status

The Miracles of Jesus and Vespasian

This weekend, I was honored to be able to present a paper at the Southwest Regional Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society which was held at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This is the first formal conference paper I’ve presented and it was a tremendous experience.

The title for the paper was, Evaluating the Healing Miracles of Vespasian and Jesus – Garet Robinson.

Vespasian To summarize the point of the paper, too often we hear a criticism that the authors of the New Testament simply drew on contemporary myths and stories to frame their various presentations of Jesus’ life and ministry. Especially when it comes to Jesus’ miraculous works, other examples stand as common stories out of which the Gospel writers framed and enhanced the historical Jesus.

One of the contemporary counter-examples is Vespasian, who rose to power at the end the year of four emperors in CE 69 and established the Flavian dynasty in Rome. Vespasian, for his many conquests and dramatic rise to power, also had some healing miracles attributed to him in the mid-60s during his time in Alexandria. Of his popular biographers, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio all describe these healing miracles.

As part of the method to evaluate the different healing miracles of Jesus and Vespasian, for Jesus’ part I used the data available from the Gospel of Mark and the six healing miracles which the Jesus Seminar has agreed are the most historically attested. (That will draw the ire of some for sure, but as this is a critical inquiry for apologetic purposes the method is to use the most critical scholarship to establish and evaluate the miracles regardless of my personal position.) The six hearings considered are: Peter’s mother-in-law (GMk 1:29ff); the leper (GMk 1:40-45); the paralytic (GMk 2:1-12); the hemorrhaging woman (GMk 5:24b-34); the blind man of Bethsaida (GMk 8:22-26); Blind Bartimaeus (GMk 10:46-52.)

Essentially what this boils down to is, that Vespasian has healing miracles of at least two men before a crowd in Alexandria of varying ailments after consulting some medical professionals and being assured of the successfulness of his venture. As his biographers note, because of this feat Vespasian was able to enlist the support of the Roman legion and add to his credentials (divine sanction being a plus) in the quest to become emperor of Rome.

Jesus, on the other hand, heals individuals who either seek him out or are brought to his attention, mostly in private and in the region where he was conducting most of his ministry. In each of the episodes Jesus is the only agent healing and does so without assistance from anyone else. These miracles, except Blind Bartimaeus, are attested to by the other Synoptic authors.

There are points of similarity between Jesus and Vespasian’s healing miracles:

  • They are effective to heal the individuals completely at their completion.
  • The agent (Jesus or Vespasian) is able to heal on their own without any additional assistance from someone else.
  • In the biographical accounts of the agent, there is somewhat close proximity to their life of these miracles. The Synoptics are written, by the latest account within 50 years of Jesus’ life; Vespasian’s biographies are dated later but still within 40 years at the earliest and 150 years at the latest.
  • Some aspects of the healing, spitting on the eyes or touching the individual needing to be healed, are similar between Jesus and Vespasian.

However, some differences to exist between the two story lines:

  • For those being healed by Jesus, they are beyond medical assistance and have been suffering with these ailments for quite some time. Those in Vespasian’s stories are not entirely beyond medical aid, as recorded by his biographers, and seem to only have been suffering for some short time.
  • Jesus’ healing miracles occur in the region of Galilee where he is conducting his initial ministry. Vespasian’s healing miracles occur in Alexandria, a major city for certain, but one that is far removed from the final seat of power in Rome. If Jesus’ healing miracles had been false they would have been easily seen as frauds and he would have been discredited whereas for Vespasian, only the most eager critic would have both the means and time to travel far to Alexandria and check his story out.
  • Vespasian’s healings appear to be limited to this one account, with some variance in the attestation by his biographers. Jesus’ healing miracles are multiple attested and Christus_Bartimaeus_Johann_Heinrich_Stoever_Erbach_Rheingauuniformly carry the same features. However, Jesus’ healing miracles are more numerous, even in this critical recounting, and across a wider breadth of his ministry.
  • Finally, Jesus seems to welcome those seeking healing without question of their motives or chastisement. Vespasian, however, mocks those coming and, only after being assured of his successfulness in performing the miracle, does he step forward to complete the task.

 

In the end, there is some similarity and some difference between Jesus and Vespasian’s healing miracles. Being able to consider them alongside each other is a helpful venture for apologetic and historical purposes.

As one of the observers to my session pointed out, it would be fascinating to consider if Jesus’ healing miracles stood as the example for the historical figures of antiquity (following Jesus’ life) to borrow from or mold their stories around. Usually we only hear about how the Gospel and NT writers drew from their surroundings and, as best I can surmise, we never hear about the reverse.

Hopefully, this is a step towards another discussion. The historical Jesus is an intriguing field of study and setting him alongside his contemporaries and near messianic rivals is worth our time and effort. It might be concerning for some, but in the end, with the proper methodology, I believe we reinforce the historical Jesus in such exercises.

status

Two Upcoming Conference Papers

At the beginning of this year I submitted two proposals for papers to be read at theology conferences for March. As I am diligently working on my dissertation, these two papers will, hopefully, provide a way to see how my methodology and research do in formal settings. Hopefully both papers will meet the expectations of the conference hosts and provide real fodder for discussion.

Here are the two papers I’ll be presenting:

First Paper: Evaluating the Healing Miracles of Vespasian and Jesus

Conference: Evangelical Theological Society Southwest Regional Meeting

Abstract:  One criticism that is often brought by those questioning the messianic status of Jesus posits that his healing miracles are not uncommon enough in his first century context to be useful for proving either his messianic status or any divine attributes. Those who bring this claim often point a bevy of figures in the pre-modern world that were reported to have performed similar miracles. By way of directly engaging this criticism, this paper finds one individual who had characteristics similar to Jesus and was sourced from a near-contemporaneous situation. Vespasian, who would become the first Flavian Emperor of Rome in AD 69, is one figure who fits a criterion of similarity for comparison to Jesus. Jesus and Vespasian have miracle healings attributed to them by their biographers which carry many common attributes. In order to both delimit the number of Jesus’ miracles and provide the most reputable healings, specific attention in this paper will be paid to those healing miracles that are generally seen as authentic. To accomplish this, scholars such as Gerd Theissen, Walter Funk, and Graham Twelftree, among others, will guide the inquiry into Jesus’ healing miracles of the leper (GMk 1:40-45); Peter’s mother-in-law (GMk 1:29ff); the paralytic (GMk 2:1-12); the hemorrhaging woman (GMk 5:24b-34); the blind man of Bethsaida (GMk 8:22-26); and Blind Bartimaeus (GMk 10:46-52.) By laying these well-attested healing miracles alongside the reported healing miracles of Vespasian, the conclusions drawn will ultimately demonstrate that there is more authenticity behind Jesus’ healing miracles than even his most viable contemporary counter-example.

 

Second Paper: The Influence of Second Temple Clerical Structures on Pauline Ecclesiology

Conference: Houston Baptist University Theology Conference

Abstract: There is much to be said about the development and formation of the various New Testament churches between Pentecost and the Council of Nicaea. Given that many of the first Christians were Jewish believers, it is possible they would utilize familiar forms of religious structures in establishing their primitive communities while worshipping in local synagogues and at the Temple. How much, then, does early church ecclesiology owe to Second Temple Jewish clerical structures?

In the field of New Testament ecclesiological studies, there appears to be a gap in the research literature concerning the developing ecclesial structures of the earliest Christian communities and their relationship to Second Temple Judaism. With the Apostle Paul’s writings providing the great New Testament contribution about the form and nature ecclesiologies of this period, and given his background as a Jewish religious leader, how Paul leveraged existing Jewish clerical structures from both the Temple and the local synagogue are key to understanding his overall approach to the offices and authority in the New Testament church.

It is the proposal of this paper to study late Second Temple leadership structures and apply them against the Pauline ecclesiological model of leadership as provided in Paul’s Hauptbriefen. Though primary attention shall be paid to the leadership patterns from among the national Temple and local synagogues, additional forms from other, loosely affiliated, Jewish groups will also be in focus. As aspects of Second Temple clerical structures informed the developing Pauline ecclesiology, there continue to be influences seen in present day church method and theology.

 

The first paper is a from a previous PhD seminar in Miracles with Dr Gary Habermas. I’ve fine tuned the argument and broadened the discussion of Jesus’ healings to compare to my engagement with Vespasian. In the second paper, I will be taking a section from one of my dissertation chapters and modifying it a bit to fit the topic of the conference. I am looking forward to these two opportunities and am deeply grateful to the conference organizers for their diligent work. After the papers are presented I will attempt to post them here for public dissemination. Prayerfully, these will not lead to my ruin.

11
Feb 2014
POSTED BY Garet
POSTED IN

Theology

DISCUSSION No Comments
status

Reviewing the Exodus Consultation at Lanier Theological Library

This past weekend, January 17-18, Lanier Theological Library hosted a conference titled “A Consultation on the Historicity and Authenticity of the Exodus and Wilderness Traditions in a Post Modern Age.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This conference featured scholars from the United States, Europe, and Asia who gave presentations on various aspects of the archeology and historicity of the Exodus narrative. As you can see from the list of presentations below, the topics presented did much to explore this area of research. Organized by James Hoffmeier, these presentations were also part of a weekend lecture that he presented at the library. Though I was only able to attend the Friday set of talks, there is some discussion worth having over the content covered.

Before all of that here is the list of presenters:

Friday, January 17

Richard S. Hess (Denver Seminary) – Onomastics of the Exodus Generation in the Book of Exodus

Steven Ortiz (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) – Pitfalls, Prospects, and Paradigm Shifts: The Archeology of the Exodus and Conquest

James K Hoffmeier (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) – Some Eygptian Details of the Exodus and Wilderness Traditions

Alan Millard (University of Liverpool) – Moses, Israel’s Tongue-Tied Singer

Charles Krahmalkov (University of Michigan) – The Real Moses: the Evidence

Joshua Berman (Bar Ilan University) – The Song of the Sea and the Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramses II

Gary Rendsburg (Rutgers University) – The Literary Unity of the Exodus Narrative

Richard Averbeck (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) – The Exodus and Slave Release Laws

Thomas W Davis (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) – Exodus on the Ground: the Elusive Signature of Nomads in Sinai

Jordan Cervera i Valls (Faculty of Theology of Catalonia, Barcelona) – The Copper Snake Episode (Num 21:4-9) in Exegetical, Topographical & Archeological Contexts

K Lawson Younger, Jr (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) – Recent Developments in Understanding the Origins of the Arameans: Possible Contributions and Implications to Understand Israelite Origins

Saturday, January 18

Jens Bruun Kofoed (Lutheran School of Theology, Copenhagen) – “Tell Your Children and Grandchildren!” The Exodus as Cultural Memory

J Andrew Dearman (Fuller Theological Seminary) – The Exodus and Wilderness Wandering Traditions in Amos and Micah

Jerry Hwang (Singapore Bible College) – “I am Yahweh your God from the land of Egypt” Hosea’s Use of the Exodus Traditions

W Mark Lanier (Lanier Theological Library) – A Lawyer Examines the Evidence for the Exodus

So, this was a rather busy conference and, as the pictures above indicate, done in a terrific venue. Though I am not an archeologist or an Old Testament researcher, a few thoughts did come to me as I listened to the presentations:

  • The quality of the research and depth of insight provided in these presentations surely reflects the kind of engagement which advances biblical scholarship.
  • It was difficult to qualify this conference as an archeological exploration, since there is no direct evidence for the exodus. However, as several presentations pointed out, there is quality data around the event that can lead to positive conclusions about the exodus event.
  • Perhaps by design, this consultation was an appreciative inquiry into key issues around the exodus narrative that still provided plenty of diversity in the viewpoints.
  • Being able to talk with leading scholars in a discipline is always worth the time. There is a lot of work continuing to be done about this, and many other topics, in biblical archeology.
  • Even though many leading voices in biblical archeology question the historicity of many Old Testament stories, it is refreshing to know (and hear) there are viewpoints countering these views from credible scholars.
  • It would have been good to have heard from some critical voices. What are the primary concerns and challenges in dating, placing, and evidencing the exodus narrative? Having someone(s) who could bring this perspective would have been helpful.
  • Lanier Theological Library continues to be a growing theological resource for Houston, Texas, and the larger international theological community. Not just because of the availability of Stone Chapel, but the library itself is a tremendous place to study in any number of specialized topics.

Overall, the consultation was done well and I will definitely look forward to future events at the library. Though it is a bit of a drive to get there, having world-class scholars presenting on vital topics in biblical studies is worth the time.

23
Jan 2014
POSTED BY Garet
POSTED IN

Theology

DISCUSSION 1 Comment
status

Strange Fire and Demography

I don’t have a lot of thoughts about this conference that haven’t already been said better by others. I do believe a happy middle ground on an assessment is important, because mischaracterizations going both ways are quite overwrought.

As I listened to Dr MacArthur’s podcast, I do appreciate his preaching style for many reasons, there were several installments over the last several months that framed out his approach and thoughts on this conference.

Perhaps the only thing I can contribute at this point is a couple of thoughts about demography and what it looks like to have a global face on theology.

It has been noted by a number of researchers, that the growth of Christianity across the world is being driven by those in second and third world countries and is primarily among Pentecostal congregations. Most specifically, Philip Jenkins has provided some insightful data to support these claims in his book The Next Christendom. This means Christianity across the entire world probably looks very different than what is taught and caught at churches like Dr MacArthur’s church in southern California.

This makes me wonder (as I did on Twitter) about what the demographic cross-section of the Strange Fire Conference would have been. Is the conference representing a global ethnic group, or one slice of the demographic pie? 

Granted, I was not in attendance nor am I aware of any data like this which has been put out. As a result, I cannot speculate as to what happened beyond a few of the pictures of the conference that were posted on social media and news sites.

It would seem that if this kind of conference were to move forward it would be bolstered by a diverse section of believers who were able to engage in compelling conversations and robust debate. For any of us that would visit Pentecostal and Charismatic congregations around our communities, we would find that they are highly integrated ethnically and often have prominent leaders from minority groups. Now this isn’t a strike against white evangelicals (as I am one of those,) but it does give a moment of reflect. If we are truly hoping to develop and represent a global reach in our theological conversations, it might be important to have recognition of the global realities we are facing.

Now, sheer numbers of adherents do not blindly qualify a theology or religious position. Yet if we are honest about what we see in our own churches it should provide us reason to either continue these conversations, or at least get another perspective. No one is helped by aimlessly talking to those who look like us, talk like us, think like us, or live like us. Instead, thorough theological reflection and conversation is deepened when we engage those who are not of our tribe.

As a white evangelical, who holds the “Open but Cautious” view of miraculous gifts, I am challenged by my brothers and sisters in Christ who are from other places in the world and report seeing these things and activities in authentic encounters. My own position has moved, because of robust conversation with friends while at college, from a cessationist position to this current one. The primary expression of these miraculous gifts, in my theological beliefs, is for the burgeoning church in communities and countries where the Gospel is not readily accessible. Having been around several experiences where these gifts were both forced and unbiblically practiced, I am challenged to think there is open license to experience all the giftings of the New Testament times in all churches today. These giftings seem, at least in my own theological and biblical research, primarily spontaneous and not planned or organized.

However, I could have stayed in my cessationist position to this day, but the kind encouragement of friends who were different than myself pushed me to reconsider and actually research that position. 

So my only though concerning Dr. MacArthur’s conference would be, are the organizers and attenders willing to engage others who differ in their perspective and have authentic dialogue. I do disagree with the harsh assessment of our brothers and sisters in Christ given by several speakers. We need not see fellow Christians as our enemies, but should see them as friends even if we disagree over theological issues. Likewise, the unfair categorization of all Pentecostals and Charismatics by extreme examples is a straw man that aids no appropriate reflection.

There are plenty of issues within these movements. Each of these excesses can be, and should be responded to and correction made. Of course this will never be accomplished if you begin the conversation with open disregard to their salvation.

A global theology for a global church necessitates a global audience.

Yes, I am worried about the continued colonialization of theology. Convinced tribes of any stripe will only rediscover their own beliefs. If there is any movement to be made in our conversations it must begin by seeing the realities that different people might practice differently but are still received legitimately.

So, what did you think of the conference and its global face? Can an evangelical audience from southern California appropriately engage a global theology in this way? What demographics do you see in the global spread of Christianity? How am I wrong?

UA-40705812-1