Therefore, as has often been said, the soul yoked together with the Word of God is led into an understanding of the Law by roaming through each of the decrees of Scripture, and by tasting the flavors of the divine Books in every vessel of the wine cellar, as if drunk on the wine of joy, made from hope of the blessedness to come — which is why it suits her to say later that she is “weak with love.”
Category Archives: Patristics
I’m looking into Apponius’ comments about ordered and disorderly charity/love (charitas ordinata and inordinata), and it turns out that St. Jerome said something about that.
Letter 60 is a condolence letter written to his friend Heliodorus, bishop of Altinum, on the occasion of his nephew Nepotian’s death. Nepotian had been a Roman soldier but spent his pay on charity. When he got out of the army and went to live in Altinum, to learn from his uncle, he “went through the usual stages and was ordained a presbyter.”
Jerome had various things to say about Nepotian. In conversation about Scripture, he “would listen modestly, answer diffidently; support the right and refute the wrong, but both without bitterness; and instruct his opponent rather than vanquish him.” He “would frankly confess from what sources his several arguments came… This, he would say, is the opinion of Tertullian; that, of Cyprian; that of Lactantius, that of Hilary; Minucius Felix speaks to this effect; thus Victorinus; and Arnobius after this manner. Myself, too, he would sometimes quote….”
But here’s the money quote: “By assiduous reading and long-continued meditation, he made his breast a library — of Christ.”
Here it is in Latin: “Lectioneque assidua, et meditatione diuturna, pectus suum bibliothecam fecerat Christi.”
After a lot of hints and outright pleading, Jerome had written one of his letters to Nepotian (Letter 52), and Nepotian loved it so much that he kept it on his person, re-read it to himself and others, and sometimes inadvertently slept with it. Ha! (But you can’t blame him.) The letter was a treatise on the duties of the clergy, and Nepotian took it to heart. He left his priestly tunic to Jerome, as a final gift, while he was dying.
But the memorial letter also talks about a few other things.
Nepotian was a guy who, along with all his charity giving and work, “while he despises himself in the flesh and walks abroad… in his poverty, he still seeks out everything that may adorn the church.”
He was also a guy who “took pains to keep the altar bright, the church walls clean from soot, and the stone floor swept. He saw that the doorkeeper was constantly at his post, that the door curtains were at the doors, the sacristy clean, and the vessels shining. The careful reverence that he showed in every holy ritual led him to neglect no duty, small or great. Whenever you would expect him to be in church, you found him there.”
Furthermore, he was also an artist: “…he adorned both the basilicas of the church and the halls of its martyrs with sketches of flowers, foliage, and vine tendrils; so that everything attractive in church… bore witness to the labor and zeal of the priest set over it.”
Jerome consoles his friend Heliodorus for his loss as uncle and bishop, and hints that Nepotian had been the obvious next candidate for bishop to succeed Heliodorus at his passing. But he advises Heliodorus not to grieve too much, so as not to seem like a disbeliever or give a bad example.
“What is desirable is to appear as if he is absent from you, not dead; as if you await him, not as if you had lost him.”
It’s a good letter, with a lot to chew on.
(Translation slightly altered from the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers translation, over on New Advent. Because I am picky.)
UPDATE: St. Heliodorus of Altino was in fact the first bishop of Altino/Altinum. His relics were translated (ie, moved) to Torcello during a time of barbarian invasion, so you’ll find his remains in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta there. His feast is on July 3.
St. Nepotianus of Altino’s feast is on May 4.
American Catholic highlighted Jerome’s comment about Nepotian, back in 2018.
It turns out that Dorothy L. Sayers wrote a _lot_ of cathedral and radio plays, but that only some of them were available in print in the US – until recently. Wipf and Stock put out a series of reprints earlier this decade. You can get them on paper for about $20, or as Google Play ebooks for about $5 less.
The Emperor Constantine is a pretty fun play that was written for the (Anglican) Colchester Cathedral folks. Using the old legend that Constantine was the grandson of Coel Hen (Old King Cole of Colchester through his daughter Helena), Sayers created a hometown proprietary interest in Constantine and the exciting events of his reign, as well as his successes and failures at being a good emperor and a good Christian man.
One of the important features of the play is a “courtroom battle” at the Council of Nicaea, using what we know about the speeches given at the Council by Arius (in defense of his novel system of Arianism) and Athanasius (speaking for orthodoxy and his elderly bishop, Alexander).
Which brings us to the old Big Finish audio play, Doctor Who: The Council of Nicaea, by Caroline Symcox. Symcox is married to BBC writer Paul Cornell, and she’s also an Anglican curate. Supposedly she put a lot of study into this audio drama, but it is riddled with inaccuracies and/or outright lies.
The entire plot of her story is that Erimem, a pagan ancient Egyptian queen traveling with the Doctor, is determined to get Arius a chance to speak at the Council of Nicaea. (When actually, Arius was practically the first guy to speak! It was Athanasius who had to get special permission to speak for his bishop, because he was considered too young to formally participate in the Council.)
Arius was 60, and Athanasius wasn’t even 30 yet. Of course, the audio play portrays Arius as being younger than Athanasius, and Athanasius as being an old stick in the mud. It just boggles the mind. There’s also a lot of confusion of the way various eras of Egyptian monks acted. And so much stupid.
Symcox also insists through several characters that there is not much importance to the question of whether Jesus Christ was God Almighty from all eternity, or just a sort of hemi-demi-semi god. The whole Council of Nicaea is silly; everybody just wants to oppress free thought and Arius; and Christianity is mean to women. (Remember that she is an Anglican curate in the UK. She gets paid by her government to teach Christianity.) It’s slightly more subtle than that, but not much.
And yet, Symcox had a good feminist example before her, in the form of Sayers’ play. Sayers is a giant part of Anglican and English literary culture, as well as BBC history. I can’t imagine that Symcox was totally ignorant of Sayers’ play. If she was, why was she?
It’s amazing how many layers of goodness and fun, as well as deep thought and interesting characters, can be found in Sayers’ play — even though it’s just a minor work in her portfolio.
And it’s just as amazing how many layers of stupidity and malice can be found in stuff written by SJWs, purely for SJW reasons.
(And yet, believe it or not, they have a whole series of Erimem novels in the UK now, just as they have a whole series of novels about the execrable Bernice Summerfield. Blehhhhhhhh.)
I didn’t find much online about the Fathers’ opinion of 1 Corinthians 11, so I went looking and found some interesting stuff.
In defending St. Paul’s statement about “the head of Christ is God” not being Arian or Adoptionist or anything derogatory to the divinity of Christ, St. John Chrysostom actually shows his feminist side! Woot!
From “Homily 26 on First Corinthians”, Section 3.
“Here the heretics rush upon us with a certain declaration of inferiority, which out of these words [“the head of Christ is God”] they contrive against the Son.
But they stumble against themselves. For if “the man be the head of the woman,” and the head be of the same substance with the body, and “the head of Christ is God,” the Son is of the same substance with the Father.
“Nay,” say they, “it is not His being of another substance which we intend to show from hence, but that He is under subjection.”
What then are we to say to this?
In the first place, when anything lowly is said of Him, conjoined as He is with the Flesh, there is no disparagement of the Godhead in what is said, the Economy admitting the expression.
However, tell me how you intend to prove this from the passage?
“Why, as the man governs the wife,” says he, “so also the Father, Christ.”
Therefore, as Christ governs the man, so likewise the Father governs the Son. “For the head of every man,” we read, “is Christ.”
And who could ever admit this? For if the superiority of the Son compared with us, be the measure of the Father’s compared with the Son, consider to what meanness you will bring Him. So we must not try all things by like measure in respect of ourselves and of God, though the language used concerning them be similar; but we must assign to God a certain appropriate excellency, and so great as belongs to God.
For should they not grant this, many absurdities will follow. Such as this: “the head of Christ is God:” and, “Christ is the head of the man, and he of the woman.” Therefore if we choose to take the term, “head,” in the like sense in all the clauses, the Son will be as far removed from the Father as we are from Him. Nay, and the woman will be as far removed from us as we are from the Word of God. And what the Son is to the Father, this both we are to the Son and the woman again to the man. And who will endure this?
But do you understand the term “head” differently in the case of the man and the woman, from what thou dost in the case of Christ?
Therefore, in the case of the Father and the Son, we must understand it differently also.
“How understand it differently?” says the objector.
According to the occasion. For had Paul meant to speak of rule and subjection, as you say, he would not have brought forward the instance of a wife, but rather of a slave and a master.
For what if the wife be under subjection to her husband? It is as a wife — as free, as equal in honor.
And the Son also, though He did become obedient to the Father, it was as the Son of God, it was as God.
For as the obedience of the Son to the Father is greater than we find in men towards the authors of their being, so also His liberty is greater. Since it will not of course be said that the circumstances of the Son’s relation to the Father are greater and more intimate than among men, and of the Father’s to the Son, less.
For if we admire the Son — that He was obedient so as to come even unto death, and the death of the cross, and reckon this the great wonder concerning Him — we ought to admire the Father also, that He begot such a son — not as a slave under command, but as free, yielding obedience and giving counsel. For the counsellor is no slave. But again, when you hear of a counsellor, do not understand it as though the Father were in need, but that the Son has the same honor with Him that begot Him. Do not therefore strain the example of the man and the woman to all particulars.”
Heh. Anyway, the rest of his comments are a bit less feminist… but still, a lot more feminist than some people online!
Another goodie from the collection at Tertullian.org! This one is adapted from the Syriac version of St. Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Luke, which he apparently gave as a series of sermons. The 1859 translator was R. Payne Smith, a sublibrarian at the Bodleian Library who also edited and published the Syriac manuscript.
So here’s St. Cyril on eggs and Lk. 11:12, in Sermon 79.
“….We sometimes draw near to our bounteous God, offering Him petitions for various objects, according to each one’s pleasure — but occasionally without discernment, or without any careful examination of what truly is to our advantage, and of what, if granted by God, would prove a blessing; and what would be to our injury, if we received it.
“Rather, by the inconsiderate impulse of our fancy, we fall into desires replete with ruin, and which thrust the souls of those that entertain them into the snare of death and the meshes of hell.
“When, therefore, we ask of God aught of this kind, we shall by no means receive it. On the contrary, we offer a petition fit only for ridicule.
“And why shall we not receive it? Is the God of all weary of bestowing gifts upon us?
“By no means.
“‘Why, then?’ someone perhaps may say, ‘Will He not give, since He is bounteous in giving?’
“Let us learn from Him. Or rather, you have already heard Him here saying, ‘What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?’ (Lk. 11:12)
‘Understand,’ He says, ‘by an image or plain example taken from what happens among you, the meaning of what I say.’
“‘You are the father of children; you have in you the sharp spur of natural affection towards them; in every way you wish to benefit them. When, therefore,’ He says, ‘one asks of you bread, without delay and with pleasure you give it, as knowing well that he seeks of you wholesome food. But when, from want of understanding, a little child that knows not yet how to distinguish what it sees, nor moreover what is the service and use of the various objects that fall in our way, asks for stones to eat, do you,’ He says, ‘give them? Or rather, do you not make him desist from any such desire as would be to his injury?’
“And the same reasoning holds good of the serpent and fish, and the egg and scorpion. If he ask for a fish, you will grant it. But if he see a serpent, and wish to seize it, you will hold back the child’s hand. If he want an egg, you will offer it at once; and encourage his desire after things of this sort, that the infant may advance to riper age. But if he see a scorpion creeping about, and run after it, imagining it to be something pretty, and being ignorant of the harm it can do, you will, I suppose, of course stop him, and not let him be injured by the noxious animal.
“When therefore He says, ‘You who are evil’ — by which He means, ‘you whose mind is capable of being influenced by evil, and not uniformly inclined to good like the God of all’ — ‘You know how to give good gifts to your children. How much more shall your heavenly Father give a good spirit to them that ask Him?’ And by ‘a good spirit,’ He means spiritual grace. For this in every way is good, and if a man receive it, he will become most blessed, and worthy of admiration.
“Most ready, therefore, is our heavenly Father, to bestow gifts upon us; so that whosoever is denied what he asks, is himself the cause of it. For he asks, as I said, what God will not give…
“Examine, therefore, your prayer. For if you ask aught, by receiving which, you will become a lover of God — God, as I said, will grant it. But if it be anything unreasonable, or that is able to do you an injury, He will withhold His hand.
“He will not bestow the wished-for object, in order that He may neither give you anything of an injurious nature — for this is completely alien from Him — nor let you harm yourself by receiving it.”
In Aelfric of Eynsham’s homily, “On the Greater Litany” (“In Letania Maiore”), he also draws from St. Augustine’s egg material when quoting Lk. 11:12.
“God is our Father through his mildheartedness [ie, mercy]. And the fish betokens faith, and the egg, holy hope; and the loaf, true love.
“God gives these three things to His chosen, for no man can have God’s kingdom unless he has these three things. He must believe rightly, and have hope in God, and have true love for God and men, if he would come to God’s kingdom.
“…The egg betokens hope. For the birds do not propagate like other animals, but first give birth to an egg; and then, with hope, the mother raises that egg to be a bird. In like manner, our hope does not yet come to what it hopes for, but is like an egg. When it gets what it has been promised, it will be a bird.”
This translation is adapted from The Homilies of the Anglo-Saxon Church, Vol. 1: The Sermones Catholici, or Homilies of Aelfric, by Benjamin Thorpe.
In Sermon 105, c. 4-10, St. Augustine elaborates further on the symbolic meaning of the “three opposing” choices of gift in this passage, and he gives the egg a little more credit. Here’s the egg parts from chapters 5-10:
“What’s left is hope — which, it seems to me, is compared to an egg. For hope is for a thing that has not yet arrived; and an egg is something, but it’s not a hen yet.
“And so quadrupeds give birth to children, but birds to a hope of children.
“Therefore, it is for this that hope cheers us on: that we may despise present things and hope for what is to come, forgetting what is behind us, when we are reaching forward along with the Apostle [Paul]. For he says it this way: ‘But one thing I do: I forget what is behind in stretching forward to what is ahead, leaning toward the finish line, to win the palm leaves of the supernal vocation of God in Christ Jesus.’
“Nothing is such an enemy of hope as considering what is behind us — that is, to put hope in those things which cross our path and slip past us….
“Be afraid of the example of Lot’s wife. For she looked behind her, and she stayed where she looked. She was turned into salt; she was pickled in brine as an example for the prudent.
“The Apostle Paul has spoken about this hope, like this: ‘For we are saved by hope. But hope that is seen, is not hope. For why does a man hope for what he sees? But if we hope for that which we do not see, we wait for it with patience.’
“‘For why does a man hope for what he sees?’
“There is an egg. It is an egg, and it is not a hen yet.
“And there is a turtleshell. The turtle is not seen, because it is covered by the shell. With patience, it can be awaited. Let it warm up, and it will come back to life.
“Work toward this finish line: to lean forward, to forget the past. For the things which are seen are temporal things.”
“‘Not looking back,” he says, ‘at what is seen, but considering what is not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal things, but the things which are not seen are eternal.’ (2 Cor. 4:18)
“Therefore, reach out your hope to those things which are not seen. Wait for them! Hold on! Don’t look back!
“Fear the scorpion coming for your egg! See how it strikes with its tail, which it holds behind it.
“Therefore, don’t let the scorpion kill your egg! Don’t let this world kill your hope, I tell you, with the poison that’s behind it, which goes against you!
“How much the world says to you! How much ruckus it makes behind your back! It’s all so you will look back — that is, put your hope in things of the present. But not really of the present — they can’t be said to be things of the present, because they don’t stay that long.
“And it’s so that you will move your hope away from what Christ promised and has not yet given you, but which He will give because He is faithful. It’s so that you will turn your soul away, and wish to quit, still in this dying world.
“…If I have hope, if I hold onto hope, my egg will not be struck by the scorpion.”
“…All those who blaspheme against our Christ because of these adversities — they are the tail of the scorpion.
“Let us put our egg under the wings of this Gospel hen who clucks, ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem,’ to those false and wandering ones. ‘How often would I have gathered together your children, as the hen gathers her chicks? But you would not.’
“It is not said to us: ‘How often would I’ and ‘You would not.’
“For this Hen is the Divine Wisdom. But He assumes flesh so that He may fit with His chicks.
“Look at the other hen – the one of molting plumage shaking her wings, with a voice broken and quavering and weary, and sluggish to gather her little ones.
“Therefore, let us put our egg — that is, our hope — under the wings of this Hen over here.
“Perhaps you notice how a hen can peck up a scorpion. So therefore, would that this Hen would also peck up and devour these blasphemers, creeping out of their caves and crawling across the earth, and stinging us with evil! Let the Hen drag them into her Body and turn them into eggs!
“…Let them stop blaspheming. Let them learn to adore. Let the stinging scorpions be eaten by the Hen, and be converted by being drawn into the Body! Let them be trained on earth, and crowned in Heaven.”
This is actually topical, as one of the old games with Easter eggs was to knock your egg against that of a neighbor at table, and see which egg was the strongest.
In Sermon 61, St. Augustine references Luke 11:12 and other passages to show that, even when we are wicked, the Father still loves us and is good to us.
Sermon 61, 1-2:
“A wonderful thing, brothers! We may be evil, but we have a good Father.
“…Therefore, brothers, since we evil ones have a good father, let us not remain evil forever.
“Nobody evil does good. If nobody evil does good, how can an evil person do good to himself?
“The One Who is always good makes good out of evil… We know He gives His children good things ‘according to the time’ (Rom. 9:9): good temporal things, good bodily things, good carnal things, even when we may be evil.
“And what are these good things, if you doubt them?
“Fish. Eggs. Bread. Fruit. Grain. This light, this air. These things which we observe — they are good.
“Men are celebrated for such riches, and they do not recognize other men as their equals in such things — in things, I say, for which men are celebrated — loving flashy clothing, rather than considering the same skin that’s underneath.
“These riches are good things, all the same. But all these good things which I have mentioned, they can be owned by either good people or evil.”
Tertullian also references Luke 11:12 in his book Against Marcion, lib. IV, c. 26. (Adapted by me from Peter Holmes’ 1870 translation.)
“Even if he has offended, man is more friends with the Creator than with Marcion’s [demiurge] god. Therefore he knocks at the door of Him to whom he has the right to come — the One Whose gate he could find, Whom he knew owned bread, Who will be home in bed with the children Whom He had willed to be born. Even if the knock comes late, Time belongs to the Creator.
“…So recognize Him Whom you call the Creator as Father, too. It is He Who knows what His children need. For when they asked for bread, He gave them manna from heaven… not a snake instead of a fish, or a scorpion instead of an egg.
“…Marcion’s god, on the other hand, doesn’t even have a scorpion to give away, so he couldn’t deny what he didn’t own. Only God could do it — He who holds, but does not give out, the scorpion.”
I think I will look around and find some egg quotes in the Fathers. Here is one.
From St. Bede’s commentary on Luke (Lk. 11:12):
“‘Aut si petierit ovum, numquid porriget illi scorpionem?’
“In ovo, indicatur spes. Ovum enim nondum est foetus perfectus, sed fovendo speratur.”
“‘And if [a man’s son] should ask for an egg, will [his father] hand him a scorpion?'”
“Hope is shown in an egg. For an egg is not yet a complete offspring, but it is hoped for and kept warm.”
Bede seems to have gotten this from St. Augustine’s Letter 130 to St. Proba, “a religious handmaiden of God.” She was a nun who wrote letters full of questions, to folks like St. Jerome and St. Augustine. This letter was one of the many answer- slash- treatises she got from these guys.
“‘Aut si ovum petit, numquid porrigit ei scorpium?’ …
“Spes in ovo, quia vita pulli nondum est, sed futura est, nec iam videtur, sed adhuc speratur. Spes enim quae videtur, non est spes.”
“‘But if he asks for an egg, will he hand him a scorpion?’…
“Hope [is signified] in the egg, because the life of a hen is not yet there, but it is coming; nor can it now be seen, but it is still hoped for. For ‘hope which can be seen is not hope.’ (Rom. 8:24)
Augustine and Bede both compare the fish, egg, and bread to faith, hope, and charity; whereas the snake, scorpion, and stone represent the devil making unbelievers in God, worldliness making unbelievers in eternal life, and the hardheartedness making people who have no charity.
You’ll also notice that St. Augustine is using a cool (but more inaccurate) Old Latin translation of the Bible, because the Vulgate hadn’t been finished yet. And both versions of the Bible use “numquid,” a question word indicating that the answer is “No.”
St. Augustine is going by the state of the art, when it comes to Greco-Roman natural philosophy. But St. Bede seems to indicate more clearly that an egg is alive — just not ready to go.
I suspect that monastic life in England included more contact with chicken coops than the life of a minor North African Roman aristocrat, or a bishop in Hippo.
[Previously posted, in somewhat different format, as a comment over at Crossover Queen.]
Michael Heiser is a pretty solid Bible scholar. His POV is that he is trying to understand the Bible solely based on the text while ignoring theological tradition. (Hence the title of his podcast, The Naked Bible Podcast.) Of course, you can’t necessarily do that, so he spends most of his career trying to understand the Bible via archaeological, cultural, and historical info. As for his religious POV, I think he’s some flavor of evangelical.
I really enjoyed his podcast series on the Book of Ezekiel. It gave a very nice explication of the literal sense of the text, along with a lot of secondary cultural material that greatly helped. He also had pictures and articles to download from his site, such as pictures of various archaeological discoveries of “chariot thrones” with angel and wheel supporters, found in countries around Israel.
Anyway, the guy has a couple of books out on supernatural angel-related stuff in the Bible, and comparing it to various Phoenician, Sumerian, etc. materials about the same thing. The Unseen Realms is the first one, and it’s available for free on Kindle Unlimited. Reversing Hermon is his more recent one. I read Unseen Realms too fast and missed some of his more startling/iffy bits, until he quoted them in Reversing Hermon.
The downfall of drawing your own conclusions is that you can be led into things like “Hit the button on the astro software, and decide what must be the Star of Bethlehem!” My older brother is an astronomer, so I’ve seen huge numbers of theories about the Star of Bethlehem. I was not impressed by his “Rosh Hashanah must be the real Christmas!” theory, mostly because I’ve seen a lot of the same astronomical material used as an interesting coincidence with the Virgin Mary’s traditional (East and West agree) birthday in September. His theory is a much better grade of “just suppose,” but interesting and academic doesn’t mean closer to reality.
The basic deal with Reversing Hermon is that a lot of Near/Middle East cultures had this idea that they got civilization skills from seven minor deity/angelic sages (who came from heaven or from the ocean). The sages taught humanity all sorts of things, married human women, and had kids who were human on the outside but minor deities/angels/spirits on the inside. And the same thing was true of their grandkids and so on. All the divine-descended people were taller than regular mortals, stronger, great warriors and sorcerors, etc., and had all the awesome skills that the sages taught. Various folks like Enkidu and Gilgamesh had this background.
But they didn’t live forever, and if you killed them their deity/angel/spirit half took over and became a vengeful spirit, punishing humans and haunting various spooky places. They also had their own realm, “the Great Land,” which was underground under various sacred mountains, the Dead Sea, etc. The Canaanites were very big into this, and very big into appeasing them or getting a specific Baal “Lord of the Dead” to keep them under control, because the giant dead running back and forth from their Great Land were a lot more dangerous than normal human dead people in Sheol.
Heiser shows that a lot of the stuff in the Bible about giants is from the POV of Israel putting a different spin on their neighbors’ stories. The sages were really evil rebel angels. The skills taught by the “sages” included a lot of things that Jewish people saw as inimical to good life and civilization, not foundational to it. Giants were mostly not good guys in life, either; they are people possessed by evil spirits or allowing themselves to be used. God was in the process of defeating the rebel angels, their evil descendants, and the evil Rephaim spirits. Heiser also theorizes in Reversing Hermon that a lot of Jesus’ actions, and His Incarnation, were part of showing humans the truth about the ultimate defeat of said rebel angels, giants, and evil spirits.
I thought the thesis was pretty interesting, and the gathering of sources was, too. Obviously Jesus did have a fair number of agendas going on, and spiritual warfare was clearly one of them. What I objected to was the conclusions and uses he made from the material. There was a lot of stuff that had me rolling my eyes and looking dubious, including the Rosh Hashanah Christmas thing.
And then, when you work your whole book up to “And Catholics totally don’t understand the rock/gates of Hell speech, but my theory won’t give satisfaction as to why Peter gets called Rock,” you are going to make us Catholics start looking like an eye slot machine. (Because there’s always another theory about how we’re wrong, and they’re all different except about how we’re wrong this time.)
Also, a lot of his pointing out that various “mighty men” references could also be giant references (based on some good Septuagint translation weirdness), led up to an assertion that the “gebirah” (great woman) stuff in the history chronicles, and the “valiant woman” stuff in Ruth and Proverbs, was not about Israel and Judah’s kings having their moms act as queen mother councilors or about smart ladies doing cool things, but about giantesses with wicked skills. (Okay, he didn’t come right out and say that, but that’s what I was seeing.) Possibly this was on purpose, possibly it was a consequence of his thesis. But either way, it ended up as an indirect swipe at recent Bible scholarship (mostly by Catholics) about how queen mother gebirah imagery relates to the Virgin Mary, among other Bible ladies. I have read a lot of gebirah research stuff, and other scholars have found that there is tons to relate it to similar stuff in neighboring cultures. It is the sort of thing that Heiser would normally like, or at least want to integrate with the giant interpretation thing. I could think of several ways to do that, on my way to the refrigerator.
So yeah, several places strike me as him having a minor Catholic allergy that is getting in the way of his thinking. Disappointing, but maybe he’ll get over it and come up with some fun stuff in a few years. He does make good use of Catholic scholars like Bergsma, Pitre, Hahn, etc., so he’s not suffering from anything serious.
My real problem is that, by separating Bible studies from doctrine or interpretation, he is basically creating an interpretation that is at odds with Christianity. Pagan ideas about the nature of things like the seven (or nine, or twelve) sages are not just morally wrong; they are factually incorrect. So just because Bob and Tanith Canaanite may have believed in vengeful rephaim ghosts, and some Biblical times Jews may have also believed in them, isn’t it somewhat important to point out that demons are full of BS, and stories about them also tend to be factually incorrect? Doesn’t it seem more like Jesus was striking against the BS, rather than worrying about descendants of giants roaming the earth? The fact that all this kind of lore has become very minor and forgotten would tend to argue that the Church didn’t really want to focus people’s attention on this stuff.
I was also not happy about his podcast interviewing some people going out and doing various kinds of “deliverance ministry” and spiritual warfare based on his books. I mean, you can like a scholar’s work pretty well without being willing to trust your life or your soul to his conclusions! He’s not trying to be a cult leader and I don’t find anything creepy in his work, per se; but there are some kinds of materials that just attract… overly enthusiastic… responses. I don’t know that he’s really taking that into account enough. (To be fair, however, he’s starting some kind of anti-Bible-conspiracy-theories video series soon, so maybe he is thinking about this stuff.)
But as a sourcebook for Near/Middle East mythos material and fiction ideas, The Unseen Realms is good and so is Reversing Hermon. And it is Bible fun, which is always fun to consider. Just don’t take it as Gospel.
Santa Sabina has door panels that are very old (fifth century, AD 432) and which have some very old versions of standard Christian iconography. Things just aren’t drawn the same way they would be drawn later, and there are more things drawn in terms of ancient pagan or Jewish artwork.
So here’s Jesus, raising Lazarus from the dead, multiplying loaves and fishes, and changing water into wine. But on Santa Sabina’s doors, Jesus uses a wand.
Why? Probably because Moses used a staff, and many people and gods of the ancient world bore rods or wands as symbols of their rightful authority. Jesus is the New Moses and He is also God, so Him using a wand is sort of like Him carrying a scepter.
And sure enough, here’s Moses using a wand instead of a staff in a picture of the staves and serpents.
Here’s a video of the doors with the light falling on them, showing all kinds of detail and how they look on the actual church. Pretty nifty! Unfortunately, the guy doesn’t show all the panels in closeup. (I guess he was only interested in certain ones.)
The basilica of Santa Sabina was built on top of an old temple of Juno; its pillars are reused in the basilica. The basilica’s windows are made of translucent selenite instead of glass. This video in Italian shows a lot of details of the church and its surroundings. It also shows it being used as the Station Church for Ash Wednesday. It was given to the Dominicans in the Middle Ages, and St. Thomas Aquinas once taught there.
A fitting thought, with Advent almost here….
“Insert yourself into this secret between both the One Unbegotten God and the One Only-begotten God!
“Dive into the hidden place of this unimaginable Nativity!
“Start out, run forward, keep going!
“Even though I know you won’t get there, I will congratulate you for what you will accomplish. For one pursues the infinite things with dutiful tenderness; and even if one never catches up to them, one still will profit from having gone out.”
“….insere te in hoc secretum, et inter unum ingenitum Deum, et unum unigenitum Deum, arcano te inopinabilis nativitatis immerge.
“Incipe, procurre, persiste:
“etsi non perventurum sciam, tamen gratulabor profecturum. Qui enim pie infinita persequitur, etsi non contingat aliquando, tamen proficiet prodeundo.”
St. Hilary of Poitiers, De Trinitate, lib. II, c. 10.
“Incipe, procurre, persiste!” seems like a great motto.
“For the best reader is one who can look for the meaning of what is said in what is said, rather than what he imposes on it; and who can take that meaning rather than bring in his own; who can pick up what is seen to be contained in the words, rather than what he presumed to have understood them to contain before reading them.”
St. Hilary of Poitiers, De Trinitate, lib. I, c. 18.