Tag Archives: jesus

Lent in the Bible and the Temptation of Jesus


“What are you giving up for Lent?” is a common question on my Facebook feed this week as my Catholic and some Protestant friends confront their inner demons or look to bring themselves closer to God for in preparation for Easter. A few friends are giving up alcohol, one is becoming a vegetarian, and at least one poor soul is trying to use his iPhone less often. Even those who are not deeply religious, or whose denomination does not celebrate Lent, are getting into the act. The act of giving up something solemnizes the season and serves as a daily reminder to be thankful for the things that we have.

Not all Christian denominations celebrate Lent, and even those that do disagree on some of the specifics, but Lent commemorates and prepares believers for the coming of the crucifixion. For most, it is a period of around forty days from Ash Wednesday (better known in some circles as “the morning after Mardi Gras”) and ending the friday before Palm Sunday, Holy Week. Lent also brings the story of Jesus full circle: as Christians prepare for the end of Jesus’s time on Earth, Lent calls back to just prior to his ministry, one of the first stories of the New Testament: the Temptation of Jesus. Jesus’s forty days in the desert, culminating as he resists three temptations by Satan, was his call to arms to begin teaching the masses. Even for non-Christians, it’s a great story with explicit connections to the Hebrew Bible.

Forty days, three temptations, and only one link to click. Read on for more.

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Abraham’s Oath Upon his Thigh

Abraham's Servant Swears Upon His ThighA few months ago, I stalled on Genesis 24: it was too complex a chapter to comment on and instead of commenting, I found other things to write about until real life caught up with me. I’m determined to continue, so let’s start at the beginning.

Genesis 24 begins with a very odd oath. Abraham is too old to go off to find his son a wife on his own, so he sends his faithful servant to do it. But before he leaves, he asks his servant to “put […] thy hand under my thigh. And I will make the swear by the Lord” (Genesis 24:2). Why does this swearing on a thigh come from and what does the bible have to say about it? Sounds like a great topic to dig into a little more! (Hint: It may involve testicles.)

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The Pope in the Bible

Tomorrow, Pope Benedict XVI will step down as the head of the Rombenedictan Catholic Church, the first pope to step down in hundreds of years. For Roman Catholics, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of this event. Does it herald in a new era when popes will retire gracefully, rather than die in office? Will March bring in a pope that isn’t European? The possibilities are endless, though most likely the cardinals will select another pope not too unlike the previous 200+ of them.

I was raised Roman Catholic and while these events no longer impact my faith directly, it has inspired me to look back and relearn the biblical origins of the papacy. While Protestants and Orthodox Christians disagree, Roman Catholics trace the office of the pontiff all the way back to St. Peter, on the explicit instruction of Jesus himself. And did you know there is not just one, but two popes mentioned in the bible? Read on for more.

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New Roman Missal Translation

Translation is a difficult business with religion and it’s something I spend a great deal of time thinking about. The words we use in English are only pale translations of the Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, or Latin originals. We trust that great scholars put together these translations and yet what we are left with is many approximations of the original source texts. As scholarship continues, these translations get better and better in some ways, but choices are always made: do you keep the meter of the poetry or the meaning? Wordplay is lost. Balances must be struck between technical accuracy and understandable English. Do you use an exact uncommon word? Or a close-enough common one?

This weekend, this challenge will be understood first-hand by English speaking Roman Catholics in the United States. For the first time, a new translation of the liturgy will be used in services. This new Third Edition of the Roman Missal, first established by Pope Paul IV in 1970, includes many changes which are intended to bring the words closer to their meaning in the original Latin.

The downside? More difficult vocabulary. Do you know what “consubstantial” means? Me, neither. Read on for more!

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Christmas in the Bible

(This blog will be on hiatus for a few weeks as my wife and I enjoy our honeymoon and some well-needed rest. The blog will resume it’s regular irregular course in January.)

The holiday season is full of rush-rush-rush. Hanukkah is long gone and now it’s Christmas Day already! I hope that you have a great one!

For most people that grew up in Christian households like mine, Christmas is THE holiday of the New Testament. In the popular mind, Christmas has long since eclipsed Easter as the most celebrated holiday. Although some commentators claim that there is a “War on Christmas” today, it is nothing compared to the war on Christmas that many Christians waged in the past to keep Easter’s place secure. The Puritan founders of New England, my home, even tried to ban the celebration of Christmas!

How did Christmas become dominant? It could be that it replaced various Roman and pagan rituals as the holiday of the Winter Solstice. I dare say most of our Christmas traditions from mistletoe to Christmas trees are non-Christian, even though there’s a Christian gloss on them now. But more likely it’s because Christmas is simply a more uplifting holiday. As important as Easter is to Christians, the birth of a man is more celebratory than his death, even if he does manage to come back later.

In the Bible (and this is a bible blog, remember?), Christmas has the distinction of appearing first in the New Testament, starting shortly after the genealogies in Matthew 1:18. This may seem like a natural placement, but it’s not: most scholars now believe that Mark was the first gospel to be written and Mark begins at Jesus’ baptism. In fact, unlike Easter and the other “important” events in Jesus’ life that is recounted in all four gospels, Christmas is only discussed in two of them: Matthew and Luke. And, except for the fact that Jesus is born in both of them, they are very different stories.

Remember the wise men? The adoring shepherds? The manger? Our modern Christmas story is a mixture of the TWO Christmas stories of the bible, with no two details (except Jesus being born) repeating in both of them.

The TWO stories of Christmas? Read more after the break.

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What I’m Reading

I try and read a lot of books, though I don’t read nearly as much as I used to. While not all of the books are related to my religion studies, a good number are and I’d like to share them with you.

Abraham, by Bruce Feiler

Dorie gave me this book as a present and I’m very glad she did. The “biography” of Abraham presented here is very well done and elaborates greatly on the way the patriarch is seen by the three faiths that revere him (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and even how those viewpoints have changed over time. What I most enjoyed was the ways that the different faiths see Abraham as a father rather than as a patriarch. In Islam, for example, he tells of stories (in the Koran?) where Abraham visits Ishmael after he is cast out, but because he can’t visit properly he has to remain on his horse the entire time. (Are there even any horses in the Torah? I can’t recall any; it seemed mostly as if everyone walked places.) Another example story, from Judaism, suggests that Isaac was actually killed by Abraham and God brought him back to life after a few days, sort of as a proto-Jesus. In all, an outstanding read, even though it makes me mourn that all of the great Abraham sites are difficult to get in to modern Israel/Palestine.

Bible: The Story of the King James Version, by Gordon Campbell

I admit that I love the first half of this book much more than the second. The origins of the KJV, starting from the politics and difficulties of the first English bibles, to the challenges in putting together the final text, and then the numerous revisions which led to the standard version we have today are really what I am interested in and this book delivers on that in spades. After that, there’s a lot of discussion on how later movements used to work, the printing history, etc. The brief notes on how the Latter-Day Saints movement patterned their own works off of the speech patterns and text in the KJV, or how some protestant movements are adopting the text of the KJV (which version? ah… don’t ask that) as itself inspired by God are nice, but I have to admit I reread the first chapters instead of finishing the book.

And finally, Why the Jews Rejected Jesus, by David Klinghoffer

I haven’t finished this yet; Dorie just have it to me for Hanukkah. The first chapters though are excellent, if you can overlook the fact that the author is a little more disparaging to both Judaism and Christianity than I might like. What I am enjoying most is the great research the author has done on Judaism circa 27 AD which puts Jesus into context with his contemporaries. While I’ve heard some of that before, he puts it all together in a way that I find appealing. There’s a lot more minefields the author needs to wade through to do this topic justice and I’m looking forward to finishing it just to see if he makes it to the end without injury.