Sunday, June 26, 2005


Leviticus (lĬvĬt´ekes) is the third book of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is believed to have been written by Moses betwee 1440 and 1400 BC, but this authorship continues to be a source of debate between liberal and conservative scholars. Note that in the 27 chapters of Leviticus, there are 56 references to Moses' authorship (e.g., 1:1; 4:1; 6:1, 24; 8:1). Leviticus probably reached its final canonical shape by about the year 400 BC.

Moses also wrote Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy--the other four books of the "Pentateuch" (pente meaning "five" and teuchos meaning "volumes" in Greek). The Pentateuch is the name given to the Five Books of Moses, which are the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. The first five books are also known as the "Books of the Law" and the "Torah" (instruction in the Hebrew).

What is interesting about Leviticus is that it was specifically written for the tribe of Levi.The word itself means "of the Levites". The Levites were the designated priests of the people of Israel. Yet there is a tendency to use Leviticus more broadly to society, which doesn't make much sense if the book was specifically written for a group of people who had the very unique job of carrying out sacrificial offerings to God.

For example, V'et zachar lo tishkav mishk'vey eeshah toeyvah hee means "And with a male you shall not lay lyings of a woman". This is taken from Leviticus 18:22, which is part of the so-called "Holiness Code".

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera

There is a 1st century tombstone in Bingerbrück, Germany for a Roman centurion named Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera (Pantera being the Latin form of Pantheras; Abdes means "Servant of Isis".), who served in the 1st cohort of archers for 40 years during the beginning of the Roman Empire's Imperial Period (25 BC - 197 AD). Tiberius Julius died when he was 62 years old.

Tiberius Julius was from Sidon in Phoenicia. The Phoenician name was Zidon, pronounced by the Greeks as Sidon. The word Tsidon in Hebrew implies fishing or fishery. Other variations are Siduna and the modern name Saidon. The name is the same as the oldest son of Canaan, a son of Ham.

It is interesting to note that a Greek philosopher named Celsus (not to be confused with Aulus Cornelius Celsus, the Roman physician who wrote the medical encyclopedia De Medicina), writing a treatise against the early Christians called Alethès Lógos (the "The True Word" or "The True Discourse") around 178 AD (during the reign of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius), claimed that the father of Jesus of Nazaraeth was in fact a Roman soldier named Pantera. Celsus, who was an eclectic Platonist and polemical anti-Christian writer, criticized Christianity as a threat to the stable communities and worldview that the "pagan" religious and social system sought to uphold.

Celsus was a friend of Lucien of Samosata, who was Syrian rhetorician and satirist.

While none of Celsus' original writings have survived intact, the following passages from Alethès Lógos were quoted by the 3rd century Christian theologian Origen in his eight-volume work Contra Celsum or Katà Kélsou (248 AD), meaning "Against Celsus", for the purpose of refuting Celsus' claims. A copy of Alethès Lógos had been found by Ambrosius and was sent to his friend Origen with a request to refute it.

"Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by working with her hands [spinning]. His mother had been turned out of doors by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery [with a soldier named Panthera (i. 32)]. Being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard. Jesus, on account of his poverty, was hired out to go to Egypt. While there he acquired certain (magical) powers which Egyptians pride themselves on possessing. He returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god."

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

A disciple of Jesus

I no longer call myself a Catholic. That was not as hard as I thought it would be.

I have little trouble referring to myself as an Episcopalian. But the thing is that that really is not my "culture". I am not tied to the Episcopal Church... although I have a found a comfortable home at one of its churches. It is the particular Episcopal community to which I belong that makes sense to me. So I'll say I'm Episcopalian, but it doesn't mean all that much to me.

I don't come from the tradition of calling myself a Christian. Catholics tend to call themselves "Catholic", not so much "Christian". Also I'm not so big on the whole Christology stuff, and there's just so much associated with being a Christian to which I do not subscribe.

If you truly want to know what I call myself, I guess "a disciple of Jesus" would do the trick nicely.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Longing for Pelagius

It is a shame that Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) won out over Pelagius (354-418 AD), also known as Morien. Christianity would have turned out differently (... and better, in my view) had the Briton won out over the north African.

Mr. Augustine taught that humankind sinful by nature, and that without the grace of the Creator that sinfulness could only earn one eternal damnation. It is a totally negative view of humanity, which it goes contrary to my belief in the perfection God's creation. If God is perfect, then I sense so is the product of God's work.

According to Augustine, humankind's salvation came solely through the grace of God, as presented in the person and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and that this grace came only by God's pleasure, to whomsoever he chose to extend it, without requiring any effort on man's part to complete the transaction.

Pelagius, a British monk, denied the doctrine of original sin, and by extension, the necessity for and the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. He had a positive view of humanity and supported the idea that humanity is basically good.

In Pelagius' view, Augustine's doctrine seemed to teach that God only saves specific, chosen individuals, and those that aren't chosen, are, therefore, without hope, no matter how badly they want salvation. To him, this doctrine was cruel and exclusionary, since it appeared to him to be based solely on the whim of a capricious God.

Pelagius argued that individuals have free will. Augustine preached original sin (sinner at conception). Augustine believed that an individual will choose evil over good without the intervention of God (or the government which is empowered by God).

In the end, Augustine courted the Roman emperor Flavius Augustus Honorius (395-423 AD) and with a bribe of 80 Numidian stallions (via Augustine's friend and fellow bishop Alypius), swayed the emperor. In 418 Pope Zosimus excommunicated Pelagius, and Honorius condemned him as a heretic.

Through more than a little underhandedness on the part of Mr. Augustine, he managed to win out over his adversary. The result was that the more negative, sinful view of humankind won out. You have to ask yourself... "What if Augustine had played it straight? What if the guy's theology had lost out to a more Jesus-like teaching?"

Augustine, as bishop of Carthage: "...abandoned the policy of toleration practiced by the previous bishop of Carthage...[and] turned increasingly to force. First came laws denying civil rights to non-Catholic Christians; then the imposition of penalties, fines, eviction from public office; and finally, denial of free discussion... and the use of physical coercion." - Elaine Pagels

Augustine justified government and church subjugation of it's citizens based on his personal inability to choose good over evil and his assumption that everyone else must be as incapable as he. "After various earlier sexual relationships, he lived for years with a lower-class woman who engaged his passions and bore him a son, but then he abandoned her for the sake of a socially advantageous marriage his [christian] mother arranged for him." - Elaine Pagels

Augustine sold this view to Honorius by warning of the dangers of free will to the status quo... in Peter Browns' words: "the ultimate consequence of [Pelagian] ideas... cut at the roots of episcopal authority... The documents claimed that by appeasing the Palagians the Catholic church would lose the vast authority it had begun to wield..."

Note: The most notable event of Honorius' reign was the assault and sack of Rome on August 24, 410 by the Visigoths under Alaric. The shock of this event reverberated from Britain to Jerusalem, and inspired Augustine to write his magnum opus, The City of God.