The First Two Emperors of Rome Their Impact on the New Testament

This article gives background on

Caesar Augustus (B.C. 27 – A.D. 14)

and

Tiberius Caesar Augustus (A.D. 14-37)

From the conclusion:

        It is amazing when one looks at how God can use people, who at first glance seem so distant from Jesus and the Jewish people, to make such crucial things in his plan come about. While we have only looked at two of the twelve emperors that ruled during the New Testament era, we could certainly have looked at more of them and found that they made a notable impact on the events and people in the New Testament. Nero, for instance, is believed to been the one who put Peter and Paul to death and to start a massive persecution against the Christians after he himself burned down a large section of Rome so that he might extend his palace!

Full article:  The First Two Emperors of Rome Their Impact on the New Testament.

Eric Chabot – Roots of the Christian Faith

Scot McKnight on “Hallowed be Thy Name”:

“At no place have Christians been more insensitive to Judaism that when it comes to what Jesus believes and teaches about God. In particular, the concept that Jesus was the first to teach about God as Abba and that this innovation revealed that Jesus thought of God in terms of love while Jews thought of God in terms of holiness, wrath, and distance are intolerably inaccurate in the realm of historical study and, to be quite frank, simple pieces of bad polemics. The God of Jesus was the God of Israel, and there is nothing in Jesus’ vision of God that is not formed in the Bible he inherited from his ancestors and learned from his father and mother” “Countless Christians repeat the Lord’s Prayer. When Jesus urged His followers to “hallow” or “sanctify” the Name of God (Matt 6:9), many are unaware of what that may have meant in Jesus’ day- in part, because Christianity has lost sight of God’s awesome splendorous holiness. A good reading of Amos 2:6-8 discusses this issue. “Reverencing the Name of God” is not just how Israel speaks of God-that it does not take the Name of God in vain when it utters oaths or when someone stubs a toe or hits a finger with an instrument -but that God’s Name is profaned when Israel lives outside the covenant and by defiling the name of God in it’s behavior” (Jer 34:15-46; Ezek. 20:39; Mal 1:6-14).

God’s Name is attached to the covenant people, and when the covenant people lives in sin, God’s Name is dragged into that sin along with His people. So, when Jesus urges his followers to “reverence,” or “sanctify” the Name of God, he is thinking of how his disciples are to live in the context of the covenant: they are to live obediently as Israelites.” -Paul Copan and Craig A. Evans. Who Was Jesus? A Jewish-Christian Dialogue. Lousiville: KY.Westminster John Knox Press. 2001, 84-85.

via Eric Chabot – The Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith: Three Lessons for Christians » Christian Apologetics & Intelligence Ministry.  [Editorial note 3/24/15: Sorry, but Intelmin.org does not seem to be supporting this link any longer.]

Lawrence Schiffman on the Rabbinic Response to the Rise of Christianity

Opening excerpt:

A new set of circumstances confronted the tannaitic leadership when it reassembled at Yavneh after the war with Rome was lost. By this time, the need to close ranks and to face the future as a united community was greater than ever. We shall see, though, that the Rabbis still did not elect to see the Jewish Christians as a separate religion. After all, they still met the halakhic criteria for Jewish status. Instead, action would be taken to bar them from officiating as precentors in the synagogue in order to make them feel unwanted there and to exclude their books from sanctified status. Other restrictions would attempt to separate the Jewish Christians from the mainstream Jewish community. Tannaitic law would eventually have to face the Gentile Christians, but the Rabbis as yet had little opportunity for contact with them.

Putting it bluntly, early Christianity was utterly Jewish.  The Gentiles involved were following Jewish lead.

Full post at The Benediction against the MinimProf. Lawrence H. Schiffman.

HT: Jim West’s Zwinglius Redivivus

Why Did the Ancient Greeks and Romans Stop Believing in Their Gods?

Why did the ancient Greeks and Romans stop believing in their gods?  is a question on Quora.com.  (This link will take you directly to this question on Quora.)  Two helpful answers to be found there (and there may be others) are from Panagiotis Limnios and Tim O’Neill.  They are giving the earthly perspective on that time period.

For those of you not signed up for Quora, here are excerpts – first from Tim’s answer:

Most ancient religion was more about communal practice than private, personal belief. People practised the religion of their community, their region and their political state and did so to ensure the gods they honoured protected them and sustained their communities.

Which gods you worshipped was, therefore, as much a function of where you lived, who your community (city, village, social class) worshipped and what religion was favoured by the state.You didn’t believe that other gods didn’t exist or that their cults were wrong, they were simply not as relevant to you.

Christianity changed all this by bringing in a far more exclusivist idea of religion from its parent religion, Judaism. To the Christians, the other gods weren’t just irrelevant, they were non-existent. Other cults weren’t just not useful, they were evil. This was one of the things which brought Christianity into conflict with the Roman state, which saw them as an insult to the protective gods of the Empire and therefore a threat to the state.

And here’s an excerpt from Panagiotis’ answer:

I’m surprised no one mentioned scripture, or, to be more precise, the lack of it.

Unlike Christianity, older religions had no authoritative text for people to draw inspiration or guidance from. Religious practice was dictated by custom, lacked completely a dogma and was so intertwined with ordinary social activities that it was indistinguishable from daily life.

The closest thing the ancient Greeks and Romans had to a Bible was Hesiod’s Theogony, and even that was by no means a comprehensive work since it dealt mostly with the story of their origin. There were so many gods, minor gods, deities and heroes, 30,000 according to Hesiod, that nobody even bothered to list them. People were simply content with praying to the few common gods of their family and community without worrying about making sense of it all.

Christianity not only polarized people by bringing “a far more exclusivist idea of religion” from Judaism (quote from Tim O’Neill), but it was also built from the ground up on scripture…

Of course, the spiritual backdrop of this era is the creation of new heavens and new earth prophesied in the Bible (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1) in which the heavenly powers which had fostered polytheism were deposed.  Since then, monotheism has prevailed.  For more biblical explanation of this, see Whatever Became of Jesus Christ?

Truly, as King Nebuchadnezzar learned, heaven rules in the affairs of men (Daniel 4:26).

Shelby Foote on the Roman View of History

Shelby Foote (1916-2005) was a novelist and historian whose magnum opus was a three-volume narrative of the America Civil War that took him two decades to research and write.  That single work took up 3,000 pages, which amounts to some 1,500,000 words.  (An average non-fiction book might be 75,000 words; on that basis, his tome was the equivalent of 20 books.)

Throughout his life, Foote was a voracious reader of quality literature, as familiar with Homer and Shakespeare as he was writers closer to his own time.  Given his reading and research achievements, his view of Roman history is worth noting.  First, because it explains his own style, and, second, because its helps explain the Gospels.

Foote once told a Paris Review interviewer that he subscribed to the Roman belief that “history was intended to publicize, if you will, the lives of great men so that we would have something to emulate.”

Foote mentioned that he had been reading Tacitus over and over. “Tacitus writes about high-placed scoundrels. He’s so damned good. He said that he wrote so that people would be ashamed of bad things and proud of good things.”

(Source: Shelby Foote. – Slate Magazine)

Elsewhere, it has been recorded:

Facts, Mr. Foote said, are the bare bones from which truth is made. Truth, in his view, embraced sympathy, paradox and irony, and was attained only through true art. “A fact is not a truth until you love it,” he said.

(Source: New York Times obituary of Mr. Foote)

Given that the Gospels were written at the height of the Roman Empire, therefore, it should not be surprising to us that they take the shape that they do.  Many skeptics today reject the Gospels because they don’t address the subject as a modern biographer would.  People who expect ancient writers to conform to modern literary styles might as well ask why Hannibal marched over the Alps when he could have taken a plane.

The papacy is 1600 years old, not 2000 years old (Triablogue)

How the post begins:

In news accounts concerning the upcoming retirement of Pope Benedict XVI and a new papal conclave, one way to check to see if the particular news outlet you are watching had actually checked its facts is if it maintains that the papacy is a 2000 year old institution.

In fact, the overwhelming preponderance of scholarship on the topic – both Roman Catholic and Protestant – affirm that “the papacy” was a late development in the history of the church.

Written by John Bugay.

via Triablogue: The papacy is 1600 years old, not 2000 years old.