There were many rich insights this week, which made it difficult to know where to focus my summary reflections. If time were not so limited, I would enjoy following up with pages of reflection on any of the following:
- The patriarchal and patrilineal bias in the Lukan genealogy, and what the virgin birth of Jesus could have meant in terms of his membership in humanity.
- The baptismal practices of the Essenes (Dead Sea Sectarians), how John the Baptist is reminiscent of the Essenes, as is Jesus in his desert sojourn.
- The connections between Aesop’s stories and Jesus’ temptation.
But I also saw a potentially transformative moment for our class in the responses to my footnote on Annas and Caiaphas, which got some pushback. Disclaimer: by no means do I know everything, and I have been and will continue to be wrong about many things, so I welcome students reading, verifying, and checking the scholarly literature about any of the claims I make, this one included.
It’s certainly possible to find commentaries or articles out there that try to explain away the historically inaccurate claim of a dual priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. But there are also many commentaries and articles that honestly accept it and try to understand it, instead of explaining it away. Those who have or will have CRIT lenses, feel free to check me on this!
More broadly, this is one of literally 10,000s of examples of texts in the Bible not being historically accurate. Just in the last few chapters of Luke, we’ve seen that the genealogies of Matthew and Luke are radically contradictory, that the birth stories in Matthew and Luke vary by ten years as to when Jesus would be born, etc. Again, whenever you have your CRIT lenses, use it as an opportunity to check what some of the leading scholars on the Gospel of Luke have to say about the Annas and Caiaphas thing, or the dating of the birth of Jesus, or the contradictions between the Matthean and Lukan genealogies.
Please know here that I’m not trying at all to tear down the New Testament. On the contrary, I love it deeply and passionately! I’ve devoted much of my life, time, talent, and energy to studying it. To me, these texts are incredibly beautiful and powerful.
It is precisely because I respect these texts that I let them speak for themselves and try my best to listen to other ancient voices that would help me hear what was originally being intended in these texts. Because I respect these texts, I let them be whatever they really are, in all of their complexity, their inconsistencies, their biases, etc.
Studying Scripture academically can be kinda like falling in love. At first, you may believe that your beloved is perfect, flawless, and incomparable. And nobody could convince you otherwise, try as they may. That was definitely how I felt about the Bible when I was in my late teens and early twenties, so I get where some of you are coming from.
But if you give love time and cultivate it with prolonged, honest intimacy, they you will eventually come to see that your beloved is actually very imperfect, but still beloved in spite of and even because of these imperfections.
That’s real love. Not trying to make your beloved into something different, but letting your beloved be exactly what your beloved really is.
So we need to be careful to respect these ancient texts enough to let them say whatever it is they are saying, even if we find it to be historically problematic or inaccurate when compared with other sources of information. Our pre-existing assumptions that these texts have to be historically accurate and perfect are far more a self-reflection of our needs rather than an objective interpretation of these texts in their original historical and literary contexts.
Let me conclude with some Socratic questions to ponder, and then a pedagogical prayer.
- Why would it be a problem for books in the Bible to have historical inaccuracies?
- Pretty much all human writings that touch upon history have historical inaccuracies, so why not also the books that made it into the canon?
- What does it say about our theology that we find the humanity of these texts problematic?
- Do we view God as controlling/dictating humans, our history, and the production of our texts?
- Is there authentic human freedom, thought, and creativity? If so, why wouldn’t that apply to the Bible as well?
- Does the Bible really need us to protect and defend it? From what? From itself?
May your love for these texts grow into a fearless maturity that lets them be exactly what they are, and not what we or anybody else wants to force them to be.