Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Raging Battle or Last?

George Hunsinger is currently a professor of theology at Princeton Theological Seminary in the United States. In 1987 he published an article entitled “Where the Battle Rages: Confessing Christ in America Today.” That essay was republished in 2000 as chapter 4 in his book Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth. The points he made then continue to remain important to those of us seeking to live as prophetic witnesses to Jesus today.
He begins his essay with a stirring quote from Martin Luther (1483-1546): “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing him. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Catastrophe (1933-1945)

The impact of the Catastrophe on the number of Jews worldwide: in 1914, there were about 12 million; in 1939, that number had grown to 18 million; in 1945, it had been murdered back down to about 12 million. Jewish societies in Lusatia and Germania had been completely destroyed. Those in Gallia, eastern Alpinia, Latinia, and Hellenia had been severely damaged. Then, following the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, Jewish societies which had lived in Muslim lands for centuries were forced to abandon everything and resettle in Israel.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Jewish Advances, Archaism, and Activism (1880-1930)

Emancipated and Enlightened, Germanian Jews rapidly advanced to leadership in three areas: banking, industry, and academia. Their triumph in academia represented a far greater intellectual achievement than what Jews had been able to do even at their best in Muslim Iberia.

Still, three significant challenges persisted. By 1910 Prussian Protestant Berlin came to be seen by Germanians living outside of it as a “Jewish” city. Bavarian Catholic Munich, in contrast, definitely was not.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Jewish Enlightenment and Emancipation (1750-1880)

Northern Olympia
In the 1700s, a major movement of cultural transformation took place in northern Olympia. It came to be called the Enlightenment.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Jewish Movements of Reform (800-1800)

Jewish movements of reform were creative responses to fresh challenges. Sometimes these challenges were external as the broader Christian or Muslim context improved or declined. Sometimes they were internal as Jewish society itself stratified, hardened, and lost its cultural vitality. Between 800 and 1800, Jewish movements were always a reform of the dominant and normative Talmudic tradition and the organized social groups which embodied it.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Decline of Jewish Society in Latin Christendom (1100-1750)

By 1100 the long decline of Ashkenazi Jews had begun.

In 1096 French knights on the First Crusade traveled down the Rhine River on their way to Jerusalem. As they did, they inflicted terrible destruction and death on Jewish communities. The chivalric ideal of the Crusades demanded victory over perceived enemies of the Church: Muslims abroad and heretics and Jews at home.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Jewish Society in Latin Christendom (800-1100)

Jews living in the Roman Empire faced increasing state hostility after 386 when Christianity was made the sole legal religion. Physical punishment for being Jewish began with the emperor Heraclius in 610.

Relief came to Jews in Levantia, Egypt, Carthaginia, and Iberia with advancing Muslim armies between 635 and 720. Jews living under Muslim rule eventually became known as Sephardi.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Jews in Iberia (1150-1500)

During the golden age of Muslim rule in Iberia (900-1150), Jews experienced their greatest communal vitality since the destruction of the Jewish community in Alexandria in 117. Their vitality ended when Berber Muslims took control of the government. After that both Jewish society and its broader Islamic context began to steadily decline.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Iberian Jews under Muslim Rule (AD 700-1200)

Jews throughout the Roman empire did not do well following the defeat of their third and final rebellion against the Roman state in 135.

Their condition across the empire worsened once Christianity became the sole legal religion in 386.

Heraclius, ruler of the eastern Roman state beginning in 608, even started physically punishing people for being Jewish. Jews were only saved from his persecution by Muslim conquerors in the late 630s and early 640s.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Growth of Anti-Semitism (AD 70-718)

Jesus, his original twelve apostles, every member of the early Church including the apostle Paul: all were Jewish. The early Jesus movement was not a new religion but a transformative movement within Judaism.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Changes between Judaism and Christianity (AD 70-570)

During the Jewish rebellion in Judea against the Roman state (AD 66-70), leaders of Pharisaic Judaism left the city of Jerusalem. They moved the intellectual and cultural center of their dominant Jewish movement to the coastal city of Yavne. There they began the task of responding creatively to their troubled circumstances by writing down their oral tradition in what became the Mishnah.

During the Jewish rebellion in Judea, leaders of Christian Judaism also abandoned the city of Jerusalem. They moved to the interior city of Pella, clung to their Christian Jewish ways, lost leadership of the movement to the apostle Paul and the Christian communities in Alexandria and Antioch, and disappeared from history.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Rise and Decline of the Talmud

During the Age of Christianity (AD 1-634), Jews in Olympia suffered five disasters: (1) Roman victories over Jewish rebels in Judea in AD 70, (2) Alexandria in 117, (3) and Judea again in 135; (4) the growth of Christianity into a more appealing, powerful, and hostile opponent by 200; and (5) the establishment of Christianity as the sole legal religion of the Roman Empire in 386. Between AD 1 and 634, Jews loss half their population and much of their status, wealth, and morale.

But their history was more than simply suffering disastrous loss. There was also tremendous creativity. By AD 70, Jews had their Scripture. By 600 they had also created a set of writings that arguably became even more important: (1) the Mishnah (by 200), (2) Jerusalem Talmud (by 400), and (3) Babylonian Talmud (by 600).

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Five Disasters Befalling Jews (AD 70-500)

With the Fall of Adam and Eve in 4004 BC began the first age of humankind, the Old Age of Dominant Powers of Evil, and the first period of human history, the Age of Olympianity. The Age of Yahwism, the second historical period, began in 1921 BC when Abraham answered the call of Yahweh to leave Haran in Mesopotamia and to experience a dynamic relationship with him.

With the birth of Jesus Christ in AD 1, the Old Age of Dominant Powers of Evil came to an end. In its place began the second age of humankind, the New Age of Victorious Jesus Christ. With his birth also began the third period of human history, the Age of Christianity (70-634). This age did not replace the Age of Yahwism, still alive and maintained by Jews everywhere, but it did supersede it.

The first 500 years of the Age of Christianity would prove to be especially difficult ones for Jews. Both in Judea and the Diaspora, they suffered serious losses in population, prosperity, meaning, and morale. These losses followed hard on five disasters.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

First-Century Judaism in Alexandria

During the Maccabean period (165-63 BC), Pharisaism became the major and normative form of Judaism. It was not, however, the only one. Its major rival was Jewish Hellenianism.

Antiochus 4th, Olympian ruler over Jerusalem from Antioch in Syria, did not cause the Maccabean revolt in the 160s BC. That grew out of the split in Judea between Pharisees and Jewish Hellenians. It was the military victory of the Pharisaic Maccabees over their Hellenian rivals that made Pharisaism normative in Judea.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

No Magical Thinking

In 588 BC, a Babylonian army captured Jerusalem then destroyed the city, burned down the temple of Yahweh built under Solomon, and dragged its inhabitants back to Babylon.

Jews in Babylon had to make sense of this event. If Yahweh, their god, truly did exist and furthermore was free in relation to the Olympian gods of Babylon, why did he allow the Olympian gods and their minions to win such a crushing victory over his own people? Had they not been enthusiastic worshipers of Yahweh at his temple in Jerusalem?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Second-Temple Judaism (538 BC-AD 70)

Babylonian captivity (587-538 BC). Construction of the first temple dedicated to Yahweh was completed in Jerusalem around 1005 BC during the rule of Solomon. The Babylonian army under Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and that temple in 588 and dragged the surviving inhabitants of Jerusalem with them back to Babylon.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Jewish History: Six Challenging Times

Norman Cantor (1929-2004), a Jewish medieval historian, wrote a book entitled The Sacred Chain: The History of the Jews (HarperCollins, 1994). In its first chapter, he mentions six particularly painful times in Jewish history that we do well to keep in mind.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The City as Our Future

From beginning to end, the biblical witnesses do not hesitate to describe the City as both the greatest expression of our rebellion against Yahweh and the greatest work of the Olympian gods whom we adore. At the same time, the biblical witnesses consistently reveal that, in the new age to come, we humans will all live happily with Jesus in a city.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The City as Parasite

The City is parasitical. This is especially true of today’s Global Technological System (GTS).

It takes its vitality from God’s good creation. Minions of the City call God’s good creatures “natural resources” to excuse sucking their vitality from them. The GTS has grown so large that it now requires the systematic destruction of habitats and extinction of species to survive let alone continue its reckless growth. This includes not just food for urban inhabitants but also minerals and especially energy for urban artifacts like buildings, autos, and roads.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Jesus Replaces Jerusalem

For the love of David, king of Israel, Yahweh freely chose to take the conventionally Olympian city of Jerusalem and make it holy as well. This happened shortly before 1015 BC. When Jesus came, he embodied the holy future of Yahweh-with-us to which Jerusalem pointed. With his crucifixion and resurrection in AD 30, he replaced Jerusalem as the center of Yahweh’s kingdom on earth. In this way Jerusalem became just another Olympian city once again.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Jesus as Our Liberator from the Crowd

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35-38, New Revised Standard Version).

Olympian leaders use us like sheep. They keep us sheepish, regularly shear us, and finally eat us (consuming our remaining vitality).

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Jesus and the Crowd

In cities we are always part of a crowd. Thanks to today’s mass media of communication, we can live in the country and still be part of the crowd. Our Olympian need to keep up with current events keeps us immersed in the crowd from which Jesus would rescue us.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Jesus in the City

Holy Jerusalem remains unholy
John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. Immediately afterward Satan tempts Jesus to misunderstand the meaning of being the savior of all people.

One of these temptations takes place in Jerusalem, the holy city, the one city chosen by Yahweh to point toward Yahweh’s redemption of all cities (Matthew 4:5). So even this chosen city continues to serve Satan, like all cities, as a place of Olympian temptation.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Jerusalem as Eschatological City

Yahweh allowed Jerusalem, his city, to be destroyed by the king of Babylon in 588 BC. In 537 he commanded Cyrus, king of Persia, to restore the Jews in Babylon to Jerusalem. Yahweh wanted Jerusalem restored because it had not yet completed its purpose as his eschatological city.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Jerusalem: Righteous City But Also Stubbornly Olympian

Because Yahweh and David freely shared a relationship of love with one another, Jerusalem became more than just another Olympian city. Because David desired it, Yahweh also freely chose in love to make Jerusalem a righteous city and witness to him. Once David’s son Solomon had finished having a temple built, Yahweh freely honored David’s wish by filling that building with his presence.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Jerusalem: Olympian City Becomes Righteous Too

According to the Bible, there was nothing special about Jerusalem’s beginnings. As Ezekiel put it, Thus says the [Lord Yahweh] to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite, and your mother a Hittite (16:3).

Monday, October 27, 2014

Cities of Refuge

While Yahweh's people were wandering in the wilderness, Yahweh told Moses to have them set aside six cities once they had taken possession of the land of Canaan. These cities of refuge would provide a safe haven for anyone who had unintentionally killed someone. These unintentional killers could flee to the city and be protected from being killed by members of the dead person’s family (Numbers 35:9-15).

Friday, October 24, 2014

Babylon: Chosen City

The prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah lived as faithful witnesses to Yahweh. Today they remind us of certain truths.

One, Yahweh’s people do not always remain loyal to Yahweh nor witness to his ways. Two, when this happens, Yahweh may use Olympians to discipline his people even though Olympians do not believe in Yahweh’s existence. Three, Yahweh as easily restrains Olympians as he does unleash them.

Today we will recall the words of Jeremiah and Isaiah concerning the people of Yahweh in Judah and Jerusalem around 600 BC. In 588 BC Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, destroyed Jerusalem, burned down the temple built by Solomon, and dragged them into exile.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Christian Witness to the City

Biblical witnesses to the city reveal different layers of its meaning to us. They reveal to us that it is a place we humans use to hide from Yahweh, a chaotic counter-creation to Yahweh’s good creation, our greatest monument to ourselves, our greatest work of devotion to the Olympian gods, and the place where the Olympian gods work on us most intensely.

Biblical witnesses to the city also reveal to us different ways in which Jesus may call us to respond creatively to these meanings today.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Nineveh: The City Repentant

By 700 BC, the Assyrian empire was the strongest in Levantia. At that time Sennacherib, its ruler (704-681), made Nineveh his capital. He ordered the construction of wider streets, new temples, the world’s first aqueduct, and an impressive palace. He also had the city adorned with sculptures and reliefs. He made Vulcan, god of technology and spiritual sponsor of cities, quite proud.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Sodom: The City Condemned

Then [Yahweh] said to Abraham, “There are terrible accusations against Sodom and Gomorrah, and their sin is very great. I must go down to find out whether or not the accusations I have heard are true” (Genesis 18:20-21).

Friday, October 17, 2014

Babylon: Infernal Power with No Future

John of Patmos, author of the Book of Revelation, speaks of Babylon as a power of evil. Babylon, then, is not just a collection of buildings and people. She is also like Vulcan, the god of technology whom she serves, an Olympian power. She is a minion of Vulcan and the hellish spirit which animates her city.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Babylon: Quintessential City

For biblical witnesses, Babylon exemplified the whole meaning of the city. While inspired by Vulcan, god of technology, Babylon served all the Olympian gods as their home. It embodied their chaotic counter-creation at the expense of Yahweh’s good creation. It also served us humans as the place where, in our Olympian pride and devotion to those gods, we found our greatest satisfaction to our greatest hurt.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Rehoboam and the Vanity of Cities and Sons

Rehoboam, son of Solomon and king, lost ten tribes of the House of Israel, took great pride in substituting a few fortified cities for the loss, then lost those and died.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Solomon: First Israelite Builder of Cities

Solomon became the legendary but ambiguous king of Israel in 1015 BC following the death of his father David and a brief struggle for power with his older half-brother Adonijah. He was the builder of the first temple dedicated to Yahweh (good) and of a host of cities dedicated to the Olympian gods (bad).

Friday, October 10, 2014


In 1491 BC, on the night of the first Passover, Moses led the people of Israel out of the city of Ramses and slavery in Egypt. He led them into freedom for Yahweh in the wilderness and they camped, according to tradition, by the Red Sea. When Pharaoh’s army threatened them, Yahweh separated the waters of the Red Sea, led them through it on dry ground, and then collapsed the waters on the advancing Egyptian army (Exodus 12-14).

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The City: Abraham to Moses

When Yahweh created the heavens and the earth in 4004 BC, we human beings got to enjoy a few days of conviviality. Our rupture with Yahweh came quickly enough and with it began our first age, the Old Age of Dominant Powers of Evil; as well as our first historical period, the Age of Olympianity. That period witnessed our devotion to six false but compelling Olympian gods. It also saw the construction of our greatest monument to them: the city. Today’s Global Technological System (GTS) is simply that monument built to the greatest possible degree.

But Yahweh started a second historical period, the Age of Yahwism, in 1921 BC with his call of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-4).

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The City: Nimrod to Babel

Today we continue our reflections on the spiritual nature of the city with the help of Jacques Ellul’s The Meaning of the City (pp. 9-20).

Ham (Genesis 9:18-28). After the Flood, Noah planted a vineyard and then made some wine, got drunk, and fell asleep naked. That’s the way his youngest son Ham found him. The next morning Noah cursed Ham for seeing him naked: “Cursed be Canaan [son of Ham]; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers” (Genesis 9:25, New Revised Standard Version, here and following).

Two responses to being cursed are possible. First, one may seek reconciliation with the one who pronounced the curse and be blessed instead. Two, one may seek enough power to keep the curse from having its intended effect.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Cain: First Builder of Cities (Genesis 4:1-17)

From Genesis 4 (1-17) we learn that it was the murderer Cain who built the first city and, with it, started civilization. Today’s Global Technological System (GTS) is the finest embodiment of that first city and all that it represented. Here we follow the insightful reflections on Bible and city made by Jacques Ellul in his book, The Meaning of the City (pp. 1-9).

Monday, October 6, 2014

Vital Limit: Solar Income

A third vital limit to our population as a species, and to the size and number of our artifacts, is our solar income: the energy we get from the sun each day.

In Genesis 1, we learn that God created an ordered good of countless plants and animals as the perfect context for us to realize a relationship of freedom and love with him, one another, and all those other species. We witness to God when we live within the vital limits of that ordered good.

Vital limits are limits which nurture and protect life. Trespassing them causes debilitation and death.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Vital Limit: Carrying Capacity

In 1980, William Catton, Jr. (b. 1926), published his insightful book Overshoot. His basic idea: we humans have overshot all vital limits.

William points out that all species, humans included, face ecological limits. The ecological context in which we live can sustain the population of any species only to a certain point. We may refer to that point as the carrying capacity of our ecological context.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

First Step away from Electricity: Abandoning the Gods for Jesus

A Quick Historical Review
In Genesis 1 we learn that Yahweh created earth, seas, and sky. He then filled them with every manner of living creatures. He created this cosmos teeming with life to serve as the perfect context for human creatures. To his way of thinking, this vital context would best allow us to share a relationship of freedom and love with him, one another, and all these other creatures.

We learn in Genesis 3 that this perfect context did not last long. Following the rupture in our relationships with Yahweh, one another, and the rest of creation, our days of conviviality ended. The Old Age of Dominant Powers of Evil, of our dreary slavery to six false Olympian gods, began.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Respecting Vital Limits: Other Species and Their Habitats

In Genesis 1, we learn about Yahweh’s first choice in his history with us. We learn that he rejected the creation of a chaos of disordered evil. This rejected world would have been characterized by desolation, darkness, and a deep overwhelming evil against which the Holy Spirit would have proven helpless.

Instead, Yahweh chose to create a cosmos: an ordered good. He put this ordered good into good order through successive acts of separation through which he established vital limits.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Creation as Perfect Context through Limits (Genesis 1)

The Bible begins with the story of creation (Genesis 1:1-31). Karl Barth, greatest theologian of the 20th century, shares his insightful understanding of this passage with us in his Church Dogmatics.

The biblical story begins simply enough: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (1:1 New Revised Standard Version, here and following).

Here we have the briefest description of creation as a cosmos or ordered good.

The second verse of the story has always caused troubled. What does it mean? How does it fit with the verses that come before and after it?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Jesus vs. Bacchus

As with the other Olympian gods, Jesus proves to be a poor servant and model for Bacchus. Not that Jesus was all about deprivation! On the contrary, he partied with people regarded as marginal by the religious establishment. He even graciously turned water into wine to sustain the festivity of a wedding reception.

Jesus vs. Venus

The gospels tell us nothing about the appearance of Jesus. For all we know and might suspect, and despite all visual art to the contrary, Jesus was nothing to look at. It would be more helpful if we thought of him as ugly. If he were the Son of Venus, she would have made him gorgeous.

Jesus vs. Vulcan

In the Bible, Jesus is called the Son of God but he was no Son or servant of Vulcan. If he had been, he could have been born in the great imperial city of Rome and become its master. He would have given Rome the most efficient possible systems of transportation and communication. He would have made it the center of all the arts and entertainments. He would have bent the backs of millions of human beings and stolen the vitality of most of creation to make Rome as glorious as possible.

Jesus vs. Mars

In the New Testament, Jesus is called the Son of God but he was neither a Son of Mars nor his loyal servant.

Jesus witnessed to the true nature of the one odd god by telling us to love our enemies as well as our friends. Why? Because God loves each one of us humans even though, apart from his grace, we adore the six conventional gods who both hate him and work to destroy us.

Jesus vs. Jupiter

While writers of the New Testament call Jesus the Son of God, Jesus certainly was no Son of Jupiter. Jesus did not set up a coercive political or religious organization with himself at the top. Instead, he remained both politically and religiously marginal. Even when a well-fed crowd wanted to crown him king, he ran away (John 6:15).

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Starting Your Own Prophetic Mission Group

As prophetic witnesses to Jesus Christ, we need to affirm that our witness has a communal dimension as well as a personal one.

How delightful life would be if affirming our communal witness was simply a matter of identifying which religion rightly witnessed to Jesus Christ rather than being tragically compromised by devotion to the six false Olympian gods. Then we could simply join that one right religion and rejoice. Sadly, Christianity should be devoted to Jesus Christ but has become tragically compromised.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Walking with Jesus: A Daily Decision

At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus called Peter and Andrew to join him. Immediately they left everything and followed him (Luke 5:11).

Let’s pause and think about this for a moment. Immediately they left everything and followed him. This means they left their jobs. Soon they left their families and hometown. They left their known past and imagined future. For what? Surprising words and unexpected adventures with no Olympian guarantees.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Olympian or Christian? A Quick Comparison

We might summarize the Gospel by saying that Jesus Christ is the truth who sets us free to love and so leads us into fullness of life. Wherever Jesus is present, we have truth, freedom, love, and vitality.

Conversely, wherever false gods are present, we find just the opposite: falsehood (lies but especially illusions), power (control and being controlled), indifference (apathy, contempt, and violence), and finally death (including debilitation and despair).

Monday, September 15, 2014

Watching TV, Reading Scripture

“Come out of her, my people” (Revelation 18:4, New Revised Standard Version, here and following).

Let us take a deep breath and recall, briefly, that we have but one true god. He revealed to us his name: Yahweh. He remains the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob embodied by Jesus Christ.

In contrast, we have six false but universally worshiped gods: (1) Jupiter, god of politics; (2) Mars, god of war; (3) Vulcan, god of technology; (4) Venus, goddess of sex; (5) Pluto, god of money; and (6) Bacchus, god of consumption. We may refer to these as the Olympian gods and to the religion based upon them as Olympianity.