Sunday, March 15, 2015

Salt

*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)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Mark 1:12-13

Mark, in his gospel, provides a very brief description of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. It is found in the first chapter verses 12 and 13. It reads as follows (KJV):

"12 And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.


 "13 And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him."

There are a couple elements of note in these verses. One is the mention of the wild beasts. Margaret Barker in Temple Mysticism says the following:

"Jesus ... spent 40 days in the wilderness 'with the wild beasts and the angels served him' (Mark 1:13, my translation). He was alone and so must have reported these experiences to others, and presumably not in Greek. This is important because in Hebrew the 'wild beasts' would have been the same as the 'living creatures' of the chariot throne, hayyot (Ezek. 1:5; Rev. 4:6), and the serving angels would have been the working hosts in the throne vision since 'serve' 'abad,' also means worship in Hebrew (Rev. 5:11). Jesus' mystical experience in the desert is described more fully in the opening scene of Revelation" (24-25).

The important point about Barker's argument is that the inclusion of wild beasts in Mark's account is an allusion to the cherubim of the Holy of Holies in the temple. The inner sanctuary of the temple represented the Garden of Eden and so Mark is presenting Jesus as a new Adam. Paul also presents Jesus as a new Adam in 1 Cor. 15:45 & Romans 5:19.

An interesting note in the Yale Anchor Bible Commentary (YABC) for Mark mentions that:

"The reference to animals, which may be an allusion to Isa 11:6-8, 65:25, and Hos 2:18. suggests (according to Jeremias) the restoration of paradise. H.-G. Leder ... finds in this account a christological motif: the eschatological warfare with Satan has been joined, and Jesus in his ministry is proleptically the triumphant Son of Man. He denies that there is any Adam-Christ typology, deriving from Genesis 3 here, pleading that there is no clear example in Jewish literature of angels ministering to Adam" (203-4, emphasis added).

Although, as the YABC commentary points out, there is no mention of angels ministering to Adam in Jewish sources, there is in LDS sources. Moses chapter 5 mentions the visitation of an angel to Adam as he is performing an animal sacrifice:

"6 And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.


 "7 And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth."

Therefore, with the added insight provided by latter-day scripture it seems safe to see Mark's inclusion of the wild animals as a prefigurement of the restoration of paradise, through Jesus, which was lost due to Adam's transgression.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Baptism of Jesus

Stained glass window by Gian Lorenzo Bernini of the
Holy Spirit as a dove in the apse of St. Peter's
Basilica in Rome.
Recently I've been studying the book of Mark and when I came to the account of Jesus' baptism I was reminded of an interesting idea that I don't believe I have shared here.

In the well known story Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist and as Jesus comes up out of the water the Holy Spirit descends upon him like a dove (see Mark 1:10). From this account in Mark and the other gospels Latter-Day Saints recognize the dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit but generally do not attach any meaning to it beyond that.

The dove is a fascinating symbol that modern readers often fail to appreciate fully. The Israelites utilized the dove as a cultic symbol at least several hundred years prior to the advent of Christianity.

In Iron Age Israel (ca. 1200 - 539 BC) the dove was a well known symbol of the Canaanite/Israelite deity Asherah as noted by Dorothy Willette on BAR's website:
Judahite pillar figurine c. 8th century
B.C. Lachish. Associates the dove with
Asherah.

"In the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean world, the dove became an iconic symbol of the mother goddess. . . . The doves represented feminine fertility and procreation, and came to be well-recognized symbols of the Canaanite goddess Asherah and her counterpart Astarte . . . There is strong evidence in the Hebrew Bible, as well as the archaeological record, that many ancient Israelites believed the goddess Asherah was the consort of their god Yahweh (aka Jehovah)."

Additionally, as Willette notes:

"Perhaps it is not so surprising, then, that the heirs of this Israelite religion incorporated the 'feminine' symbol of the dove to represent the spirit of God (the word for 'spirit,' ruach, is a feminine word in Hebrew). The Babylonian Talmud likens the hovering of God’s spirit in Genesis 1:2 to the hovering of a dove."

At least some early Christians identified Jesus with Jehovah and had begun to see the Holy Spirit, not as his consort, but as his mother. This is reflected in the writings of Jerome who quoted from the now lost Gospel of the Hebrews as noted by Margaret Barker in her book entitled The Mother of the Lord:

"Jerome quoted the Gospel of the Hebrews in his commentary on Isaiah 11.2.

'In the [Gospel of the Hebrews] I find this written: "And it came to pass when the Lord was come up out of the water, the whole fount of the Holy Spirit descended and rested upon him, and said unto him: My son in all the prophets I was waiting for thee that thou shouldst come, and that I might rest in thee. For thou art my rest thou art my first begotten son that reignest forever."'

"In his commentary on Isaiah 11.9 he also noted that in the Gospel of the Hebrews, Jesus spoke of 'My mother the holy Spirit.' . . . The Spirit was his Mother, and the imagery is from the royal cult."

During the October 23, 2013 Lady of the Temple Conference sponsored by the Academy for Temple Studies at Utah State University Alyson Von Feldt made an intriguing suggestion of how Latter-Day Saints could understand this idea. Here is her talk:



Therefore, there is much more than meets the eye in the story of Jesus' baptism that we often fail to fully appreciate. The symbol of the dove would have been pregnant with meaning to the Jews of the first century AD and studying it can help modern readers understand what the gospel authors and perhaps what God himself was trying to convey by utilizing this symbol.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Mark 1:1 - The Calendar Inscription of Priene

Calendar Inscription of Priene
The first verse in the KJV of Mark's gospel reads:

"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;"

I was reading from Mike Parker's class notes regarding this verse and came across something that I thought was interesting. He mentions that the author of Mark may have been alluding to an inscription called the Calendar Inscription of Priene (not to be confused with the Priene Inscription) that dates to 9 B.C. The purpose of the inscription was to celebrate the birth of Octavian (aka Caesar Augustus) who was born in 63 B.C. and to announce that the Roman calendar would from then on be reckoned from the day of his birth. 

One of the lines of the inscriptions states the following:

"The birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings [εύαγγελίων/euaggelios, 'gospel'] for the world that came by reason of him."

Roman emperors were seen as divine, as were other rulers of the ancient Mediterranean. The author of Mark's gospel may have phrased his first verse in such a way as to challenge Roman notions of divine kingship. It appears as though the author of Mark was declaring that the true divine king and son of God was Jesus and not the Roman emperor.
 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Jesus of Nazareth

It's been a while since I have posted anything because I am back in school and haven't had much time to do so. This morning, however, I read something that I thought would be worthwhile to make a note of here.

The following is a passage from a paper on Margaret Baker's website that provides some insight into a pericope from John's gospel. Here is the link to the paper, and here is the section that made an impression on me:

"The Jewish religious leaders have him arrested and
killed, but according to John, the notice on his cross did not say simply ‘The King of the Jews’. It said ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews’ (John 19.19). That is how the words are usually translated. But ‘of Nazareth’ here is not the usual word Nazarēnos; it is Nazōraios, and Jesus’ followers were called Nazōreans (Acts 24.5). This suggests that the Greek word did not mean ‘of Nazareth’ but came from the Hebrew nāṣar, which meant to guard, preserve or keep. In the Talmud, Jesus was called the nôṣrî. The Nazōreans would then be the preserved or guarded people, neṣûrîm, and with different vowels, they would be the guardians or preservers, nōṣrîm, which became the Hebrew name for the Christians.

"It was also the name for those people whom the Servant of the LORD would restore.
My servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel; I give you as a light to the nations... (Isa.49.6)"

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Today

I was reading Isaiah 2 this afternoon and came across a passage which describes the wicked Israelites of his day but which also applies to ours. Here is what it says (Gileadi's translation):

Their land is full of silver and gold
      and there is no end to their wealth;
Their land is full of horses
      and there is no end to their chariots.
Their land is full of idols:
      they adore the works of their hands,
      things their own fingers have made.
Mankind is brought low
      when men thus debase themselves.
Forbear them not!

These are some of the distinguishing characteristics of both (i.e. ancient Israel and modern civilization) wicked societies:
  1. Their land is full of silver and gold: Incomparable and unequal wealth.
  2. Their land is full of horses and chariots: Horses and chariots are implements of war. Both societies are obsessed with building armies and navies and amassing guns and other instruments of death and destruction.
  3. They worship (adore) the work of their hands: Materialism is rampant and acquiring wealth and objects are obsessions. 
  4. Mankind is brought low when men thus debase themselves: Wickedness is so widespread that mankind as a whole is debased by it.
Our challenge is rise above this trend to wholesale and all encompassing wickedness. This description reminds me of Enoch's vision of the wickedness of Noah's day (and by extension our day) in Moses 7:

26 And he beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced.

 28 And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?

 29 And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?
 
 32 The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;

 33 And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood;

 37 But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?

 40 Wherefore, for this shall the heavens weep, yea, and all the workmanship of mine hands. (emphasis added)

 The result of this gross wickedness is misery - nothing more. The reason why God hates wickedness so forcefully is that it brings so much misery to the human family and he is likewise pained by witnessing this suffering.