference is subtle but important. A study of the relevant Old Testament texts is crucial here. And one strand that comes out is the question of the nature of the repentance being a corporate activity versus an individual activity. Thinking of repentance in ethical terms misleadingly implies isolated individual activities. But perhaps repentance is meant to be understood as a corporate activity having quite different implications. In other words, the call to repentance means what it means within the overarching announcement of the return of YHWH and the dawning of the kingdom of God.

One interesting text related to this is Jubilees 1:13-18. The book is dated from about 150 B.C. so it is a fitting text to demonstrate the way some Jews in the Second Temple period thought about repentance. In this passage, the audience of the book of Jubilees lives long after the time of Moses but is being reminded that not only their exile was predicted by the scriptures but also their national repentance, and it will serve an eschatological purpose. Notice how the predicted repentance serves as the catalyst for the end of exile and construction of the new sanctuary/temple (see bold text):

Jubilees 1:13-18 — And I will hide My face from them, and I will deliver them into the hand of the Gentiles for captivity, and for a prey, and for devouring, and I will remove them from the midst of the land, and I will scatter them amongst the Gentiles. And they will forget all My law and all My commandments and all My judgments, and will go astray as to new moons, and sabbaths, and festivals, and jubilees, and ordinances. And after this they will turn to Me from amongst the Gentiles with all their heart and with all their soul and with all their strength, and I will gather them from amongst all the Gentiles, and they will seek me, so that I shall be found of them, when they seek me with all their heart and with all their soul. And I will disclose to them abounding peace with righteousness … and they shall be for a blessing and not for a curse, and they shall be the head and not the tail. And I will build My sanctuary in their midst, and I will dwell with them, and I will be their God and they shall be My people in truth and righteousness. And I will not forsake them nor fail them; for I am the Lord their God’  — R. H. Charles, ed., Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913), 12.

As VanderKam rightly summarizes, “Some future generation, presumably that of the author [of the Book of Jubilees], must receive this message of God’s faithfulness, Israel’s infidelity, and the power of confession, repentance, and obedience to the covenantal stipulations to open a new day in the covenantal relationship between the Lord and his holy people” — James C. VanderKam, “Jubilees, Book of,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1031.

This is not to suggest that there is no ethical importance to repentance, merely that it is not the theologically load bearing element of the concept. Repentance, as a national and religious phenomenon, was meant to result in so much more than a new generation of morally upright people; national repentance was expected to result in the end of exile, the return of YHWH, and the rebuilding of the temple—in short, repentance was the advance sign of the fulfillment of all the glorious prophetic promises in Israel’s scriptures. Repentance was therefore eschatological.

So when Mark tells the readers of his gospel that “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:4-5), Mark is tapping into exactly this eschatological matrix of hope. Or, to put it another way, there is a reason that Matthew says “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’” (Matthew 3:1-2). Repentance has eschatological import.