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'Biblical Womanhood' A year of living by the book
October 1, 2011 12:03 PM   Subscribe

As an evangelical Christian, Rachel Held Evans often heard about the importance of practicing "biblical womanhood," but she didn't quite know what that meant. Everyone she asked seemed to have a different definition. Evans decided to embark on a quest to figure out how to be a woman by the Bible's standards. For one year, she has followed every rule in the Old and New Testaments. (FAQ) Her project is set to end today.

Rachel Held Evans has also used her blog to actively champion gender equality and respect in Evangelical Christianity. Challenging homophobia, narrow views of womanhood, anti-intellectualism, and privilege, she has attracted attention from across the evangelical community.

She has also been kicking ass wrestling with Evangelical heavyweights. This summer, she called out Mark Driscoll as a bully for his homophobic remarks on Facebook, prompting a response, and last month challenged best-selling author Donald Miller for writing that women are not the primary characters in their own "love stories". All this in a world in which there's an ongoing debate over whether husbands are the masters of their wives.
posted by Blasdelb (144 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
"They fear that I'll make the Bible and those who love it look stupid, which would be hard because I read the Bible and love the Bible."

Too late for that, ma'am. That dog was shot a long time ago.
posted by Malice at 12:10 PM on October 1, 2011 [16 favorites]


[from the first link] In July, she rightly called out prominent hipster pastor Mark Driscoll as a homophobic bully

Now there's a man who knows what it takes to contend for the title of Most Hated Man on Metafilter.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:13 PM on October 1, 2011 [68 favorites]


Her book Evolving in Monkey Town was excellent, and it put her on the map in the evangelical world. Her series where she has her readers ask various people questions is also pretty popular. This new book, on the other hand, seems to be basically a rip off of A.J. Jacobs' The Year of Living Biblically.
posted by kingfishers catch fire at 12:16 PM on October 1, 2011


"This new book, on the other hand, seems to be basically a rip off of A.J. Jacobs' The Year of Living Biblically."

Check the FAQ on the blog:

2. You do realize that A.J. Jacobs has already done this, right?

I absolutely loved The Year of Living Biblically and have always wanted to see a woman’s take on a similar experiment. I think my project is especially relevant because "biblical womanhood" is such a hot topic in evangelical circles and such a real presence in the lives of many women of faith. I thought it would be interesting to use a format like Jacobs' to comment on the contemporary "biblical womanhood" phenomenon in a fresh way.

posted by Blasdelb at 12:19 PM on October 1, 2011 [12 favorites]


Yeah, I've already seen that. It's just odd that she chose to follow the rules in the Old Testament since, as an evangelical Christian, she doesn't have to follow them. If she were Jewish, it would make more sense for her to have to sleep in a tent in her yard if she wanted to follow every rule pertaining to women. It's the Old Testament rules that she technically doesn't need to follow that are getting all the media attention. "Biblical womanhood" as discussed in evangelical circles does not mean all the rules about periods and hair.
posted by kingfishers catch fire at 12:24 PM on October 1, 2011 [15 favorites]


Why would she pay attention to the Jewish interpretations? Read the description under the photo in the NPR story: "She is seen here with homemade matzah toffee for Passover". Reason enough.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:32 PM on October 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Wow, not only is Justin Lee's Ask a Gay Christian guest column a fascinating read, but the (hundreds of) comments are also very moving. I'm not a theist and generally steer clear of anything resembling religion, but seeing so many evangelical Christians actively working to challenge their own interpretations of theology in the interest of human compassion is pretty amazing.
posted by oinopaponton at 12:35 PM on October 1, 2011 [16 favorites]


Did she follow all the parts about freedom from the law in Christ? That makes up the bulk of the NT.
posted by brenton at 12:46 PM on October 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


The "ask a gay christian" column made me so, so, so, so sad.

Ugh.

That poor guy has spent years and years and years and years trying to convince himself that it's ok to say "yes" in response to the question "is it ok for me to know human love?" And he is far from alone in that vast, desolate wasteland of despair. Even blogs and projects and books like the one in the OP make me sad. So much energy and time and vitality expended on trying to convince yourself that you, as a human being, have some inherent worth.

Even the platonic Straight White American Male struggles under the burden of American evangelical christianity, because he too is broken and sinful. He too is a despicable piece of trash redeemed only by the grace of god.

I wish all the folks like the woman in the OP could have put their obvious energy and intelligence towards something less depressing.
posted by kavasa at 1:03 PM on October 1, 2011 [32 favorites]


It's just odd that she chose to follow the rules in the Old Testament since, as an evangelical Christian, she doesn't have to follow them

I'm fuzzy on what various flavors of Christians do and do not do. can you explain that?
posted by Dr. Twist at 1:23 PM on October 1, 2011


The "ask a gay christian" column made me so, so, so, so sad.

Yeah, it was a bit like listening to someone with an abusive partner talking about all the reasons why they need to stay with that person. Sure, they may beat them. Sure, they may strip them of every last every inch of self esteem. Sure, they might be responsible for my regular trips to the emergency room.

But they need me and make me feel wanted, so I can't leave them.

posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:23 PM on October 1, 2011 [10 favorites]


I wish all the folks like the woman in the OP could have put their obvious energy and intelligence towards something less depressing.

It is indeed a huge tragedy. But then, the history of humanity has always been about overcoming our self-imposed limitations. If it's not religion it's nationality, if it's not that it's economics, or racial prejudice, or gender prejudice, or ignorance, or a host of other things. The moment we stopped being worried about eaten by wild animals we started casting about for things to replace them with.

It's depressing, but by no means a localized thing. So buck up. The stupidity that haunts us now have always been with us, it's just taken a different form. The fight never ends; recognizing that is the first step to getting comfortable with it.
posted by JHarris at 1:26 PM on October 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is fascinating - thanks for posting.
posted by paduasoy at 1:31 PM on October 1, 2011


kingfishers catch fire: Yeah, I've already seen that. It's just odd that she chose to follow the rules in the Old Testament since, as an evangelical Christian, she doesn't have to follow them.

Jesus' own instructions concerning the old laws was pretty clear. I can imagine that as a follower, it'd be hard to know which of them to take seriously and which to discard when the stakes are your immortal soul. Surely, better safe than sorry?
posted by gilrain at 1:32 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's just odd that she chose to follow the rules in the Old Testament since, as an evangelical Christian, she doesn't have to follow them.

Speaking as a bacon loving Reform Jew, I love the logical consistency of an evangelical Christian following all the OT laws. I view the Tanakh as a desert survival manual, and see the prohibition about gay sex as a way of preventing STDs, and kashrut as a way of preventing food poisoning. But we have condoms and food safety laws now, so it's not necessary in modern times. Modern interpretation! But I do take issue with evangelical Christians picking and choosing their way through Leviticus with no critical thinking. If you can ignore all the Law, don't say that polyblends are okay but homosexuality isn't. Stick with it, or don't, I don't see how there is any in-between.
posted by Ruki at 1:34 PM on October 1, 2011 [31 favorites]


For one year, she has followed every rule in the Old and New Testaments.

I wonder how many Wiccans she killed?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:35 PM on October 1, 2011 [14 favorites]


I wonder how many Wiccans she killed?

None, I'm sure; that's a man's job.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:38 PM on October 1, 2011 [14 favorites]


how to be a woman by the Bible's standards

Has she been hammering spikes through the heads of America's enemies?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:41 PM on October 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Christians are explicitly *not* supposed to follow the laws in the Old Testament / Leviticus. I always wonder about the weird fundamentalist yearning to go back to the more primitive rules in Leviticus. It's like, Jesus is too much of a hippie liberal for us!
posted by zipadee at 1:42 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


zipadee: Christians are explicitly *not* supposed to follow the laws in the Old Testament / Leviticus. I always wonder about the weird fundamentalist yearning to go back to the more primitive rules in Leviticus. It's like, Jesus is too much of a hippie liberal for us!

I'd like some verses, please. I know of a few where specific aspects of the law are deemphasized, but very few of those are from Jesus. And Jesus did, several times in the gospels, explicitly uphold the laws. For instance, the most famous, but there are others.
posted by gilrain at 1:49 PM on October 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Jesus' own instructions concerning the old laws was pretty clear. I can imagine that as a follower, it'd be hard to know which of them to take seriously and which to discard when the stakes are your immortal soul. Surely, better safe than sorry?

Wow, I wish I had known that in my Catholic school days. We were explicitly told that Jesus represented a new covenant to replace the Moses covenant that Jews adhere to. His Passion represents cleansing the world from transgression of the Moses laws: Jesus is the Victim, in the technical sense of a sacrifice to God bearing our sins. The teachings of Jesus represent the law, and thus the only law.

I'm not a Christian, so it doesn't wholly surprise me that I'm unaware of other interpretations. But I do remember this point being forcefully clear.
posted by Jehan at 1:51 PM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd like some verses, please.

See Acts 10.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:56 PM on October 1, 2011


I'm not a Christian, so it doesn't wholly surprise me that I'm unaware of other interpretations. But I do remember this point being forcefully clear.

Can we just come to the conclusion that religion makes things up as it goes along? This is a new covenant - ignore all the old stuff. except for this stuff. maybe not that other stuff. which stuff? um, it depends. anyways keep coming to church
posted by camdan at 1:56 PM on October 1, 2011 [20 favorites]


It's like she still believes the moon is made of green cheese, and she's using all her engineering skills to build a rocket made of pretzels.

The sneering, it adds nothing to the conversation.
posted by fatbird at 1:58 PM on October 1, 2011 [13 favorites]


Jehan: I'm not a Christian, so it doesn't wholly surprise me that I'm unaware of other interpretations. But I do remember this point being forcefully clear.

Yes, exactly. The tradition you were taught is dominant, but re-reading the Bible as an atheist, there is surprisingly little basis for it outside of arbitrary, non-Biblical decisions by various churches. I've also read some more honest commentary from Christians who admit the seeming contradiction and approach it more thoughtfully as a troubling issue to be addressed.

There are places where the tradition you were taught is suggested in the New Testament. However, Jesus is repeatedly adamant and clear that the old laws are to be followed and respected. In my experience, this is generally glossed over by uncomfortable Christians as "Well, of course that's not what he meant," with very little justification for this interpretation.

As an atheist, these inconsistencies are unsurprising and even expected, based on what we know of how the historical Bible was put together and who Jesus may (or may not) have been. To a believer, I would expect them to be a lot more troubling than most give them credit for. And so, good on this woman for drawing attention to them and giving them some thought.
posted by gilrain at 1:58 PM on October 1, 2011 [13 favorites]


Jesus' own instructions concerning the old laws was pretty clear. I can imagine that as a follower, it'd be hard to know which of them to take seriously and which to discard when the stakes are your immortal soul. Surely, better safe than sorry?

The issue is not nearly that simple. While Jesus' comment in Matthew 5 says that he did not come to abolish the law or the prophets, what that meant in practice in both the early Christian church and today has been much less clear.

Paul emphasizes that Christians are under a new convenant. That is why Christians are not required to circumcise or observe the food laws. This caused a huge firestorm, at least from Paul's telling, because the Christians in Jerusalem (including James, Jesus' brother) thought that circumcision was still essential. Paul's side won out. The New Covenant was, and still is, thought to not be a rejection of the Law. Instead, Jesus was the fulfillment of it.

Even today, while you will get people who appeal to Leviticus as reason to be anti-gay, for example, the more common justifications for certain beliefs will come from the New Testament. Complementarians will mostly rely on 1st Timothy, for example.

You're right, it can be contradictory and convoluted, though.
posted by kingfishers catch fire at 1:59 PM on October 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Philosopher Dirtbike: See Acts 10.

Which specific verse opposes what Jesus says in Matthew 5:17-19? I see that unclean food is overruled here, seemingly, but what else? Are you suggesting that Jesus was mistaken in Matthew 5?
posted by gilrain at 2:02 PM on October 1, 2011


Fascinating post. Thanks!
posted by brundlefly at 2:04 PM on October 1, 2011


kingfishers catch fire: Paul emphasizes that Christians are under a new convenant. That is why Christians are not required to circumcise or observe the food laws. This caused a huge firestorm, at least from Paul's telling, because the Christians in Jerusalem (including James, Jesus' brother) thought that circumcision was still essential. Paul's side won out. The New Covenant was, and still is, thought to not be a rejection of the Law. Instead, Jesus was the fulfillment of it.

This also confuses me. Why has the church in general decided to accept Paul's version as more authoritative than Jesus' or those who were closer to his teachings? Just convenience? As an outsider, it seems crazy to risk so much based on his word in opposition to Jesus' fairly straightforward instructions.

I agree: it's complicated. However, many Christians seem to pretend that it's not.
posted by gilrain at 2:04 PM on October 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


The law about polyblends is well-respected in the US, thanks to the efforts of groups like this A letter from these guys to clothing makers gets the wool (or linen) out tout-suite.

It's in Leviticus Chapter 19, verse 19.
Verse 26 is the basic Kosher-food rule, while verse 6 prohibits lying, theft, and deception, and verse 4 prohibits idol manufacture.
Christians must use a bible with lots of cross-outs in this section.
posted by hexatron at 2:06 PM on October 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


Why has the church in general decided to accept Paul's version as more authoritative than Jesus'...?

This
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 2:07 PM on October 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


This also confuses me. Why has the church in general decided to accept Paul's version as more authoritative than Jesus' or those who were closer to his teachings? Just convenience? As an outsider, it seems crazy to risk so much based on his word in opposition to Jesus' fairly straightforward instructions.

The gospels were written after Paul wrote his letters. So it's not like people could sit there and compare the written words of Jesus with the ones of Paul.

Furthermore, I think it came to be accepted that Paul's version wasn't in fact contradictory to Jesus', although it might appear to be.
posted by kingfishers catch fire at 2:08 PM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Which specific verse opposes what Jesus says in Matthew 5:17-19? I see that unclean food is overruled here, seemingly, but what else? Are you suggesting that Jesus was mistaken in Matthew 5?

Also circumcision. But what does Jesus have to do with Christianity?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 2:09 PM on October 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


kingfishers catch fire: Furthermore, I think it came to be accepted that Paul's version wasn't in fact contradictory to Jesus', although it might appear to be.

I really appreciate your perspective and patience. Thanks.
posted by gilrain at 2:10 PM on October 1, 2011


Philosopher Dirtbike: But what does Jesus have to do with Christianity?

If this is a joke, I'm afraid I don't follow. For one, it's in the name. For two, well... really, all of Christianity is based on Jesus. I don't think any of our resident Christians would disagree with that?
posted by gilrain at 2:13 PM on October 1, 2011


The very first council of Christians trying to make a big decision about how they should live out their faith is mentioned in Acts chapter 15. This council is said to have included most of Jesus' original apostles.

The question on the table was, "Must Gentile Christians keep the Jewish Law?"

Acts reports their decision, to be taken by missionaries like Paul, Barnabas, and Silas to the new Gentile churches, was as follows:

19. Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, 20. but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood.

So shellfish, clothes made of 50% cotton, and women setting where they please during their period would all be fine according to this decision. "Fornication," whatever that means, and blood sausages would not. (Many Christians think "fornication" includes homosexual intercourse, which is why the slogans asking people who object to gays whether they eat shrimp seem ignorant to Christians who think that way.)
posted by straight at 2:13 PM on October 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


Thanks, straight. My perspective on that passage and decision is that it seems arbitrary, and I would expect conscientious Christians to read it and think, "Boy, I really wish I had Jesus' perspective on this decision... because, based on what I know of him from the Bible, he'd likely have a different take on this."

To me, the decision sounds like a strategy to expedite adoption of Christianity among the gentiles. It's probably my perspective as an outsider, since a believer would take the whole thing as the word of God... but to me, my imagined reaction as a serious follower of Christ would be, "Er... says you guys!"
posted by gilrain at 2:18 PM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I feel that I'm posting too much in here and getting borderline off-topic. I appreciate the discussion!
posted by gilrain at 2:20 PM on October 1, 2011


I view the Tanakh as a desert survival manual, and see the prohibition about gay sex as a way of preventing STDs, and kashrut as a way of preventing food poisoning.

"And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them" is "a way of preventing STDs"? Every one of the diseases you can get from giving or receiving anal sex can also be transmitted through penis-in-vagina sex (with straight sex you even get a bonus disease: trichomoniasis!), so I don't buy it.

The food poisoning thing makes some sense, but it's nowhere close to airtight -- many of the prohibited foods would have been just as safe given different rules, and indeed made up part of the staple diet of the Romans living in the same place at the same time. I think it's obvious that kashrut is much like every other set of food rules: part practicality, part prejudice.
posted by vorfeed at 2:20 PM on October 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm fuzzy on what various flavors of Christians do and do not do. can you explain that?


If Christ came to fulfill the Law, that means that Christians don't have to follow all of those "legalistic" parts of the Hebrew Bible. Sitting in tents, not cutting your hair, keeping kosher, etc. no longer need to be followed.

The two big issues, from what we can tell from Paul's letters and Acts (written later) were 1) circumcision and 2) food. As more and more Gentiles became Christians, these issues got far more pressing. Most of the original followers (and the 12 disciples) were Jewish, but the movement grew really rapidly through Paul's ministry to the Gentiles.

Galatians is mostly Paul's argument against the necessity of circumcision, and he argues for the ability to eat food sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians.
posted by kingfishers catch fire at 2:22 PM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can't believe I haven't heard of her. Thanks for sharing!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:24 PM on October 1, 2011


Jesus didn't write anything down, or even cause it to be written down. This explains why some people must take their scriptures literally, because it never had any validity to begin with. Taking things literally allows the key mental substitution for the authority and importance that it originally lacked. Same goes for any claimed word of God.
posted by Brian B. at 2:28 PM on October 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


If this is a joke, I'm afraid I don't follow.

Sorry, it was a bit obscure, but see the comments above mine; that is, that Paul had an inordinate amount of influence on Christianity and it became a different religion due to that influence.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 2:31 PM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd like some verses, please. I know of a few where specific aspects of the law are deemphasized, but very few of those are from Jesus

A specific verse for you, Luke 14:2 There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. 3 Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4 But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.
posted by francesca too at 2:40 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks, straight. My perspective on that passage and decision is that it seems arbitrary, and I would expect conscientious Christians to read it and think, "Boy, I really wish I had Jesus' perspective on this decision... because, based on what I know of him from the Bible, he'd likely have a different take on this."

I think it's presumptuous and borderline ridiculous to think that the small snippets we get about Jesus and his thinking in the Gospels would give you a better sense of what he'd think about this issue than the people who spent years living with him.
posted by straight at 2:50 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


"And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them" is "a way of preventing STDs"? Every one of the diseases you can get from giving or receiving anal sex can also be transmitted through penis-in-vagina sex (with straight sex you even get a bonus disease: trichomoniasis!), so I don't buy it.

If homosexuality was seen as an adjunctive sexual activity to marriage then its prohibition is in line with fornication as a prophylactic function. That the creaters of the law couldn't conceive of homosexual monogamy (that is, a replacement to heterosexual marriage in terms of sexual activity), is a great, but unsurprising, omission. Even the Greeks who practised some kinds of homosexuality quite openly didn't consider it as replacing heterosexual marriage.
posted by Jehan at 2:52 PM on October 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I would expect conscientious Christians to read it and think, "Boy, I really wish I had Jesus' perspective on this decision... because, based on what I know of him from the Bible, he'd likely have a different take on this."

Well, that's the problem. There wasn't a Bible when that decision was made. There was an oral tradition and some letters that were reread and passed around. Those letters include Paul's -- the oldest of the letters -- and his letters support the new covenant/abolish the old law reading. The Gospels were written so long after all of this had sort of been decided and were written for various audiences and from various perspectives and can't really be relied on to tell anyone "what Jesus would have thought."
posted by devinemissk at 2:54 PM on October 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


gilrain, there are some links over on this askmefi you might find of interest.
posted by Leon at 3:05 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Those letters include Paul's -- the oldest of the letters -- and his letters support the new covenant/abolish the old law reading. The Gospels were written so long after all of this had sort of been decided and were written for various audiences and from various perspectives and can't really be relied on to tell anyone "what Jesus would have thought.""

For those who want some chronology for the discussion:

The earliest books are Paul's letter to the Thessalonians (51) or maybe Galatians (49). Disputes on dating, of course.

Mark, the earliest Gospel, dates from around 65.
Matthew and Luke/Acts, 75ish and 85ish.
John, around 90.

All dates terribly approximate. There are pretty broad ranges given for each Gospel (at least 15 years, usually) and the debate on dating them is actually quite interesting. Paul's letters are a little easier to date because he typically mentions contemporary events, but still it's hard to pin down an exact year.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:12 PM on October 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm in favor of any project that holds the possibility of doing something A.J. Jacobs has done and showing him what it *ought* to have been.
posted by yellowcandy at 3:26 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


If homosexuality was seen as an adjunctive sexual activity to marriage then its prohibition is in line with fornication as a prophylactic function.

I'd accept this argument if its prohibition was in line with fornication. It's not. It appears in a list of acts (adultery, bestiality, incest) which are worse than simple fornication.
posted by vorfeed at 3:34 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why has the church in general decided to accept Paul's version as more authoritative than Jesus'...?

Paul had really, REALLY good P.R. in the first and second centuries, basically.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:50 PM on October 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Man, Mark Driscoll is a jerk. Until I read that blog post, my only real familiarity with him was in a few "he's edgy because he swears!" references. He's just a bully.

I'm also noticing that in both the Driscoll criticisms and the Donald Miller exchanges, it's hard to figure out exactly what was said because these guys keep deleting their questionable posts. It seems that hip pastors keep forgetting about their boards of elders to have wild nights of Facebook asshatery.
posted by roll truck roll at 4:15 PM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


A specific verse for you, Luke 14:2 There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. 3 Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4 But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.

I'd never really thought about this before. I always assumed he asking it as a rhetorical question, to make a point. It could also be read that he wanted to be seen to be asking for permission.
posted by roll truck roll at 4:18 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I see a lot of comments confused about which OT laws are followed and which are disregarded. I suggest you read up on the Jerusalem Council (it is discussed in two places) as well as all of Acts. If you're going to speak with such contempt you might as well understand what you're saying. You can't understand the issues at hand by reading a single verse any more than you could appreciate the importance of WWII by looking at a single line in an encyclopedia.
posted by brenton at 4:40 PM on October 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


You can't understand the issues at hand by reading a single verse any more than you could appreciate the importance of WWII by looking at a single line in an encyclopedia.

And, of course, the same goes for anyone who doesn't consider all the available sources, not just the Bible. /smallamountsofsnark
posted by Leon at 4:49 PM on October 1, 2011


brenton: If you're going to speak with such contempt you might as well understand what you're saying. You can't understand the issues at hand by reading a single verse any more than you could appreciate the importance of WWII by looking at a single line in an encyclopedia.

I wasn't speaking from a place of contempt, and I hope I didn't come across in that way.

Also, please don't assume my level of knowledge. I am not a proper scholar, but I have made a modest study of the Bible several times in the past. Extensively, as part of my deconversion from evangelical Christianity, and again, years later, with a calmer heart and mind. And I try to keep that knowledge up, when the interest strikes me again.

An opinion contrary to your own need not come from rank ignorance, but merely from a different perspective.
posted by gilrain at 4:52 PM on October 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


Paul was definitely a hustler. He was far more outwardly looking than many of his Christian contemporaries. In order to travel the distances he wanted to cover to spread the word, he needed money. To get this, he converted the wealthy. His clout in their circles allowed him to travel extensively. To me, it's not inconceivable then that Paul had a lot of influence at this council. Although I do think in light of a dearth or material on Jesus' direct teachings, the interpretations of those who spent many years with him is the closest we can get.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:55 PM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


"I'd accept this argument if its prohibition was in line with fornication. It's not. It appears in a list of acts (adultery, bestiality, incest) which are worse than simple fornication."

That is 1 Corinthians 6:9
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders

There is also,

1 Timoty 1:10
...for those involved in sexual immorality, for homosexuals, for kidnappers, for liars, for false witnesses, and for whatever else goes against the healthy teaching

and

Romans 1:
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

posted by Blasdelb at 4:58 PM on October 1, 2011


Paul was definitely a hustler. He was far more outwardly looking than many of his Christian contemporaries. In order to travel the distances he wanted to cover to spread the word, he needed money. To get this, he converted the wealthy. His clout in their circles allowed him to travel extensively.

Marisa, do you have a cite for this? My understanding is that early Christians were disproportionately drawn from the urban poor/powerless, and that Paul supported himself as a skilled tradesman.
posted by Leon at 5:04 PM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


gilrain: Also, please don't assume my level of knowledge.

My comment was actually not directed at you, but rather at those who were wondering about which OT laws are upheld by the NT.
posted by brenton at 5:04 PM on October 1, 2011


I do think in light of a dearth or material on Jesus' direct teachings, the interpretations of those who spent many years with him is the closest we can get.

Of course, the only book in the Bible written by someone who actually knew Jesus is the Gospel of John. Which is why it's sort of futile to say that any book in the Bible accurately represents what Jesus actually thought. The Bible represents the perspective of fallible men who were each writing for a specific audience and (some argue) even for a specific purpose, and who were writing decades after Jesus was actually conducting his ministry.
posted by devinemissk at 5:06 PM on October 1, 2011


My apologies, then!
posted by gilrain at 5:06 PM on October 1, 2011


Marisa, do you have a cite for this? My understanding is that early Christians were disproportionately drawn from the urban poor/powerless, and that Paul supported himself as a skilled tradesman.

No, not really. The early church* (and I mean VERY early) would not have survived had it not been for the patronage of wealthy individuals. Many of Paul's letters are addressed to these people (remember, the poor/powerless were unlikely to be literate). These are the people who held meetings in their homes and who shared letters among each other and with their social circle and spread the word about Jesus.

As for Paul, he was a Roman citizen, so was himself a person of means. After his conversion, he traveled around to the various cities where Jesus had followers, and was supported by the wealthy individuals who sponsored those churches. (He did also support himself as a tent-maker, but he's also presumed to have been supported financially by various church leaders.)

As Christianity developed (and as it came into conflict with Rome), it did draw the poor and powerless, and that's where you get the vast array of martyrdom narratives, etc. But that was later -- in the 2nd century and on -- and even then, there was always an educated/wealthy following.

*This term is really misleading when talking about this particular time period. One of my college profs liked to use the term "Jesus party" -- which is favored by scholars involved in research of "the historical Jesus." I don't necessarily cotton to the historical Jesus stuff -- I don't really find that research angle fruitful -- so I don't use that term, but it does reflect the sense of what we're talking about more than does "church."
posted by devinemissk at 5:18 PM on October 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


Of course, the only book in the Bible written by someone who actually knew Jesus is the Gospel of John.
I think that most Biblical scholars don't believe this about the Gospel of John, either.
posted by Flunkie at 5:21 PM on October 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's interesting All of my Christian friends (and I have many), despite all the Christian books on the wall, the many camps, and discussion groups, and bible study groups they go to, and time spent praying and thinking etc, every single on them follows mores and ethics that are quite unambiguously defined by their social and cultural milieu.

They've all done and continue to do tonnes of things that are prohibited or frowned on in the bible and even the most luke-warm takes on Christianity. For my many friends, religion only comes in as a post-hoc rationalisation for their actions - or it's simply ignored or left un-stated when it clashes with a personal or cultural beliefs (e.g with our mutual gay friends, for example, and some of these people go to very full-on churches).

It frustrates me, because of their inability to own these actions and Christianity as one. I feel like, "Guys, your silence about this is why right wing pseudo-fascists are unquestionably allowed to represent Christians in the media and to politicians here. Your silence is why their anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-multicultural moral hysteria is becoming a cosign for popular Christianity, but guess what? You're just as Christian as them (for whatever it's worth). Why do you let these maniacs hijack the religious discourse in our country if they don't represent 80% of what you believe in and how you live?"

And also: "If you're prepared to let all this racist, homophobic, terrified claptrap get out there under the name of Christianity, maybe you need to think about how Christian you really are? Or maybe you need to think about how valid your religiously referenced ethics are, when the reality is you just seem to pick and choose what you feel comfortable with?"

It frustrates me.
posted by smoke at 5:25 PM on October 1, 2011 [11 favorites]


I think that most Biblical scholars don't believe this about the Gospel of John, either.

Fair enough. But even the traditional view acknowledges that none of the other Gospel writers knew Jesus, which was more my point.
posted by devinemissk at 5:46 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why do you let these maniacs hijack the religious discourse in our country if they don't represent 80% of what you believe in and how you live?

Because they aren't my people? I'm also white but I'm not a white supremacist, should I run around making it clear those aren't my people, either? I've spent some time recently dealing with loud bullies (mainly in my church, go figure) and what I've found to be very helpful is to just ignore them. Talk is cheap, but if I work, I can accomplish things. I volunteered for and voted to elect a black man who promised to end DADT in the military (think I wrote some letters on the topic, too), and people screamed and yelled until the day he did it- they're probably still crying! But it's done. Talk is cheap, I have actual work to do.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:46 PM on October 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


Of course, the only book in the Bible written by someone who actually knew Jesus is the Gospel of John."

The Gospel of John is actually one of the more fun ones to guess the authorship of. There are actually quite a few Johns in the New Testament and they are frequently conflated into a single super-John plus John the Baptist. Really, in addition to the dunk happy prophet, there were also John the Apostle, John the Evangelist, John of Patmos, and John the Presbyter, and John the author of the Gospel who were at least four but probably five different people.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:47 PM on October 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Many of Paul's letters are addressed to these people (remember, the poor/powerless were unlikely to be literate).

The letters were meant to be read aloud. That's why Paul is so bombastic; he's drawing on the Greek tradition of rhetoric. Those letters were addressed to entire congregations, not to individuals, and were part of a formal tradition.

Should we equate literacy with wealth? Do we have any evidence to support that? Scribes weren't likely to be powerful, were they?

but he's also presumed to have been supported financially

It's that "presumed" that I'm struggling with. Paul may have been Roman but he was a leather worker - a skilled tradesman. I don't see any evidence that he was especially wealthy, or that he had patrons. Or that travel was costly in the first century - I'm thinking about that census.

I don't necessarily cotton to the historical Jesus stuff -- I don't really find that research angle fruitful

We may not see eye to eye here :)
posted by Leon at 5:48 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


"It frustrates me, because of their inability to own these actions and Christianity as one. I feel like, "Guys, your silence about this is why right wing pseudo-fascists are unquestionably allowed to represent Christians in the media and to politicians here. Your silence is why their anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-multicultural moral hysteria is becoming a cosign for popular Christianity, but guess what? You're just as Christian as them (for whatever it's worth). Why do you let these maniacs hijack the religious discourse in our country if they don't represent 80% of what you believe in and how you live?"

And also: "If you're prepared to let all this racist, homophobic, terrified claptrap get out there under the name of Christianity, maybe you need to think about how Christian you really are? Or maybe you need to think about how valid your religiously referenced ethics are, when the reality is you just seem to pick and choose what you feel comfortable with?"

It frustrates me."


smoke, you do know that you are posting this rant on an FPP about a woman who is in fact very vocally and effectively doing exactly what you are demanding that all Christians everywhere do right? That you're complaining to a room filled with Christians doing exactly this?
posted by Blasdelb at 5:55 PM on October 1, 2011 [9 favorites]


she has followed every rule in the Old and New Testaments

No, she hasn't. As others have said, I bet she hasn't killed anybody for breaching the laws in Leviticus that prescribe death for infringement.
posted by raygirvan at 5:59 PM on October 1, 2011


Guys, your silence about this is why right wing pseudo-fascists are unquestionably allowed to represent Christians in the media and to politicians here.

I can't speak for your friends but I can speak for the churches and Christians I know. There are lots of Christians and denominations who line squarely on the left on social issues and are "as full-on church" as any church your friends participate in. And a lot of why those Christians are on the "socially left" is because of the Christianity they practice and believe it. Is it going to match with everyone else? No. Christianity is a big ass tent and a lot of opinions are involved in it. Yet "those crazy evangelicals" posts on Metafilter do not define the media discourse when it comes to these topics and Christianity. You act like you're shocked that "the media" and "metafilter" tends to talk about the "sexy" part of religion. That's the thing about these conservative pastors, theologians, and other folks that get a voice on the media - they're confrontational, they're stubborn, they like to lay blame, and they don't mind standing up and yelling for their opinions. They're sexy and loud and they get media time. Same reason why Kim Kardashian is around, people still follow Lindsay Lohan, and sound bites get more play on cable news than any real dialogue. That culture feeds the discourse that you experience.

But for those of us inside the Christian community, our discourse is a tad bigger than that. We talk a lot. We argue a lot. And there are lot of churches that, like ThePinkSuperhero says, are busy working rather than being sexy. We have bigger fish to fry.
posted by Stynxno at 6:03 PM on October 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Next she's going to go around Ireland with a fridge, while trying to meet everybody called Dave Gorman.
posted by w0mbat at 6:03 PM on October 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't necessarily cotton to the historical Jesus stuff -- I don't really find that research angle fruitful

We may not see eye to eye here :)


I don't mean that I think historical context isn't important. It definitely is. What I don't necessarily think is fruitful is the attempt to pinpoint the actual historical figure of Jesus. I also think the attempts to de-mythologize Jesus (or the Gospels) is entirely misguided. The Gospels were not written to create a historical record. They were written to memorialize a mythology that grew up out of an oral tradition, so that that mythology could be shared with specific audiences.
posted by devinemissk at 6:04 PM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I agree about the purpose of the Gospels, but the purpose of historians is to extract signal from noise. I wouldn't call that misguided.
posted by Leon at 6:10 PM on October 1, 2011


It's that "presumed" that I'm struggling with. Paul may have been Roman but he was a leather worker - a skilled tradesman. I don't see any evidence that he was especially wealthy, or that he had patrons.

He, did though.
He later acts as the trusted agent of the Jerusalem church to the new foundation of disciples at Antioch (11:22-26), and as their agent to convey funds to the Jerusalem church during famine (11:29-30). These are not the actions of a mere artisan, but of a person of some wealth and standing. ... The most notable merchant with whom Paul has social contact appears to be Lydia of Philippi. On the sabbath, Paul approached a sacred grove where devout women gathered ("there was a place of prayer") and attracted the attention of Lydia, "from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods" (16:14). Wayne Meeks cites three things which indicate that she was no minor merchant, but enjoyed some wealth and status. ... The priests most frequently associated with Paul in the early part of his career were the elite high priests of Jerusalem, whom we located above in the governing class. Priests in other cities also had dealings with Paul. ... From an historical perspective one must wonder how aristocrats dedicated to the promotion of the cult of the Emperor were possibly interested in Paul and his monotheism. Yet Luke's rhetorical strategy concerning Paul's social location indicates that they were his "friends" and patrons. Moreover, if Luke's own portrayal of these figures as leading aristocrats is correct, then they hardly belong in the priestly class, but should be ranked higher in the governing class.
Paul could hardly have traveled as extensively as he did, nor for as long as he did, without the help of the wealthy and powerful. I think these contacts helped him influence the dogma of the early church; I would be more surprised if they had little to no influence. He needed to be able to reach people across cultures, and that would involve a greater flexibility of what was required of Gentiles, and of course a great amount of patronage.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:13 PM on October 1, 2011


the purpose of historians is to extract signal from noise

Which is fine if historians are establishing a context in which the mythology can be understood. But no when historians take materials that are, themselves, myth and try to create a historical narrative out of it. It's just as misguided as reading Genesis (particularly the second chapter of Genesis) as an accurate retelling of the beginning of the world. Knowing something about the people who wrote Genesis (or about the historical context for the oral tradition out of which Genesis arose) is important, but that doesn't mean Genesis itself is a historical document and should be read that way.
posted by devinemissk at 6:18 PM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Paul could hardly have traveled as extensively as he did, nor for as long as he did, without the help of the wealthy and powerful.

While I agree that Paul probably had wealthy patrons, that kind of sloppy statement pretty much exemplifies what I hate about a lot of biblical scholarship. Of course he could have traveled that much without wealthy patrons. It might not have been easy or common, but it's definitely possible to have happened.
posted by straight at 6:19 PM on October 1, 2011


Sure, I can abide that.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:21 PM on October 1, 2011


However, I'm not sure he could've gotten away with some of the things mentioned in the link without his connections (e.g., his tangle with the magistrates in Philippi). Which is why I think it helped the duration of his travels, as well as their breadth.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:28 PM on October 1, 2011


Marisa: that's what I was looking for, thanks. I will read and digest.
posted by Leon at 6:32 PM on October 1, 2011



smoke, you do know that you are posting this rant on an FPP about a woman who is in fact very vocally and effectively doing exactly what you are demanding that all Christians everywhere do right?


Indeed, I thought the implication was clear that I wish there was more of this kind of interrogation. Also, friend, I think you need to raise your rant bar a little higher. I'm sorry if I offended but that was pretty tame.

By the same token, I do find it interesting - as others have pointed out there's this kind of kind of clash going on between bible-as-history and bible-as-voice-of-god. I mean, taking a hermeneutic angle on it by way of Gadamer, it doesn't matter how closely or literally you follow those precepts - you cannot be the audience. The horizons - the totality of you and your experience, and the totality of the writers and intended audience - cannot meet. So I kind of feel like you're getting into some kind of rennaissance faire re-enactment territory, intentionality neither here nor there.


But for those of us inside the Christian community, our discourse is a tad bigger than that. We talk a lot. We argue a lot. And there are lot of churches that, like ThePinkSuperhero says, are busy working rather than being sexy. We have bigger fish to fry


Thanks, Styxno, that's really great for giving me the 'inside perspective' so to speak. I would be really interested to hear how your church responds to gay issues, if you've no objection to talking about it?

With my friends, for example, they go to churches where our mutual gay friends - or any out gay person - would be chased off with torches and pitchforks, and I feel like these friends of mine are, through both their silence and attendance, supporting organisations that directly hurt and harm our gay friends, and the no-doubt gay parishioners that attend in the closet. And I guess I have a lot of trouble understanding how they reconcile that with the friendships they have with our gay friends, you know?

Forgive me if this is coming across as trite or very naive - I've only been in a church like five times in my life, and all bar one were very milquetoast Anglican churches where pretty much anyone could come and think anything.
posted by smoke at 6:36 PM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fair enough. But even the traditional view acknowledges that none of the other Gospel writers knew Jesus, which was more my point.
I thought that the traditional view was that Matthew was one of the Twelve, and in at least some traditions both Mark and Luke were two of the Seventy.
posted by Flunkie at 6:43 PM on October 1, 2011


benito.strauss: "Why would she pay attention to the Jewish interpretations? Read the description under the photo in the NPR story: "She is seen here with homemade matzah toffee for Passover". Reason enough."

Yeah, for those who've never had it, matzah toffee is super delicious. It's the sort of thing that you really only eat during Passover and it's like, why only during Passover? This is amazing. And the truth is, Passover would be that much less bearable without the knowledge that there is some matzah toffee waiting for you that one time each year.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:03 PM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Smoke: I would be really interested to hear how your church responds to gay issues, if you've no objection to talking about it?

I'll let you know a little bit about the church I intern at on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in regards to gay issues. For almost a decade, we've been a "reconciling in Christ" church which is a label from an organization that says we're gay friendly. We have a large number of parishioners who are gay, one of our associate pastors is a lesbian and married, and the first wedding I attended there (last year) was an interfaith gay wedding. Our church was fairly active in promoting the recent change in our denomination that allowed openly committed gay pastors onto the roster (lots of them were already in the ministry, it just wasn't "officially allowed" until 2009). A lot of our church members lobbied for New York State to allow gay marriage. And we provide financial contributions and volunteers to a neighboring church who run a homeless shelter for LGBT youth. We're a Lutheran, traditional, Gospel centric, Christ centered, welcoming to everyone, medium sized congregation. We're not part of the circle that Rachel Evans runs because we're classified as a "mainstream protestant church" and we enjoy fancy denominational structures like bishops and stuff (though a lot of my brothers and sisters are trying to get that Evangelical label back - we Lutherans had that first).
posted by Stynxno at 7:12 PM on October 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


I would be really interested to hear how your church responds to gay issues, if you've no objection to talking about it?

I'm a Christian (Quaker), and my denomination has congregational autonomy, so there is no denomination-wide statement on gay issues. What has happened in many congregations is that congregations have issues statements such as
"We affirm our belief in that of God in every person. Furthermore, we attest that this belief embraces all persons regardless of sexual orientation. [We] affirm that all couples, including those of the same sex, have equal opportunity to be married within the framework of the meeting process. The love between these couples, as it grows, will enrich their relationship, the Meeting, and the world at large. The Meeting is committed to supporting these couples according to their needs."
Or
"We believe it is time to eliminate all policies and practices which create barriers and restrictions to the full participation of gay and lesbian Christians in all of the privileges and responsibilities of church membership. Recognizing that our churches still speak and act out of our long-standing prejudices: We hope and pray that we will acknowledge our sin and be forgiven for our ignorance, fear, arrogance and self-righteousness; We rejoice in the refusal of many gay and lesbian Christians to abandon or be forced out of their church homes; We consider these sisters and brothers to be a unique, holy and precious gift to all of us who struggle to become the family of God."
Since we have no clergy there's no issue about ordination, and since marriage is self-appointed there's no issue about marriage - in fact, this was among the first denominations to quietly begin honoring gay marriages in the 1980s.

I feel a responsibility to act ethically and to sincerely work on my own practice and religiously-related activism within my own faith group. I also speak out as much as possible to expand the definition of Christian views on social justice and policy - I don't want the definition of "Christianity" to default to "Socially conservative and bigoted Evangelical Christian," which is just one flavor, and not mine, or many others'. But like TPS, I agree that I don't represent or have much in common with evangelicals of any stripe. I oppose their forays into public policy that contradict basic human rights principles, and deplore their efforts to push their particular brand of religiosity into the civic sphere; but I expect I join with most other non-evangelicals in those efforts, whether they are Christian, some other faith, or no faith.
posted by Miko at 8:24 PM on October 1, 2011 [11 favorites]


Borked link about 1980s
posted by Miko at 8:27 PM on October 1, 2011


Jesus wept.

Here we go with more bible interpretation. Amazing how Evans filtered out what she thinks is not important. There are as many interpretations as there are people reading that blasted book.

Too bad most don't focus on the do unto others rule and abide by it.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:51 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks very much guys, I really appreciate you taking the time to share how your churches/practice respond to these issues, the diversity is really interesting.

I was talking to a Catholic friend about these kind of issues on facebook, and he made an interesting point that the perceived heterogeneity of Christianity and Catholicism in particular seems to differ a lot in countries which have been traditionally Catholic and those where Catholicism has seen itself as an embattled minority in the past (ie Australia, where we're both from). He feels that because of that history, there is much more of an impulse here to downplay the heterogeneity.
posted by smoke at 9:25 PM on October 1, 2011


The church we're members of (as opposed to the church where Stynxno works) is going to start discussing whether we will allow our pastor to perform same-sex marriages now that it's legal in NY. The pastor brought it to the council, and the council decided to let the congregation vote on it. There'll be some discussion forums over the coming months, and then we will vote on it, probably over the next 4-6 months (at least that's the tentative plan). I think the congregation will vote to allow it, but I also think the vote will be close and probably contentious. I wish there was a way to go about handling the issue where no one would feel angry, upset, or abandoned, but I don't see that happening and I'm sad about that.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:49 PM on October 1, 2011


2977

'Master: may I sleep with a man who I think is my brother to spite a romantic interest? He has no memory of our mother...I mean, his mother. Who is my mother. No, wait...'

'Hush, child. Still your mind be. Sleep with him, you may not. Only kissing is permitted. So written it was in Episode VI. Next!'

'No, a moment, please. We don't really know who wrote Episode VI. The Letters of Kershner...'

'Heresy, you speak! Next!'

'But master, in the Book of Alan Dean Foster, it was written that she may also wrestle with him playfully in the mud, for this is displeasing to the forces of the Dark One...'

'Foster! An accepted gospel, that is not!'

'But it predates Episode VI!'

'Silent you will be! Next!'

'Oh, master! I have killed a man who was wearing high heels in a wretched hive of scum and villainy!'

'Shoot first, did you?'

'Well, yes...I mean, isn't it written in Episode IV that I may?'

'Complicated, the scriptures are. Many versions of the truth there are. Episodeless. Theatrical. Special. Blu-ray. Holo...'

'...wait, why are you all arguing about imaginary people and events that were recorded two thousand years ago?'

'Strong with the Dark Side you are. Stoned to death, you will be!'
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:25 PM on October 1, 2011 [10 favorites]


Guys, your silence about this is why right wing pseudo-fascists are unquestionably allowed to represent Christians in the media and to politicians here.

This seems to be an increasingly popular style of argument.


"Liberals, your silence about the misdeeds of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro are why anti-democratic extreme socialists are allowed to represent the left in the media."

"Muslims, your silence about Osama bin Laden is why terrorists are unquestionably allowed to represent Muslims in the media".

"Moderates of X, your refusal to spend exactly as much time as I say to attacking extremists on your vague axis rather than promoting your actual beliefs is why I can lazily lump all of you together. By the way, however much time you spend doing that, it's never going to be enough to satisfy me. I'm not going to explain why it's your moral responsibility to defeat your roughly-aligned extremists, when it's not my responsibility to defeat my roughly-aligned extremists, it just is."
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:57 PM on October 1, 2011 [15 favorites]


Dude, I kinda feel you didn't really read my subsequent comment where I talk about how my friends' participation in homophobic churches contributes to an atmosphere of at best "love that dare not speak its name" gaze-averting, and at worst stigmatisation, harrassment and rights-attacking for gay people, both within their churches and without them. Maybe America is a lot more progressive than Australia in this regard, I suspect that may be the case.
posted by smoke at 12:06 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whenever I hear that somebody's going to do something for a year, I pretty much figure they're going for one of those blog-to-book-deal things.

This is my weakness, not theirs.
posted by box at 6:03 AM on October 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


There has been disagreement about what Jesus thought of the OT ruleset ever since he died, as evidence by the great circumcision controversy described in Acts (originally male converts were being asked to get snipped.)

The passage in Matthew about keeping the least commandment is somewhat isolated in the gospels. The other three books seem to focus more on what ended up getting Jesus killed: his often blunt and forceful message that compassion always trumps religious dogma. The story of healing on the Sabbath referenced above is not alone--it's almost like he went around on Saturday looking for rules to break in the name of compassion just to confront the hypocrites in charge. (Matt. 12, Mark 2, Luke 6, John 5,7,9) This led to one of his most important quotes: The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath. Whenever practical compassion demands it then the rules need to be abandoned.

Another way to incorporate the quotes supporting the OT law is to say that "fulfilling" the law is precisely to make it subject to the overriding rule of compassion. The OT law seems to be more or less designed to promote purity. Ideological purity first--the stories of stonings for what seem to be minor transgressions or blasphemies or just questioning the leadership remind me of the climate following any revolution you can think of. The post revolution days are characterized by purging the ranks of any sign of counterrevolution, e.g. Robespierre or Pol Pot or Stalin. On top of that racial and moral purity, extended to symbolic levels such as the rules about menstruation or disallowing anyone with a disability from ministry (Leviticus 21:16-21 is just horrifying).

So I can't decide whether the part where Jesus says to keep these rules is an editorial addition or the more subversive side of his assault on the immorality of the laws. For more subtle subversion of the OT law, of course, we have his negation of stoning for adultery via the addition of the request that the first stone be thrown by a sinless man. That's the kind of "fulfilling the law" that I can support.
posted by TreeRooster at 6:49 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


my friends' participation in homophobic churches contributes to an atmosphere of at best "love that dare not speak its name" gaze-averting, and at worst stigmatisation, harrassment and rights-attacking for gay people, both within their churches and without them.

I'm sure that's true, and it's lousy. But that's theirs to take on within their specific church, not mine to take on by getting involved in their specific church, which I just have no connection to and doesn't have anything to do with me directly. And I bet that your pointing this stuff out to your friends, within your friend relationship, is food for thought that might make a bit of a difference, but my pointing it out as a total stranger and someone they might just consider a total heretic would certainly not go very far.

I wouldn't be surprised, though, to see the Christian left more clearly emerging during this US election cycle. I'm a member of one such group on Facebook, and over the past year of its existence it's taken off like crazy, has been very active, and now has over 10,000 members.

You don't really get any more clarity over Biblical interpretation in the Christian left; it's definitely a social-gospel slant in which people are generally interpreting the references to Old Testament law 'fulfilled,' as considered to have had its place but to be done, retired, and superseded, and relies heavily on things like Matthew 7, in which Jesus says "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." And in the several episodes where Jesus negotiates with the conflict between the Law and the principles of compassion and love, he tends to oppose Pharisees and resist hardline law proponents, coming down regularly on the side of compassion (as in Matthew 12, Luke 6, and Mark 3).

I find these text sufficiently inspiring in a deep consideration of the role of law, rule, government and ritual purity in religion and life. To me, that's what they point to. But only a literalist or an apologist tries to make the Bible, a heterogenously messy collection of documents compiled through a milennia-long and highly political process, into an internally consistent dogma. In fact, that's what the FPP'er is trying to highlight: that the Bible translates very poorly as dogma, due to its very construction, and is simply not able to be applied as unified prescriptive document. By doing this she's being kind of incursive by illustrating that what dogma people have, must, then, come from some other place.

I'd venture to say that most liberally-minded Christians from mainline, non-Evangelical faiths that you might be most likely to find on MeFi are not literalists, and understand that the Bible is a complex text for all the reasons most of us would recognize, and so they don't tend to get hung up on these apologetics. I think this is pretty hard for people whose image of Christianity as rule-bound and prescriptive to understand, and you often get an accusation that it's slippery to focus on some messages in the text more than others; yet it is the de facto way most people of a very wide variety of Christian faiths practice, even though there are many Christian individuals who might think they do otherwise and so are inevitably hypocritical about it. The Jacobs book and this new book are here to poke at some of that hypocrisy. For the rest of us, we have the same questions as anyone else and we seek to reconcile them within our own practice, usually privately.
posted by Miko at 6:56 AM on October 2, 2011 [7 favorites]


Jinx, TreeRooster!
posted by Miko at 6:58 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


All this literalism is really difficult to understand. It's impossible to take the bible literally, it makes no sense. And I thought that was the point. The only things in the bible which are God's words are the ten commandments and the words of JC himself. All the rest is "historical" stuff, which must be seen in context. This is what I learnt in Anglican Sunday School and in protestant Danish obligatory religious education. At home, in my mixed-religious family (some Jews, some Catholics, some very religious Protestants, some fanatical atheists), the basic understanding was the same.
In practice: you go to Church on Sundays (none of the Jewish people were practising), a passage from the bible is read, and the pastor/priest gives his or her interpretation, then you go home and discuss it over lunch. No literalism, no authority except that which comes from being smart.
I understand the evangelists have stolen the word Christian from everyone else, but we aren't forced to oblige them.
posted by mumimor at 7:09 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


The only things in the bible which are God's words are the ten commandments and the words of JC himself.
Huh? There's lots of stuff in the OT supposedly quoting God. Not just the Ten Commandments. And the LORD God said unto Cain blah blah blah, and the LORD God said unto Job blah blah blah, and the LORD God said unto Satan blah blah blah, and on and on.
posted by Flunkie at 7:18 AM on October 2, 2011


Yeah, I know. But the way I was taught, that was all negotiable. You know, the profets were human, they might have remembered wrong, and anyway it was case-specific, yada yada. Personally, I ended up being atheist. But everyone I know had the same education. I've only heard of literalism as an adult.
posted by mumimor at 7:26 AM on October 2, 2011


I guess I just don't see why "whoever wrote it down might have remembered wrong" obviously applies to the OT minus the Decalogue, but obviously does not apply to the Decalogue and the NT.

In fact, in the New Testament case, it seems to obviously apply: The Gospels don't always agree amongst themselves on what it was that Jesus said, even while recounting the same story.
posted by Flunkie at 7:31 AM on October 2, 2011


"All this literalism is really difficult to understand."

There's a really good book called "God's Own Scientists: Creationists in a Secular World." It's a little hard to find (oh, wait, I see it's now on Kindle, rendering it easy to find!), but it's a sociological study of creationists, who are virtually all Biblical literalists, and the author does a really good job of digging into their motivations and understandings of the Bible, the church, and the world. Literalism is wrapped up in a whole host of other beliefs and anxieties, and when you start to look at them all together, you start to see the coherence and reasoning behind their apparently-unreasonable beliefs.

Not that they're right, of course. But it's a lot easier to argue against something when you understand its underlying motivations.

I'm glad it's on Kindle, I've been recommending this book to people for years!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:36 AM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Flunkie, I agree, which is one of many reasons I ended up atheist. To be fair, the believers I knew spent a lot of time worrying about the different Jesuses in the Gospel. But that is how we were taught. And there was certainly no literalism in it.
posted by mumimor at 8:07 AM on October 2, 2011


And eyebrows McGee, while the book looks interesting, I may save the link for later enjoyment, as I observe the gradual undermining of US Education from afar. Seriously, you reallyæ need to stop this craziness.
posted by mumimor at 8:12 AM on October 2, 2011


Her book Evolving in Monkey Town was excellent, and it put her on the map in the evangelical world. Her series where she has her readers ask various people questions is also pretty popular. This new book, on the other hand, seems to be basically a rip off of A.J. Jacobs' The Year of Living Biblically.

There's a few such books. Wasn't there a book several years ago - something with red lobster in the title? - that started it where a more sophisticated guy indulged in middle/lower class American activities for a year and wrote about it? It's kind of a hybrid of reality television - and I mean that in a good way - where someone tries to walk in the shoes of someone else for a long enough period of time that the human capital of their lives accumulates (a tiny bit anyway), and empathy forms.

This is really something we all should do. What Evans is doing is forcing herself phenomenologically to see the world from a particular subset of protestantism that elevates a particular religious lifestyle. Not only is this going to sell books - because it's funny, and easy to sell, and many are curious just hearing about it since so few of us really know what in the world such an experiment would entail - but it's also almost certainly going to give Evans compassion and understanding for that other group.

I resist all the time the opportunity to do this - particularly with religious folks who view the world and spirituality in a way that is orthogonal to my own. It's much easier to judge them and their views. What I like about Evans, and this comes across especially when you hear her talk in public but also in her blog writings, is that she seems to have prioritized empathy and social imagination. That is, to make herself imagine being someone who encounters some statement or set of actions or whatever. And she makes herself to do this to the point where she feels they are on her, so that she can respond. We all do that to a degree towards those we care about, but the Christian ideal is to do this also to our enemies. And that is what I think she does really well. I have really benefited from that part of her writing. I guess because it dovetails with my own more recent discoveries about the Christian religion. I would not have probably ten years ago.
posted by scunning at 9:04 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I've already seen that. It's just odd that she chose to follow the rules in the Old Testament since, as an evangelical Christian, she doesn't have to follow them. If she were Jewish, it would make more sense for her to have to sleep in a tent in her yard if she wanted to follow every rule pertaining to women. It's the Old Testament rules that she technically doesn't need to follow that are getting all the media attention. "Biblical womanhood" as discussed in evangelical circles does not mean all the rules about periods and hair.

"Biblical womanhood" absolutely does include the old testament teachings. Go pick up any random book by any of these writers and you will see the justification for gender inequality and prescribed roles rooted in the old testament as well as new testament interpretations.

Evangelical christians believe in the old and new testament, fwiw, almost without exception. To the degree to which they agree 100%, that's a different matter. But there's a reason they hold onto the old testament and not just the new testament. It's very common to see some statement of faith like "we believe the old and new testament are the inspired word of God" at the same churches or same groups that define gender roles explicitly in one way or another. For instance, the stuff on homeschooling and childrearing - that is highly correlated with the biblical womanhood stuff, and that is draws heavily from OT writings.
posted by scunning at 9:14 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wasn't there a book several years ago - something with red lobster in the title? - that started it where a more sophisticated guy indulged in middle/lower class American activities for a year and wrote about it?

Joe Queenan's Red Lobster, White Trash and the Blue Lagoon.
posted by box at 9:19 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Biblical womanhood" absolutely does include the old testament teachings. Go pick up any random book by any of these writers and you will see the justification for gender inequality and prescribed roles rooted in the old testament as well as new testament interpretations.


My point was that the rules she was following that are getting all of the media attention - sleeping in her yard during her period - are not in fact part of Christian biblical womanhood stuff. Sure, the gender roles are (the Proverbs 31 woman stuff is huge, for example) but not the issues and rules that she seems most eager to talk about. Almost without exception, Christian churches affirm the Old and New Testaments, but even the ones who inscribe complementarianism in their statements of faith are not going to hold to the specific rules.
posted by kingfishers catch fire at 10:29 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


The passage in Matthew about keeping the least commandment is somewhat isolated in the gospels. The other three books seem to focus more on what ended up getting Jesus killed: his often blunt and forceful message that compassion always trumps religious dogma.

What got Jesus killed is that he said he was God. When faced with a choice of death or renouncing that claim, he chose a painful, embarrassing, horrific way to die. Yes, he was hated for preaching that he was the fulfillment of the OT prophecies, and for preaching love over law, but it was the "I am God" thing that signed the death warrant.

Also, for all condemning Mark Driscoll, let me say this: the guy says stuff he shouldn't - less so in recent years, but it's a problem (sin, in his words). But he also apologises, asks for forgiveness, and removes the offending comments. You can certainly argue that he should have never made those statements in the first place, and I totally agree. But.

I've seen many, many, many people on the blue make comments far worse than Driscoll's and I have yet to see most of those people make an apology/confession with a request for forgiveness.

What impressed me about this thread though, is that I expected a monster flame-out; instead, the dialogue has been surprisingly civil and I really appreciate that.

And on the authorship of the gospels, Luke is considered to be one of the most trustworthy sources of the four gospels. He was a medical doctor and historian, and he was paid by a rich benefactor (Theopholus) to interview eyewitnesses and search out the truth behind the Jesus story; so even though it was written later, it was still based on eyewitness accounts. He is also the author of Acts and there is speculation that he was Paul's personal physician, as well as travel companion and convert.
posted by guster4lovers at 12:57 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


What impressed me about this thread though, is that I expected a monster flame-out; instead, the dialogue has been surprisingly civil and I really appreciate that.

I agree.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:27 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


The only things in the bible which are God's words are the ten commandments and the words of JC himself.

The official doctrine of the Catholic Church is that the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God. Not just the parts that start with "And God Said."
The Bible, as the inspired recorded of revelation, contains the word of God; that is, it contains those revealed truths which the Holy Ghost wishes to be transmitted in writing. However, all revealed truths are not contained in the Bible (see TRADITION); neither is every truth in the Bible revealed, if by revelation is meant the manifestation of hidden truths which could not other be known. Much of the Scripture came to its writers through the channels of ordinary knowledge, but its sacred character and Divine authority are not limited to those parts which contain revelation strictly so termed. The Bible not only contains the word of God; it is the word of God. The primary author is the Holy Ghost, or, as it is commonly expressed, the human authors wrote under the influence of Divine inspiration. It was declared by the Vatican Council (Sess. III, c. ii) that the sacred and canonical character of Scripture would not be sufficiently explained by saying that the books were composed by human diligence and then approved by the Church, or that they contained revelation without error. They are sacred and canonical "because, having been written by inspiration of the Holy Ghost, that have God for their author, and as such have been handed down to the Church". The inerrancy of the Bible follows as a consequence of this Divine authorship. Wherever the sacred writer makes a statement as his own, that statement is the word of God and infallibly true, whatever be the subject-matter of the statement.
Most Protestant sects, as well as (I'm fairly sure) Orthodox churches believe the same thing.
posted by empath at 3:00 PM on October 2, 2011


And on the authorship of the gospels, Luke is considered to be one of the most trustworthy sources of the four gospels. He was a medical doctor and historian, and he was paid by a rich benefactor (Theopholus) to interview eyewitnesses and search out the truth behind the Jesus story; so even though it was written later, it was still based on eyewitness accounts.

Where are you getting this from?
posted by empath at 3:02 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


The only things in the bible which are God's words are the ten commandments and the words of JC himself.

If you think of it all as compiled and reported much later, I'm not sure why these two things would be any exception, though.
posted by Miko at 3:06 PM on October 2, 2011


kingfishers catch fire "My point was that the rules she was following that are getting all of the media attention - sleeping in her yard during her period - are not in fact part of Christian biblical womanhood stuff. Sure, the gender roles are (the Proverbs 31 woman stuff is huge, for example) but not the issues and rules that she seems most eager to talk about. Almost without exception, Christian churches affirm the Old and New Testaments, but even the ones who inscribe complementarianism in their statements of faith are not going to hold to the specific rules."

ah, my bad. This is what happens when I get to the thread 100 comments in. I miss details like that.

To use your specific example of sleeping outside during menstruation, I completely agree. I have been in evangelical churches for 16 years, and that is one that is new to me. But, that said, the hermeneutic used to figure out which of these OT rules are continually binding and which are not is not super clear or consistent. There are subtle differences across churches, and as you move more into the homeschooling, gender role ones where those particulars have a central place in teaching, practice and so on, I think it's entirely plausible that a verse like that would not obviously be repealed.

Honestly, I've tried to forget all the stuff I once knew about this stuff, so I can't quite contribute intelligently to this. But I think what I'm trying to say, without providing specific evidence, is that I think it's not crazy that she would try to be exhaustive. Shy of actually killing someone or breaking some US statute, there's plenty of things women are prescribed to do and not do that could be practiced here but are often not. The reasons they aren't practiced is usually because they are either believed to have been a foreshadowing, or 'type', of the messiah's coming, and therefore no longer are binding. (This is usually why circumcision is said to no longer be binding - because it was a symbolic marker of the Messiah buried in the old practices). But laws on women and their menstruation cycle - those are not often mentioned. Go over a few more chapters, though, and you'll find plenty that are.
posted by scunning at 3:30 PM on October 2, 2011


Most Protestant sects, as well as (I'm fairly sure) Orthodox churches believe the same thing.
I can hardly speak for most Protestant sects, let alone Catholics or Orthodox, but I could look up what the State Church here believes, which is, humans wrote the Bible. The "Bible Society" refers specifically to the story of Cain and Abel, and says: (roughly translated) obviously, if Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel were the first humans, Cain couldn't ever have found himself a wife. So probably the story is about something else.

My Catholic family members were not very strong in scripture, but when I did my post-graduate studies, I had some discussions with Catholic clergymen because it was relevant for my case. As I understood it, they agreed that the bible was written by men, and that it was reasonable to doubt the literal text. I got the impression that Catholics were less literalist than Protestants.

I think a lot of bible-interpretation is culturally bound. You'll have different Catholicisms in France, Germany and Italy, not to mention Ireland and Spain, which are a lot more conservative and have had a lot more influence on the US. Everyone know there are different protestantisms, but maybe we don't think enough about the cultures behind these. Historically, literalism is at the core of Protestant belief, but strangely, it has almost died out in most European Protestant countries.
posted by mumimor at 3:42 PM on October 2, 2011


"Historically, literalism is at the core of Protestant belief, but strangely, it has almost died out in most European Protestant countries."

Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, John and Charles Wesley, etc., were emphatically NOT literalists. Literalism mostly rises in the U.S. from 1850-ish onward. There have always been pockets of literalism here and there, but the main bodies of the church have always rejected it; literalism as a broad movement is a very modern phenomenon.

You may be confusing sola scriptura -- scripture alone, a rejection of tradition (i.e., the Catholic hierarchy's rules and traditions) -- with being a biblical literalist. Or possibly the idea of Biblical inerrancy (no mistakes in the Bible) with being a literalist; one can still interpret in a non-literal fashion while believing the Bible inerrant. (Most denominations, even the most non-literalist, at least pay lip service to the idea of Biblical inerrancy.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:00 PM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


You may be confusing sola scriptura -- scripture alone, a rejection of tradition (i.e., the Catholic hierarchy's rules and traditions) -- with being a biblical literalist. Or possibly the idea of Biblical inerrancy (no mistakes in the Bible) with being a literalist; one can still interpret in a non-literal fashion while believing the Bible inerrant. (Most denominations, even the most non-literalist, at least pay lip service to the idea of Biblical inerrancy.)

Yes, I was. Sorry
posted by mumimor at 4:02 PM on October 2, 2011


But I must emphasize: even if Catholics seemed less literalist to me, the only real literalists I've ever met were North American or African, which proves your point, Eyebrows McGee.
Through work, even today I meet a lot of theologists of all denominations, and none have ever been literalist. A lot seem very worried that the American definition of "Christian" is spreading.
posted by mumimor at 4:21 PM on October 2, 2011


I think a lot of bible-interpretation is culturally bound. You'll have different Catholicisms in France, Germany and Italy

Very true. I experienced that after coming to the US from Italy in the late sixties. After the second Vatican Council, Catholicism in Italy turned to emphasis on social justice and on actions opposing the powers that created social injustice. I found Catholicism in the US still preoccupied with theological considerations rather than praxis, and given the numerous choices available in this country I started church hopping until I found a reasonable fit in the UCC, a Covenant based (i.e. non Credal) church.

I'm an agnostic who has chosen to participate in a church community. Years of observing, as an outsider, American life in the South and in the Midwest has convinced me that belonging in a community is made much easier through membership in a church. Neighborhoods and their fences or work places do not seem to facilitate friendships as easy as a church environment does.
posted by francesca too at 4:22 PM on October 2, 2011


Does anyone have an easy to follow progression of how the whole Jesus thing took off in the years, decades and centuries following his death? Islam seems pretty easy to understand in comparison.
posted by tarvuz at 5:18 PM on October 2, 2011


I didn't say anything about literalism. But the official Catholic doctrine is that the Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible. If you guys care to quote the 'official' positions of whatever church you like re: the author of the Bible, feel free. But I'm fairly sure that most protestant churches believe the same.
In the Nicene Creed Christians confess their belief that the Holy Spirit "has spoken through the prophets." This creed has been normative for Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans and most mainline Protestant denominations. As noted by Alister E. McGrath, "An important element in any discussion of the manner in which Scripture is inspired, and the significance which is attached to this, is 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which speaks of Scripture as 'God-breathed' (theopneustos)." According to McGrath, "the reformers did not see the issue of inspiration as linked with the absolute historical reliability or factual inerrancy of the biblical texts." He says, "The development of ideas of 'biblical infallibility' or 'inerrancy' within Protestantism can be traced to the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century."[32]
People who believe in inerrancy think that the Bible does not merely contain the Word of God, but every word of it is, because of verbal inspiration, the direct, immediate word of God.[33] The Lutheran Apology of the Augsburg Confession identifies Holy Scripture with the Word of God[34] and calls the Holy Spirit the author of the Bible.[35] Because of this, Lutherans confess in the Formula of Concord, "we receive and embrace with our whole heart the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountain of Israel."[36] The apocryphal books were not written by the prophets, by inspiration; they contain errors[37] and were never included in the Palestinian Canon that Jesus used,[38] and therefore are not a part of Holy Scripture.[39] The prophetic and apostolic Scriptures are authentic as written by the prophets and apostles. A correct translation of their writings is God's Word because it has the same meaning as the original Hebrew and Greek.[39] A mistranslation is not God's word, and no human authority can invest it with divine authority.[39]
posted by empath at 5:32 PM on October 2, 2011


Does anyone have an easy to follow progression of how the whole Jesus thing took off in the years, decades and centuries following his death? Islam seems pretty easy to understand in comparison.

I'll give it a try, but it was a pretty complex political situation, so this is highly simplified.

In the 1st century, following the events narrated in the New Testament, the apostles/disciples and Paul traveled around, telling people about Jesus, doing what some would call "church planting." These "churches" are presumed to have been home-based and meetings/gatherings most likely consisted of retelling the stories about Jesus, reading letters from other churches, and probably sharing a meal.

The "Jesus party" (as many refer to it) spread and grew, with churches being founded throughout the known world (there were early churches in India), and there are a lot of hypotheses for why it became relatively popular. (Note that estimates are that, until the 4th century, Christians never represented more than about 20% of the population. However, there were a lot of religions floating around at this time, so that 20% figure is probably also a pretty respectable number.) At any rate, it's not totally clear what it was about Christianity that appealed to people -- perhaps it was the general "message" or perhaps it was sociological (some historians believe that the early Christians tended to focus on helping others, for instance, leading them to have better survival rates from disease/plague). Whatever the reasons, the Jesus party spread throughout the Roman Empire.

The very early Jesus party didn't really attract a lot of negative opinion, with periodic exceptions (Nero blaming the Christians for the burning of Rome is a good example). There were isolated persecutions, but by and large, in the late 1st century and into the 2nd century, the Jesus party flew under the radar. But by the end of the 2nd century and into the 3rd century, Rome started to take notice of the Jesus party/early Christians, and decided it didn't particularly like it. This probably wasn't because of monotheism -- after all, Rome had tolerated Judaism for a long time -- but there's not a lot in the historical record explaining it. Whatever the reason, this is when you start seeing the martyrdom narratives -- Christians thrown to the lions, etc.

At some point in the early 4th century, Helena, Constantine's mother, converted to Christianity. Through her influence, Constantine himself eventually converted. (The story goes that he had a dream/vision in which God told him that he would win a pivotal battle only if he went into battle bearing the cross as his standard. Constantine swapped his banner for one with the cross on it, and won, and he therefore converted.) Constantine was the first Christian emperor of Rome, and after him, more or less all of the Roman emperors were Christian. By the end of the 4th century, Rome itself was Christian and paganism had been outlawed.

This is just the political snapshot -- there was a lot going on within the early church. For instance, in the two centuries after the events of the New Testament, the Jesus party grew apart from, and eventually became distinct from, Judaism. Competing "flavors" of Christianity arose, and to combat splintering, bishops of the various churches would gather together periodically. But, really, there's not a lot of historical material from the 2nd and 3rd centuries, so we don't know a lot about the internal development of Christianity until the 4th century. The Council of Nicea took place in 325 and more or less represents the beginning of the more formalized church that became the Catholic Church.
posted by devinemissk at 6:02 PM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


There's some debate about how Christian Constantine himself really was.
posted by empath at 6:05 PM on October 2, 2011


There's some debate about how Christian Constantine himself really was.

Absolutely true. But there's no question that he used Christianity to expand his empire. Whether he actually believed or not...who knows.
posted by devinemissk at 6:11 PM on October 2, 2011


In the tradition I belong to, no view of the Bible's role is prescribed or demanded, and the Bible is considered a 'secondary' authority along with other texts, including texts from other faith traditions, essays, etc. Generally the focus is on the immediate personal experience of the Holy Spirit (Inner Light, etc., it's variously termed) and since text from a variety of traditions occasion direct revelation, the Bible is not the sole source. It seems like the use of the Bible would not fare well in this philosophy, but I would say that the Bible is still the central shared text of religious study and conversation in the faith, having been so important in giving rise to the tradition itself.
posted by Miko at 7:04 PM on October 2, 2011


But by the end of the 2nd century and into the 3rd century, Rome started to take notice of the Jesus party/early Christians, and decided it didn't particularly like it. This probably wasn't because of monotheism -- after all, Rome had tolerated Judaism for a long time -- but there's not a lot in the historical record explaining it.

If I can pipe in a bit from the Roman side:

Christianity started to be a problem for Rome for two real and concrete reasons: 1) being a Christian, like being a Jew, means denouncing all other gods and 2) Christianity, unlike Judaism, is evangelical.

Jewish monotheism was a problem in the Roman empire, but because the Jewish population didn't expand except by reproduction (and along with that, Judaism was basically an ethnicity), it was easy enough for the Romans to manage (in times of struggle) and accept (in times of peace). Monotheism was problematic in the Roman empire until Constantine because monotheism explicitly forbids participation in the state religion, which was an encompassing part of political and social life. Even countries that have a state religion now don't have the same intricate state-religion interplay that Rome did. The various other religions you hear of floating around the Mediterranean at this time (Mithraism, Isis and Serapis cults, Sol Invictus) were not at all monotheistic, but just focused on one favorite god out of an ever-expanding pantheon. Rome's issue with the Christians was the exponential growth of this group of people whose spiritual, economic, etc. loyalty was not only outside the state, but fundamentally denied the legitimacy of the (polytheist) state.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:10 PM on October 2, 2011


Does anyone have an easy to follow progression of how the whole Jesus thing took off in the years, decades and centuries following his death? Islam seems pretty easy to understand in comparison.

The historicity of Jesus has never been established because there are no contemporary references, and not for lack of authors. There is considerable growing doubt as to his existence as described, and these doubts have been shaped by the popularity of other savior cults in the region whose followers cultivated grain and honored their bread sacraments, and tended their crucifixion and resurrection myths accordingly. What set Christianity apart from the original cult of Osiris, and offshoots in the form of Dionysus, Mithra, Attis, Adonis and Demeter, was the idea that he was once a human who rose from the dead (although a bit of imagination is still needed here if you include a virgin birth, etc.). Nevertheless, the human part was unique to the savior dogma generally. Also, the popularity of Christianity is rather straightforward since it took off among women and slaves who weren't usually invited to worship with the nobility, who favored Sol Invictus, and so ancient leaders felt they had to blend the two together and suppress the others, as a state religion. If you consult a horoscope daily or go to church on Sunday, consider yourself heir to some important Mithraic rituals.

Here's the often confusing part though. The history of Jesus was pretty much supplied directly through the Essenes (such as John the Baptist), and the story of Jesus was probably used by those who exploited the fact that the Jewish messiah was very late in coming. So, basically, the story of Jesus would have appeared because the messiah never showed up. By this assumption, the disappointed would have naturally decided that the messiah died in obscurity, as a martyr, about two generations previous to their legends of him. Not too hard to believe as legends are born. Anyway, what's showing up now in the scholarship are the notions that the legend of Jesus was honestly paved by authors who were trained to practice Homeric mimesis, in veneration of Jesus, however, not Odysseus. That's might be difficult for some to understand, but here is a link.
posted by Brian B. at 8:22 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Man, reading the intricate arguments about biblical interpretation makes my head spin! No wonder so little progress was made for the subsequent ~1500 years. Its like Jesus opened up a spam window in IE 3 that kept spawning daughter new windows and it took humanity all those years to finally close them all.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:13 PM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Does anyone have an easy to follow progression of how the whole Jesus thing took off in the years, decades and centuries following his death?

I wrote this Brief and Annoying History of Religion in the West a while ago.
Early and Middle Christianity
For a while a few people in the Greco-Roman world had been interested in the religion of the Jews: it was intriguingly exotic and there were a lot of them scattered around as a result of various political calamities. It didn't take off though: the purity laws were dauntingly strict and for men even involved having a bit of your penis chopped off: this was a lot more likely to happen if you were a baby male rather than an adult able to resist.

Eventually Romanized Jew named Paul, a follower of a deceased Jewish revivalist preacher, hit on some radical new ideas. The teachings of his guru superseded the old law so much that you could eat pork and retain the whole of your penis. The humiliating execution and death of the guru, formerly an embarrassment, turned out to be a symbolic sacrifice like that of the Jews' Passover lamb, which absolved you of your sins in the same way, without the inconvenience of travelling to the single Jewish Temple.

You still kept the morally good single God rather than those embarrassingly degenerate polytheistic ones, and you put your money together and helped out your buddies in the group, which was a big practical help in an uncertain world. Also by combining a few cryptic passages in the old masters recorded speeches with some of the wilder philosophical speculations, he discovered that if you were good and stuck to the new rules, Jehovah would resurrect you after death and grant you eternal life.

It was a good package. This new cult proved popular and spread, not explosively but steadily, expanding converts by a few percent every year.

Remarkably this growth continued for centuries: normally people got tired of new cults and drifted away to others. Even more remarkably, it kept growing despite persecution; first by polytheists disturbed by dark rumours and the refusal of the cultists to sacrifice to their gods; then officially by the Roman state, disturbed by the thought of a rival authority to the Imperial cults.

Things really took off when a first would-be, then actual Emperor, called Constantine started favouring the new cult, probably even converting to it himself at some point. He recognized that their hierarchical structure of priests and bishops could be powerfully useful if they could actually agree on what they believed in.

There was a great diversity of beliefs at the time. Paul had shrewdly made the main focus of the religion the persuasive but safely out-of-the-way preacher Jesus the Anointed (Christ), not himself. But some of the Christians thought Jesus to be divine, some human, some followed more of the older Jewish laws, some thought there were two Gods one of the old and one of the new scriptures.

It was all a bit of a mess, so Constantine brought as many bishops as he could together at the Council of Nicea, dangling before them the vast and juicy carrot of acceptance as a state religion, and subtly thwacking the stick of more state persecution into the palm his hand. Eventually they thrashed out a compromise. Jesus was, um, wholly human and wholly divine.

Not everyone agreed to the new settlement of course, but a few decades of official persecution, now aided by their more cooperative Christian brothers, meant that those-who-believed-correctly (the "orthodox") kept a firm supremacy over those-who-chose-what-to-believe (the "heretics"). Half a century later emperor Theodosius finished the job of making Christianity the official state religion. By now the bishop of the Rome was capo di tutti capi.

So now the most persuasive religious deal in town was packaged up with the power of the Imperial Roman state. Popularity of the religion rocketed. When a few Emperors later one called Julian the Apostate tried to roll back the changes, the new religion was too strong, resisted, and made even more gains after his death. Christianity was now a big deal, and would remain so even as the power of the Western Roman Empire waned.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:11 AM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why has the church in general decided to accept Paul's version as more authoritative than Jesus' or those who were closer to his teachings?

The general thrust of Jesus' message to the Jewish leadership was that obedience to the law itself was not sufficient for holiness. In many ways he repudiated the reliance on the law and was in this way quite counter cultural. Paired with Peter's post resurrection revelation about unclean versus clean animals and Paul's explicit statements about a new covenant you can begin to see how the narrative of Jesus and Peter/Paul are complementary. It isn't without some head scratching, such as when Jesus claims that he comes to fulfill the law, but on balance the message is one of a new covenant.

I'm with others who are perplexed at Christian projects to live according the Old Testament law. I respect their pious intent but living a year applying the sermon on the mount would be more apropos.
posted by dgran at 8:52 AM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


The historicity of Jesus has never been established because there are no contemporary references, and not for lack of authors.

If you want to go deep on this subject, you could do no better I think than to check out the research done in the book (series) Marginal Jew by John Meier. It has been a while since I read it, but the author does a very good job of analyzing several contemporary references to the historical Jesus. From what I recall the weight is solidly on the side of Jesus existing, but there is some ambiguity about whether some accounts should be attributed to him or to John the Baptizer.
posted by dgran at 8:58 AM on October 3, 2011


I'm with others who are perplexed at Christian projects to live according the Old Testament law. I respect their pious intent but living a year applying the sermon on the mount would be more apropos.

Perhaps it's their way of commenting upon Bible literalism? Sometimes, just saying to the people who scold and holler about a couple of specific things that "well, God also says you're not supposed to eat shrimp or wear linen/wool blended fabrics" carries the risk of them blowing you off. But if you actually make a point of a Public Experiment, the people whom you're trying to reach actually see what a 100% literal adherance looks like, and it may make more of an impact.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:03 AM on October 3, 2011


living a year applying the sermon on the mount would be more apropos.

I smell a book deal! And you know, it would be a lot harder to pull off.

Perhaps it's their way of commenting upon Bible literalism?

I think this is exactly what's going on here, especially with this new book. It highlights hypocrisy, sheds some light on the impact and to some degree impossibility of living a modern moral life under the Law, and makes it a topic for conversation.
posted by Miko at 10:07 AM on October 3, 2011


...the author does a very good job of analyzing several contemporary references to the historical Jesus. From what I recall the weight is solidly on the side of Jesus existing,

There are a lot of different opinions about this. The Pagan Crist by Thom Harpur, for example, argues that there probably was never a man called Jesus.

If I'm not mistaken, there are no accounts from contemporaries of Jesus. Even the famous Josephus was born after Jesus would have died.
posted by beau jackson at 10:56 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, thanks for the post, it's very interesting.

At one point I was also an evangelical who was trying to come to terms with how salvation through Jesus and belief in a compassionate God squared with all kinds of judgemental and presumptious beliefs about other people (homosexuals, non-Christians etc...).

Eventually I let go of the underlying belief that I needed salvation and that it could only come through Jesus. The other dielemmas just went away.

There are a lot of things I like about this person and she seems to be very sincere. But, in my opinion, it's hard, maybe impossible to fully take on homophobia, extreme judgy-ness and other evangelical hubris, without letting go of the idea that it's possible for humans to be so sure about who God is and what He intends.
posted by beau jackson at 11:41 AM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


The historicity of Jesus has never been established because there are no contemporary references, and not for lack of authors.

Actually, our records of the time period is extremely fragmentary, with most of the extant documents being copies of copies of copies that are a thousand years more recent than the events they record (surviving manuscripts of the New Testament are rare exceptions in how much closer to the original time period we have surviving copies). How many works of Josephus or Pliny, or Tacitus are we missing? We don't know. We know of some names of lost works that appear in lists by other people, but have no idea how complete those lists are.

Arguments based on lack of surviving references to events from that time period (unless you're talking about something completely society-shaking like a major war, and even then...) are just silly.
posted by straight at 1:45 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Straight, I don't quite follow your logic. Why is that argument silly? It seems like the lack of contemporary manuscripts is consistent with us not being able to know for certain if Jesus was, or was not, a real person.
I'll emphasize that you quoted someone arguing, not that Jesus didn't exists, but that "his historicity has never been established"- in other words, we don't quote know for sure. That position seems to be consistent with the state of available manuscripts from that era.
posted by beau jackson at 3:48 PM on October 3, 2011


Paul is the founder of the Christian church, not Jesus (although Jesus is the Christian Messiah). Jesus was a reformist Jew, Paul was the beginning of what we recognize as Christianity, because of the split from Old Testament law. This was the key political moment in the founding of the new church. That's how I understand it anyway.

As dgran said above, Christ and Paul have complementary and not contradictory interpretations.
posted by zipadee at 3:59 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Beau Jackson, the quote I was responding to said, "The historicity of Jesus has never been established because there are no contemporary references, and not for lack of authors." Which makes it sound like we have copious records from the first century from which Jesus is conspicuously absent. But we actually have extremely fragmentary records from the first century. My point was that we most definitely have a lack of authors.
posted by straight at 12:18 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Paul is the founder of the Christian church, not Jesus

Scholars debate the question, but since there's not much evidence one way or the other outside of the New Testament, it's possible that Acts is correct, that there was a significant Christian Church started by Jesus' followers in Jerusalem (with offshoots in other parts of Palestine) worshiping Jesus as the Messiah before Paul got involved.
posted by straight at 12:23 AM on October 4, 2011


But we actually have extremely fragmentary records from the first century. My point was that we most definitely have a lack of authors.

I'm a Roman historian (IAARH?). Although the first century BC is honestly one of the better-attested periods (Golden- and Silver ages of Latin and all that), you're right that we can't make an argument out of a lack of sources-- it's not like we have tax returns for every Roman citizen or anything. But there are quite a few histories from the first century that are very well preserved, and those historians would have had access to (and did liberally quote) the sources that are now lost to us. Whether Roman historians until Tacitus-- who does talk about Jesus and associates him with Pilate, a real and verified historical figure, but doesn't write until the early 2nd century-- even knew about Jesus is probably more at work here than a complete dearth of sources.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:58 AM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


My point was that we most definitely have a lack of authors.

Thanks for the clarification, straight.
posted by beau jackson at 7:09 AM on October 4, 2011


Whether Roman historians until Tacitus who does talk about Jesus and associates him with Pilate, a real and verified historical figure, but doesn't write until the early 2nd century-- even knew about Jesus is probably more at work here than a complete dearth of sources.

Doh! I somehow had Tacitus in my head as first century when I threw his name in there (IANARH).

But yeah, even if you take the New Testament completely at face value, it's not clear Jesus or his followers would have made a big enough splash in the first century to for sure get noticed by a Roman historian who was writing at the time. And it's quite possible he got noticed by contemporaries whose writing hasn't survived.

But there are quite a few histories from the first century that are very well preserved

For most of those there's a 800-1000 year gap between when they were written and our earliest surviving copies. (Whereas the gap for the New Testament manuscripts is more like 200-400 years, with a few surviving fragments maybe only 100 years later.) That's not necessarily reason to say the histories aren't well-preserved (or even less well preserved than the New Testament), but I think it warrants a certain level of modesty in making historical claims about the first century.
posted by straight at 10:16 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


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