Sunday, June 28, 2015

Jesus's Anointing

Bas-relief of the anointing of Jesus at the home of Simon the Leper.
As many Christians are aware the terms "christ" (Greek christos) and "messiah" (Hebrew mashiah) are equivalent terms meaning "anointed". In the Old Testament (aka Hebrew Bible) the term "messiah" was typically applied to kings and priests and the text contains descriptions of the anointing of the kings and priests of ancient Israel.

In Christianity, Jesus is the archetypal king/priest and thus is THE Messiah or THE Christ. Since Jesus is the principle "Anointed One" the question naturally arises as to when exactly he was anointed. The answer is that he was anointed in the home of Simon the Leper at Bethany immediately prior to his death and resurrection. All four Gospels mention this event in which an unnamed woman quietly enters the home during the meal and anoints Jesus's head.

After his anointing Jesus makes the bold and remarkable statement that "Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her" (KJV Mark 14:9). Clearly Jesus attached tremendous importance to what the woman had done and yet we often fail to mention this event in connection with the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. This event is an integral part of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ - it is point at which he became the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One.

Julie M. Smith has written an article for Studies in the Bible and Antiquity about the incident as portrayed in Mark 14:3-9. Its a fascinating article which is well worth the read but I wanted to summarize some of the points she makes in the article which I found particularly interesting or meaningful:

The anointing fit the pattern of royal anointings:
  • Royal context of the incident:
    • Anointing preceded by the Triumphal Entry (Mark 11:1-11) as prophesied by Zechariah (Zech 9:9).
    • "The ignorant unwittingly proclaim Jesus’s royal nature through their taunts" (Mark 15:9).
  • The account textually parallels the anointing of Saul (1 Samuel 10:1).
  • Anointings were typically administered by prophets. However, "when Jesus says that the woman 'is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying' (Mark 14:8), he implies that she is acting prophetically since she knows of his impending death".
  • The woman anointed Jesus's head and "Ben Witherington notes, 'royal figures are anointed from the head down.'"
The anointing also fits the pattern of sacerdotal (priestly) anointing:
  • "The anointing also echoes the priestly anointing as described in the book of Leviticus (see Leviticus 8:12)."
  • Priestly anointings typically took place in the temple, while Jesus's took place in the house of a leper. Despite this "Mark has structured the Gospel in such a way as to suggest that the temple has become a leper's house and the leper's house has become a temple."
    • Leviticus outlines four steps for cleansing a leper's house and each step finds a thematic parallel in Mark's Gospel.
      • Step 1: Cleaning the leprous house (Lev. 14:39-42)
        • This is paralleled in Mark by the cleansing of the temple (Mark 11:15-19).
      • Step 2: The priest will inspect the leprous house (Lev. 14:44).
        • This is paralleled in Mark when Jesus visits the temple to converse with temple authorities. These exchanges showcase the corruption of the temple (Mark 11:27 - 12:40). Also, when the widow donates her mite to the treasury she is supporting the corrupt decadence of the temple administration when instead they should have been supporting her in her penury (Mark 12:41-44).
      • Smith, in her article, doesn't appear to mention the last two steps - at least I can't find them mentioned in her article but they presumably appear in the article she cites as her source, which sadly requires an expensive subscription to access.
The anointing for Jesus's burial or as priest/king?
  • Despite the royal and priestly context Jesus explicitly says the anointing is for his burial, so which is it?
    • The answer is that it is for both: "Austin Farrer wrote: 'It is no diminution of its royal significance when Jesus declares the anointing to be for his burial, for it is precisely the paradox of Christ’s royalty that he is enthroned through being entombed.'"
Simon the Leper
  • Had Simon been healed of his leprosy? No one knows for sure but there are two possibilities:
    • Yes, Jesus was on his way to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem and therefore needed to be ritually clean which wouldn't have been possible had Simon still been leprous (Numbers 9:6-12).
    • No, Jesus had allowed an unclean woman to touch him in Mark 5:27 and he may have intentionally dined with a leper for didactic purposes:
      • Contrast Simon the leper with Simon Peter. Simon the leper is providing hospitality while Simon Peter is nowhere to be found.
      • Perhaps the mention of the leper is to prepare the hearer for something unusual to follow.
      • Irony: Simon is remembered for his disease, which is unimportant since we don't hear anything further about it, while the woman, whose act immortalizes her, goes unnamed.
      • "The reference to the leper also contributes to the theme of death and burial that Mark develops throughout the anointing story. According to tradition, lepers were equivalent to the dead, so Jesus’s statement about his burial garners new meaning if we understand it to have taken place in the realm of the dead."
      • "Perhaps Mark is intentionally toying with the audience’s inability to determine whether Simon is recovered in order to emphasize the life-and-death themes of the anointing: the infected leper casts the pall of death while the likely conclusion that the leper is healed suggests a return from the dead."
The Poor
  • Passover was a time in which the poor were given special gifts, therefore those who criticized the woman for using the oil, which was worth more than a year's wages, seemed justified.
  • Despite this, Jesus defends her perhaps because, as he suggests, there will be other opportunities to help the poor but there will be no other opportunity to anoint the "Anointed One" who will soon be gone.
  • Ecclesiastes 7:1 seems appropriate and may have influenced events as it was at this time that Jesus was named "Christ".
  • The oil is worth "more than three hundred denarii" (emphasis added) which implies its spiritual worth is far beyond whatever monetary value has been attached to it. The critics are focused on the economic aspect of the gift rather than its far more valuable spiritual value.
The Woman
  • The only thing we know about her is that she is unnamed and that she anointed Jesus. Everything else is a mystery.
  • Her anonymity could serve to portray her as an ideal type of follower rather than as distinct character.
  • "As Mary Ann Beavis notes, 'Jesus’s comment on the woman’s prophetic anointing is his lengthiest and most positive pronouncement on the words or deeds of any person preserved by the evangelist Mark.' Her anonymity may be a necessary counterpart to her high praise."
The Larger Context
  • The anointing has several points of convergence with the story of the widow's mite:
    • Both reference the poor twice (Mark 12:42-43 and Mark 14:5,7).
    • Both accounts mention wealth (Mark 12:41 and Mark 14:3).
    • Jesus proclaims that each woman has given all that she has (Mark 12:44 and Mark 14:8).
    • There is a solemn "verily I say unto you" statement in both (Mark 12:43 and Mark 14:9).
    • Note the huge disparity in the value of the gifts given by each woman. The widow gave two mites (Greek lepton) which was the smallest coin in circulation while the anointing woman's gift was worth more than a year's wages. The value of the oil is somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 times greater than the mites.
    • "The widow’s gift of all her living parallels Jesus’s gift of his life, and the anointing woman’s gift defines what it means for Jesus to give his life."
    • The widow’s story and the anointing form a frame around chapter 13:
                              A evil scribes denounced (Mark 12:38–40)
                                        B the widow’s mite (Mark 12:41–44)
                                                  C Jesus’s teachings (Mark 13:1–37)
                                        B' the anointing (Mark 14:1–9) 
                              A' the plot to kill (Mark 14:10–11)
    • "Since chapter 13 focuses on the task of true followers in the difficult last days, this textual arrangement shows two positive examples of following Jesus—the widow and the anointer—juxtaposed against the negative examples of the corrupt scribes and the death plotters".
To be continued...

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Setting of Jesus' Last Supper Discourse and High Priestly Prayer

Jesus Teaches in the Temple by James Tissot
This morning Daniel Bachman posted something on the temple studies group on Facebook that I thought would be worth sharing here regarding the location of Jesus' Last Supper discourse and high priestly prayer. Here is his post:

Here is an interesting answer to the question of where Jesus offered his “High Priestly” prayer in John 17, on the night of his arrest. B. F Westcott, says it was NOT in the upper room, because Jn. 14:31 says Jesus took them out of that room at this point. His argument made a lot of sense to me:
“It is scarcely possible that [John] chapters xv., xvi. could have been spoken in the streets of the city. It is inconceivable that ch. xvii, should have been spoken anywhere except under circumstances suited to its unapproachable solemnity. The character of the descent to the Kidron, and of the ground on the western side, does not afford a suitable locality. The upper chamber was certainly left after xiv. 31. One spot alone, as it seems, combines all that is required to satisfy the import of these last words, the Temple courts. It may be true that there is nothing in the narrative which points immediately to a visit there; but much in what is recorded gains fresh significance if regarded in connexion (sic) with the seat of old worship. The central object was the great Golden Vine (comp. Fergusson, ‘The Temples of the Jews,’ pp. 151-ff.), from which the Lord derived the figure of His own vital relation to His people. Everything which spoke of a divine Presence gave force to the promise of a new Advocate. The warning of persecution and rejection found a commentary in the scenes with which the temple had been associated in the last few days. Nowhere, as it seems, could the outlines of the future spiritual Church be more fitly drawn than in the sanctuary of the old Church. Nowhere it is clear, could our High Priest more fitly offer His work and Himself and believers to the Father, than in the one place in which God had chosen to set His Name.”
B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), p. 237.
As to the availability of the Temple late at night, Westcott points out that Josephus says they opened the temple gates at midnight during the Passover season. See, Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18, 2, 2.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Investiture of King Zimri-Lim

Investiture of King Zimri-Lim
This past week the Interpreter published a fascinating article online by Jeff Bradshaw entitled "Freemasonry and the Origins of Modern Temple Ceremonies". The article is well worth reading in its entirety but there was a brief extract that I wanted to share regarding the image shown above. Here is the excerpt:

"In the depiction of the culminating rites shown [above], the king, accompanied by a guardian with arms raised in the traditional attitude of prayer and worship, comes into the most sacred space of the palace where he would have received royal insignia from the hand of a representation of Ishtar, in the presence of other gods and divinized ancestors. The king’s hand is extended to receive these insignia while his arm is raised in a gesture of oath making. As also seen in biblical practice, the solemn nature of the oath was confirmed by touching the throat. Note that the Mesopotamian royal insignia of the rod and the coil as they were depicted here in 1800 bce, had a basic function of measurement similar to the square and compass in later times."

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Revelation 4:6-9

Lamassu statues in the Louvre in Paris, France.
In the book of Revelation there is a curious portion of John's revelation wherein he sees God on his throne in the heavenly temple. Surrounding God's throne are four strange beasts similar to those described in the visions of Ezekiel and Isaiah. John describes his beasts in Revelation 4:7 as follows:

"7 And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle" 

What are we to make of these strange creatures and how can we better understand what John is referring to?

Regarding this verse the Harper Collins Study Bible (HCSB) has this to say:

"The four living creatures (a designation drawn from Ezek 1.5-25) are cherubim, angelic beings that guard and support the throne of God (Ex 25.17-22; 1 Kings 6.23-28; Ps 18.10; Isa 6:2; Ezek 10). They are full of eyes (an allusion to Ezek 1.18; 10.12), symbolizing unceasing watchfulness." (The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books (eds. Wayne A. Meeks et al.; New York: HarperCollins, 1993), 2315.)

These creatures are most likely the heavenly archetypes of the cherub statues found in Solomon's temple in Jerusalem. These cherub statues are mentioned in reference to the construction of Solomon's temple in 1 Kings 6:23-29:

"23 ¶And within the oracle he made two cherubims of olive tree, each ten cubits high.

"24 And five cubits was the one wing of the cherub, and five cubits the other wing of the cherub: from the uttermost part of the one wing unto the uttermost part of the other were ten cubits.

"25 And the other cherub was ten cubits: both the cherubims were of one measure and one size.

"26 The height of the one cherub was ten cubits, and so was it of the other cherub.

"27 And he set the cherubims within the inner house: and they stretched forth the wings of the cherubims, so that the wing of the one touched the one wall, and the wing of the other cherub touched the other wall; and their wings touched one another in the midst of the house.

"28 And he overlaid the cherubims with gold.

"29 And he carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of cherubims and palm trees and open flowers, within and without.

The Israelites were heavily influenced by their neighbors in the construction of their temple. It has been shown how the Ain Dara Temple in particular is remarkably similar to the description of Solomon's temple found in the Bible and was its likely pattern.

This is a photo of me at the British Museum in London,
during a p-day excursion while on my mission (ca. 1997).
Notice the lamassu on the left has a bovine body while
the one on the right features a leonine body.
Evidently the Israelites were influenced by other Mesopotamian iconography as well. The creatures described by John and the cherubim mentioned in 1 Kings are very similar to Assyrian lamassu statues. Assyria was Israel's neighbor to the north and was responsible for the destruction of the Northern Kingdom during the 8th century BC. Lamassu statues were a common feature of Assyrian monumental architecture and have been found at several sites in lands that were once Assyrian.

Lamassu imagery predates the Assyrian empire and is found in literature as early as the Old Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh which dates to the late third millennium BC. The lamassu were Mesopotamian deities charged with the task of frightening away the forces of chaos. Chaos was personified in the Bible by the dragon Rahab and was the primeval state of creation prior to its subdual by God. Psalms 89:8-10 praises God for subduing chaos and maintaining order in the cosmos.  

Furthermore, 1 Enoch 71:7 (1 Enoch is an ancient Jewish and Christian extra-biblical sacred text) describes the cherubim/lamassu as those surrounding God's throne who: "sleep not and guard the throne of his glory."

Assyrian lamassu statues feature the head and face of a man, the wings of an eagle and a bovine or leonine body. John mentions his creatures as having eagle, bovine and leonine features very similar to the lamassu statues. In addition, lamassu, like the creatures in John's vision, were seen as heavenly sentinels and placed in pairs at entry ways to palaces and temples.

It seems likely, therefore, that the architects of Solomon's temple borrowed this element from the culture of the Near East, of which they were a part, and incorporated it into their sacred structure. Undoubtedly this was done because these symbols were already meaningful for the Israelites. These elements were then incorporated into the visions of Isaiah, Ezekiel and John in a way that their contemporaries could understand. 

In our own day a similar thing was done by Joseph Smith when, by inspiration, he incorporated certain elements of the Masonic ritual into LDS temple ceremonies because they were already meaningful for the people of his day. Their incorporation facilitated early Mormons' understanding of temple rituals and helped them find meaning in them.

Sunday, March 15, 2015


*This post is a work in progress*

The Covenant Use of Salt in the Old Testament

The ritual use of salt is attested to in the Old Testament book of Leviticus chapter 2 verse 13 which discusses the use of salt in making grain offerings (NRSV):

"13 You shall not omit from your grain offerings the salt of the covenant with your God; with all your offerings you shall offer salt."

Likewise, the prophet-priest Ezekiel mentions salt in connection with offering animal sacrifice in Ezekiel 43:23-24 (KJV):

"23 When thou hast made an end of cleansing it [the altar], thou shalt offer a young bullock without blemish, and a ram out of the flock without blemish.

 "24 And thou shalt offer them before the Lord, and the priests shall cast salt upon them, and they shall offer them up for a burnt offering unto the Lord."

Regarding Lev 2:13 the Harper Collins Study Bible (HCSB) makes the following comment:

"Since salt was the preservative par excellence in antiquity, it made the ideal symbol for the perdurability of a covenant, and it is likely that salt played a prominent role at the solemn meal that sealed a covenant in the ancient Near East" (155).

An allusion to this covenant meal is also mentioned in the book of Ezra:

After returning from Babylon the Jews set about rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. Hearing of this the Samaritans offered assistance but were rebuffed by the Jews who saw them as impure. Deeply offended the Samaritans endeavored to frustrate the plans of the Jews and wrote a letter to Artaxerxes I, the Persian king, claiming that the Jews intended to cease paying tribute upon completion of the city and temple. Their letter can be found in Ezra chapter 4 and in verse 14 the Samaritans say the following (NRSV):

"Now because we share the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king's dishonor, therefore we send and inform the king ... "

According to the HCSB the phrase "we share the salt of the palace" refers to this covenant meal:

"Share the salt, are partners in a covenant ratified by a meal seasoned with salt (cf. Lev 2.13; Num 18.19)" (707).

Another reference to salt as a token of covenant can be found in 2 Chronicles 13:5.

Salt as a Purifying Agent

Elisha's Spring in Jericho
5 September 1999
Salt is also mentioned in the Old Testament story of the bitter spring at Jericho. 2 Kings chapter 2
relates this very brief story beginning in verse 19:

"19 ¶And the men of the city [Jericho] said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is naught, and the ground barren.

 "20 And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him.

 "21 And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land.

 "22 So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake."

Salt in Wisdom Literature

Ben Witherington III makes an interesting statement regarding salt in his book On the Road with Jesus: Teaching and Healing where he says the following:

"What we need to know is that the term salt in wisdom literature refers to 'wisdom' hence the verb that suggests the opposite of having salt in oneself means being foolish. There is probably a play on words here in the Aramaic - for tabel and tapel mean, respectively, 'salt' and 'foolish.'  The point is that if a disciple ceases to function in the one capacity in which he is truly valuable, namely witnessing to the world in word and deed, then that disciple is worthless. Fit only to be cast out (noting the end-time judgement overtones here.)" (Link)