Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidence Right

In the article “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidence Right,” Mr. Craig A. Evans presents a detailed and precise argument in support of the hypothesis that Jesus was buried in a tomb.  He does this in response to the arguments of Mr. Bart Ehrman, who believes that Jesus’ body was not laid in a tomb based on the facts that a) his burial was not mentioned in the early creeds of the Church and b) it was not the custom of the Romans to allow the burial of criminals.  Because of this, he believes that the story of Jesus’ burial, even the detail about a certain “Joseph of Arimathea,” was a legend that was added to the gospels at a later time.

To counter these arguments, Evans thoroughly lists ancient sources, both Jewish and Roman, as evidence to support his claims.  By citing historians and witnesses like Philo and Josephus, Evans is able to give substantial proof that, according to the ancient burial customs of the Romans and the Jews (especially of criminals), Jesus’ entombment is not only plausible, but probable.

I enjoyed Evans’ methodical and thorough approach to the issue.  Though he seemed repetitive and his evidence lengthy, all seemed necessary to adequately satisfy the doubts that Ehrman leaves in the mind of the reader.  However, my favorite part was the last section of the reading.  Here, Evans logically and concisely answers the issue of the tomb, wonderfully summing up the evidence he manifests throughout the article.  It is a perfect apologetic answer for the average person.

What did the First Christians think about Jesus? -Gathercole

In Gathercole’s essay: What did the First Christian Think about Jesus? the author describes the likely Christology of early believers so as to show that the facts do not point a Jesus that gradually becomes God. Gathercole does so by contrasting the thought of Bart Ehrman, a novelist purporting Jesus as an “ugly duckling” arriving at divinity during different stages of his life, i.e. at birth in Luke and Matthew and the baptism in Mark. One of the responses is the “I have come” statements made by Christ which imply Jesus as pre-existing then come into the world to accomplish his mission. During the Tunnel Period, Erhman claims to have found a pre-literary formula or creed in Rom 1:3-4 which seems to imply Jesus being adopted at Son of God at the Resurrection. This claim is addressed as wildly speculative by Gathercole on many levels. Finally in the exaltation understanding of Jesus glorified, Gathercole highlights the different characteristics and actions of Jesus during his earthy mission and glorification in order to show where the adoptionists go wrong in their line of thought, namely seeing this transition as the moment Christ became God, which he posits, was not the orthodox position of early Christians.

            I enjoyed the article however the author does assume the reader have an advanced understanding of theology, scripture and logic. I found myself re-reading sections just to understand his arguments. I did agree with his positions and especially enjoyed his reflection on Jesus’ exalted and earthly characteristics as a pitfall for some adoptionists who view this as the moment of divinization for Jesus. The work was a great counter argument and debunking of the claims of Ehrman positing the Jesus became God gradually in the thoughts of early Christians.

Jesus of Nazareth – Volume 2 Chapter 5 – The Last Supper

In this chapter, Ratzinger provides an excellent summary of scholarly thought on the events of the Last Supper. He harnesses the historical-critical method with finesse – deftly avoiding becoming bogged down in boring detail, and instead focusing on becoming more closely acquainted with the person of Jesus.

First, our Pope emeritus asks whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal, and gives a convincing “no”. He goes to lengths to show that John’s chronology, which places the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, is chronologically true to history, unlike the Synoptics. The Last Supper couldn’t have been a normal Passover meal, as it didn’t occur on Passover!

Benedict turns next to look at the words of institution. Words, he says, that militate against an image of “friendly Jewish rabbi” or “political revolutionary”. Rather, they include an anticipation of the cross and resurrection, of His death for the expiation of our sins. All Passover celebrations, all sacrificial lambs point to Him, and Benedict shows a beautiful sense of continuity in the relationship of God with His people before and after the events of Holy Week. In response to our sin Jesus gives himself freely, and the reality of evil is overcome, not ignored.

Benedict goes on to touch on many important nuances, like the “for all/for many” change we’ve seen in the new translation, and what the “this” of “do this in memory of me” refers to (more than the words of consecration, but not a whole Passover meal). Finally, he concludes with a section that deals with the importance of both the cross and the resurrection for our liturgy. All is useful knowledge for seminarian debates – and of course, for good liturgy.

Chapter 10 – Jesus Declares His Identity

In Chapter Ten of Jesus of Nazareth, Ratzinger examines how Christ Himself understood His own identity using as a starting point the titles that Jesus applied to Himself in the Gospels. The first such title is “Son of Man” and the second is “Son.” The Son of Man is the title Christ most uses to refer to Himself, a title applied exclusively to Him. Through this declaration, Christ no longer remains one individual, but rather “makes all of us one single person with Himself, a new humanity.” The title “Son of God” was a political title of the day, but Christ destroys that connection and reestablishes the title as one of special relationship with God the Father. The level of knowledge the Son has of the Father demonstrates their level of equality with each other. Ratzinger closes out the chapter with an examination of the many “I AM” statements found in the Gospels, noting that all of the terms that follow it receive their full meaning in Jesus.


I felt Ratzinger provided thoughtful insights into each of the declarations that Christ makes about His own identity. Linking the titles found in the Gospel to their connections in the Old Testament help aid in the understanding of Christ as the fulfillment of the prophecy, as the fullness of divine revelation.



The chapter talks about the distinction between the kingdom of God and that of men. The understanding of the phrase ‘gospel of the kingdom’ and references to the ‘the kingdom of God and ‘the kingdom of heaven’ are often in connection with the Lord Jesus and his works of redemption. The word gospel simply denotes ‘good news’ and the term ‘kingdom’ is the Greek word for basileia, meaning the realm in which a sovereign king rules. At the beginning of Christ earthly ministry, he preached that the kingdom of God is near (Matt. 4:17). his incarnation becomes the fulfillment in time and the establishment of the kingdom of God. We can possibly find out from the text that the word kingdom as used in the New Testament always refers to the reign of Christ in the hearts of those who believe and as we learn, christ’s kingdom is not of this world (Jn. 18:36). The good news of the kingdom means therefore, the proclamation of the message of repentance, redemption and restoration offered by God to all who welcomes Christ. This good news when received brings freedom from our slavery to sin and leads one to eternal salvation. Christ as the word made flesh is both embodiment of the good news of salvation which ultimately when accepted leads one to the kingdom of God which Christ represents and is the prince of the kingdom.

Galilean Judiasm – Was Jesus a Jew?

The question of whether or not Jesus was a Jew is certainly relevant to understanding His words and actions. The author in this article attempts to look at whether or not Galilee was Jewish in order to determine if it is proper for us to describe Jesus as a follower of Judaism, that is, a “Jew”. The author looks at the historical evidence of 1st Century Galilee and concludes that there is quite a bit of archeological evidence which suggests that the inhabitants of Galilee were practicing Jews. Stone vessels for the practice of ritual purity, evidence of burial practices, and bones found without pork (adherence to dietary laws) are just some of the examples the author references. The author also proposes that the inhabitants of Galilee were familiar with and loyal to the Torah, saying that we need not look further than Jesus’ own knowledge of the Torah in order to prove this. How would Jesus know the Torah as well as He did if children of Galilee were not being taught it and people of Galilee were not practicing it?

The author entertains the possibility that Galilee was more of a Hellenized area but quickly disparages this idea. He points out that Galilee was relatively close to a few small “Hellenized” cities but that there is not enough evidence to prove that Galilee itself was not Jewish. Finally, the author looks at the historical evidence of Synagogues in Galilee. He points out that the historical evidence suggests that Jews in Galilee were meeting to hear the Torah and to pray, but the archeological evidence is not clear what sort of special building if any was being used. The author does seem to believe that Galilee was in fact “Jewish” and that Jesus was a Jew.

There are a few critiques that I have about this article. First, the article has an unbelievable amount of footnotes which makes reading it very difficult. Second, the author includes a section about Pharisees in Galilee and I just don’t believe that it is necessary to do so based upon all the other evidence that he points out in the rest of the article.   

Matthew’s world: locating the text historically and socially

In Ian Boxall’s work, Matthew’s world: locating the text historically and socially, he goes to discover the various thoughts concerning the historical atmosphere and the social setting of Matthew’s audience. Considering that theories in the realm of Sacred Scripture are just that, Boxall provides the arguments and the “evidence” that support various scholars. Some claim the question of “status” in regards to the community to which Matthew is writing; whether or not the community is within the confines of the larger Jewish community, or outside the realm, classifying them as almost “reformers” in opposition. These particular scholars, to whom Boxall refers, point to the Sacred Text in order to derive plausible evidence for, let’s say, the “hostility” of the Blessed Lord toward the Pharisees. Conclusions, such as this, lead the reader to think that Matthew is “crafting” his work to fit the experience of these “outcast” Jews.

            I found the article rather static in it’s approach to the Gospel of Matthew. It seemed to place a excessive focus on the questions of time and place, but seemingly not taking into account that, as Hebrews 4:12 states, “the word of God is living and effective” today! (RSV) Are we seeking to be kerygmatic, or in our endeavors in academia, do we end up divesting the scriptures to the bare historical context, by which we begin to read the words on the page as a mere “letter” to first century Palestinians? Yes, the text was written at a particular time in a specific place, however Matthew’s Gospel is the proclaimed Word of God. What did the Word speak to them? What does the Word speak to us? That’s the question.

Parables of Jesus

Chapter 7 of Ratzinger’s Jesus of Nazareth highlights the timeless and multilayered nature of Jesus’ parables.  The depth of meaning in each parable is often elusive and cannot be definitively commented upon by any one method of biblical exegesis.  Many scholars have attempted to produce a definitive formula for reading Jesus’ parables, but the depth and multiplicity of senses in the parables continually breaks any artificial mold.  Ratzinger claims that the central purpose of the parables was to open up listeners to a “hidden and multilayered invitation to faith in Jesus as the ‘Kingdom of God in person.’”

 I enjoyed this chapter because Ratzinger successfully debunks several attempts among scholars to reduce Jesus’ parables to a one dimensional, innocuous interpretation.  He does this by revealing several dimensions of meaning found in the three parables in Luke.  First, he shows the complexity of the characters in each parable and what can be learned from each character.  Secondly, he demonstrates how each parable challenges and calls to conversion both his contemporaries as well as modern readers today.  Finally, he shows how purposefully Jesus transforms Jewish images and motifs to draw his hearers into an encounter with Him as the fulfillment of what they believe. Ratzinger’s exegesis demonstrates how Jesus’ parables prevent a reductionist approach because they all point to the mystery of Himself as their primary lesson.

The Sermon on the Mount (Benedict XVI, Chapter 4)

Great stories stay with people, and some may even find their way deep into the hearts of the hearers. The fifth chapter in the Gospel of Matthew focuses on the freedom and happiness found in living out the Beatitudes. Jesus teaches the very truths of discipleship that fulfill the precepts of the Old Testament as well as the longings of the human heart. This great teaching is known as the Sermon on the Mount.

There is a close connection between the Old Testament and the person of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. Here, He portrays Jesus as the New Moses, the intimate intermediary between God and His people, who speaks directly with God and for God. The mountain, like Mount Sinai, is the very place for encounter and union with the Father. The place of Christ’s personal prayer becomes the pulpit for this great teaching.

Even more wonderful, the prayer of Jesus before the Father involves each of us, for all of humanity is held within the heart of Christ. Pope Benedict writes, “The individual Beatitudes are the fruit of this looking upon the disciples… They are poor, hungry, weeping men; they are hated and persecuted.”[1] And this brings every Christian closer to Christ, for He becomes poor and persecuted. In this way, the Beatitudes allow mankind to see things through the eyes of God, who teaches that love is not self-seeking; but rather, it is an emptying and exodus out of oneself.

Although I found Pope Benedict’s presentation of the Beatitudes unsystematic, he does show how each one is interconnected with the other. They all converge in Christ. The kind of love called for in the Sermon on the Mount is costly, because it is the Cross of Jesus. It seems to me that such an astonishing lesson awakens the stubborn heart to its deepest desire, namely Christ Himself.    

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, 71.

Imprisoned but still ministering

In chapter 12 we begin with an explanation of what a life in chains was like for Paul in Rome.  We are told of a life that is much more like what might imagined for a guest in bondage than a criminal locked into a dungeon and forgotten.  People regularly came and went, discussions were had about how and what the young church should be doing, and letters were sent giving directions and guidance.  During his confinement he was chained to one guard during the day and two at night.  The author asserts that these guards might have even been an aid to spreading the faith throughout Rome. 

               Through his letters Paul extorts the various communities to show unity, especially in Paul’s absence.  He asks them to greet all fellow Christians with respect, and to show courtesy and respect even when they feel someone has slighted them.  He also addresses’ questions on the nature of Christ and the angels, affirming that Christ is above the angels since they proceeded from him in the creation of the world.  Throughout his confinement he repeats his message of unity calling for all who follow Christ to act as one family regardless of where they came from – physically or spiritually.  The most important thing for Paul is that the communities maintain their faith in the morality and teachings of Christ Jesus.

               I appreciated the explanation of the bondage that Paul was placed under.  In my mind I’ve always imagined something more akin to a dungeon with visitors speaking through a barred window than what we are presented with here.  The description of the guards who are basically forcibly catechized by being chained to Paul also gives me a new understanding of the way the Gospel spread throughout the empire.  It was interesting to read through the chapter, reading summaries of Paul’s letters, about how the challenges faced by the Christians in the 30 or 40 years after Christ’s death are often the same as those faced today – don’t try to add to the faith with elemental spirits and treat each other nice.  The only thing I found a little confusing was the opening paragraph.  I’m guessing that Mr. Callewaert was trying to set the scene but it seemed to be less relevant than most of the other material.  I also felt that he spent too much effort trying to dismiss the importance of the Roman writers of the time.  If you didn’t believe that Paul was greater than those writers, then you aren’t likely to have ever picked up this book in the first place.  

               Finally, I would definitely recommend this book to my family and parishioners based on this chapter.  It’s not a heavy duty examination of the details of Paul’s letters, pick up a bible and read the letters for yourself and your likely to get a deeper understanding of what Paul was saying.  A heavy duty examination is often less accessible and a brief examination like this can ignite the spark of curiosity that leads people to want to examine the full message.