Thursday, July 31, 2014

Triumph Of Jesus (part 10)

The tale of the “triumph,” offered from an attendee’s perspective, simply followed a pattern to be found in the same chapter from which that verse was drawn.  Revelation nineteen, quite obviously, presents  a “triumph of Jesus,” providing the Creator God’s point of view on His world, doing so as Rome continues to celebrate itself as the greatest of empires while not realizing that it has already become subject to one that is greater by far.  As the fictional but historically plausible “tale of the triumph” was being told in the course of this study, those that have ears to hear (or eyes to see), will have recognized the almost exact parallel with the Scriptural text. 

Looking to those words now (and it may be worthwhile for the reader to quickly review the “eyewitness account” before doing so), one can read “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write the following: Blessed are those who are invited to the banquet at the wedding celebration of the lamb!’  He also said to me, ‘These are the true words of the God.’  So I threw myself down at his feet to worship him, but he said, ‘Do not do this!  I am only a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony about Jesus.  Worship God, for the testimony about Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’ 

Then I saw heaven opened and here came a white horse!  The one riding it was called ‘Faithful’ and ‘True,’ and with justice He judges and goes to war.  His eyes are like a fiery flame and there are many diadem crowns on His head.  He has a name written that no one knows except Himself.  He is dressed in clothing dipped in blood, and He is called the Word of God. 

The armies that are in heaven, dressed in white, clean, fine linen, were following Him on white horses.  From His mouth extends a sharp sword, so that with it He can strike the nations.  He will rule them with an iron rod, and He stomps the winepress of the furious wrath of God, the All-Powerful.  He has a name written on His clothing and on His thigh: ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’  Then I saw one angel standing in the sun, and he shouted with a loud voice to all the birds flying high in the sky: ‘Come, gather around for the great banquet of God, to eat your fill of the flesh of kings, the flesh of generals, the flesh of powerful people, the flesh of horses and those who ride them, and the flesh of all people, both free and slave, and small and great!’ 

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to do battle with the One who rode the horse and with His army.  Now the beast was seized, and along with him the false prophet who had performed signs on his behalf---signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.  Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire burning with sulfur.  The others were killed by the sword that extended from the mouth of the One who rode the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves with their flesh” (Revelation 19:9-21).  Though this is obviously  much shorter, primarily owing to the fact that the first century reader would not need any background information to provide context for the visuals on offer in a triumphus, the parallels to the Roman triumph “observed” earlier in the this study should be inescapable. 

Triumph Of Jesus (part 9)

With this, one should think of the Pauline words from the letter to the Colossians.  The “triumph” is in mind when reading: “And even though you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He nevertheless made you alive with Him, having forgiven you all transgressions.  He has destroyed what was against us, a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees opposed to us.  He has taken it away by nailing it to the cross.  Disarming rulers and authorities He has made a public disgrace of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:13-15).  Combining that with words from the second letter to the church of Corinth: “But thanks be to God Who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and Who makes known through us the fragrance that consists of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2:14-16).   

This study began with setting the background for the path by which one should approach the book of Revelation.  One must realize that, first and foremost, the book of Revelation employs apocalyptic language (behind-the-veil language) to present what is believed to be the Creator God’s perspective on the events of the day.  One is also required to understand that the language employed, obscure as it may be, would have been readily understandable by the audience to whom it is directed---especially those who have ears to hear (the repetitive refrain from chapters two and three of the book). 

To have any hope of understanding revelation, an individual must attempt to become appropriately situated within the Rome-shaped world of the late first century, and hear the message accordingly.  Failing this, the message will be missed, there will be no controls around interpretation, and one will become engaged in all manner of fanciful interpretation that would be completely incomprehensible to the author. 

The presence of the Caesar cult has been effectively highlighted.  Reference has been made to the effective employment of imperial propaganda that speaks in exalted language of both Rome and its divine Caesar, and mention has been made of the fact that early Christians, with Paul being an example, co-opted such propaganda (“from faith to faith” as but one minor example), putting said propaganda to use on behalf of the One they saw as the world’s true Lord and what they saw as the world’s truly glorious kingdom.  Thus, one should be unsurprised to find the apocalyptic author doing the same type of thing in the course of his presentation to the churches of Asia Minor. 

Furthermore, details concerning the Roman “triumph,” have been observed; and with those details, a historical-fictional account of a “triumph” has been constructed, viewed from the perspective of one in attendance, with this construction presuming a knowledge on the part of the attendee of the history and symbolism at play.  All of these things have been done in the course of a study that has been given the title of “Triumph Of Jesus,” commencing this study with a single verse from the nineteenth chapter of Revelation, which was “He has a name written on His clothing and on His thigh: ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’” (19:16). 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Triumph Of Jesus (part 8)

The headless body of the king was added to the altar, to burn along with the white bulls, while a fragrant incense was added to the flames so as to cover up the sulfuric smell of the burning flesh.  With that completed, the bodyguards of the adopted son of Caesar, each holding their fasces that symbolized Rome’s power to execute the justice that Rome alone could bring to the world, used those very same instruments in a physical demonstration of that power, slaughtering the traitorous rebels that had taken up with the enemy.  These men, traitors that they were, and branded with the mark of that beastly king, were not considered fit to be buried or burned, so their bodies were taken outside of the city and thrown into the dump.  Before their bodies would have a chance to burn, I’m sure that the vultures and the scavengers gorged themselves on their rotting flesh.  A fitting end.  Now, we are off to celebrate.  Caesar has ordained it!”

This study has been entitled the “Triumph of Jesus,” though it can rightly be said that Jesus has yet to be seen playing a role.  Before tying everything together, let it be said that the Gospels present a picture of Jesus’ “triumph.”  The best example of said “triumph” is to be found in the twenty-seventh chapter of Matthew. 

Keeping in mind the description of the “triumph,” along with the speculative (historical-fictional) narrative that has been constructed, along with the fact that the original audience of this Gospel (like the audience of Revelation) would have been well aware of the tradition of the Roman “triumph,” one reads: “Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the governor’s residence and gathered the whole cohort around Him.  They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe around Him, and after braiding a crown of thorns, they put it on His head.  They put a staff in His right hand, and kneeling down before Him, they mocked Him: ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’  They spat on Him and took the staff and struck Him repeatedly on His head.  When they had mocked Him, they stripped Him of the robe and put His own clothes back on Him.  Then they led Him away to crucify Him.  As they were going out, they found a man from Cyrene named Simon, whom they forced to carry His cross.  They came to a place called Golgotha (which means ‘Place of the Skull’) and offered Jesus wine mixed with gall to drink” (Matthew 27:27-34a). 

One can easily identify the stark contrast.  The world in which Jesus lived viewed the triumphal procession in Rome, in celebration of its glorious military victors and their prowess, as the greatest possible public event.  Yet the Creator God, through Jesus His King, did something dramatically different, new, and completely unexpected.  His King will undergo a mock coronation and will then experience a triumphal procession of shame, suffering, and humiliation.  His procession would not end on Capitoline Hill, with the execution of a vanquished king.  His procession, however, would end with a sacrifice, albeit of a different kind.  Jesus’ “triumph” would culminate in a thorn-crowned King carrying His own cross to an ignominious hill named for the skull, so as to undergo death Himself.   

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Triumph Of Jesus (part 7)

The procession had wound through the city.  The crowds had cheered the triumphator and his army, while mocking the defeated foes.  Finally they reached Capitoline hill.  It is here that the exalted general and his armies would pay homage to the one from whom they received the power to conquer, and where those conquered would face the image of mighty Jupiter, realizing that the great god of Rome had overcome their pithy deities. 

The defeated army was forced to part, to give way to their king and to his bedraggled generals.  They were marched through the midst of their men, bound in heavy chains.  Then they were forced to trudge through the midst of the army that had broken the spirits of their fighting men and hastened their demise.  Finally, they were presented to the triumphator, who dragged them, by their chains, up the steps of Jupiter’s temple, where he would force them to participate in a sacrifice in honor of Rome’s supreme deity before employing them as gruesome examples of the eternal might of Rome. 

It was reported, quite comically I might add, that the king had attempted to infiltrate the ranks of Rome’s army, promising some of Rome’s soldiers all of the splendor and treasures that his kingdom had to offer, if only they would turn their backs on Rome, leave their posts, fight for him, and encourage others to do the same.  Comical, for what king could offer something that glorious Rome could not provide?  Surprisingly and tragically, some had been won over to his side.  Traitors!  They too had been identified and captured.  Infamy would come upon them and their fates would not be dissimilar to the one that wooed them.  I’m sure they wished that they had not joined his side. 

They had renounced the marks that had been placed on their bodies, identifying them as members of the Roman legion.  As part of their disavowal of Rome, they had scraped those various marks from off of their skin.  This new mark, they were told, the one that showed that they had left the side of Rome, would cause them to be honored by their new people and their gods.  They had genuflected before gods that were doomed to fall.  They had even consented to worshiping that king as if he was a god in the mold of blessed Caesar.  How absurd.  Now, that same mark, an anti-mark really, was one of ignominy.  It branded them as traitorous rebels.  Many have attempted to mount campaigns of propaganda against Rome, against its emperor, and against its gods.  All had failed.  All will fail!  Futility indeed. 

The white bulls were offered in sacrifice.  Then, the king and his generals were brought forward, with the generals forced to take a knee.  The very dagger that had been used to slit the throats of the sacrificial bulls was placed in the hands of the triumphator.  With one swift motion, each of the generals, in turn, was dispatched from this mortal existence---their immortal souls sent to wander the underworlds in punishment for their crimes against the empire of the son of god.  Then the king himself, who had attempted to stand against the power of almighty Caesar, was forced to kneel before the altar of Jupiter.  He was forced to bend his knees, acknowledging the being who is supreme over all.  Having done this, the triumphator, having had one of the fasces placed in his hand, drew back, swung the axe, and decapitated the now permanently fallen king. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Triumph Of Jesus (part 6)

Today and today only, he bore the titles ultimately reserved for Caesar.  Along with the crowds, I read the embroidered titles and hailed him as the greatest of all kings and greatest of lords.  When I read them I thought of Caesar, for the triumphator merely bears the title and the power in proxy.  Though he is the greatest of Rome’s generals, and though he has achieved an exalted position, at any moment Caesar could demand him to turn over his army and he would have no choice but to acquiesce.  He will, however, get to keep the crown, the robes, and the baton for the remainder of his life, though I’m sure that if the Caesar asked him to return them for any reason, he would gladly do so. 

He’s a man of humility, and that is part of the reason that he is being so celebrated.  His popular support is so great and his army so loyal that he could have, at any time, easily marched on Rome and overthrown Caesar himself, but he has chosen not to do this.  It probably never even crossed his mind to grasp at Caesar’s throne, which is yet another reason to hail him.  Listen to me going on and on.  It’s almost like I’m worshiping him as if it were he that was the son of god, rather than the Caesar himself.    

As I continued to watch, and as I continued to be enveloped in a sense of amazement at the sight before me, I heard the voice of the heralds.  They were traveling through the crowds reminding all on-lookers that the celebration would not end at the conclusion of the ‘triumph,’ but that the Caesar expected all the citizens of Rome to carry the festivities into the night, doing so with joyous feasting.  The heralds walked the crowds, speaking of the great exploits of the soldiers, of their service to Rome, and of their felicity to that which was symbolized by the eagle emblazoned upon their banners, saying ‘Open your homes to the fighting men of Rome!  Invite them to your banquets!  Let them eat their fill!  In service to Rome, they have taken their lives in their hands to conquer generals and all manner of powerful people!  They faced down charging horses so that all, free men and slaves, might continue to enjoy the benefits of all that Rome has to offer!  You owe them your hospitality and your very lives!  Honor them!’  I certainly hoped that I would have the honor of hosting one of these brave warriors. 

Behind the triumphator and his army came those that he had conquered.  Foolishly, they had attempted to do battle with Rome’s greatest general.  Not unexpectedly, they had failed; and now, they were going to suffer the end of all that attempted to stand against the glorious Roman empire, its Caesar, and its legions.  I saw the king of the conquered peoples.  I saw the greatest of his generals.  Poor fools.  They did not realize the futility in which they were engaged.  They did not realize that their doom had been sealed when Caesar sent out his armies under the command of this particular triumphator.  Examples were going to be made of these men, and that example was going to be published far and wide as a warning against those that might attempt the same.  The king and his generals, so used to riding at the front of their army in all of their regal splendor, had been forced to come last in the procession, stripped of all semblances of power and bearing the scorn and insults of the crowd.  For them, shame was heaped upon shame. 

Triumph Of Jesus (part 5)

I could spend all day describing the triumphator alone, but of course, no man does what he has done by himself.  An army is required to conquer, and his is a fine one.  So yes, the army of Rome followed him triumphantly, as would be appropriate, and they were certainly decked out in all of their military splendor for this occasion.  Some walked and some rode horses---fine steeds indeed.  Rome has the finest horses, of that there is no doubt.  The spoils from this war must have been great, as it looked like they were all wearing brand new uniforms and brand new armor.  Normally, one would expect to see evidences of battle, especially some spatterings of blood, but there were none to be seen.  They looked sharp.  Crisp and clean.  That certainly said something about the way that Caesar felt about this man and his accomplishments on behalf of glorious Rome. 

Getting back to the triumphator, I could see that he was carrying the ivory baton.  You don’t see this every time either.  Yet more evidence about the nature of Caesar’s feelings toward this general, as if the fact of the adoption wasn’t enough to communicate such things.  He held the baton aloft like a sword, as if he is charging in to battle right now, with army in tow.  I wonder if he lead his army into battle or if he called out the execution of battle plans from the safety of the rear.  Something tells me that this general was out front, risking himself bravely for his king, his gods, and his fellow countrymen. 

Between him and his army came his bodyguards.  He had a group of them.  I’ve never seen that many, though I’m told that if this was a ‘triumph’ for the Caesar, that he would have that many, if not more.  A general has never had that many bodyguards.  I suppose being the newly adopted son of Caesar affords one such luxuries.  Perhaps they are necessities?  After all, Caesar does have his enemies---there’s always rumblings among the people.  One hears things.  Each of the bodyguards is carrying a ‘fasces.’  Ah, the symbol of Rome and its power. 

Has there ever been a kingdom more glorious than Rome?  Has there ever been an empire so powerful?  When Rome strikes, nations fall.  Sure, other empires may have been larger geographically, but none has ever been united in the manner of Rome, with its roads, its aqueducts, and especially its religion.  Combined with the wonderful system of Roman justice and the ever-present military to help preserve the occasional outbreak of revolution (though why anybody would want to revolt against Rome, I have no idea), Caesar’s rule is iron-clad.  Rarely does Caesar have to execute his power on a grand scale, but when he does, it can indeed be furious, like the falling of the wrath of all-powerful Jupiter himself. 

We have all heard tales of the fury of Rome’s legions when unleashed---the ‘gates of hell’ I believe it is called.  I would never want to experience it, that’s for sure.  Pity those who do.  Once the full force of Rome’s military might is marshaled, battles tend to come to an end very quickly.  This triumphator, I’m told, had done this very thing.  He probably could have refrained from doing so, but then the war would have dragged on and on, and more would have died needlessly.  He had an enemy to defeat.  He knew that if he could bring down or capture just one general in particular, then Rome’s victory would come quickly.  Owing to that, his strategy was to bring it all to a grand conclusion, at a single time and place, and that is just what he did.  He risked a great deal by this, but the enemy was defeated and many were spared. A plan executed flawlessly!  So not only does it seem that he has very much earned this adoption by Caesar, but he has earned the titles that he bears on this day, which were embroidered on his tunic. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Triumph Of Jesus (part 4)

I saw the special gates, only used for these ‘triumphs,’ opened to reveal the ‘vir triumphalis,’ as he used to be called.  Now they refer to him as the ‘triumphator.’  I wonder why that has changed.  I’ll bet a previous Caesar used it, maybe Augustus, and didn’t want anybody else to ever have that same name.  Will Rome ever have another one like him?  Oh, we could only hope.  Either way, if I was down among the people, I would have simply referred to him as the ‘man of triumph,’ as we normally do, but since I’m being asked to write a report for the Emperor, and since it was a possibility that it was going to be sent around to a number of cities that he plans to visit soon, along with the general that is being celebrated, that calls for the use of proper terminology.  So I thought that I might as well start thinking along those lines, so ‘triumphator’ it is. 

The gates were opened and I saw him.  The triumphator was riding in a brilliant white chariot, being pulled by a team of the most beautiful white horses that I had ever seen.  The chariot had writing on the side.  I could just make out what it read: ‘A faithful son of Rome.  A true leader of men.’  I was able to have a bit more background information than usual, and I was told that he was personally chosen by Caesar to lead this campaign, and that he was hand-selected to bring and impose Rome’s glorious justice upon the peoples of the enemy against which Rome was forced to go to war.  Truly, they will benefit from the ‘pax Romana,’ and will come to understand just what it means to experience ‘pax et securitas.’ 

His face was painted red, like Jupiter.  It made his face look like it was on fire.  They had done something with his eyes.  It was almost like they were glowing.  It was very impressive.  Naturally, he was wearing the laurel wreath crown.  Not surprisingly, given the extra special nature of this parituclar ‘triumph’ and triumphator, he was wearing the ‘corona triumphalis.’  For those that may be unfamiliar with this, that doesn’t happen with every ‘triumph.’  The corona triumphalis is a gold coronet that is fashioned in the shape of a laurel wreath, with dangling gold ribbons. 

I noticed that there was another inscription on the chariot.  I asked about that and was told that the triumphator asked to be able to write another name on the chariot---the special name given to him by his father.  The writing was a bit odd.  I couldn’t make out the language in which it was written, and nobody else around me was able to read that particular language either.  I made a notation to ask about it, so perhaps I’ll be able to learn what it said at a later time.  Written above that, however, was his proper Roman name.  Everybody could read that name.  Apparently, Caesar has adopted him as his very own son and he is going to function as Caesar’s mouthpiece and royal emissary.  Truly incredible!   

As one would also expect, the triumphator was dressed splendidly.  Not only was he wearing the customary ‘tunica palmata,’ which is the tunic embroidered with palm leaves, but he also wore the ‘toga picta,’ which is the painted toga.  As is the custom, the toga was the royal purple and it had a border of embroidered gold.  The gold reflected brilliantly in the light, and it must have been catching a reflection, because the gold, from time to time, looked almost red.  Because the toga is the traditional dress of the ruler of Rome, it was an excellent reminder that this particular man has been chosen as Caesar’s royal emissary.  It’s difficult to get my mind around this.  From now on, he is going to speak for Caesar.  His words are to be taken as Caesar’s words. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Triumph Of Jesus (part 3)

The ceremony would commence outside the walls of Rome, on the western bank of the Tiber River.  The “triumphal entry” would enter the city of Rome by means of a gate that was only opened for these specific occasions.  The procession would not only include the army and the spoils of war, but it could also be replete with floats that depicted battles won and groups of captives consisting of enemy soldiers and famous leaders of the now vanquished foe.  Naturally, this can be recognized as the forerunner to what is generally thought of as a modern parade.  At the head, or sometimes at the center of all of this would be the celebrant, as cheering crowds often showered him with flowers.  A winding path would be followed through the city, with this path known as the “sacred way.” 

The climax of the procession would occur at Capitoline Hill.  There, in devotion to Jupiter, white bulls would be sacrificed to Jupiter.  On some occasions, the vanquished leader of Rome’s enemy would be slain before the eyes of the cheering masses.  Then, if the celebrant was a general (rather than the emperor), he would enter into the temple of Jupiter so as to offer his laurel wreath (his celebratory crown) to the god, doing so in order to signal that he had no intentions of becoming the king of Rome.  With this portion of the ceremony brought to a close, the temples were kept open, incense was burned at the altars, soldiers would disperse throughout the city in order to properly celebrate, and a great banquet would be provided for the citizens of Rome. 

If one was to take the position of a spectator of the Roman “triumph,” and found himself in a position to view the entirety of the procession and offer a description of what was being seen, with this sight fused with knowledge of what all would take place in association with the procession and the symbolism at work by what was being seen, and then offered a report on what we witnessed, it might go something like this: “I was so excited for the events that were about to unfold before my eyes.  Truly this was a banner day for Rome and its glory.  From what I understood, the war had been fierce.  Some thought it would never end, but eventually the general triumphed.  There were some rumors that Caesar intervened and took command of the army, directing it to its victory, and I can believe it; but if he did, he’s allowing the general to receive all the credit and be the subject of today’s ‘triumph.’ 

So even though this general was being honored today, and even though we eventually looked to him as a ‘god for a day,’ or ‘king for a day,’ there was a bit of an undercurrent amongst the populace that it should have been the Caesar himself riding at the head of this procession.  Along those lines, it’s interesting that, with all he has done for the empire, it’s the Caesar that is truly responsible for the victory that was celebrated here today, but he has never once insisted upon his own ‘triumph.’   What humility.  It tends to make one think that he truly is a son of the gods.’ 

I had a great seat.  I could not believe it when Caesar himself sent a royal messenger to bring me to the place from which I could watch the whole thing.  Then, when I was asked to write an account of it, from the people’s point of view, well, wow!  How could I refuse?  Me, of all people.  It was all a bit overwhelming.  I was so stunned by the news that I think I fainted.  I could have kissed the messenger’s feet, but he wouldn’t let me.  I was day-dreaming, thinking about my good fortune, and I almost missed the beginning of the parade.  It’s a good thing I came to myself when I did.  That would not have been a good thing. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Triumph Of Jesus (part 2)

When it comes to the “triumph,” the subjected realms of the Roman Empire would be enlightened as to these happenings through the never-ending stream of Roman imperial propaganda (of which the Caesar cult was part and parcel and served to undergird), proclaiming the endless glory and power of Rome, the bringer of peace and security.  Finally, those that were defeated at the hands of Rome would be well aware of this grand event, as they would find themselves as very unwilling and unfortunate participants.

So what was this “triumph”?  The “triumph” was perhaps the greatest honor that could be bestowed upon a citizen of the empire.  The “triumph” would generally be connected to the leading of an army to victory over an enemy of Rome.  Also known as the “triumphus”, it was a both a civil ceremony and a religious ritual.  As just indicated, it was held in order to celebrate the celebrate the military achievement of an army commander who had posted significant military successes.  By origin and by tradition, the triumph would be held at the successful completion of a war on foreign soil---enemy conquered. 

Though there are records indicating the celebration of hundreds of “triumphs,” in line with the elevation of the Caesar to the status of “son of god” in connection with Augustus Caesar (the reason that Augustus began to be referred to in this way, with this epithet falling to the emperors to follow him, is that Julius Caesar, who was essentially deified at his death, was also said to have adopted Augustus as his son via his last will and testament, thus he could be referred to as the “son of god”.  Augustus is not the given name of the emperor, but rather, it means “revered one”), the number of “triumphs” dropped dramatically.  Between 27 B.C. and 166 A.D., there were only five recorded “triumphs.”  Therefore, in the time of John the Revelator, though few such events had taken place, these few events were accorded a place within the civil and religious liturgy of the Roman Empire.  As one would expect when power and prestige and authority moves from the many to the few (or the singular), the number of “triumphs” dropped dramatically upon Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire.   

On the day that the “triumph” would take place, the one being so honored, if not the emperor---in the vast majority of cases, a general, would wear clothing that would readily identify him as semi-divine or kingly.  Essentially, the one that would be referred to as the “man of triumph” was being trumpeted as something close to “king for a day.”  The clothing that he wore would be that which was traditionally associated with the statue of “Jupiter Capitolinus,” the supreme deity of Rome.  This would include a pure white and gold toga, a laurel crown, and red boots.  He might even have his face reddened in honor of the god whose garments he was presumed to be wearing, albeit briefly.  Obviously, if it was the emperor himself, then his divinity, along with his kingly status, would be a given and implied. 

The one being celebrated, the man of triumph, would ride through the streets of Rome in a chariot.  He would do so at the head of a procession with his army and the spoils of his victorious campaign of warfare trailing behind him.  His army would be unarmed.  The only weapon (or weapons, as there would often be more than one) to be found within the procession would be something known as the “fasces,” carried by the bodyguard of the honoree.  Though carried by his guard, it would be understood that this weapon is one that had been truly wielded, and would be well handled, by the celebrant.  The “fasces” is a bundle of sticks, tied together, with the blade of an axe emerging from the center of the bundle.  Traditionally, this symbolized power and jurisdiction, and the power of life over death.  It often served as a symbol of Rome itself. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Triumph Of Jesus (part 1)

He has a name written on His clothing and on His thigh: ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’” – Revelation 19:16  (NET)

In the time period in which the Apocalypse of John (also known as the book of Revelation) was composed, there was a well known ritual within the Roman Empire.  This ritual was referred to as a “triumph.”  All were familiar with this ritual, especially the residents of the city of Rome, as this would be the place at which the greatest of “triumphs” would take place.  Along with those who were privileged to witness such things in person, those who participated in the Caesar cult, who worshiped Caesar as a god (or son of god), though residing in far-flung regions of the empire, would most assuredly have been aware of this glorious celebration, as it would serve to reinforce proscriptions concerning the divinity of the Caesar.  This is especially true if the “triumph” was in celebration of the Caesar himself, though the ritual was not limited to the emperor, and could be afforded to a general of Rome. 

Speaking of the worship of Caesar, which must be comprehended in accordance with any thoughts about the “triumph,” one must realize that the cult that was dedicated to the worship of the emperor and his household was believed to be one of the most popular (if not the most popular) cults of the ancient world in which John the revelator would take up his pen.  An excellent example of the honor afforded to the divine emperor an inscription from the Provincial Assembly of Asia that took place in the year 9 B.C. 

It reads: “The most divine… we should consider co-equal to the beginning of all things…; for when everything was falling [into disorder] and tending toward dissolution, he restored it once more and gave to the whole world a new aura; …then common good fortune of all…The beginning of life and vitality. …All the cities unanimously adopt the birthday of the divine as the new beginning of the year…Whereas Providence, which has regulated our whole existence…has brought our life to the climax of perfection in giving to us (this man), whom it [Providence] filled with strength  the welfare of men, and who being to us and our descendants as Savior , has put an end to war and has set all things in Order; and [whereas] having become [god] manifest, has fulfilled all the hopes of earlier times… in surpassing all the benefactors who proceed him…, and whereas, finally, the birthday of the god has been for the whole world the beginning of the good news concerning him [therefore let a new era begin from his birth]”. 

One must presume that John, exiled to the island of Patmos by the empire, would also have been familiar with the grand celebratory event of the “triumph”.  To go along with this point, the seven cities of Asia Minor to which John writes in his apocalypse, are believed to be strong centers of emperor worship, which serves as a bit of a backdrop to John’s message to those churches.  The Revelation, “Apocalypse” in Greek because of its use of almost exclusively apocalyptic language (“apocalyptic” meaning “behind the veil”) to present the Creator God’s perspective on things, as can be seen in regular use in the writings of the Hebrew prophets (while also being scattered throughout the historical and poetical/wisdom writings as well), asks to be read with the Roman empire, its Caesar cult, and its imperial pronouncements, standing in the background and most assuredly coloring the thoughts of its intended audience. 

Evidence of this worship was to be found in virtually every significant city of the empire, with cities even competing with each other to show forth their commitment to the cult through the erection of temples and statues and the offering of substantial sacrifices, so as to receive greater imperial (and therefore divine) benefaction.  Indeed, a portion of the liturgy surrounding the worship of Caesar indicated that Caesar had been faithful to his subjects, so his subjects, in turn, were to be faithful to him.  The Greek phrase that was employed to communicate this message was “ek pistis eis pistin.”  This is generally translated as “from faith to faith,” and is co-opted by the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans (right under Caesar’s nose), and made to more properly apply to the true King and His subjects.   

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Tradition Of Wells (part 11 of 11)

The Jeremiah narrative happens upon a well on two occasions.  In the sixth chapter, as Jeremiah verbally depicts the destruction that is going to come upon Jerusalem due to its idolatry, he shares some of the Lord’s thoughts concerning the city.  The God of Israel can be heard to say “Cut down the trees around Jerusalem and build up a siege ramp against its walls.  This is the city which is to be punished.  Nothing but oppression happens in it.  As a well continually pours out fresh water so it continually pours out wicked deeds.  Sounds of violence and destruction echo throughout it.  All I see are sick and wounded people” (6:6-7). 

This is, of course, a reflection upon Israel’s covenant failures.  For this, the Creator God brings His curse against His covenant people.  Death is coming to them.  It is against this that Jesus can be heard speaking, when He says “whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become a fountain of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:14).  This eternal life is so much more than a one-way ticket to heaven upon death.  Rather, it is an entrance into the covenant people of the Creator God, in which one shares in the covenant blessings promised by the God of Israel (Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28), and presumably the resurrection of the righteous at the end of the age. 

Not long thereafter, the Samaritan woman questions Jesus about whether Jerusalem is the appropriate place to offer worship.  Might this be a reflection on what the Creator God says about Jerusalem in Jeremiah (a well that pours out wicked deeds rather than fresh water)?  Jesus responds by telling her “a time is coming… when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (4:23a).  Further on in Jeremiah, the prophet laments over that which he speaks, saying “I wish that my head were a well full of water and my eyes were a fountain full of tears!  If they were, I could cry day and night for those of my dear people who have been killed” (9:1). 

Hosea is the next prophet to be heard, as he spoke to the situation of the northern kingdom of Israel.  Referring to the judgment of the Creator God that was coming upon that portion of His people, Hosea says “Even though he flourishes like a reed plant, a scorching east wind will come, a wind from the Lord rising up from the desert.  As a result, his spring will dry up; his well will become dry.  That wind will spoil all his delightful foods in the containers in his storehouse” (13:15).  Beyond the natural fact that water is necessary for life for all peoples everywhere, wells had been a source of life for Israel, stretching back to Abraham as a place of marriage and ultimately offspring that continued their God’s covenant purposes.  Here, their God speaks of a well that would become dry.  Specifically, this is directed against Samaria (13:16), which is the setting for Jesus well meeting.  This provides added color to Jesus’ talk of “living water” (4:10) and “a fountain of water springing up to eternal life, as well as Jesus’ directing of the woman’s attention away from either Samaria or Jerusalem as the center of worship. 

In a similar instance, to round out and wrap up this study, is to be found in the prophetic work of Micah.  Here, it is possible to readily identify informative points of contact with the Johannine well story, as Micah speaks of the Creator God’s judgment that comes “because of Jacob’s rebellion and the sins of the nation of Israel” (1:15a).  Not unlike the woman’s question to Jesus about the proper place of worship, and being mindful of Jesus’ response, Micah can be heard to rhetorically inquire “How has Jacob rebelled, you ask?  Samaria epitomizes their rebellion!  Where are Judah’s pagan worship centers, you ask?  They are right in Jerusalem!” (1:15b).  As Micah goes on to describe the tribulation that will come their way, he is heard saying “Therefore you will have to say farewell to Moresheth Gath.  The residents of Achzib will be as disappointing as a dried up well to the kings of Israel” (1:14).  

A Tradition Of Wells (part 10)

This study now advances to the works of the prophets.  A look at wells through the prophets will conclude the exploration and recognition of that which has provided useful background information and contextualization for the portrayal of Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.  As this is done, one should continue to reflect on the fact that the shared historical narrative of the nation will shape the prophets’ conception of wells, providing foundation material for their own thought, while maintaining the awareness that prophetical treatment of wells will also serve to inform the significance of wells as they appear in the messianic presentations of John’s Gospel. 

Looking first to the thirty-seventh chapter of Isaiah.  As the prophecy shares material that is common to the second book of the Kings, Isaiah recounts the invasion of Judah by the Assyrian king Sennacherib, along with the response of the king, that being Hezekiah.  Hezekiah has laid Judah’s case before Israel’s God, asking for His intervention against what appears to be the seemingly unavoidable calamity that is coming upon His people.  In response, Isaiah sends a message to Hezekiah (37:21), sharing the response of the “Lord God of Israel” (37:21b). 

In the course of what is to shared with Hezekiah, Isaiah makes mention of a well, placing its mention on the lips of the arrogant king of Assyria, as the reader gets to hear what Israel’s God has effectively heard him say: “With my many chariots I climbed up the high mountains, the slopes of Lebanon.  I cut down its tall cedars and its best evergreens.  I invaded its remote regions, its thickest woods.  I dug wells and drank water.  With the soles of my feet I drip up all the rivers of Egypt” (37:24b-25). 

Naturally, any mention of Egypt by a foreign king that stands against the people of Israel, is bound to invoke memories of Israel’s Egyptian experience.  Regardless of what any king could claim to have performed against Egypt, the God of Israel could lay claim to far more astounding feats.  With talk of Egypt triggering such thoughts, one could easily retrace and rethink talk of chariots (the Egyptian army overcome by the water of the sea), the digging of wells (Abraham and Isaac), and the drinking of water (the continuous provision of water in the wilderness), and be reminded that the covenant and Creator God of Israel had more than sufficient power with which to repel the relatively impotent king of Assyria.  How this might play into the thoughts of John and Jesus, if at all, while considering the importance of Isaiah to thoughts of the messiah and to the New Testament in general, is not entirely clear, though the underlying themes of covenant faithfulness do provide a means of application.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Tradition Of Wells (part 9)

Wading into the deep, deep waters of the wisdom/poetic literature of the Hebrew Scriptures, it should be first noted with interest, and honestly, with a great deal of surprise, that there is no mention of wells within the Psalms.  This is surprising, especially considering that there are a number of occasions in which Israel’s history (or at least a part of it) is recounted in Psalmic form.  When reflecting on the routine placement of wells, and their connection with every patriarch as well as Moses and the nation of Israel itself, one is only left to wonder at such an omission.  Nevertheless, wells are mentioned on three occasions in the book of Proverbs. 

In the fifth chapter the author writes “Drink water from your own cistern and running water from your own well.  Should your springs be dispersed outside, your streams of water in the wide plazas?  Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you.  May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in your young wife” (5:15-18).  This is presented in the context of the first two verses of the same chapter, where one finds “My child, be attentive to my wisdom, pay close attention to my understanding, in order to safeguard discretion, and that your lips may guard knowledge.  For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her seductive words are smoother than olive oil, but in the end she is as bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword” (5:1-4). 

Not as a means of casting aspersions upon the Samaritan woman at the well in John, but it is certainly not beyond the realm of probability to hear in these verses some potential background for a woman that meets Jesus at a well, that has had five husbands, and is currently engaged in a relationship with a man that was not her husband.  It is in a similar vein that one hears the next mention of wells here in Proverbs, as the proverbial author writes “Give me your heart, my son, and let your eyes observe my ways; for a prostitute is like a deep pit; a harlot is like a narrow well” (23:26-27). 

In a use that does not seem to be entirely helpful to this project, though an effort could probably be made to shape and twist it to fit the particular needs of this study, the twenty-fifth chapter reads “Like a muddied spring and a polluted well, so is a righteous person who gives way before the wicked” (25:26).  The same could also be said (not entirely helpful, though one must be cognizant of the potential to shape the thoughts of Jesus and the Johannine author, so that it plays a role in their respective thinking) of what one stumbles upon in the book of Ecclesiastes, as before reading “Absolutely futile!... All things are futile!” (12:8), representing the “Teacher’s” summary of his search for the purpose of life, it is said that “before the silver cord is removed, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered by the well, or the water wheel is broken at the cistern---and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the life’s breath returns to God Who gave it” (12:6-7). 

Rounding out the poetic literature and turning to the Song of Solomon, the well is mentioned in connection with a love relationship.  The word “bride” is even mentioned, creating the connotation of marriage and placing this use of “well” at a distance that is much closer to the John four story than what has been seen in the previous two instances.  There Solomon (presumably) writes “You are a locked garden, my sister, my bride; you are an enclosed spring, a sealed-up fountain.  Your shoots are a royal garden full of pomegranates with choice fruits: henna with nard, nard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon with every kind of spice, myrrh and aloes with all the finest spices.  You are garden spring, a well of fresh water flowing down from Lebanon” (4:12-15). 

Musing upon the number of marriages within the historical presentation of Israel that came about in connection with wells, it makes a great deal of sense to hear this Hebrew poet talk of wells during the course of a love song directed to his sister, his bride.  Because the bringing forth of children, especially in Genesis, following the marriages that were associated with wells, was packaged together with the continuation and propagation of the Creator God’s covenants that began with Abraham, would this subtly call attention to the Creator God’s covenant faithfulness, thus casting this, in a way, as something of a love song between the Creator God and His special people Israel?  If one was inclined to stretch the analogy a bit more, one could look at Israel’s stop at the place of twelve wells as the place of their birth, just before their entering into their own covenant relationship (marriage) with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?      

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Tradition Of Wells (part 8)

Continuing to lay the conceptual foundation for the collective consciousness concerning wells, it is worthwhile to quickly trace all remaining mentions of wells within what are considered to be the historical books of Israel.  In the second book of Samuel, there is a mention that is probably not a helpful or useful mention of a well, at least on the surface.  Nevertheless, it occurs during the time period following the death of King Saul, as David is solidifying his royal position, so perhaps others can find related value in its mention. 

Engaging the text: “Then Joab left David and sent messengers after Abner” (3:26a).  Joab is the commander of David’s forces, and Abner is the commander of the forces of Saul, and temporarily Ishbosheth, the son of Saul.  “They brought him back from the well of Sirah.  (But David was not aware of it.)  When Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside at the gate as if to speak privately with him.  Joab then stabbed him in the abdomen and killed him” (3:26b-27a).  Later in the same book, during the time of Absalom’s temporarily successful (and seemingly temporarily divinely sanctioned) taking of the throne of Israel, there is a story concerning two spies that David had in his employ. 

This seems to be as useful as the event just presented, but in dutifully presenting the record it is found that “Jonathan and Ahimaaz were staying in En Rogel.  A female servant would go and inform them, and they would then go and inform King David.  It was not advisable for them to be seen going into the city.  But a young man saw them on one occasion and informed Absalom.  So the two of them quickly departed and went to the house of a man in Bahurim.  There was a well in his courtyard, and they got down in it” (17:17-18). 

Finally, in the book of Nehemiah, in a section that mentions wells as part of a prayerful praise that recounted Israel’s history, beginning with the Genesis account of creation, in a manner which undergirds the purpose of this study by demonstrating a mention of wells in a general recapitulation of the exodus narrative, Nehemiah can be heard to say “They captured fortified cities and fertile land.  They took possession of houses full of all sorts of good things---wells previously dug, vineyards, olive trees, and fruit trees in abundance.  They enjoyed to the full your great goodness” (9:25). 

Having reviewed the location of wells within the historical narrative (though it is possible to find some historical narrative overlap when turning to the prophets, specifically Isaiah), this study now turns its attention to the mention of wells within the wisdom/poetic and prophetic literature of the Hebrew Scriptures.  With these, it will be possible to see how the larger part of the historical narrative that is associated with wells serves to shape ideas about references to wells in this body of work, while also continuing to form the historical imagination along the lines of that of the Johannine author, that one might more correctly approach the story of Jesus and the woman at the well.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Tradition Of Wells (part 7)

In the fifteenth chapter of Exodus, following the miracle at the sea, Israel ventures on to Elim, “where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palms trees, and they camped there by the water” (15:27).  Coincidentally, their first stop following their deliverance was at a place called Marah.  It is reported that “they came to Marah, but they were not able to drink the waters of Marah, because they were bitter. (That is why its name is Marah)” (15:23).  Through Moses, the Creator God of Israel is said to have intervened in this situation, making the water safe to drink.  However, it is not until they reach Elim, the place of twelve wells (reminding the reader of the twelve sons/tribes of Jacob/Israel), following the miraculous crossing and defeat of their pursuers, that they are said to have made camp. 

In the book of Numbers one finds an interesting mention of a well.  As it is connected to Moses and to a song, while also occurring during their long exodus experience, it is not difficult to imagine this account having a special place within Israelite memory.  Reading on then: “they traveled to Beer; that is the well where the Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Gather the people and I will give them water.’  Then Israel sang this song: ‘Spring up, O well, sing to it!  The well which the princes dug, which the leaders of the people opened with their scepters and their staffs.’” (21:16-18a) 

Fresh on the heels of the song about the well, “Israel sent messengers to King Sihon of the Amorites, saying, ‘Let us pass through your land; we will not turn aside into the fields or into the vineyards, nor will we drink water from any well, but we will go along the King’s Highway until we pass your borders.’” (21:21-22)  This request was rebuffed.  Not only was there a refusal, but “he gathered all his forces together and went out against Israel in the wilderness” (21:23b).  In consequence, “the Israelites defeated him in battle and took possession of his land” (21:24a).  One could rest assured that Israel then drank from their wells and turned aside into the fields and vineyards. 

Is there any way that this particular well-story could come into play when looking at the well-story of the Gospel of John?  Certainly, otherwise why ask the question?  How does that story in the Gospel of John begin?  John reports that Jesus had “left Judea and set out once more for Galilee.  But He had to pass through Samaria” (4:3-4).  Obviously Jesus could have avoided going through Samaria, taking a different route on His return trip to Galilee, but this was the route that He chose. 

Similarly, Israel could have taken any number of routes towards their promised land, but they did not.  Just as they chose (or their God chose for them through Moses) a route that was going to take them through the land of the Amorites (specifically including the “King’s Highway”), so also Jesus chose a route that would take Him through Samaria.  On another level, it would certainly not be a reach to consider the idea that the author of John believed that any road being traveled by Jesus would be the “King’s Highway.” 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Tradition Of Wells (part 6)

This study now departs from Genesis and moves on to Exodus, which is the event (so much more than just the title of the book) that gives definitive shape to Israel’s self-consciousness.  Indeed, it can even be said that the understanding of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as revealed in Genesis, is shaped by the self-revelation of that same God as the God of Israel’s exodus.  This means that the God that reveals Himself as One Who works and intervenes on behalf of His people and His creation, doing so from the beginning of the Genesis narrative, is now also to be understood through the lens of the God that liberated Israel from Egypt, provided them with a covenant charge, with guidance as to how to live up to their covenant responsibilities, and guided them to their promised land. 

This holds especially true if Moses is indeed the primary author/compiler/compose of the Torah, thus making it impossible to separate the notion of exodus (rescue, deliverance, redemption, restoration, etc…) from thoughts about the Creator God of Israel.  Indeed, thinking along such lines allows us to view Genesis one and two as a divine rescue, much like Israel was divinely rescued from their Egyptian bondage. 

With such thoughts reverberating in a reader’s mind during a conscientious approach to the broad Scriptural narrative, one should be thoroughly unsurprised to see Moses, after fleeing Egypt in the wake of his murder of an Egyptian that had been mis-treating an Israelite, settling in the land of Midian and doing so by a “certain well” (Exodus 2:15b).  That level of surprise continues in its restraint when reading that “a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and began to draw water and fill the troughs in order to water their father’s flock.  When some shepherds came and drove them away, Moses came up and defended them and then watered their flock” (Exodus 2:16-17). 

In this, Moses becomes very much like Jacob, watering the flock for one who will eventually come to be his wife.  As was seen with Rebekah and Rachel, there was a rush to return home so that these girls might share their story with their father (2:18-19).  In response, Moses is summoned to the home of the priest.  He “agreed to stay with the man, and he gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage” (2:21). 

With this third patriarchal (in the broadest sense) instance of a wife being found at a well, it shall be noted with great interest that part of Jesus’ conversation at the well with the Samaritan woman---the portion that convinces her of His status as a prophet, centers upon the subject of marriage.  It is almost as if to say that the woman, who actually lacks a husband though it is said that she has had several, has come to the well, and through this encounter with the one that can truly provide water (as did Jacob and Moses), she found herself a true and lasting husband.    

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Tradition Of Wells (part 5)

Because the woman at the well mentions Jacob, one quite naturally expects to find Jacob connected to wells.  This expectation is not disappointed.  Indeed, having seen Abraham and Isaac in connection with such, with wells proving to be an important piece of Israel’s historical narrative, it would indeed be astonishing not to find similar stories concerning Jacob.  Like Abraham’s servant, who had found Isaac’s wife (Jacob’s mother) through an event at a well, so too does Jacob find a wife for himself in much the same way.  In light of that, it’s almost surprising that the story of Jesus’ encounter with a woman at a well did not end up with Jesus finding Himself a wife.  

In Genesis twenty-nine, Jacob, having fled from his father’s house because of the ruse and fraud he had perpetrated upon his father and his brother (the source of a none-too-minor dispute between Jacob and his brother), “saw in the field a well with three flocks of sheep lying beside it, because the flocks were watered from that well” (Genesis 29:2a).  Providentially, Jacob, even though this is the place to which he has been directed by his mother, presumably comes to the same well to which the servant of Abraham had come and at which he is able to make inquiries concerning his mother’s brother, Laban.  It is in concert with this inquiry that one of his future wives, Rachel, is introduced into the narrative, as she was coming towards the well with her father’s sheep (29:6). 

In contrast to what was seen with Abraham’s servant, whose plea to his Lord was answered with Rebekah watering his animals, Jacob “went over and rolled the stone off the mouth of the well and watered the sheep of his uncle Laban” (29:10b).  Similar to what was seen previously from Laban, when Rachel informs her father about Jacob’s presence, “he rushed out to meet him.  He embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his house” (29:13b). 

Fascinatingly, this is the only well to be seen in connection with Jacob as part of the Scriptural narrative.  Never is there a report of anything referred to as “Jacob’s well,” as alluded to by the Johnannine author and the Samaritan woman.  Now, this is not to say that there was no such thing as Jacob’s well, as it is most likely, due to its location, a well located within the territory of the promised land that was bequeathed to Joseph before Jacob’s death. 

With such knowledge, one can surmise that a well there came to be known as “Jacob’s well,” even if there was no overt connection to Jacob within the shared historical memory of Israel.  This piece of information, however, does nothing to change the nature of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.  The fact remains that a tradition of wells would underscore Jesus way of thinking, along with that of His disciples, the woman at the well, the townsfolk that would come to hear the woman and her story, and the author of the narrative. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Tradition Of Wells (part 4)

Leaving Abraham, this study moves on to the next of Israel’s patriarchs, whose story will be part of the grand tale told by Israel about itself, and comes face to face with Isaac.  Not only is his wife discovered in connection with a well, but Isaac has his own well dealings.  Not surprisingly, since his life mimics that of his father in a number of ways (movements based on famine, deceptions about his wife, growing wealthy based on these deceptions, a wife that was initially childless, etc…), it is discovered that Isaac, like his father, is involved in disputes concerning wells. 

There is no need to retrace the exact course of the disputation found in the twenty-sixth chapter of Genesis, as it shall suffice to say that it looks quite similar to that which was experienced by Abraham.  Surely these disputes play into and informs the historic sensibilities that must be brought to any attempt to enter into the mindset of Jesus and that of the Samaritan woman when they engage in a partially disputative conversation at the well. 

This may prove to be especially so when considering what took place once Isaac was able to dig a well over which there was no dispute.  Isaac’s response to the digging of this undisputed well was “now the Lord has made room for us, and we will prosper in the land” (26:22b).  “From there Isaac went up to Beer Sheba.  The Lord appeared to him that night and said, ‘I am the God of your father Abraham.  Do not be afraid, for I am with you.  I will bless you and multiply your descendants for the sake of My servant Abraham.’  Then Isaac built an altar there and worshiped the Lord” (26:23-25a).  This is rounded out in a not unexpected way, as the story goes on to say that “He pitched his tent there, and his servants dug a well” (26:25b). 

Here, a well (actually two wells) is connected with a place of worship, prompting thoughts of worship and the act of worship itself.  Of course, hearkening back to yet another connection to his father, one must consider that Beer Sheba is also the place that Abraham dug a well and the place at which he made the treaty with Abimelech (Isaac also deals with an Abimelech) following the initial disputes about a well.  So naturally, Isaac’s venturing to that place is an explicit reminder of Abraham’s story (as is much of Isaac’s story in and of itself), and by extension the Creator God’s covenant with Abraham.  So perhaps one should not think of wells, especially in Scripture, without also retaining the idea of the Creator God’s covenant and His covenant faithfulness to go along with it? 

Staying with Abraham, it is recorded that he “planted a tamarisk tree in Beer Sheba” (21:33a), which was the place that he dug the well, and “There he worshiped the Lord, the eternal God” (21:33b).  Why go back to Abraham after having moved on to Isaac?  Why mention the covenant that was begun with Abraham, which would be extended to Isaac, to Jacob/Israel, and then on to the nation of Israel?  Why speak here of worship?  Because it attunes an observer to the words of the Samaritan woman, as she responds to Jesus.  “The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet.  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem” (4:19-20).  Here is a well, a dispute, and talk of worship, which accords nicely with the well stories that participate in shaping and defining the collective mindset of the people of Israel.   

A Tradition Of Wells (part 3)

It is not at all difficult to see this idea at play in the fourth chapter of John, as Jesus said to the Samaritan woman “Give me some water to drink” (John 4:7b).  Of course, in the story of Abraham’s servant, his request is precisely met, thus a wife, Rebekah, is found for Isaac.  When the servant reveals his identity to Rebekah, “the young woman ran and told her mother’s household all about these things” (Genesis 24:28), much like the Samaritan woman runs off to tell the townspeople about her strange encounter at the well.  Rebekah’s action, in turn, prompts her brother Laban to rush out to meet the man at the spring (24:29). 

It can be said of Rebekah that she will be the vehicle through which the Creator God brings Jacob to birth, from whom will come the Creator God’s covenant people, that being the twelve tribes of Israel.  In the same light, what is seen and heard in the encounter with the woman at the well with Jesus?  Though the reader is left to guess at whether or not this woman provides Jesus with any water, such becomes a secondary issue in the wake of her conversation with Jesus.  In recounting the story of Rebekah, an allusion has just been made to the fact that “the woman left her water jar, went off into the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.  Surely He can’t be the Messiah, can He?’  So they left the town and began coming to Him” (4:28-30).  Obviously, this becomes a major divergence in the stories, though the end result will be the same. 

The action of Laban aside, Abraham’s servant is taken to Abraham’s relatives, whereas the people to whom this woman speaks come out to meet Jesus.  However, as said, the result is somewhat identical, in that the Creator God’s covenant purposes are advanced and His kingdom is broadened, “as many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the report of the woman who testified…So when the Samaritans came to Him, they began asking Him to stay with them” (4:39a,40a). 

Abraham’s servant experiences much the same, in that after securing the bride for Isaac, he stayed overnight (24:54).  The next morning, upon indicating his intentions to return to Abraham, he was pressed to stay “a few more days, perhaps ten” (24:55b).  The text, however, would lead the reader to believe that he left that day.  At the same time, it would not be unreasonable to presume that at least one more night was spent at that place, in preparation for the journey home (for Abraham’s servant), and the journey from home (for Rebekah and her attendants/servants).  Returning to John, Jesus, and that particular well story, it is reported that “He stayed there two days” (4:40b).  There is a reiteration of this point a few verses later, as it is reported that “After two days He departed from there to Galilee” (4:43). 

Before going any further, the reader should be reminded that this study is not merely looking for points of contact between the story of the woman at the well and stories from the Biblical tradition by which it is preceded.  Rather, this is an attempt to allow the Scriptural narrative---that which provided self-definition and cosmic understanding to the people of Israel, to Jesus, and to those that provided their remembrances of Him, to inform an approach to the Jesus of the Gospels. 

It is to be reiterated that what is being attempted with this study is not an interpretation and application of Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman and that which resulted from it, but rather an attempt to put an observer in a position to come to the well, with Jesus, with the woman, and with the disciples of Jesus, with shared sensibilities that will allow one to hear Jesus, and to better determine the purpose and movement of the kingdom of the Creator God that stands behind this encounter along with understanding the purposes of His biographer.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Tradition Of Wells (part 2)

Now, this study does not intend to go into detail concerning the story of every well, nor is it going to present an exhaustive list of the wells of Scripture---though nearly all would be instrumental in shaping the thinking of the Johannine author.  It will go into detail when doing so can provide useful interpretive background for Jesus’ time and experience at the well in John’s Gospel.  That said, the story of Hagar’s son, Ishmael, contains a well---which could also be of some interest to a Samaritan woman, especially one that references Jacob as her ancestor when speaking about the well, especially seeing as how Ishmael, the son of Abraham, is Jacob’s uncle. 

Ishmael’s well experience flows from his being sent out from his home along with his mother, at yet another request from Sarah, as she said “Banish that slave woman and her son, for the son of that slave woman will not be an heir along with my son Isaac!” (Genesis 21:10)  When their provisions ran out, Hagar becomes frantic, and is apparently convinced that her and her son are going to die.  However, the Creator God intervened on their behalf and “enabled Hagar to see a well of water.  She went over and filled the skin with water, and then gave the boy a drink” (21:19). 

In light of the reason for Hagar and Ishmael’s expulsion from the house of Abraham, how interesting that a Samaritan woman at a well, by speaking about Jacob and then speaking about the messiah, was laying claim to a tradition and to promises directed to the people of the covenant God, though she would be viewed by the descendants of Isaac (through Jacob) as an illegitimate user and usurper of such things.

Merely a few verses removed from the story of Ishmael that is connected to a well, Abraham is himself engaged in a “well” story.  Apparently there was some controversy afoot, in that “Abraham lodged a complaint against Abimelech,” the name actually being a general title of a tribal chieftain, “concerning a well that Abimelech’s servants had seized” (21:25).  Abraham offers a treaty to Abimelech in the form of a gift of seven lambs, saying “You must take these seven ewe lambs from my hand as legal proof that I dug this well” (21:30). 

So here there is a dispute concerning a well.  With that in mind, it’s not at all surprising to find a disputation in connection to the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman.  Though the dispute was not over the well, though there is an underlying dispute about true Israelite lineage implied, the well becomes the locus of the review of one of the main points of disputation between Israel and Samaria. 

Without having to traverse too many pages of Scripture in search of the next watering hole, one finds the twenty-fourth chapter of Genesis, which contains another “well” tale.  In this story, Abraham is sending his servant to his home country and to his relatives to find a wife for Isaac, his son (24:4).  When the servant reached his desired destination, “He made the camels kneel down by the well outside the city” (24:11a). 

So that he might accomplish the task that was set before him, which would be indissolubly connected to the covenant that the Creator God had made with Abraham that his descendants would be named through Isaac, “He prayed, ‘O Lord, God of my master Abraham, guide me today.  Be faithful to my master Abraham.  Here I am, standing by the spring, and the daughters of the people who live in the town are coming out to draw water.  I will say to a  young woman, “Please lower your jar that I may drink.”  May the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac reply, “Drink, and I’ll give water to you camels too.”  In this way I will know that you have been faithful to my master.’” (24:12-14)  Effectively then, the woman that provided a drink to the servant of Abraham, would be the one through whom the Creator God would continue to carry out His covenant plans. 

A Tradition Of Wells (part 1)

…Jesus, since He was tired from the journey, sat right down beside the well. – John 4:6b  (NET)

The story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman, at a well that was said to be connected to Jacob, is rife with historical underpinnings.  The author of John’s Gospel would know this, and it is quite reasonable to presume that he (or she, one could suppose) wanted to draw on the rich tradition of wells that dot the landscape of Israel’s received traditions.  Indeed, there are so many wells to be found throughout the pages of Scripture, it is probable that a familiarity with these wells is entirely necessary.  It may well be the case that the composer demands that this presentation of Jesus be understood within that context, presuming a familiarity with this history on the part of those that will hear or read not only this portion of his narrative, but the whole of his narrative of the life of Jesus. 

Not only is it incumbent upon a reader to place him or herself alongside the woman at the well or in the midst of Jesus’ disciples when approaching so as to hear this story, but as consumers of a second-hand tale that began with a certain announcement about Jesus that provides the foundational structure by which one is able to understand the Johannine narrative, one must also approach the story of Jesus and the woman at the well from the perspective that the One speaking to her is the physical manifestation of the covenant God that has tacitly directed His people’s contact with wells from the very beginning. 

This study is not going to make an attempt here to interpret the interaction or to draw conclusions about the encounter between the woman and Jesus, but rather, intends to think backwards from the fact of the woman and the well, trekking through Scripture in a way that should have the result of vesting this story with its appropriate context.  Such would be the necessary steps that would put an observer in a position, if so desired, to rightly interpret the interaction and to form the conclusions about Jesus and His words in the pericope on offer that the author desires his audience to form.  A reader should not only do this here, but naturally, for all of the Gospels and for all of Scripture, for doing this is what will actually allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. 

As the search for Scriptural wells is here begun with Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman (an outsider from Israel) as the starting point, it should be noted with great interest that when it comes to the divine narrative, the first mention of a well is to be found in connection with another individual that would be considered an outsider from Israel.  The sixteenth chapter of Genesis finds Sarai (later Sarah), the wife of Abram (later Abraham), expelling a pregnant Hagar from her household. 

When Hagar ran away (having been expelled), “The Lord’s angel found Hagar near a spring of water in the desert” (16:7a).  Though it is here said to be an angel, the reader quickly comes to learn that it was more than an angel, as “Hagar named the Lord who spoke to her” (as the author’s use of Lord is the proper name for Israel’s God), “You are the God who sees me” (16:13a).  Further detail is provided with “That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi’ (16:14a), which is translated as “The well of the Living One who sees me.” 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Jesus & The Finger Of God (part 4 of 4)

This display failed to make an impression on Pharaoh, with the Scriptural record informing the reader that “Pharaoh’s heart remained hard, and he did not listen to them” (8:19b).  In similar fashion, Luke goes on to point out that “As He spoke, a Pharisee invited Jesus to have a meal with him, so He went in and took His place at the table” (11:37).  So even though there is a slight change of setting, Luke wants his audience to continue to keep in mind what has been said by Jesus, which is conveyed by “As He spoke… so Jesus went in.” 

What is the conclusion of the scene at the house of the Pharisee?  Jesus certainly did not win Himself any supporters, as “When He went out from there, the experts in the law and the Pharisees began to oppose Him bitterly, and to ask Him hostile questions about many things, plotting against Him, to catch Him in something He might say” (11:53-54).  Like Pharaoh and his encounter with the finger of the covenant God, their hearts remained hard.   

How else does this story from Israel’s history fit with Jesus’ use of finger of God in Luke?  Taking another looks at what Jesus said there in immediate conjunction with the finger of God and the kingdom of God (which should probably not be allowed to be separated), He says “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his possessions are safe.  But when a stronger man attacks and conquers him, he takes away the first man’s armor on which the man relied and divides up his plunder” (11:21-22). 

Obviously, Pharaoh felt quite secure in rejecting Moses’ requests.  Why shouldn’t he?  He was strong, fully armed, with guards and a palace full of men ready to carry out his every request.  His possessions were safe.  Of course, one does not have to move much further along within the story to find that Pharaoh truly had no power, that he was not nearly as strong as he thought he was, and that he had no ability to deal with the stronger man (the Creator God of Israel) that was attacking him.  Ultimately, his armor (his army) was destroyed after he fruitlessly chased after Israel.  The completion of the thought that is encountered later in Luke, with the Pharisees and the experts in the law revealing their hardened hearts, which casts them in the role of the Pharaoh oppressing the people of the Creator God. 

To cap it off and to complete the overlay of Jesus’ words on to the situation, as Jesus surely meant to activate this particular historical remembrance (along with the others already mentioned, which must be part of Luke’s narrative plan as well), one can see that the culminating plague of the death of the firstborn, which would result in Israel’s release from Egypt (without having to lift their hands against their oppressors, it should be pointed out, and as Jesus must have wanted to convey to those listening to Him that were suffering under Roman oppression, as the sentiment of rebellion was always seething beneath the surface), and know that “The Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, and they gave them whatever they wanted, and so they plundered Egypt” (12:36).  Later, it would be the death of the one that would come to be recognized as the Creator God’s Son that would be the catalyst to a different type of exodus (the Resurrection of Jesus and of His people), in which a different type of strong man (death) would be conquered.   

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Jesus & The Finger Of God (part 3)

So by his actions, Jesus clearly presents Himself as a new lawgiver, in the mold of Moses.  If one does not want to go that far and speak to Jesus’ private intentions, one could certainly insist that His biographers wished for their audiences to draw that conclusion. 

In Jesus’ case however, His status goes beyond that of Moses.  Unlike Moses, Jesus does not point to the finger of God as having written the commandments in stone at a time in the distant past, thus pointing to an entity separate from himself in the process.  Jesus does not appeal to the ancient working of the finger of God in the way that one may appeal to an established and recognized authority figure.  Rather, Jesus is reported as speaking of Himself using the same finger of God language that was most assuredly meant to communicate something which He believed to be true of Himself.  Undoubtedly, this is what Luke wants His audience to grasp. 

Later on in the same setting, Jesus goes on to say “For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be a sign to this generation” (11:30).  This use of “Son of Man” is part of a building process within Luke.  That process effectively culminates with Jesus’ linking the coming of the Son of Man, referencing Daniel chapter seven and the Son of Man coming on the clouds to the Ancient of Days in order to receive His kingdom, to the destruction of the Temple, with a repetition of “this generation” in connection with the sign, while also speaking of the Son of Man during the course of His passion (an entirely different subject matter altogether). 

Jesus then, in Luke’s highly structured and structural setting, speaks of Himself in connection to the finger of God (with this functioning on multiple levels), and then speaks of the Son of Man, which can be shown to be self-referential.  Making the connection then, the Son of Man is obviously meant to be understood as a divine figure, and it is the Son of Man (the king of the kingdom of God, the Messiah, the Creator God manifest) that is speaking when providing new laws for the people of that God and casting out demons.       

As this study works backwards through the defining and definitive historical narrative that is the Hebrew Scriptures, the final instance of the finger of God is found in the eighth chapter of Exodus.  There, Moses has struck his staff on the ground, with this striking resulting in the dust of the ground becoming like “gnats throughout all the land of Egypt” (8:16b).  As they had done with the previous signs from Israel’s God that had been provided to Moses in order to prove the veracity of the message he delivered, the magicians of Egypt attempted to match the feat.  However, they were unable to do so.  In response, “The magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘It is the finger of God!’” (8:19a)  

Friday, July 11, 2014

Jesus & The Finger Of God (part 2)

Working backwards through the Scriptures, the “finger of God” is encountered in the book of Daniel, when “the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the royal palace wall” (5:5b), with this occurring during a great banquet being hosted by King Belshazzar of Babylon.  In an era in which the book of Daniel commanded a great deal of attention, and which was quite obviously on Jesus’ mind, owing to His constant reference to Daniel’s Son of Man, this instance of usage is quite worthy of the attention of all eager students of Jesus and Scripture. 

In the story, Daniel is called upon to interpret what the finger has written, eventually informing the king that it pronounced his doom.  Daniel informed the king that “God has numbered your kingdom’s days and brought it to an end… you are weighed on the balances and found to be lacking… your kingdom is divided and given over to the Medes and Persians” (5:26b,27b,28b). 

Now, it cannot be overlooked that at this banquet “Belshazzar issued an order to bring in the gold and silver vessels---the ones that Nebuchadnezzar his father had confiscated from the Temple in Jerusalem---so that the kings and nobles, together with his wives and concubines, could drink from them…  As they drank wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone” (5:2b,4).  The writer reports that it was “At that very moment the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote.” 

It must be noted that Belshazzar was drinking from that which had been plundered from the Temple, doing so as a strong man, fully armed, guarded in his own palace, and seemingly safe with all of his possessions.  However, it was “in that very night Belshazzar, the Babylonian king, was killed.  So Darius the Mede took control of the kingdom” (5:30-31a).  A stronger man attacked him and conquered him, surely plundering all of Belshazzar’s once safe possessions.  Might this very story have been on Jesus’ mind as He spoke of and acted out the finger of God?   

The finger of God is also referenced in conjunction with the delivery of the Ten Commandments.  In Deuteronomy, Moses reports that “The Lord gave me the two stone tablets written by the very finger of God, and on them was everything He said to you at the mountain from the midst of the fire at the time of that assembly” (9:10).  Likewise, in Exodus, it is recorded that “He gave Moses two tablets of testimony when He had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, tablets of stone written by the finger of God” (31:18).  By making mention of the finger of God in reference to Himself, Jesus brings the hoped for and ultimately inevitable comparisons to Moses into play. 

Though Matthew’s presentation of Jesus as the new Moses is quite explicit, Luke’s is more subtle.  Where Matthew has Jesus referencing a commandment by saying “you have heard that it was said, and then adding the rejoinder of “but I say unto you,” Luke’s Jesus is less forceful and less overt.  A perfect example from Matthew has Jesus saying “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy’” (5:43), before offering up His response of “But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” (5:44).  In Luke, Jesus says “But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who mistreat you” (6:27), omitting the “you have heard that it was said.”  The “you have heard that it was said,” making reference to the Mosaic law and the interpretation of that law, is implied. 

Jesus & The Finger Of God (part 1)

But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has already overtaken you. – Luke 11:20  (NET)

The “finger of God” is something that makes several appearances in Scripture.  It is yet another one of those things that links together the writings of the New Testament with the Hebrew Scriptures that serve as its foundation and basis for any and all understanding.  The Gospels contain two references to the “finger of God.”  The first is the one found in Luke, as seen above, with the other to be found in the Gospel of John. 

Though in John one cannot actually locate the phrase “finger of God,” the reader is led to understand that the finger of Jesus is the finger of the Creator God because John, in his creation-and-new-creation-story tinged narrative of the ministry of Jesus begins with an overt declaration of the divinity of Jesus, with this proclamation rooted in an understanding of the implications of both Messiah and Resurrection.  The finger of God can be seen when Jesus stoops to write in the dirt during the scene in which He is presented with the woman that was said to have been taken in the very act of adultery. 

Here it is necessary to acknowledge that some of the earliest and best manuscripts of John do not contain this story of the woman taken in adultery, and therefore do not contain the story that has Jesus writing on the ground with His finger.  In fact, some manuscripts place the story at the end of the twenty-first chapter of Luke, thus interestingly putting both “finger of God” references in the same Gospel, which makes a great deal of sense.

When Jesus speaks about the finger of God in Luke, He hits upon a key theme of His mission, which is the proclamation of the presence of the kingdom of God on earth.  He offers His statement in response to the accusation that “By the power of Beelzebul, the ruler of demons, He casts out demons” (11:15).  After speaking of His own casting out of demons by the finger of His God, He goes on to say “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his possessions are safe.  But when a stronger man attacks and conquers him, he takes away the first man’s armor on which the man relied and divides up his plunder” (11:21-22). 

Clearly then, this is designed to resonate with Jesus’ hearers.  Because Jesus speaks within a culture with a shared history, He is building on a foundation from which His hearers can fully understand Him and derive maximum meaning.  So rather than attempt to interpret and spiritualize the words of Jesus and treating His words as a free-floating aphorism subject to any number of flights of interpretive fancy, it is possible to gather up the appearances of the “finger of God” that are to be found in Israel’s defining historical narrative so as to put oneself in position to grasp what is being communicated.