Handout 1: Christianity was not born in a Vacuum

The Purpose of this opening Tutorial was just to introduce that the New Testament did not just fall down from heaven but was part and parcel of the Jewish and Greco-Roman world.  Early Christ Followers were shaped by and reacted to their own social contexts.  Their beliefs and practices were “unique” only in the sense that every group may be unique in re-combining the old in new ways or innovating new ideas based on specific historical and cultural circumstances (e.g. they had to account for a crucified Messiah).

Copyright (c) Michael Kok

Christianity was not Born in a Historical Vacuum

 Study Questions

  1. Why do you think it is important to study the New Testament  (NT) writings in their historical and literary contexts?
  2. Can you spot some parallels to the NT in the Jewish or Greco-Roman writings below.

The gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:3-4)

  • “Since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus,  whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a  savior, both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and  arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance (excelled even our anticipations), surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving  to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the  god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings for the world that came by  reason of him, which Asia resolved in Smyrna. (Priene Calendar Inscription, ca 9 BCE; cf. Craig Evans, “Mark’s Incipit and the Priene Calendar Inscription: From Jewish Gospel to Greco-Roman GospelJournal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 1 (2000): 67)
  • Roman Coin calls the emperor Octavian “divi filius” or “son of (a) god” (http://www.utexas.edu/courses/ancientfilmCC304/lecture23/detail.php?linenum=9)
  • The [son of the] G[reat Master] shall he be called, and by His name he will be called. He will be said (to be) the son of God, and they will call him the son of the Most High. (Aramaic Apocalypse I 9–II 1)

He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:15)… In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:1, 14)

  • Now the image of God is the Word, by which all the world was made. (Philo, On the Special Laws 1.81)
  • For she [Wisdom] is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty… For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness. (Wisdom of Solomon 7:26-27)

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

  • ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.’ (Shabbat 31a)

‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. (Luke 7:12)

  • Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire house of Israel, speedily and soon (Kaddish)

Those who passed by derided him [Jesus], shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days,save yourself, and come down from the cross!’In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ (Mark 15:29-31)

  • Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training.  He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord.  He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange.  We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father.  Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.  Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance.  Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.” (Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-20)

For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)…  Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

  • It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and cords, to partake of unlawful swine’s flesh. One of them, acting as their spokesman, said, “What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our fathers.” … And when he [one of the sons about to be killed] was near death, he said, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of men and to cherish the hope that God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life… [the last son to be killed said] “I, like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our fathers, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by afflictions and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God, and through me and my brothers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty which has justly fallen on our whole nation.” (2 Maccabees 7)
  • These, then, who have been consecrated for the sake of God, are honored, not only with this honor, but also by the fact that because of them our enemies did not rule over our nation, the tyrant was punished, and the homeland purified — they having become, as it were, a ransom for the sin of our nation.  And through the blood of those devout ones and their death as an xpiation, divine Providence preserved Israel that previously had been afflicted. (4 Macc 17:20-22)

‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ (Acts 7:56)

  • And all the kings and the mighty and the exalted and those who rule the earth Shall fall down before him on their faces, And worship and set their hope upon that Son of Man, And petition him and supplicate for mercy at his hands. (1 Enoch 62:9)
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3 Responses to Handout 1: Christianity was not born in a Vacuum

  1. [...] Mike Kok shared a handout about the fact that Christianity did not appear in a historical vacuum (and another about the Synoptic problem). [...]

  2. Robert Brenchley says:

    ‘DIVI FILIUS’ on Octavian’s coinage is ‘Son of a god’, not ‘son of God’. Specifically, it relates to his status as the adopted son of the divine Julius Caesar, which he used to gain the allegiance of Caesar’s legions. At one point, he even used Caesar’s name.

    • Mike K. says:

      Thanks Robert. I thought it could be read as both since Latin does not have the articles, but it is fair enough that the Greek huios theou (or theou huios) is anarthrous and that Caesar was a god. Interesting that in Mark 1:1, if it is original, ‘son of god’ is also anarthrous and in Mark 15:39 it is anarthrous when the centurion declares Jesus to be the/a son of god (it is ambiguous whether it should be taken as definite or indefinite because it is a predicate nominative and there is the question whether Mark understands the centurion’s words as a full “Christian” confession). For a direct comparison of the ‘son of god’ christology in Mark to the Roman imperial cult, especially the claim of Augustus to be the adopted son of god of the deified Caesar (and the transfer of imperial power through the act of adoption in other cases), see Tae Hum Kim, “The Anarthrous huios theou in Mark 15:39 and the Roman Imperial Cult” Biblica 79 (1998): 222-241; Michael Peppard, The Son of God in the Roman World

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