Friday, December 20, 2013

The Last Day of Byzantium

By Joseph Mosse
That night the moon glowed red and none who saw it ever forgot. Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos had taken his position at the St. Romanus Gate, the weakest point in the wall. He stood tense, determined. They would last the night, they must last the night. Less than a quarter mile outside the city, the Ottomans busied themselves in the dark with their final preparations, under the direction of the young yet ruthless and charismatic Sultan, Mehmet II. At his command, cannons roared deafeningly across the entire front. Trumpets blared, drums beat and men chanted as his innumerable army advanced. Battle weary and overstretched, the meager Byzantine garrison braced itself for the final struggle. In the year of our Lord, 1453, the Siege of Constantinople, one of the most titanic conflicts in human history, had reached its climax.

Eight thousand Byzantine and Italian warriors, under the command of Constantine XI, had defended Constantinople against two hundred thousand Ottoman Turks for two months. Artillery, a terrifying military innovation, had pounded the once impregnable ramparts into dust, opening several major breaches. In response, the defenders had blocked the gaps in the wall with sturdy barricades build out of rubble, an innovation of the Italian general, Giustiniani. Desperate, yet courageous, the Byzantines held strong under repeated massive assaults by the invaders. Constantine led a reserve contingent wherever the defender’s line grew thin, often turning the tide. Faced with failure on land, Mehmet stunned everyone with a brilliant tactical move. He had a large portion of his fleet dragged overland and into the city’s harbor, bypassing the chain stretched across its mouth. This forced the defenders to man the sea wall, dangerously overextending their meager forces. But with the siege lingering and enthusiasm dwindling in camp, Mehmet knew that morale allowed only for one last assault. Not bothering to keep his plans secret, he sent a message. Whistling in the wind, an arrow zipped over the wall carrying it. There would be one day of rest then the last battle would begin.

Exhausted, the beleaguered people of Constantinople congregated in the ancient Haggia Sophia, praying urgently for deliverance. Constantine gathered his troops and gave a rousing speech, reminding them of their Greek and Roman heritage, their duty to the Orthodox faith, and their honor as men. Going from man to man individually, he asked forgiveness from each, in case he had ever offended them. Having then dismissed them to their posts, he patrolled the wall overseeing final battle preparations. Night engulfed the front as Constantine finally returned to the St. Romanus Gate. Hours drifted by, but the men got little sleep.

At one o’clock in the morning the Ottoman cannons suddenly opened fire and the army advanced against all sections of the wall, from both land and sea. Tongues of flame and flashes of gunfire illuminated the night as the defenders unleashed Greek Fire and men on both sides fired muskets. First, light irregulars charged the walls against a storm of arrows. Carrying little armor, they were no match to the Byzantines, clad in scale mail and iron helms. But when units of heavy infantry advanced, they soon pressed through several breaches. Fierce close combat ensued on and behind the wall as Byzantines, Italians and Ottomans slashed at each other with curved sabers, scimitars and large two-handed swords. Steel rang against steel, men cried in rage and anguish, smoke obscured the battle field and for four hours chaos enveloped the front. However, under the valiant leadership of Constantine XI and Guistiniani, the defense just held.

Enraged, Mehmet sent in his crack troops, the dreaded Janissary corps. Highly disciplined, expertly trained and well armed, they smashed heavily into the defense. Taking advantage of an open postern gate, they flooded behind the walls. Just then, a cross bow bolt thudded through Giustinaini’s breastplate, grievously wounding him. When the Italians saw their chief carried away, they too rushed for their ships in the harbor. With gaps opening in the defender’s line, the Janissaries redoubled their attack. Soon the Byzantine front splintered and the trapped groups were surrounded. Seeing doom at hand, Constantine tore off his royal regalia and roared, “The city has fallen, but I still live!” Drawing his saber, he charged into the fray and was never seen alive again. No one ever recognized him among the slain, and he rests now in a mass grave with his men.

Victorious, the Ottomans pillaged the city, enslaving or killing its inhabitants. Few managed to escape, whether by hiding or sailing away. Mehmet put a stop to the carnage as soon as possible. He intended to rebuild the city into his new and glorious capitol. As the sun dawned on May 29th, 1453, the last living vestige of Roman civilization died and a new age in history began.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Reflections of Isaiah and on Teaching

One of the most enjoyable things I do in Odessa is teach.  I enjoy teaching at the seminary, at various Bible studies and English clubs.  This year I have had the unique privilege to teach Old Testament Survey and New Testament Survey to high school aged kids at the school for missionary kids.  In the OT class I have just two students - my 14 year old daughter and one of her best friends.  One of the assignments I often give to write a short reflection on a key passage.  We recently covered Isaiah and I asked the girls to write a reflection on Isaiah’s call in chapter six.  I enjoyed their thoughts so much I thought I would share them with you.  (Yes, I did ask their permission).  Enjoy.


Reflection on Isaiah’s Call
Isaiah’s call is very interesting.  I can understand why it inspires many people to the mission field.  Isaiah did answer God’s question, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” with, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8, 9).  But after Isaiah agrees to go, God says that the people will “Be ever hearing, but never understanding, be ever seeing, but never perceiving … Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed (6:9, 10).”  Basically, Isaiah’s ministry will be completely and totally fruitless.  He will preach and preach and preach, but no one’s going to listen.  That’s not exactly too inspiring when one thinks about it.  So it’s no wonder that Isaiah asked, “For how long, O Lord?”  And the answer: “Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant … and the land is utterly forsaken.”  So Isaiah will preach and preach and preach with no one listening until everything is destroyed.  It looks a little like God is calling Isaiah to an absolutely pointless ministry.  But, fortunately, God gives hope in verse 13: “But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will the stump in the land.”  So Isaiah is called to plant a seed in the land, which will eventually lead to Jesus.  But, unfortunately, Isaiah will not live to see his seed grow.

If we go back in the chapter a little, there’s another pretty impressive part.  Isaiah was in the temple when he was called.  According to his account, “the train of [God’s] robe filled the entire temple. (6:1)” Trains on clothes didn’t exist back then, so Isaiah probably just saw the hem of God’s robe.  Just the hem, because it filled the temple.  Yet he cries out, “I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips … and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”  Isaiah had a sense of the angels and everything above God’s hem, but all he saw was God’s hem.  And that was enough for Isaiah to see how unworthy a sinful man like him is to see God.

Reflection on Isaiah’s Call
Isaiah’s call to prophesying was, well, depressing. As a missionary, or at least a missionary kid, his future is probably to be my future as well. I’ll tell people about God, and some will listen, but others won’t. Isaiah had this same future, except in his situation, no one would listen. His words would fall on deaf ears, and he would continue to prophecy until the destruction of Israel. I feel very sorry for poor Isaiah, finding out that he will have to prophesy for the rest of his life to blind, deaf, and mute people who won’t even listen to him in the first place He would never get to see the fruit that would come from his labors, and his prophesying would, in a way, cause the destruction of Israel, because of the effect it had on the people. When most people say they will go for God and tell the world about him, they are not thinking about all the hardships that will come from their decision, but instead are thinking about how they will be important, and looked up to by the people for doing such a wonderful job. They don’t remember that missionaries are often persecuted, frowned upon, cheated, and made to pay unfair bribes and high prices. Isaiah didn’t complain, he just listened to God and asked for more information. We read that Isaiah was struck with awe at the sight of God, and he only saw the hem of God’s robe! Yet this was enough to strike him with awe and fear. This, along with the fact that the hem of God’s robe filled the temple, is very humbling and at the same time baffling to me. I have a lot of questions about the part where the seraph flies down to Isaiah and touches his mouth with a burning piece of coal. Why doesn’t Isaiah cry out; is it because it’s a holy piece of coal that it doesn’t hurt or something? And how does the coal make him clean when the rest of us had to have Jesus die for us? Why couldn’t God have just tapped all our mouths with holy coal and made us clean? Or does the picture of the burning coal making him clean have some other meaning? Isaiah certainly confuses me, but his call to prophesy is awesome. (The awe inspiring kind) Still, disappointing. Very disappointing.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Some thoughts on Ephesians 4:9 (Part III) How Textual Criticism can sometimes help us understand meaning

There are several textual variants in Ephesians 4:7-9.  In verse 8, some manuscripts have “He gave (εδωκεν)” and some have “He also gave (και εδωκεν)”.  In verse nine some manuscripts read “except the one who descended (ει μη οτι και κατεβη)” and some read, “except the one who first descended (ει μη οτι και κατεβη πρωτον)”.  Also in verse nine some manuscripts omit the word “parts (μερη)”.  While none of these variants have a huge impact on the meaning of the text, the second variant gives us some insight into the understanding of some second century scribes.  The second reading is probably not original but it is attested by the Old Latin, Vaticanus (B) and the second hand of Siniaticus (Aleph).  The Old Latin preserves readings as early as the second century and even though Aleph and B are fourth century documents, most agree that their reading reaches back to the second century.  Assuming these facts we can make at least three conclusions.

1.      This reading (except the one who first descended) was present in the second century.
2.      This reading was fairly widespread, at least in the Western Roman Empire, in the second century.
3.      By the fourth century, this reading was known and accepted by academics and scholars in Northern Egypt. 

Assuming that προτον (first) was added, it still tells us that at least to some translators and scribes the order of events was important.  Some wanted to make it very clear in this passage that the ascension that Paul is talking about happened after the descent (first descended).  Whoever added the "first”(προτον) wanted the order of events to be clear rather than implied.  It may have even been intended as a marginal note.  (The variant in Sinaticus is probably meant to be a correction, but looking at the actual manuscript (see below), it could be concluded that a scribe was just adding a marginal note.)

This is a good example of how textual criticism can give us some insight into the thinking of early scribes.  This is important because they are much closer to the writing of the documents and linguistically and culturally closer to the language of the documents than we are.

Why would a scribe or translator add the word “first” to the text?  If someone understood the “descent” as referring to either the incarnation, burial or descent into Hades and the ascent referring to Jesus’ ascension to heaven, then the descent must come before the ascent.  Without the word “first”, the text is ambiguous but seems to point to an order of ascent – descent.  If Paul means that the ascent came before the descent, then this cannot be a reference to the incarnation, burial or descent to Hades of Jesus.  A scribe could easily clear this up by the addition of the word, “first” either in the text itself or in the margin as a note of clarification.  In contrast, it doesn’t seem logical to remove the word if it was original.  By removing the word, “first”, a scribe or translator would make a clear text more ambiguous.  If scribes did edit texts, they tended to do it with the goal of clarifying meaning rather than confusing meaning.

What does this tell us? 

·         It tells us that very early there was probably some debate about the meaning of this passage.  Even to the native Greek speakers there was some ambiguity here.

·         It tells us that, at least to some, the order of events was very important.  They wanted it clear that the descent came before the ascent.  They made this clear by either editing the text or adding a marginal note that eventually was included in the text.

·         If Paul means that Jesus first ascended and then descended, then he cannot be talking about Jesus’ incarnation, burial or descent into Hades.  These three events require the descent to take place before the ascent.
Does this solve our problem?  Not really, but it does give us some good information as we go back to our exegetical toolbox.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Some thoughts on Ephesians 4:9 (Part II): Some Comments on the Rhetorical Structure of Ephesians 4:9 and 10

Since grammar alone gives us only options for understanding Paul’s intent, perhaps the structure may help us narrow those options.  There is chiasmus (an A-B-B-A construction), centered around the verbs ascended and descended in verses 9 and 10.  If we look at the two phrases, the apostle first speaks of the one who ascended then equates him with the one who also descended.  Once this is established, he speaks again of the one who descended and then again equates him again with the one who ascended.  In other words we have the following order of ideas:  The one who ascended – the one who descended – the one who descended and the one who ascended.  The actual language of the structure is presented below.

A         το δε Ανεβη τι εστιν ει μη οτι
B                     και καταβη εις τα κατωτερα μερη της γης? 
B                    ο καταβας αυτος εστιν
A        και ο αναβας υπερανω παντων των ουρανων, ινα πληρωση τα παντα

The bold type indicates the main rhetorical features.  Even if you don’t know Greek, you can see the repetition of words.  In English it could be rendered something like this:

But the one who already ascended, what does this mean except that,
            B         he also descended to the lower parts of the earth? 
            B’        The one who descended is He
A’ who also ascended high above the highest heaven, so that he might fill all things. 

In a more simple form the structure can be presented like this.

A         το δε αναβη
            B         και κατεβη
            B'         ο καταβας
A'        και ο αναβας

A         The one who ascended
            B         also descended
            B’        the one who descended
A’        Also ascended

This rhetorical structure helps us in at least three ways. 

  1. First, it puts the emphasis on the descent rather than the ascent.  It is true that a chiastic structure can throw emphasis on its outer limits as easily as its inner context.  But since the context of Ephesians assumes that Jesus ascended, there is no reason to emphasize the ascent.  Hence, it is the descent that is emphasized here. 
  2. Second, the apostle seems to focus on an order of events.  Paul seems to be trying to clarify that there was a descent after an ascent.  This seems important to his argument.  It is subtle, but the order of presentation of events may be important here.  This will be especially true if Paul is talking about something other than the incarnation, because the incarnation requires a descent (incarnation) and then an ascent (ascension/exaltation).  Here Paul seems to be emphasizing the opposite, that there was an ascent and then a descent.
  3. Third, the one who ascended is also the one who descended.  Paul makes a special effort in verse 10 to show that the identity of the one who descended is the same as the one who ascended. 
That is about as much help as we can find from the structure of Ephesians 4:7-9.  It doesn’t clear much up but it gives us a little more insight and some more to think about.

To make further progress we have to return to our exegetical toolbox.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Tithing after the Cross

Tithing and Giving have long been an area of interest for me so when I saw this book and the low Kindle price, I decided to read it.  The book is Tithing After the Cross by David A. Croteau (Energion Publications).  Dr. Croteau is a professor of New Testament and Greek at Columbia International University and Seminary ( and hosts one of several blogs at 
I want to tell you about a small book I recently read.

First, I have two criticisms of the book and I want to get them out of the way because they are minor and I don’t want to end this entry with criticism.  Criticism number one: When Dr. Croteau transitions to his final chapter, “Tithing after the Cross” it was not completely clear to me if he was saying, “Tithing is not part of the New Covenant practice so here are some guidelines for giving.” or “Under the new covenant tithing really means giving so here are some guidelines.”  Second, he develops a lot of his theology for giving from II Corinthians 8 and 9.  I think this is fine but in the historical context Paul was gathering a special relief gift for the poor saints in Jerusalem.  The bridge from that context to modern lifestyle principles of giving was not clear to me.  Maybe I missed it.  Both these criticisms are minor so now let me get back to my recommendation.

This book is the third book Dr. Croteau has written on the subject of giving and tithing and is a summary of the other two more in-depth publications.  In his introduction he states his purpose and goal very clearly.  “…I hope to accomplish a simple objective: that people would seek God Himself in the intimate relationship He desires for wisdom regarding the amount they should offer as opposed to being burdened with a legalistic number.”  Later he adds, “Therefore, I hope to present the arguments for tithing and explicitly respond to them in a brief and easy-to-access layout.  I want this book to be a most useful resource, one a minister or Bible study teacher could use to locate certain arguments and corresponding responses.”  (These are from the Kindle edition so I don’t have page numbers.  They are both in his introduction.)  In my opinion, Dr. Croteau delivers on both fronts. 

The book is easy to read and follows a logical liner progression.  He starts by defining the Tithe in the context of the Old Testament.  This alone is worth reading.  Understanding what “Tithe” meant to Old Testament Israelites makes it very clear that the typical understanding of the tithe today is not based on a Biblical understanding.  For example, (this is not in the book), if you asked an Israelite living during the first temple period, “Have you given your tithe?” you might expect a simple yes or no answer.  However, what you would probably get is another question, “Which tithe do you mean?” or if the person was a builder or fishermen he might respond, “Why should I?”  Further, the typical modern definition of tithe is 10% of income.  If you are really spiritual then it is 10% of your gross income.  Dr. Croteau shows clearly that depending how you calculate it the Old Testament tithe was either 20% or 23.3%.  If you calculate the tithe over a 3 or 6 year period you come up with 23.3%.  If you calculate the tithe over a seven year period you end up back at 20%.  How does it work?  Read your Old Testament and figure it out yourself or read his book or, I recommend, read both.  After this introduction Dr. Croteau walks through and responds to popular arguments for tithing from Old Testament texts.  Next he does the same for New Testament texts, theological arguments, historical arguments and experiential arguments for tithing.  He concludes by outlining a theology of giving mostly from II Corinthians 8-9.

In the end you may not agree with Dr. Croteau, but he will challenge your ideas and cause you to think.  The book is only 94 pages and can be read in an afternoon and the Kindle version cost about $5.  There you have it.  For what it is worth, I recommend this book for a thoughtful Saturday afternoon with a cup of coffee and cookies.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Some thoughts on Ephesians 4:9 (Part I): The Usefulness of Greek Grammar?


One of the things I like to teach seminary students is that knowing Greek doesn’t answer all your questions.  In fact, sometimes it brings up more questions than it answers and you find yourself wondering why you didn’t just stick with your favorite translation.  Anyway, a good passage to illustrate the point is Ephesians 4:9.

Paul's language in Ephesians 4:9 has been the object of much debate.  But, no matter where you land in the debate, this verse is an excellent example of how Greek grammar often gives you only options and not clarity.  In other words, Greek is not the ultimate key to understanding a text.  Sometimes it gives you insight that you cannot get from a translation but other times it only brings up more questions.  Ephesians 4:9 is one of the latter cases.  Based on this verse, really based on one genitive noun, many argue that Jesus descended into hell.  Even if one doesn’t know the technical terms, if one attempts to study, translate or teach this passage, the decision one makes about the grammar (specifically the genitive), determines the interpretation of this phrase.

The Genitive of Ephesians 4:9

In Ephesians 4:9 Paul uses the phrase, “κατωτερα μερη της γης (the lower parts of the earth).”  The phrase itself is not hard to translate but the meaning is ambiguous.  Our main concern is the meaning of the genitive, «της γης» (of the earth).  There are two primary grammatical options for this noun.  The noun may be a genitive of material content (also called a partative genitive) or a genitive of simple apposition.  To further complicate matters, each option can be understood in two ways.

  • The genitive may be a Partative Genitive.  According to Dana and Mantey, the partative genitive "may be defined by indicating in the genitive the whole of which it is part".  In other words, a partative genitive is connected to a primary noun and indicates the whole that the primary noun is part of.  If this is a partative genitive then “of the earth” is connected to the primary noun "the lower parts" and “of the earth” indicates the whole that “the lower parts” are part of.  Under this understanding, “of the earth” may refer to Hades (the place where departed spirits live)  or the grave where Jesus was buried.  Both were considered part of the earth.

  • The genitive may also be a genitive of simple Apposition.  The genitive of apposition is connected to a primary noun but this time it renames the noun or makes it more specific.  It works as an "i.e." construction.  If Ephesians 4:9 is a genitive of simple apposition then the "the lower parts” are still the primary noun but “of the earth” is understood as a renaming of “the lower parts”.  What Paul means is that Jesus descended to “the lower parts” that is “the earth.”  Under this understanding the genitive has two more possible interpretations.  “Of the earth” may be referring to Jesus descent in the incarnation or the descent of the Spirit of Christ at Pentecost.

The Greek grammar of Ephesians 4:9 has given us at least four options of possible meaning.  “he descended to the lower parts of the earth” may mean either:
  •  Christ descended into Hades.
  • Christ descended from the cross to the tomb (the tomb is the lower part of the earth).  
  •  Jesus descended to the earth in the incarnation. 
  • Finally, the Spirit of Christ descended to the earth on the day of Pentecost.

Unfortunately, this is as much help as the Greek grammar can give us.  How do we decide which option Paul had in mind?  We must turn to other tools in our exegetical toolbox.

It should also be noted that the understanding Ephesians 4:9 does not fully answer the theological question about Jesus descent into hell.  To fully answer the theological question, one must exegete at least four other passages.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Insomnia, The Synoptic Problem and Textual Criticism

Rethinking Dr. Scott McKnight’s Rethinking

I couldn’t sleep one night so I decided to reread Rethinking the Synoptic Problem (Baker Academic, David Alan Black and David R. Beck, ed.).  At around 3:00am, as I was reading Scott McKnight’s chapter, A Generation Who Knew Not Streeter: The Case for Markan Priority, I had an epiphany.  Well, maybe not an epiphany – just a clear thought at 3:00am and that is plenty reason to celebrate.  I had read Dr. McKnight’s chapter many times.  His arguments are clear and convincing, but there has always been something about his methodology that didn’t sit right with me.  I openly admit that I am not a scholar and that I am partial to the priority of Matthew.  So the fact that Dr. McKnight’s arguments didn’t sit right with me should be no surprise and could even be a case of personal bias.  However, I think there is something more here and I offer my thoughts and musings for what they are worth.

In his chapter, Dr. McKnight makes a strong argument for the use of text-critical procedures to support the priority of Mark.  He says this, “The most telling argument against the Griesbach hypothesis and for the Oxford hypothesis is the accumulated answers to this question: Which reading most likely gave rise to the other readings?  Put differently, given Matthew’s (or Luke’s) rendering of a saying or event, is it likely that Mark is the later rendition of Matthew or Luke (or both), or is it more likely that Mark is the source for the others?  The answers so consistently move in the direction of Markan priority that one is compelled either to adopt the Oxford hypothesis or jettison text-critical procedures in use by all scholars today.” (page 81).

He gives three compelling examples.  It is true that the watershed question in textual criticism is, “Which reading most likely gave rise to the other readings?”  When applied to the synoptic problem, I must admit that my commitment to the priority of Matthew was shaken.  However, as I was reading that morning, I begin to think about assumptions.  I thought about the assumptions connected with textual criticism and the assumptions connected with the synoptic problem.  As I compared the assumptions they seemed farther and farther removed from each other.  For example, text critical procedures are used on text critical problems and at least the following conditions are assumed:

·         A single author stands behind the original phrase.
·         The original phrase/word was written in a single historical context.
·         The original phrase/word was written in a single literary context.
·         The original phrase/word was written to a single intended audience.
·         The original phrase/word was written in a single document that had at least one primary purpose.
·         We assume that the original phrase/word was written by one person.
·         We assume that the original phrase/word gave rise to the other variants.
·         We assume that the variant comes from an accidental or intentional change of a single document.

This partial list shows that in textual criticism we assume that many factors are static or linear.  We assume one original phrase gave rise to others.  We assume a single author, historical situation, genre, medium of communication, etc.  Therefore the question, “Which variant is most likely to give rise to the others?” is very appropriate.  However, when I thought about the synoptic problem I saw a very different set of assumptions that were far removed (almost the opposite) of those connected with text critical problems.  For example, when thinking about the synoptic problem…

·         We assume at least two authors behind one phrase.
·         We assume at least two historical situations.
·         We assume at least two very different intended audiences.
·         We assume at least two purposes.
·         We assume at least two sources (each gospel).
·         Not even the assumption that there was an original wording that was, either intentionally or accidentally, changed and resulted in a variant reading remains firm.

So, when we move from text critical problems to the synoptic problem, it occurred to me that the simple and static becomes complicated and dynamic.  If this is true then it may be inappropriate to apply the procedures from textual criticism to the synoptic problem.

Let’s take Dr. McKnight’s second example because I was reading this one when my mind wondered to assumptions.    The Example is from Mark 14:3 and Matthew 26:6.  Mark 14:3 has two genitive absolutes in the same sentence.  This is an unusual construction.  Matthew’s parallel has one genitive absolute and a finite verb.  This is a much more common construction.   Dr. McKnight introduces the example and says, “It is more likely that Matthew “corrected”…Mark than Mark took a perfectly normal expression and made it irregular.  Mark’s style is not impossible:  people can have two genitive absolutes together if they want; in a flurry, they might add yet a third.  But when we compare the two, it is more likely that someone would change two genitive absolutes…to one with a finite verb than take one genitive absolute and a finite verb and make two genitive absolutes…” (page 85).

I read this example a couple of times and did some late night/early morning pondering.  Is it more likely that Matthew simplified Marks complicated grammar or Mark complicated Matthew’s already polished grammar?  On the face of the question the answer is “of course, Matthew corrected Mark.”  But then, maybe I was just tired, after thinking about assumptions, I started to imagine how the scene of Matthew writing his gospel may have developed.  What would I have seen if I was there?  Under the Oxford hypothesis, I imagined the year 85 AD.  The aging apostle Matthew is in his study in Caesarea.  Before him is a copy of Mark’s gospel, perhaps Q or a set of other sayings documents that make up Q, possibly an M document and a partially completed scroll that someday will be the gospel according the Matthew.  In his copy of Mark, he reads the phrase και οντος αυτου εν Βηθανια εν τη οικια Σιμωνος του λεπρου κατακειμενου αυτου ελθεν γυνη εχουσα αλαβαστρον μθρου ναρδου πιστικης πολυτελους... He thinks, “I remember when that happened.  We were all at Simon’s house, Jesus was at the table and then she came in with the bottle of perfume.”  He sees Mark’s attempt to introduce the scene and corrects his grammar to make it more readable.  Matthew writes, του δε Ιησου γενομενου εν Βηθανια εν οικια Σιμωνος του λεπρου προσηλθεν αυτω γυνη εχουσα αλαβαστρον μυρου βαρυτιμου....

Could it have happened that way?  I suppose it could have.  Even though all the church fathers who comment on the order the gospels were written in put Matthew or the “the gospels with genealogies” first, they could be wrong and, based on this linguistic/text critical argument, Mark could have been first. 

Then I thought, “What if the church fathers were right?”  What if Matthew was first and Mark was the result of Peter’s sermons in Rome to Roman believers?  I decided to try thinking from the standpoint of the Griesbach hypothesis.  So I begin to imagine how Mark may have been written.  It would be around the year 60 in the city of Rome.  The Gospels of Matthew and Luke would already exist and I can’t imagine that Peter would not know about them.  I am sure that when Matthew wrote his gospel one of the first people he showed must have been Peter.  Anyway, I imagine Peter in Rome teaching the Roman Christians about the life of Jesus.  Maybe he had the gospel of Matthew and/or Luke with him or maybe he taught from memory.  Mark sits close by and is maybe taking some notes.  During one of his sermons Peter comes the scene described in Matthew 26 and he tells the story.  Would he change Matthew’s polished grammar into Mark’s two genitive absolutes?  I don’t know?  It is hard to say.  Matthew was writing a literary document and Peter was giving sermons or maybe just speaking extemporaneously.  It is two different mediums of communication. 

As I was imagining this, one of Dr. McKnight’s statements jumped out at me.  He wrote, “Mark’s style is not impossible:  people can have two genitive absolutes together if they want; in a flurry, they might add yet a third.”  That phrase, “…in a flurry, they might add yet a third” kept my attention.  When Peter orally told the same story that Matthew wrote, could he have complicated the grammar?  Of course he could have.  The two genitive absolutes could easily be the result of Peter trying to express in speech, what Matthew may have taken five minutes to express in writing.  (It is also easy to believe that Mark would want to preserve the actual words of Peter as much as he could.)  That would be Peter’s “flurry” that Dr. McKnight talked about.  In the “flurry” of the moment, Peter used some awkward grammar.  I haven’t researched this but two genitive absolutes does sound to me more like something you may hear spoken then something that may intentionally write.  In the written medium, the author has time to think through and polish what he wants to communicate.  In the spoken medium, the author doesn’t have the luxury of the redactor and it is easy to believe that sentence structure could come out more awkward.

The possibly mistaken assumption here is that Mark, like Matthew, is the result of an attempt to communicate through a written, literary medium.  If that is the case, then we are comparing apples with apples when we ask the question, “Which reading gives rise to the others?”.  However, there is good evidence that Mark was not the result of an attempt to produce a polished, written document.  If that is the case, then we may be using text critical methods to compare apples with oranges and, as far as I can tell, that tells us nothing.

These thought were swirling around in my head as I finally made my way to bed.  My conclusion is that the synoptic problem may be much too complicated to make use of text critical methods.  The static and linear assumption that text critical methods rely upon, become dynamic and multifaceted when we move to the synoptic problem.  For example, If Mark 14:3 and Matthew 26:6 were two variants in one book, then the static assumptions of textual criticism would apply and we could examine the external and intern evidence and ask the question, “Which reading is most likely to give rise to the others?”.  However, the answer to this important text critical question, when applied to the synoptic problem, is so complicated that it doesn’t seem to make sense to even ask the question.  I can agree that there is literary dependence, but to answer the question we have to assume we know what form the dependence took.  If Matthew is in his study then of course he “corrected” Mark.  But, if Peter is giving sermons, then of course he could have complicated Matthew’s polished grammar with an extra genitive absolute.  By assuming the form of literary dependence (the situation in history), we almost have to assume our answer before we can ask the question.  So it is no surprise that people who lean toward Markan priority imagine Matthew in his study and those who lean toward Matthean priority picture Peter, in a flurry, using two genitive absolutes.  If this is the case, then the application of the methodology seems to be flawed and we need to look else ware to solve our synoptic problem.

In closing, I am not saying that we should “ jettison text-critical procedures in use by all scholars today”.  I am suggesting that maybe we should use them for textual criticism and not the synoptic problem.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Bureaucracy Softens

The bureaucracy has redeemed itself.  We had a possible problem.  We needed two documents from our “passportist” office to get our stamps from the immigration office.  The problem was that the passportists only worked on Thursday but the immigration office didn’t provide services on Thursday and we had tickets to leave on Friday night.  I figured we had a chance to leave Friday night if we got our documents on Thursday, we had a chance to get our stamps on Friday morning and we could leave Friday night.  Just to make sure that there were no surprises on Friday, on Wednesday, I went to the immigration office again to ask if I needed anything else besides two documents from our passportist.  As I talked to the lady at the immigration office, I asked if I needed anything besides the two documents to get our stamp.  She said no.  I said something like, “So, I can get the documents on Thursday, because the passportist only works on Thursday this week and I can come here Friday and get our stamp – right?”  She said, “No, Friday is a holiday and we are closed.”  I didn’t know what to do.  I started to panic a little but had enough composure to ask if someone would be in the immigration office on Thursday.  She said that she would not but someone else may be willing to help.  The office wasn’t closed, it just was a day when services were not offered.  On Thursday, we went to the passportist office early and waited.  We were second in line and our passportist (actually our passportists – there are two of them) were very nice.  She quickly prepared our documents and then went above and beyond the call of duty.  She knew that we were trying to get our stamps because we wanted to leave Odessa on Friday.  She called the lady at the immigration office – they knew each other.  They talked a little, she hung up and said that Sveta (the immigration office woman) would meet us at her office at 3:00pm.  We left, went home and later went to the immigration office at 3:00.  Sveta was there working.  She greeted us, checked our paperwork and stamped our permits.  We thanked her for helping us on a non services day and she said that it was her pleasure.  We parted as friends.  We are thankful for the help from our passportist (Tatyana) andour new friend from immigration (Svetlana).

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Taste of Bureaucracy

Here is an example of the kind of bureaucracy we sometimes have to deal with.  Much of it I understand.  There is no reason why the government should not do a background check on us, have translations of our passports or know where we live.  They are just trying to protect their country and economy.  But, as an American, I instinctively value “efficiency” and when I don’t get efficiency – I sometimes complain. 

Friday, June 21, 2013.  We had our actually Temporary Residence Permits in hand.  We got those on Thursday.  The woman at the OVIR was very nice and rushed the process so we could have a chance to leave for L’vov on Saturday.  We just needed to get a stamp from the immigration office.  (Background:  No one has every explained the entire process and I cannot find any kind of law or written document that describes how to apply for and receive temporary residency permits.  Our approach is to start the process and do what we are told by the various offices.)  The immigration office that we needed to go to was not open on Thursday, so we needed to wait until Friday.  We wanted to be first in line so we arrived at the office at 8:00am (they opened at 9:00).  We were third in line – no problem.  Here is our bus route.

We waited an hour.  While waiting we recieved a call from the OVIR.  They needed one more document from the seminary.  I called the seminary and they said the document could be ready in the afternoon.  The door opened, we walked up a flight of stairs into a hallway of eight doors.  We needed office number one.  After waiting a few more minutes, we went in and she was very nice.  We explained where we were in the process.  She looked at our documents and then said that this is not the last step but close.  She made a copy of our permits, wrote our information in her registry book and then had us write a “statement” requesting that the stamps be put in our permits.  We wrote the statements, she put a note, a stamp and a signature on them and sent us to office number 7.  We thanked her and went to office number seven.  There we waited in a line for about a half hour.  The woman in this office, at first didn’t understand why we were sent to her.  We also didn’t fully understand.  She took our document and went back to office number one.  When she returned, we explained again that all we needed were the stamps.  She said she understood, but that wasn’t her job.  However, we did need more documents from her.  She took our statements, made another note on them and said that we need to take these to the boss.  She said that if we waited in line we would be there all day so she would help us.  She said, “Follow me and say nothing.”  We followed her passed a line of people into the bosses office.  He was in a large room, at a desk helping another women.  He also had a TV on across the room with a Mexican soap opera playing.  We waited.  She showed the boss our statements and he said, “Where are the signatures and the dates?”  We quickly signed and dated them.  Then he made another note on them and signed them.  We left the room and the woman said that her part was done.  Now we need to take our statements to another immigration office in the north part of the city.  There we can get our stamp.  We thanked her and left.  We were cautiously optimistic – it was only 10:00am.  We got on a bus and went north.  Here is our route.

It took us a little while, but we found the office.  There were four doors in the hall and none of them were labeled.  We asked around and found the lady we were looking for.  I explained that we needed the stamp in our permits.  She took one look at the documents in our hands and said that copies meant nothing to her.  She needed a card from another office (called the passportist).  I explained that the pasportist doesn’t work on Fridays and she said that we need to go there when they work.  We were getting nowhere, so we decided to see if the passportist was in her office.  This time we walked.

We got there to find out that the office was not only closed – Monday, of course, is a holiday.  The soonest we can see the passportist is maybe Tuesday afternoon.  Well this was a difficult pill to swallow.  We hit a dead end.  The rest of the day was spent getting another document from the seminary, exchanging our Saturday train tickets (except Joseph’s), purchasing new tickets (by faith) for Wednesday and taking our new document to the OVIR.  This required a long trip downtown.  I made it back to our region just in time to take part in our last English Café.

Our initial reaction was sadness and disappointment.  However, after some time we came to our senses and knew that this was no surprise to God and it is really a very small setback in the grand narrative of the Kingdom of God.  We said goodbye to Joseph on Saturday and now we hope that Tuesday we can get our stamps and be off to join him and the team on Wednesday.