We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Walking in the Footsteps of John the Baptist, Part 6

 


Walking in the Footsteps of John the Baptist, Part 6

James McGrath has recently traveled to Israel to walk in the footsteps of John the Baptist. I thought it might be of interest that we journey with James as well to discover the early days of Jesus' ministry through his cousin John. Enjoy.

R.E. Slater
August 25, 2022




In the Footsteps of John the Baptist 6:
Ein Kerem and Birthplace and Wilderness of John

by James F. McGrath
August 15, 2022

More highlights from my trip to the Holy Land. I drove to Ein Kerem, which was a village in Jesus’ time but today is a neighborhood in the modern city of Jerusalem. There is a tradition that identifies it as the birthplace of John the Baptist. Based on a second century source (which I will say more about in a guest post on Bart Ehrman’s blog soon) I think there is another possibility that deserves to be considered, one that the early church otherwise conveniently omitted (the first instance of this being Luke’s vague reference to a town in the hill country of Judah). I will have even more to say about this in what I write during the coming year. The trip was not just exploring places with genuine verifiable connections with John the Baptist. Had it been, it would have been a short trip indeed! The wider influence of John and traditions about him are also within the purview of the project and of interest to me.

In Ein Kerem I visited the church that is supposed to be John’s birthplace. Here are some photos of the exterior, interior, grotto, and artwork.







From there I drove to Even Sapir which appeared to be the way to reach the Monastery of St. John in the Desert. It isn’t in the desert, but it is in the wilderness in the sense of the relevant ancient terms (and of course at one point desert in English had more to do with the place being deserted). I will say more about this below in response to a recent blog post by another New Testament scholar. You’ll see from photos that the area is not arid but lush. I am glad that I did not know a more direct route than trying to get there through Even Sapir, since it gave me the unexpected opportunity to ask for directions at the Essene Farm. This is a healthy living commune that is more New Age than anything to do with the ancient Essenes. However, the suggestion has been made that John might have been an Essene at some point, perhaps even spending time at Qumran (which I also visited and will blog about in a future post). That suggestion is about the ancient Essenes, the group whose texts are known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. So I am really happy to be able to say, and to at least try to work into my book on John the Baptist for a general audience, that when I was trying to find St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness, I stopped to ask directions at the Essene Farm. Here are some photos of the monastery grounds, cave, chapel, and artwork from the interior.







I was particularly struck by the iconography in the hallway inside the part of the monastery that is open to pilgrims and tourists. There are icons of Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets. Seen visually it led me to connect something Jesus said about John with something that the Synoptic Gospels say about Jesus. Jesus said that the Law and Prophets were until John, when the Kingdom of God is proclaimed. The Gospels on the other hand depict Moses and Elijah coming to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Does this story seek to counter what Jesus himself said and have the Law and Prophets be about and until Jesus instead? Here are the photos of the icons I’m referring to. They are modern but nonetheless striking in the way I’ve indicated.



I was also struck by the dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit hanging above the altar in the monastery’s chapel, and thus from the worshipper’s perspective hanging in the air directly over Jesus who is depicted in an icon on the center back wall. There is also a depiction of John in the usual manner holding a staff with a cross at the top and a scroll with some of his words on them, the only one I have seen in which those words are in Hebrew rather than Greek or Latin.



That’s all from Ein Kerem’s Church of St. John and from the Monastery of St. John in the Wilderness. I also visited the Western Wall tunnels for the first time on this trip, where recently a first century mikveh (immersion pool) was discovered. No photos worth sharing of that, but worth mentioning! More photos and commentary will follow. In the meantime, here are some further thoughts about John the Baptist that I have had since returning, and since my last post on the subject.

I have been thinking about the statement in the Samaritan Chronicle of Abu-l Fath that Dositheans prayed while standing in water. Those familiar with the text known as the Life of Adam and Eve will notice the similarity to what Adam and Eve are said to do to express repentance and seek forgiveness after their sin. That same work mentions that a temple will be built, destroyed, and rebuilt, but adds, “At that time, men will be purified by water of their sins. Those unwilling to be purified by water will be condemned.” I wonder whether Life of Adam and Eve might be a Dosithean or a Baptist text, or conversely, might have been an influence on John and/or on his disciple Dositheus.

As you know if you have followed this series (I think), I am wondering about the resonances between Jesus asking about his identity at Caesarea Philippi, which was one of the major sources of the Jordan River if not its primary course, and the response considering John the Baptist as a possible answer. On that see also this recent post by Michael Barber.

I visited Beth Shean on this trip and mentioned John’s activity in its general vicinity, so here is Craig Keener’s recent post about that city.

James Tabor drew attention to the wonderful YouTube video about the Mandaeans’ baptismal practice by Jesse Buckley, with lots of input from his mother Jorunn Buckley who has long been the leading scholar of Mandaeism in our time.

Yung Suk Kim criticized translations which say that the shepherd who went seeking his lost sheep left the other 99 sheep in pastureland rather than the desert. I think it is important to recover the sense that the word we translate most often as wilderness did not mean desert in the specific sense of that English word but rather something more like a deserted place. The English words hermit and hermitage derive from the Greek word in question and hermitages are away from centers of population but are often in areas that are anything but arid.



John the Baptist Series by James F. McGrath

Walking in the Footsteps of John the Baptist, Part 5

    


Walking in the Footsteps of John the Baptist, Part 5

James McGrath has recently traveled to Israel to walk in the footsteps of John the Baptist. I thought it might be of interest that we journey with James as well to discover the early days of Jesus' ministry through his cousin John. Enjoy.

R.E. Slater
August 25, 2022




In the Footsteps of John the Baptist Part 5:
The Pools of Bethesda and Siloam

by James F. McGrath
August 1, 2022


Visiting two of the pools mentioned in the Gospel of John connected directly not just with my "John the Baptist project" but others. My doctoral work and first book, John’s Apologetic Christology, included significant attention to the stories in John 5 and 9. My recent What Jesus Learned from Women features a chapter on Jesus’ grandmother, Mary’s mother Hannah or Anne. As it happens, the Church of St. Anne is built on the location where excavation has revealed the pools of Bethesda. 

Lately I have been thinking about the story in John 5:1-18 and what it might have meant without the addition about an angel coming to trouble the waters so that they took on healing properties. Some scribe was puzzled and added those details to explain the connection between healing and the man’s inability to get into the pool. That scribe was probably not the only one who wondered about this. The author presumably thought what they wrote made sense. Might they have expected readers to connect immersion in a pool with flowing water and healing by way of an implied reference to baptism?

The church has a long history of connecting baptism and healing. Might this story make a point that many readers have also missed in the parallel account in the Synoptic Gospels in which Jesus heals a paralyzed man (Matthew 9:1-8 and parallels)? The meaning in John [may] be that the man wishes to seek forgiveness for sin through immersion but is unable to when the water is flowing, which is when it is acceptable for ritual purposes, whether of purification as in general practice or in the seeking of forgiveness through the immersion John promoted.

The connection of sin and disability is made in the healing stories in both John 5 and John 9, as also in the Synoptic account. In the latter, there is by definition no flowing water in the home, and thus Jesus’ pronouncement of forgiveness of sin may have marked a departure from the practice of John the Baptist. I suspect that one motive John had in developing his baptism was the inequity of access to forgiveness in the Jerusalem temple for both geographic and economic reasons. Some [worshippers] were located very far away. Some would have struggled to offer an animal as a sacrifice that another could easily afford to. Jesus took the same principle further, it seems, and allowed that even flowing water could be omitted if it was too far away and the person faced mobility issues.

Whether John accepted this exception is unclear. It could be something John himself taught all along, something that Jesus innovated which John embraced, or something Jesus did that led to a parting of the ways between Jesus and his mentor. What do you think?



I also visited the Pools of Siloam which feature in the story I have already mentioned in John 9 where Jesus heals a man who had been born blind. Walking to Siloam from the City of David is down a steep incline. [Even] today, with the [present] traffic on the road, it is challenging for me as a sighted person. That makes me wonder what is implied by Jesus sending a blind man who appears to have been near the temple to that pool; the author of the Gospel who tells the story emphasizes that the name of the pool means “sent.” Here is a photo coming back up from the pools through the Herodian drain shaft.


Let me mention a couple of other places I visited in Jerusalem. One is the Church of St. John the Baptist, which only opens on feast days and so I saw only the courtyard. Here I am coming through the tiny door that you have likely passed if you’ve visited the Old City but may never have noticed.


Here is an icon from the courtyard of the church.


Although I did not get to go inside there is a nice video by Eran Frankel about the church including a visit beneath it to what remains of an earlier church structure built on the site:


CHURCH OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST
Renovated Church of John the Baptist Jerusalem
See fragments of John the Baptist Skull
Feb 3, 2020


Fragments of John the Baptist's SKULL and of Saint Pagagiotes' skeleton at the renovated Greek Orthodox church of John the Baptist in Jerusalem.

Saint Panagiotes was the new martyr who was forced to convert to Islam but did not accept it thus was killed on April 5, 1820


I [also] visited a number of other places connected with John, including the so-called Tomb of Zechariah (which is every bit as unlikely to have any connection with the father of John the Baptist as the Church of St. Anne is with the home of Mary’s parents). It was nice to pass a couple of Muslims who were seeking the tomb. Zechariah is an important figure in Islam as well as in Christianity. John the Baptist likewise features [as a similarly important personage to Muslims]. There was also an inscription in the Kidron Valley that I passed while in the vicinity reminding passersby of the connection of that place with the story of Melchizedek.


More photos will follow in the near future. Meanwhile, also somewhat related to this series and to the place where this post began, here is a really great review of my book in every sense – great as in it is positive, but also great from my perspective as an author who greatly appreciates when someone reads the book with attention to detail and finds value in what I offer in it. I hope you read the review and that it encourages you to read my book!


Phil Long mentioned this series and a number of other things in the latest Biblical Studies Carnival, including my appearance on the MythVision YouTube channel talking about John the Baptist:


Who Was John The Baptist? | James F. McGrath
Streamed live on Jul 25, 2022

Will understanding John the Baptist help us understand who the historical Jesus would have been? In this livestream Dr. James F. McGrath will be discussion his discoveries.
Check out Dr. McGrath's Blog -
https://www.patheos.com/blogs/religio...
Follow him on Twitter - https://twitter.com/ReligionProf

Also, finally, if you’ll be in Indianapolis on Saturday August 6th then stop by the Indianapolis Public Library Author Fair where I’ll have a table and [will] be signing books. No need to buy one (and you can bring one you already own for me to sign if you like). Just say hello!