Glimpses of the Promised Land

I’ve talked a bit about feeling like I’ve been in exile over the past couple years and luckily it seems like I am starting to see the Promised Land again. I entered into my MA here at Fuller with a lot of pressing issues I needed to address. I felt completely deconstructed by my previous studies and left with no real resources to piece things back together. At the core of a lot of it was epistemology and my loss of confidence in foundationalism as a viable model for the current philosophical and cultural landscape.  I also had some areas of study  I just needed to dive right into. Over this past year, I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do just that.  I feel I am starting to hone in on a better epistemological method. Many of my research hunches about where the conversations are going in numerous fields/topics have been vindicated and I am starting to get my confidence back in my own abilities to write and do biblical research. It’s strange how things change over time. Not long ago I felt totally adrift at sea, now I am starting to feel like its time to set anchor.

God has been working on me a lot too. I noticed him in some small details of my life recently and it was encouraging. They were silly little things that wouldn’t seem important to anyone. For example, I needed a dime for one last page of photocopying from a book in the library and had no money to do it. I would have to trek all the way home for one but I decided to check the floors of the copy rooms on the off chance there might be one laying around. The first room had nothing but when I went up to the second floor, there it was, right in the middle of the floor in front of the copying machine. It was like God was saying, this is small potatoes Steve. I can do this. Another instance was when a friend of mine gifted me a book that was on a topic we both shared an interest in. It was totally out of the blue and much appreciated. I know these are not terribly huge or earth shattering events but I had kept my eyes open for God, and noticed him show up in the minutest of ways. Another instance was when I was on the computer and managed to book all my flights, hotels, car rentals for trips this quarter and subscribe to the necessary scholarly organizations and register for a conference all in one fell swoop. I have been really stressed about this quarter because of all the commitments I have to keep, I have a close friend from college getting married which I am standing in the wedding party for, a trip to the SBL/AAR conference in November, two sets of parents visiting and oh I also get to TA a class this quarter. Not to mention study for the GRE and work on Ph D applications. It seemed an insurmountable task. Yet, somehow my trip stuff all pooled together into one productive afternoon. It was serendipitous and I felt like God was behind it. Then, after committing to the fact that I would have to spend a small fortune to stay in San Francisco for the conference, a friend offered to put me up for free. God has really been addressing the area of finances with us this year. It’s quite humbling to be working on your second masters and also be on food stamps. That’s just where we are right now and God has been meeting our needs. In Denver, we were very intentional about working hard and being responsible with our money. I think in some ways, God needed to show us that he can support us when we are in need and that it isn’t all about the work ethic.

Throughout it all I’ve been trying to get at the heart of the issue, why is it that I still feel like I can’t trust God?  In some ways, I feel like its God fault I’ve encountered so much adversity these past few years but then I am beginning to see the fruit of those experiences.  It changes my perspective and sometimes I think I just need a good Holy Spirit God cry session to get all this junk out.  I might visit the Pasadena International House of Prayer to do just that.  I need to let go of the overwhelming sense of loss I experienced and am trying to figure out the best way to go about it.  All in all things are getting better even though life continues to throw me challenges.  It’s good to be alive and I’m happy with where I am right now.  I think that’s all I can hope for at this stage of the game.  Soon  a lot will be changing but for now, I’ll just rest in the fact that I am finally making some progress in my life without God kind of phase.  Exile is only for a time and I for one am glad that it looks like it will soon be over.  I can’t wait to see what’s on the other side………Will it be the Promised Land?… That still remains to be seen.  One thing I do know,   I will be glad to be out of the wilderness

Did Jesus go to theater camp?


Partially reconstructed theater at Sepphoris

Partially reconstructed theater at Sepphoris

When we read in Matt. 6:1-8;16-18, curiously, Jesus demonstrates knowledge of theatrical terminology and practices which would seem out of place in first century Jewish contexts.  How did Jesus know what a “hyporcrite,” literally one who wears a mask or plays a role, meant when he lived in a largely rural town?  Did Jesus go to theater camp? It may sound a bit cheeky, but the truth  may not be so far off.  Richard A. Batey in “Jesus and the Theatre,” New Testament Studies vol. 30 no 4, O 1984, pp. 563-584, makes a strong case that Jesus knew Greek theatrical terms such as hypocrite, “hupocritai” occurring in Matt 6, vv. 2, 5 and in 16 “hupocrites”, because he lived close to the Hellenistic Roman city of Sepphoris.  How is this significant?

Sepphoris was founded by Herod Antipater as “the seat of his power and centre of culture” in Galilee and Perea. Here, the remains of a Greco-Roman style theater have been found in the style of Vitruvius, a great architectural mind who built the Roman water system. Herod the Great had sent his children to Rome to be educated and trained in the ways of Roman politics and culture. When Herod Antipas returned and subsequently took control as one of four tetrarchs or rulers of the region after his father died, he founded a city resplendent with Roman luxury and opulence,  symbolizing the embodiment of Roman culture he had experienced while in the capital of the empire. Being that the city was only an hour’s walk from the town of Nazareth and that Nazareth was along the main highway south of Sepphoris makes it likely that Jesus traveled there. Jesus was involved in a trade, carpentry, that would require commerce with such places and it is likely Jesus travelled to Sepphoris to conduct business and knew some Greek in order to carry out regular business deals. It is here that the young Jesus may have talked to actors or seen a performance of Greek tragedy.  One can imagine Jesus taking a break from his hard work and listening in on a  practice between actors, seeing them getting ready for a show or catching the show with his dad while they were in town.

In Jesus’ own description of the hypocrites in relation to fasting, Matt. 6:16-18, he describes how they paint their faces, the same way actors prepared for their tragic roles and comedies. Additionally, according to Craig Evans, the description of “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” in Matt 6:3 is actually instructions about how to use one’s hands in performance.  Clearly Jesus knew something about the theater and some of its mechanics.  The remains of a theater in Sepphoris has been found and dated to the period of Antipas based upon Hasmonean coins discovered in the orchestra area. (Coins were often thrown as praise for good performances, much like roses today at ice skating events.)  Hupocritesoccurs thirteen times in Matthew compared to once in Mark and three times in Luke. The theme became important for Matthew in delineating true worship from false piety and he uses it often. This would not make sense unless Jesus knew what the term meant.  Even more so, Jesus’ indictment of the pharisees and teachers of the law, the religious folk, as “hypocrites” would be particularly biting as the religious Jewish elite saw acting as a form of lying.  This is why they are offended when Jesus  accuses them of  false piety.  He is calling them a bunch of liars.  Pretty in your face.  Matthew utilizes this theme to great effect throughout his Gospel.  It would appear that Jesus had to have known some kind of Greek and more specifically, Greek theatrical terms, in order to make the kind of accusations he was making.  How did he acquire such Greco-Roman terminology? Did Jesus go to theater camp?  The idea makes me smile just a little bit.  Regardless of how he came to know the terms, Jesus certainly understood what they meant and used them to great effect.  Jesus didn’t “act the fool” but told it straight.  That’s why he was so controversial.