School is in session! The first classes at Autodidactic University have commenced and I’ve begun several ‘classes.’ I’m going to record the most interesting parts from my readings right here for posterity. If I mention something you’d like to know more about, let me know. I’ll try to write an essay on it and I’ll post it right here on Thoughts from Canaan. I hope you enjoy reading my thoughts as much as I enjoyed having them! “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” – 2 Peter 3:18
(Also, if you click on the book titles you’ll be brought to Amazon where you can purchase the book for yourself. If you buy it through these links, I’ll get a portion of the sale.)
Reading: Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History
In the 4th century, Eusebius of Caesarea (also known as the “father of Church history”) wrote one of the very first history books of the Church. This is a book that I’ve owned for who-knows-how-long (it’s one of those books that is on the shelf of every student of the Bible) but have never gotten around to actually reading. Since I decided to make early church history a primary part of my study for this year I figured Eusebius’s book was the place to start. This is, after all, where church history did start. After a quick introduction that briefly summarized the contents of the ten ‘books’ contained in his Ecclesiastical History, I got right into the meat.
Interestingly, Eusebius doesn’t even get to talk about the church in the first (of ten) book. If I was going to write a book on Church history, I’d probably start with Christ’s ascension. Eusebius doesn’t. Instead, he begins by arguing for the historicity of the Christian faith in general (and of Christ in particular). Keep in mind, when this history was written, the Church was less than 300 years old. Many people who opposed the church charged that she was just a faddish, novel religion that had no real historical roots. Eusebius spends several chapters in the first book answering this claim. He addresses the claim by making reference to a number of Old Testament messianic prophecies which spoke of Christ long before his birth (a lot of very common apologetic verses which are still used today). However, the more interesting point that he makes (and it’s one that I’d never heard before) is that Moses renamed Hosea Joshua as to foreshadow Jesus (in Hebrew, Joshua and Jesus is the same name, see Numbers 13:16). It’s an interesting thought since the renaming does seem to come out of nowhere and since Joshua is definitely a type of Christ in many ways. Eusebius also argues that all of God’s people who lived pre-Abraham (and even Abraham, pre-circumcision) were Christians, “though not in name.” Why? Because they walked and lived in simple faith.
Another interesting tidbit that I picked up in today’s reading was how Herod (you know, the one that had all of the babies in Bethlehem murdered in hopes of killing Jesus) died. Apparently, he died in such excruciating pain that Josephus (and apparently others living at the time) believed that his death was “God inflicting punishment for his crimes.” The most disturbing thing about his death though (it actually gives the baby-murdering incident a run for its money in sheer insanity) was how he gathered “the distinguished men of every village from the whole of Judea” and had them locked up in an arena. You see, he knew that everyone would be happy when he finally kicked the bucket, so he wanted all of men murdered once he died so that “every house, though against their will, may be compelled to weep at my death.” That, my friends, is one sick individual.
The last chapter of ‘book one’ is the supposed account of a King Agbarus, “who reigned over the nations beyond the Euphrates.” Apparently, the king was sick and had heard about Jesus’ ministry so he wrote him a letter (“greetings to Jesus…I have heard the reports respecting thee…thou art the son of God…visit me….”). Well, according to Eusebius, Jesus WROTE BACK! And Eusebius got a copy. Here’s what Jesus had to say:
Blessed art thou, O Agbarus, who, without seeing, hast believed in me. For it is written concerning me, that they who have seen me will not believe, that they who have not seen, may believe and live. But in regard to what thou hast written, that I should come to thee, it is necessary that I should fulfill all things here, for which I have been sent. And after this fulfillment, thus to be received again by Him that sent me. And after I have been received up, I will send to thee a certain one of my disciples, that he may heal thy affliction, and give life to thee and to those who are with thee.
Eusebius writes that these letters as well as a brief history of the events was “preserved down to the present day” in the “public records of the city of Edessa.” I thought the whole episode was extremely fascinating and I’d never heard anything about it before. Now, is it true or not? I don’t know. I guess you’d just have to trust Eusebius.
Reading: Interpreting Bible Texts – The Pentateuch
My second ‘class’ for the day was the Pentateuch (a.k.a. the Torah or Genesis/Exodus/Leviticus/Numbers/Deuteronomy). Now, I’ve spent a lot of time in the book of Genesis and a decent amount of time in Exodus but I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve neglected my study of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy when compared to other books. Fortunately, this book that I’m going through has gotten me excited about really digging into all five of these inspired books.
Terence Fretheim, the author of ITB: The Pentateuch, is a Lutheran professor who would probably fall into a more theologically liberal camp than myself. Fortunately, I still found plenty of wheat to enjoy chewing on. He briefly goes over the way scholars have interpreted these books in the past by summarizing the documentary hypothesis (the theory that the Pentateuch was written/edited by 4 primary authors) and source-criticism (a skeptical view of the scriptures that questions everything about its origins). I enjoyed learning more about the way scholars view the scriptures even though I tend to be more conservative (I believe Moses wrote the bulk of the Pentateuch even though there may have been editors later who compiled it into its present form). I really wish he would’ve elaborated more on some of these theories because from what he did write, it felt very speculative and subjective. Oh, and I did enjoy the part where he admits that there is a great deal of continuity through all five books (more than would probably be evident if four completely different people actually wrote and edited it together the way most scholars believe).
In the second chapter, Fretheim goes on to discuss the major themes that appear in Genesis 1-11 and in Deuteronomy. He persuasively argues that these are the very themes that are expanded on in greater detail throughout the rest of the Pentateuch. God reveals himself as creator, judge, elector, savior, covenant-maker, blesser and law-giver in Genesis 1-3. It is this same God that continues to act in these same ways throughout the rest of scripture. The consistency is beautiful. The ending of the Pentateuch is also examined and I really enjoyed how he points to the fact that the book doesn’t close with all of the loose-ends neatly tied. Instead, it’s left open and points to what’s next: Joshua. That’s how God always works, isn’t it? It’s not over until it’s totally over. God will be working in and through us as long as we let him.
The Doctrine of Creation
Reading: Christian Theology: An Introduction
I really love reading anything Alister McGrath writes. I may not agree with everything but I do always enjoy his writing/thought process. I’ve had this introduction to Christian theology for a while but I’ve only read a little at the beginning. Today, I read the short section on God as Creator and, as I thought I would, I enjoyed it. Part of the section is taken up with more esoteric questions of ‘how’ God created and ‘when’ God created; these kind of questions may be a nice mental exercise but they are of little spiritual/practical benefit. To me, the best part of this section was that one titled, ‘Creation and Christian approaches to ecology.’
For too many Christians (myself included), anything that even remotely smacks of environmentalism is opposed because of the earth-worship that so often characterizes ‘environmentalists.’ But just as worshiping ‘mother earth’ is wrong; so is shirking our God-given mandate to be good stewards of God’s good creation. Last year I read a book on Celtic spirituality and this is one of the issues that kept coming up: God has created this world and we should enjoy (not exploit) it. I haven’t gotten to really spend a lot of time thinking on the ‘how’ but it’s definitely something that I want to explore further.
The Book of Genesis
Reading: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture – Genesis 1-11
This is a series of commentaries that I’ve really enjoyed. It goes verse by verse and includes passages from sermons, letters, books, etc. which were written by the early Church fathers. The authors are incredibly varied and include names that some people would deem heretical. Regardless, there are usually some really good nuggets in here. Unfortunately, nothing really jumped out at me in my reading today. Maybe tomorrow.
Christian Biography: Clement of Alexandria
Reading: Clement of Alexandria
Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot to say about this one. I got through the first five chapters but Hitchcock still hasn’t even gotten around to really talking about Clement. Instead, he’s given a short history of the city of Alexandria (Clement’s hometown) and the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament). Both of these are issues that are central to Clement’s life but I’m fairly familiar with them so they didn’t do a whole lot for me. Hopefully tomorrow’s reading will be a little more interesting.