Monday, December 11, 2006

The Science of Archaeology & the Old Testament

How does science help us understand the Bible. The full ACT seminar in New York will be delivered in 2007. This lecture was delivered at the December 2006 session of Project Timothy at City University of New York’s Hunter College in Manhattan.

Archaeology is the study of antiquity by examining material remains of past human life and activities. It uses modern scientific methods to recover these material remains and infer the meaning of the past, of ancient humans, and his environment. But archaeology is not an exact science – in fact, no science is an exact science. The only exact field of inquiry is mathematics, and that is not strictly speaking, a science.

Biblical archaeology operates at the intersection of theology and history with the tools of science expressed in technology. It shows vividly the importance of science for religion. This interaction is an important element of ‘iron sharpening iron.’ The art and science of biblical archaeology exposes both the science of religion and the religion of science. No religion exists without an appeal to the scientific explanation of reality. By the same token, no science can thrive without faith in even though scientific progress demands the demise of previous achievements.

Old Testament archaeology is the selection of evidence for these regions and periods in which the peoples of the times lived. Why is archaeology important to Old Testament studies? They provide extra-biblical confirmation of many details of biblical history and acts as correctives to many erroneous interpretations. This means that the art and science of biblical exegesis and hermeneutics relies a great deal on inferences we draw from archaeology. Hence, our understanding of the sciences as well as the artistic imagination of the human mind shapes the way we interpret archaeological evidence. This in turn shapes our interpretation of the Bible itself.

Archaeology has rediscovered whole nations, resurrected important peoples, and in a most astonishing manner filled in historical gaps, adding immeasurably to the knowledge of biblical backgrounds.

In Palestine, of the 6000+ archaeological sites that have been surveyed only about 200 have been excavated to some extent, with around 30 sites excavated to any major extent. Of the estimated 1 million documents recovered from OT times, less than 10% have been published. The typical time between recovery and publication is 10 years since almost all archaeologists work only during the summer months, when they are not teaching. The precise locations of many OT places remain in dispute because of uncertainty and changing local names.

3 Points to remember:

1. Archaeology is essential to properly understand the historical context of the Bible. The Bible relates a literary, elitist version of the religion of Israel, whereas archaeology reveals the social context of Israelite religion, including folk religion and counterculture.

2. The Bible, while not a book of history, should be considered a book with elements of history. Despite the ideological slant of the biblical authors, the Bible contains verifiable historical data.

3. Archaeology cannot either prove or disprove the Bible.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Inter-Testamental Period of Palestina

A brief history of 'Palestina' during the period between the Old and New Testaments.


What happened in the biblical lands during the period book-ended by accounts mentioned in the Old Testament and the New Testament writings? In the Prostestant canon of 66 books, which excludes tha Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha, not much is stated regarding events after the return of some of the exiles from Babylonia to Jerusalem. The New Testament begins with annunciation to Mary, that she will bear a child who is to be named Jesus.
Please note that while the OT describes events up until the 500s B.C., their dates of composition are largely undetermined with certainty. Similarly, the NT describes events from about 4 B.C. but they were first composed around the 50s A.D. The inter-testamental period therefore covers a period in excess of 500 years. To put this in perspective, it spans a period from the time of William Shakespeare to our own time.
This is the reason why students of the Bible find the resources of this period very important to set biblical history in context. It also greatly aids our interpretation of texts we encounter in both the OT and the NT. A study of this period also links biblical history to secular socio-political history of the Near East and affirms many of the historical claims found in both the testaments.

Powers that ruled Palestina

539-331 B.C. Persian Rule

331-143 B.C. Grecian Rule

142-63 B.C. Hasmodean Rule

63-4 B.C. Roman Rule

The Rise of Cyrus (626-539 B.C.)

The death of the Assyrian King Asshur-bani-pal in 626 B.C. set in motion a series of political events in the Near East that led to the surprising emergence of Cyrus of Anshan (tributary to the Medes) less than a hundred years later. By 608 B.C., Judah, which had been under Assyrian control, was now ruled by Egypt. But this did not last very long.
In 605 B.C., Pharaoh Necho was soundly defeated at the great battle of Carchemish by the upstart Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, who was destined to lead Babylonia to replace Assyria as the superpower. Misled by Egypt, King Jehoiakim of Judah revolted against Babylon in 597 B.C. despite the protests of the prophet Jeremiah. Jehoiakim died before the arrival of Nebuchadnezzar. His son Jehoiachin reigned for only 3 months – his singular achievement being the decision to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar. He was taken captive and died in Babylonia. His uncle Zedekiah was appointed the new puppet-king of Judah. After 10 years, Zedekiah himself was enticed by the Egyptians to revolt against Babylonia. This time, the response from Babylonia was staggering. King Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple in 586 B.C., sending yet another wave of captives into exile – destroying any remnant of the monarchy or of the nation of Judah.
Gedaliah was appointed governor of Judah with Jeremiah as the Babylonian-approved prophet. However, one Ishmael murdered the governor and his entourage, prompting a surviving senior official, Johanan, son of Kareah, to flee to Egypt, taking Jeremiah with him for safety (Jer. 41:11-18). The situation for the Jews was politically hopeless. They looked to the kingdom of Media for possible salvation, hoping that it could topple Babylonia. But that was not to be. Instead, Judah’s savior was an unknown warrior named Cyrus.
In 550 B.C. Cyrus of Anshan revolted against King Astyages of Media and succeeded when the Median army mutinied and handed its own king to Cyrus, who was then crowned the new king of the Medes. Three years later, Cyrus became known as king of Persia. This double achievement marked the emergence of the Medo-Persian Empire - the greatest civilization in the world to date, stretching from modern Iran in the east to Europe in the west, and to Ethiopia in the south. Alarmed by this supreme warrior, Babylonia allied with Lydia, Egypt and Sparta to put a stop to the Persian expansion.
In 547 B.C. Croesus of Lydia crossed the river Halys, which marked the eastern boundary of his jurisdiction and attacked the Persians. He then retired to Sardis to spend out the winter, agreeing with his three allies to join forces in the spring against Cyrus. To avoid having to fight on several fronts, Cyrus did not wait. He followed Croesus to Sardis and roundly defeated the Lydians. The Delphian oracle was reported to have told Croesus that if he crossed the river Halys he would destroy a mighty empire. He did. It was his own.
The next kingdom to fall to Cyrus was Armenia. This was subsequently followed by Babylonia itself. The last king of Babylonia was the scholarly Nabonidus, who set himself up in retirement while his regent, Belshazzar, ruled Babylonia. In 539 B.C. Cyrus advanced to defeat the army of the fabled empire, to become … also, king of Babylonia.
From a biblical and theological perspective, it was as if the short-lived Babylonian empire (605-539 B.C.) emerged specifically to punish the Judeans until God was ready for their return to Judah.

1. Persian Rule: 539-331 B.C.

1.1 Persian Strength: 539-423 B.C.

Cyrus of Persia defeated the Babylonians and permitted the dispersed nations to return to their homelands. The Jews (Judeans) returned to Jerusalem and the rest of Judah under Zerubabbel in 538 B.C. and under Ezra in 457 B.C. Nehemiah came to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in 444 B.C. and remained in Jerusalem until 433 B.C., when he returned to Persia, before a final return back to Judah in 423 B.C.

1.2 Persian Decline: 423-331 B.C.

Darius II protected the Jews from Egypt but his son, Artaxerxes II defiled the temple at Jerusalem. He imposed heavy fines on the Jews but the Samaritans escaped persecution. In the end, he was poisoned to death. His son, Arses, was made king.
Arses himself was murdered and was succeeded by Darius III. This new king himself escaped death by poisoning. But soon after his ascension, the Macedonians threatened Persia.
Philip II, of Macedon was murdered as he prepared to battle the Persians. His son Alexander III, the Great avenged this setback when he defeated Darius III, and went on to carve out the Greek Empire which his father began in 338 B.C. (not to be confused with the Greek Democracy, 403-338 B.C., which followed the Greek Tyranny of the Thirty Tyrants, 404-403 B.C.).

2. Grecian Rule: 331-143 B.C.

2.1 Alexander III, the Great: 331-323 B.C.

At the age of 20, Alexander took to the throne and soon consolidated the Hellenic League. In Palestine, he permitted the Jews to keep their religious practices. Some say this was because he believed them when they informed him that the rise of Greece as destroyer of Persia was prophesied in the sacred book of Daniel. He went on to conquer territory all the way to India, where he sustained fatal battle wounds and died before he could return to Macedonia.

2.2 Ptolemaic Rule: 323-198 B.C.

2.2.1 Division of the empire: 323-301 B.C.

At his death, Alexander failed to appoint a successor. This set off a power grab among his generals. A compromised reached was the co-rulership of his half-sane brother Arrhidaeus (renamed Philip) and his Bactrian wife, Roxanne, with general Perdiccas as regent. The empire was divided into more than 20 satrapies.
The satrap Ptolemy of Egypt seized the body of Alexander in Syria as it was being transported to Macedonia for burial. He had the body of Alexander buried in Egypt. In response, general Perdiccas attacked Egypt but was killed in the attempt by the mutiny of his own generals, among whom was Seleucus. The regency of Perdiccas was replaced by Antipater, and later, by Antigonus I Monopthalmus (the one-eyed), who wanted to ‘unify’ the empire directly under himself.
Seleucus of Babylonia formed a coalition with the satraps Ptolemy, Lysimachus, and Cassander against the regent Antigonus. In 311 B.C., following a series of battles between Antigonus and the alliance of four, Selecus was acknowledged ruler of Babylonia. This was the beginning of the Seleucid empire.

When the dust settled and Antigonus died in battle in 301 B.C. these four commanders inherited the empire of Alexander:

1. Ptolemy I Soter ruled Egypt and Palestine from his capital in Alexandria. He died in 283 B.C. It was this dynasty that he began which the Romans finally defeated in 31 B.C. at the battle of Actium, signaling the end of the Hellenistic period.
2. Seleucus I Nicator ruled Syria and Phrygia as far as the Indus from his capital in Antioch
3. Lysimachus ruled Thrace and Bithynia, and
4. Cassander ruled Macedonia for only 4 years before his death in 297 B.C. Macedon was eventually lost to the descendents of Antigonus, founder of the Antigonid dynasty, one of the three Hellenistic dynasties along with the Ptolemaic and the Seleucid.

The division of Alexander’s empire among the four satraps

In 22 years Palestine changed hands 6 times.

Ptolemy I Soter, king of Hellenistic Egypt

2.2.2 Domination of the Ptolemies, 301-198 B.C.

Following the fourfold division of Alexander’s old empire, a short peace ensued. But in 282 B.C. Ptolemy I Soter died and was succeeded by Ptolemy II Philadelphus. In 281 B.C. Seleucus was restless to gain control of his beloved Macedonia, so he crossed the Hellespont and invaded Europe, in violation of the common agreement of the four satraps. But he was soon assassinated and succeeded by his son, Antiochus I Soter. In the confusion, Antigonus Gonatus, son of Demetrius of the Antigonid household, gained control of Macedon.

The result was the survival of three superpower dynasties :

The house of Seleucus over Babylon, Upper Syria and Asia Minor
The house of Ptolemy over Egypt and Lower Syria
The house of Antigonus over Europe

Disagreements over who should rule over Lower Syria (Coele-Syria) erupted between the houses of Ptolemy (Ptolemy II) and Seleucus (Antiochus I) and the first of the four Syrian wars ensued. The First Syrian War, c.273 B.C. The Second Syrian War, c.250s B.C. The Third Syrian War, 246-241 B.C. The Fourth Syrian War, 219-217 B.C.

In 201 B.C., the fate of the Jews would change. Antiochus III invaded Palestine and captured Gaza. In defeat, Ptolemy V granted the Jews freedom of worship, released their prisoners and exempted temple officials from tax. But this was to last only 3 years. From 198 B.C. until Roman control in 63 B.C., the Jews came under the Seleucid dynasty, and soon experienced fierce persecution.

2.3 Seleucid Rule: 198-143 B.C.

Selecus I Nicator

2.3.1 Seleucid Control: 198-168 B.C.

In 197 B.C., the successors of the two dynasties made peace. Antiochus III, the Great made a treaty with Ptolemy V Epiphanes in which Ptolemy would marry Antiochus’ daughter, Cleopatra. He hoped that any future grandson of his from this marriage might rule Egypt with a positive disposition to the Seleucids, the people on his mother’s side.
In 187 B.C., Antiochus III was succeeded by his son, Seleucus IV Philopator. Seleucus IV was assassinated by Heliodorus in 175 B.C. Another son of Antiochus III, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, avenged his brother’s death and made himself king. The priests in Jerusalem formed rival factions, with the pro-Ptolemaic high priest Onias challenged by his pro-Seleucid brother Jason. In 174 B.C., Antiochus IV made Jason the high priest after he offered a larger bribe to the king than his brother Onias and promising to make a wholesale Hellenization of the Jerusalemites (1 Macc. 1:10-15; 2 Macc. 4:4-17). However, in 171 B.C. Jason lost his office to Menelaus who offered an even larger bribe to the king. Menelaus plundered the temple and was attacked by Jason and his supporters. He took refuge in Acra. When Antiochus himself also stole from the temple, this stirred up the wrath of the people and led to the Maccabean Revolt.

2.3.2 Maccabean Revolt: 168-143 B.C. Antiochus’ Vengeance: 168-166 B.C.

To appease the might of Rome, Antiochus put pressure on the Jews to abandon their national religion in favor of Hellenization. He ordered the destruction of copies of the Torah and commanded the Jews to eat swine meat. The observance of the Sabbath was forbidden. Mattathias: 166 B.C.

While every Palestinian village was ordered to set up a heathen altar for ritual sacrifice, in the village of Modein, a priest named Mattathias refused to comply. When another Jew offered to do so in his place before the king’s agent, Mattathias killed both the other Jew and the agent. He also tore down the altar and declared his resistance to Antiochus, calling for supporters to join him and his 5 sons (John, Simon, Judas , Eleazar, and Jonathan) as they fled to the mountains. The Hasidim sect joined them to begin the Maccabean revolt , the struggle to resist Hellenization of the Jews. They did not hesitate to kill fellow Jews who complied with Antiochus. When Mattathias died in 166 B.C., his third son Judas took over the leadership. Judas Maccabeus: 166-160 B.C.

Within 2 years, Judas had regained almost the entire region of Palestine except for Acra. In 164 B.C., he marched into Jerusalem and restored the temple. He replaced the pagan altar with a Jewish one and appointed priests who resisted the Seleucids. Finally, he reinstituted the practice of daily sacrifices at the temple. This marked the beginning of the Jewish Feast of Dedication (Light) – what today, we refer to as Hanukkah.
Although Judas was defeated by Antiochus V Eupator, who succeeded his father Antiochus IV, rumors of a pending attack on Syria by the Persians led to a relaxing of the terms of surrender. The Jews were given back their religious freedom even though they were still under Syrian rule. However, when Judas pressed for political freedom, he was met with another wave of enforced Hellenization upon the Jews. Relief came from another quarter.
In 162 B.C. Antiochus V was murdered by his cousin, Demetrius I Soter, who became king. He confirmed the appointment of Alcimus as high priest for the Jews. Alcimus was originally welcomed by the Hasidim who were prepared to break off from Judas as long as the high priest favored their concerns. But Alcimus reneged on his word and killed 60 Hasidim. Warfare broke out between Judas and the Syrian authorities, resulting in the death of Judas in 160 B.C. at the battle of Elasa. Jonathan: 160-143 B.C.

Jonathan, the youngest brother of Judas, took over a badly demoralized army and his resistance movement made Michmash its new headquarters. His rule was helped by internal quarrels in Syria. When Alexander Balas challenged Demetrius I for the throne of Syria, Jonathan supported Alexander.
In 150 B.C., Alexander killed Demetrius I in battle and became king of Syria. He rewarded Jonathan with the triple title of governor, general and high priest of Judah.
In 145B.C., Demetrius II Nicator, son of Demetrius I, killed Alexander for the throne.
In 143 B.C. the army of Demetrius rebelled, led by general Diodotus Tryphon, who claimed the Syrian throne for Alexander Balas’ son, Antiochus VI. Jonathan supported Tryphon and was rewarded with authority over both the civil and religious aspects of Jewish life. His brother Simon was made commander of the military. But, fearful of Jonathan’s increasing power, Tryphon had Jonathan murdered that same year.

3. Hasmonean Rule: 142-63 B.C.

The Hasmonean rule marks the success of the Maccabean revolt in establishing Israel’s independence, sort of. The Hasmonean dynasty refers to the period of Simon’s rule until 63 B.C.

3.1 Simon: 143-135 B.C.

In Syria, Tryphon killed Antiochus VI and reigned in his place as a rival to Demetrius. II. Since Tryphon killed his brother Jonathan, Simon aligned himself with Demetrius II. In return, he was given authority over southern Syria, of which he had little control anyway. Simon seized the fortress of Gazzara, expelled the Gentiles living there, and replaced them with Jewish settlements. He appointed his son John Hyrcanus as governor. Commemorating Simon’s achievements, the Jews in 140 B.C. made him high priest forever, until a faithful prophet should arise. This was a major change in the lineage of the Jewish high priesthood. It was formerly of the house of Onias, until 174 B.C., when Jason bribed his way to acquire it, and the Syrian king became the benefactor of the office. Now it belongs to the line of the Hasmoneans, i.e., the line of Simon.
In 139 B.C., Antiochus VII Sidetes took over from Demetrius II, who was captured by the Parthians. When Simon lost interest in helping the new king, he was marked for assassination. He survived the attempt, only to be killed along with his two sons by his own son-in-law, Ptolemy, in 135 B.C. Simon’s second son, John Hyrcanus I, avoided capture and took over from his father.

3.2 Hyrcanus I: 135-104 B.C.

John Hyrcanus I succeeded his father Simon as high priest. But he was soon to lose Judah’s independence when Antiochus VII besieged Jerusalem for over a year and forced the city into submission. Relief came to the Jews from an unexpected quarter. In 129 B.C., Antiochus died while launching a successful attack against the Parthians. This won the release of Demetrius II, who reclaimed his Syrian throne.
But distracted by internal troubles and Judah’s alliance with Rome, Syria left Judah alone. This encouraged Hyrcanus I to go on a campaign of extending his borders. He conquered lands in Transjordan and surrounding areas. In a fit of mean-spiritedness, he also destroyed the Samaritan temple. Finally, he captured Idumean cities and forced the Jewish law upon them, making the men undergo circumcision on pain of death. He died in 104 B.C., leaving 5 sons.

3.3 Aristobulus I: 104-103 B.C.

Hyrcanus I’s oldest son, Aristobulus I ruled for only a year. But during this reign of terror, he imprisoned his own mother, who died of starvation; imprisoned all his brothers except Antigonus whom he appointed co-ruler, until he later had him killed; and conquered Galilee, compelling its inhabitants to be circumcised. Why did he turn on his own family? He had feared that his mother would take the throne that he felt was his to inherit because his father had intimated that she would have the first right of refusal.

3.4 Alexander Janneus: 103-76 B.C.

After his death, the widow of Aristobulus I released his brothers from prison and appointed one of them, Alexander Janneus, king and high priest. Oh yes, and she married him. He also went on a conquering spree and took much of Gaza and the coastal cities, forcing the Jewish law on its inhabitants. He was a drunkard and during a Feast of the Tabernacle, poured the water of libation over his feet instead of on the altar, as prescribed by Pharisaic ritual. On the matter of the religious rivalry, the Hasmoneans were closer to the Sadducees than to the Pharisees, so this act was seen as a deliberate slight on the Pharisees. When the angry pro-Pharisaic worshippers pelted him with lemons, he responded with military action that killed over 6000 Jews.
Desperate, the Pharisees called upon the Seleucid Demetrius III Eukairos for help. In an ensuing battle, Janneus fled to the hills. But he later managed to fight back and Demetrius III retreated. Janneus regained his throne. To punish the Pharisees for calling upon Demetrius, he ordered 8000 of them to be crucified. But first they were forced to witness the execution of their wives and children.

3.5 Salome Alexandra and Hyrcanus II: 76-67 B.C.

Janneus died in 76 B.C. but at his deathbed, appointed his wife Salome Alexandra as his successor. She appointed their eldest son Hyrcanus II the new high priest and made peace with the Pharisees, signaling the emergence of Pharisaic dominance in Jerusalem. However, her younger son, Aristobulus II sided with the Sadducees. Only one religious sect could be accommodated and with Alexandra’s permission, the Sadducees left the city and made their homes in other districts. Upon Alexandra’s death, Hyrcanus II ascended the throne – but it was short lived, only 3 months. His brother Aristobulus II declared war on him and forced him to surrender the crown.

3.6 Aristobulus II: 67-63 B.C.

Hyrcanus II was tempted to take back his crown and sided with the Idumeans to defeat Aristobulus. When a stalemate ensued, both sides bribed Roman general Pompey, who was marching through Asia Minor, to decide whom should prevail. The price of Roman power was 400 talents and Aristobulus’ bribe was preferred. But Pompey wanted to delay his decision until after his campaign against the Nabateans. The Jews were expected to participate in the Roman cause. Aristobulus was fed up of waiting and withdrew support for Pompey against the Nabateans. In anger, Pompey dropped the Nabatean campaign and instead, turned on Aristobulus. In 63 B.C., Pompey laid siege on Jerusalem for 3 months and demanded its surrender. While Aristobulus’ men held the gate, Hyrcanus II took advantage of the situation against his brother and sent his men to open the gates to let Pompey in. The Roman general killed 12,000 Jews that day. This ended the Hasmonean rule. Aristobulus II and his sons, Antigonus and Alexander, were taken to Rome as prisoners of war. Hyrcanus II was appointed high priest but not king and became a mere vassal of Rome.
4. Roman Rule: 63-4 B.C.

4.1 Hyrcanus II: 63-40 B.C.

Although Hyrcanus II was the high priest, it was Antipater II, governor of Idumea, who was the real kingmaker. He and his Arabian wife Cypros had 4 sons: Phasael, Herod , Joseph, Pheroras and a daughter, Salome.
When Julius Caesar defeated Pompey in Egypt in 48 B.C., Antipater II and Hyrcanus II promptly joined the new Roman master. Julius appointed Antipater II procurator of Judah and Hyrcanus II, Ethnarch of the Jews. In 47 B.C., Antipater II appointed his son Phasael governor of Jerusalem and his son Herod governor of Galilee.
In 44 B.C. Julius Caesar was murdered. Cassius and others of the Roma elite came to Syria. Antipater instructed his sons to raise further taxes to impress the Romans. Herod became betrothed to Mariamne, the granddaughter of Hyrcanus II, further strengthening his position among the Jews.
In 42 B.C., Anthony defeated Cassius and asked Hyrcanus II to select whom to rule Judea. Upon Hyrcanus II’s recommendation, Anthony appointed Herod and Phasael tetrarchs of Judea.

4.2 Antigonus: 40-37 B.C.

In 40 B.C., when the Parthians appeared in Syria, they joined Antigonus, the son of Aristobulus, in trying to remove Hyrcanus II from power. When they could not proceed with victory, they sued for peace and invited Hyrcanus and Phasael to meet them at Galilee, whereupon the Parthian king put them in chains. Fearing for his life, Herod fled to Masada and then on to Petra. Antigonus was crowned ‘king’. The Hasmonean rule was briefly revived. To prevent Hyrcanus II from reclaiming the high priesthood, Antigonus had him mutilated. Herod went to Rome where he was designated king of Judea. In early 39 B.C., he returned to Palestine with Anthony’s legate, Sossius, and captured Galilee. In 37 B.C., Jerusalem fell to him. At Herod’s request, the Romans beheaded Antigonus, ending once for all, the Hasmonean dynasty.

4.3 Herod the Great: 37-4 B.C.

Herod had at least four enemy groups to contend with: (a) the Pharisees (because he is a half-Jew), (b) the aristocracy, many of whose friends he executed, (c) the remnants of the Hasmonean family, especially Alexandra, mother of Mariamne, whose son Herod arranged to be drowned, and (d) Cleopatra VII of Egypt.
In 32 B.C., civil war broke out between Antony and Octavius. At the battle of Actium a year later, Octavius defeated Antony, who subsequently committed suicide with Cleopatra in 30 B.C. Herod then had Hyrcanus II executed to demonstrate his loyalty to Octavius and later, killed his own wife Mariamne in 29 B.C. as well as her mother Alexandra a year later. Finally, to ensure that no male relatives of Hyrcanus II survived to ever challenge him for the throne, he executed his brother-in-law, Costobarus.
Herod carefully appeased both the Jewish and Roman expectations and built a royal palace and Gentile temples as well as a Jewish temple in Jerusalem, begun in c.20 B.C. He married 10 wives: Doris, Mariamne I (Hyrcanus II’s granddaughter), Mariamne II, the Samaritan Malthace, Cleopatra of Jerusalem, Pallas, Phaedra, Elpsis and two unnamed women. His warring sons caused him to change his will which named his successor, several times.
Shortly before his death, he faced the troubling news from the magi, which led Herod to massacre all the male children of Bethlehem two years, and under. He was now 70 years old. His final will named Archelaus as king but after his death, the Romans converted the title to Ethnarch instead.

5. Literary Activity

During this period, literary activity within the various sects of Judaism centered on the Septuagint, the Greek text of the Jewish/Hebrew scriptures.

6. Spiritual Conditions

The increasing importance of the synagogue eclipsed the former dominance of the temple. With the synagogue came the power of the rabbis over the priesthood. The religion became more personal than corporate. Ritualism was overtaken by observance of Torah. The long suffering from persecution ignited a rise in Messianic expectation as seen in the increase of apocalyptic literature. It appears that God would send a messiah to destroy the enemies of the Jews and set up a promised messianic kingdom.

7. Parties

It was during this period that the Pharisees (‘the separated ones’), the Sadducees and the Essenes were becoming distinct groups and the figure of the Messiah took shape.

The Sadducees may have taken their name in honor of Zadok, the original high priest of Jerusalem appointed by King Solomon to the exclusion of Abiathar. Their priesthood was Zadokite, rather than Aaronic. They favored intermarriage between Jews and Gentiles. Apparently, they were on good terms with the Persian official Sanballat, who mocked the Jews (Judeans who returned from exile) in the presence of the Samarian army (Israelites who stayed behind) when they were trying to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem (Neh. 4:2).

The Pharisees were eager to convert (Matt. 23:15), perhaps Gentiles, to their beliefs. The Mishnah, for which they were largely responsible, records dealings between Jews and Gentiles. The origin of their name is probably found in Chasidim, the men who placed loyalty to the Law (Torah/Pentateuch) above all else. Although the word chasid is related to the Hebrew word chesed (mercy, loving-kindness), over time, it came to mean those who were devoted to the Law, and translated as holy ones, pious ones, or saints. However, unlike the Hasidic Jews in our time, the Pharisees were very missionary in their attitude to the Gentiles.
How were they different? On the whole, the Sadducees were supported by the elite while the Pharisees were the common peoples’ party. While the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the body, the Sadducees believed in the Sheol doctrine . The Sadducees held only to the Law of Moses and rejected the Oral Tradition as well as the Prophets, to the exasperation of the Pharisees. For the Sadducees, angels and spirits did not exist and unlike the Pharisees, they rejected any notion of a Messiah.

The Essenes arose during the second century B.C. and shared with the Pharisees a horror of giving formal allegiance to any king except God. In c. 21 B.C., King Herod excused these two groups from the requirement to make any formal oath of allegiance to him. The Essenes comprise of several sects.
While they took vows of celibacy and extreme asceticism, some sects permitted the adoption of children whom they brought up in their beliefs. Others permitted trial marriages that would last 3 years during which if a child was born, the marriage would be ratified. They typically lived in Orders of brotherhoods and held all property in common. They had hostels in various towns to provide hospitality for traveling Essenes. Would-be initiates had to undergo a 4-year probation. Their goal was to preserve ritual purity in the presence of what they saw to be an unholy relaxation of spiritual standards in the cities of Israel, hence their retreat into the desert. They sought to observe justice for all men and taught themselves to hate the wicked but to help the just. One curious and inexplicable practice was their custom of praying to the sun.


Note the great amount of intra-Jewish conflict after the return from Babylonian exile. Unlike the Assyrian exile of the 10 tribes of Israel (northern kingdom), in which no identifiable return to Palestine took place, the Babylonian exilic return came with high expectations of religious significance clouded by cultural and nationalistic aspirations. So intense was the nationalism that fellow Jews in the north and even southern Jews, who were left behind because they were not deemed the cream of the Judean crop, were despised as unworthy of association.
The Christian community claims to be the spiritual successors of YHWH’s promise to the chosen people. As such, we can learn much from this period during which many of the problems that beset NT Jews and later, Christians, took root.
Among the many issues, consider (a) the role of the Pharisees in religious life and their strong rivalry with the Sadducees, (b) the intense hatred of Samaritans who were considered polluted, (c) the change from the religion of Moses and priests to the new religion of the rabbis, (d) the complicated communal hatred for their former Syrian masters (see how topical and current all this is?) and their ambiguity to their Roman masters who ‘liberated’ Judah from Syria, (e) the new interpretation of what it means to be a chosen people following all the calamities that befell them, and (f) the roles that physical land and race play in the interpretation of Judaism.
This was not to be the first time that Judaism underwent massive reinterpretation. It was to happen again after the holocaust of world war two.
In its long history, much soul searching within Jewry gave rise to the many sects of Judaism, one of which transformed itself into a truly global religion – Christianity.

Selected Bibliography

1. Anderson, Bernhard W., Steven Bishop and Judith H. Newman. Understanding the Old Testament. Fifth Edition. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall. 2007.
2. Burn, A. R. The Lyric Age: The Greek World, c.750-510 BC London: The Folio Society. 2002.
3. Burn, A. R. The Persian Wars: The Greeks and the Defense of the West, c.546-478 BC. London: The Folio Society. 2002.
4. Collins, John J. Between Athens and Jerusalem: Jewish Identity in the Hellenistic Diaspora. Second Tradition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 2000.
5. Cook, J. M. The Persians. London: The Folio Society. 1983.
6. Gruen, Erich S. Heritage and Hellenism: The Reinvention of Jewish Tradition. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. 1998.
7. Harrison, R. K. Introduction to the Old Testament. Peabody: Hendrickson. 1969.
8. Hoehner. Harold W. “Between the Testaments” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1979.
9. Hornblower, Simon. The Classical Age: The Greek World, 479-323 BC. London: The Folio Society. 2002.
10. Roberts, J. J. M. The Bible and the Ancient Near East. Lake Winona, Indiana: Eisenbrauns. 2002.
11. Snaith, Norman H. The Jews From Cyrus to Herod. New York: Abingdon Press. n.d.
12. Tcherikover, Victor. Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews. Peabody: Hendrickson. 1999.
13. Walbank, F. W. The Hellenistic Age: The Greek World, 336-146 BC. London: The Folio Society. 2002.

Written by Rev. R. Choong for Project Timothy, Academy for Christian Thought.

The Significance of Science for Christian Theology

In my Q1 seminar (see, I have shown the philosophically coherence and scientific unobjectionability of the Christian doctrine of creation. There is no philosophical or scientific ground to deny it. The Big Bang Model can be reconciled with a theological explanation of the universe that began with a creatio originalis ex nihilo, continues to undergo creatio continua, and anticipates a final creatio nova.

Does philosophy & science matter to the Christian gospel?

During Christmas Week 2005, some 20 cable and broadcast television shows from 8 different channels featured scientific documentaries about Christianity. Every one of them concluded that the classical meaning of the gospel cannot be trusted – because science has provided a surer path to knowledge about reality. Indeed, the National Geographic channel featured a two-part documentary called Science of the Bible, which argued that today, scientific tests confirm the untrustworthiness of the biblical witness. The archaeological evidence offered is scientific, and the interpretative tool used is philosophical. This is the challenge for Christianity in the 21st century. In this age of the new apologetic - the philosophical presumption of scientistic authority reigns supreme.

Can Christian theology learn from philosophy & science?

Absolutely! The short explanation is that we turn to them for every other aspect of our thinking and decision-making anyway. The longer explanation is that humanity has been given the power of rational reflective reason (RRR). We are called to participate in the discovery of divine disclosure (DDD) in the footsteps of the biblical Adam when he was given the privilege to ‘name nature.’ Scientific discovery and inference demonstrate the theological nature of all human inquiry. The biblical mandate to renew our minds so we may discern the perfect will of God inclines us to welcome the responsible use of the gift we call science. When we learn to use our rational and Spirit-filled minds, we will be able to commit to the convictional confessions (CCC) of our beliefs. The Christian biblical teaching that the universe has a finite history and was created out of nothing according to the will of God is both philosophically coherent and does not contradict any scientific principles.

The labors of interdisciplinary research into complexity and emergence theories by Niels Henrik Gregersen of Copenhagen and Philip Clayton of Claremont, coupled with the postfoundationalist approach to epistemology-hermeneutics by J. Wentzel van Huyssteen of Princeton promise a new era of understanding the relationship between the natural sciences and Christian theology. With selective use of insights by Stuart A. Kauffman of the Sante Fe Institute, we can expect to usher in new ways of drawing from the common resource of rationality formerly called the two books of God, the book of nature and the book of Scripture.

So what? Why does it matter what we believe about the origin of the universe?

If there is purpose and meaning to the universe, and there is someone in charge whom we can ultimately trust, then we are not alone. This is the great Christian joy, the great atheist despair, and the great unsettling puzzle for the true agnostic. The Christian view of where everything came from encourages us to seek to understand and make intelligible all that can be. Indeed, rather than seeking philosophy and science in themselves to understand who God is, Christian divine revelation may in the end prove useful to the inferential art of scientific investigation and philosophical speculation. A serious encounter with the Scriptures will enrich the disciplines of philosophy and the sciences. This matters because it shapes the way we make ethical, social, economic, and other life-changing decisions. To believe that we are all answerable to someone else, our creator, purify the motivations of our actions.

The Knowing of Knowledge?

To know is to engage in the process of acquiring knowledge. Knowledge comes from the Latin word scientia, from which we derive the modern English word, science. Such is the success of the scientific project to explain phenomena in the process of gaining knowledge that we commonly think of science as the most manicured form of reliable knowing. But science is not the only way of acquiring knowledge. We also gain understanding through the arts.
The flawed distinction between ‘art’ and ‘science’ should be corrected, for knowledge is acquired by the art of the natural sciences and by the science of the human arts. The arts include philosophical speculation, theological reflection, and religious experience. These three modes of scientia result in the formation of beliefs, not unlike beliefs formed in scientific theory-building.
Religious belief, with its origin in doctrinal observance rather than scientific observation, is not part of modern science BUT it is certainly part of modern scientia (knowledge).
From this, we may conclude that the question as to the origin of humanity must seek to know knowledge from the art of theological reflection, based on the testimonial witness of a community of knowers. This community is the Christian church, who (i) bear witness (martyr) to the teachings of prior witnesses with authoritative teachings in scriptures, (ii) and experience for themselves the communal life of faith.
Science can describe and explain mechanical processes that gave rise to the human race within the limits of discovery and analyses. So far, it is divided on almost every aspect of the human species; including what they are ontologically like, where they first appeared, whether in a single or in multiple locations, how they arose and why they did so. The last question is a metaphysical one and all scientific claims regarding ‘why’ are in fact theological claims in disguise, not scientific ones.

FAQS Who was Biblical Adam?

1 If Adam & Eve did not sin, would they have moral knowledge (image of God)?

Since Adam and Eve acquired moral knowledge and therefore the image of God from eating the fruit, does this mean that they were never intended to have such knowledge? Not necessarily. God could have given them such knowledge by another means. The problem was that they acquired moral knowledge through direct disobedience and by an act of mistrust. God would have formed them in his image by giving them moral knowledge by a means other than the consumption of contraband food.

2 Was it ‘disobedience’ or ‘rebellion leading to a change in moral status’ that led to sin?

Adam’s act of rebellion predated the act of eating the fruit. While his volition was prior to the act of disobedience, it extends to the completion of the act. By this time he was already morally aware. Another way to consider the effect of sin is to view the sin factor as inherent in Adam when he was formed and the act of rebellion merely triggered a propensity to sin.

3 Was Adam alone among the male humans? Was Adam physiologically an AMH?

Adam was likely to be physiologically anatomically modern human (AMH) but certainly not alone among AMHs. His distinction was that he was the first AMH in the line of Jesus who was formed in the image of God.

4 Whom did Cain marry and who were the Sons of God in Genesis 6??

Possibly other hominids such as Homo sapiens sapiens that may not have been given the image of God. They were clearly AMH who could biologically mate with the Adamic race and probably shared in the physiology. The characteristics of AMH such as full-time bipedalism, cognitive fluidity for the development of art, science and religious consciousness, a lowered larynx to permit consonantal sound production necessary for human speech and symbolic language, as well as the capacity for self-consciousness appear to NOT be the marker of the imago Dei. Instead, the true marker is the capacity for fear and guilt, signals of true moral cognition.

Philosophy, Science & Theology in search of Knowledge

What is the point of philosophy?

We are unable to scientifically theorize or theologically test, any proposal regarding such an origin without the rigor of philosophical speculation. If part of the scientific and theological enterprises includes rigorous philosophy, Christians should learn to get it right so that responsible philosophy can discipline both science and theology (theology is the academic discipline of the devotional practice called religion.) Christian theology has been drawn into the discussion because the new apologetic is to explain the Church’s creedal proclamations as an act of public accountability.

The natural sciences are the arts of collecting relevant evidence to support or reject the hypothesis of a theory. We observe the universe and conclude that everything is energy-matter. We construct observatories and build computers to measure, quantify and analyze the different data about the forms of energy-matter. We interpret this data to develop theories that make predictions for further data gathering that can be applied to other theories in a loop of inquiry: the theories we construct determine the kind of data we will obtain, which determines the kinds of theories we can affirm. This loop is a self-selecting mechanism for discovery. In a sense, one can discover what one is looking for. To counter this bias, the predictions must be logical and are tested against a hypothesis to allow us to reject it if it no longer can be modified to fit the incoming data. The modern sciences have approached and crossed the boundaries into philosophy and theology. Science can help theology side-step dead ends and implausible conclusions, for e.g., affirming that the notion of ‘the four corners of the earth’ is not to be understood literally after Col. Yuri Gagarin’s flight around the earth.

What is a natural phenomenon? The scientific presumption is that life is a natural outcome of the evolution of cosmic matter. This is to be expected because science is in the business of explaining natural phenomena. What then is a natural phenomenon? It is one that appears to be scientifically explicable. This is obviously a tautology. A process is natural if it can be scientifically explained and a scientific explanation of a process means it must be a natural phenomenon. This means that if a phenomenon cannot be explained by science, it may not be a natural phenomenon and conversely, if a phenomenon is supernatural, it cannot be explained scientifically. So how can we tell if a phenomenon is natural or not if it cannot be scientifically explained by science? It is convenient to then add that even phenomena that cannot presently be explained by science may in the future be, so it ought not to be considered supernatural phenomena. By this account, no phenomena can truly be considered supernatural because time has not yet run out.

Christian theology is a second-order source of knowledge that attempts to reconcile its reflections with the evidential inferences of the sciences. Both fields of inquiry are shaped by philosophical commitments. What has the Genesis account or the first article of the Apostles’ Creed on the creation of the heavens and the earth to do with the origin of the universe, of life and of the human mind? Can divine proclamation cause the emergence of energy-matter, animate matter and lead to self-awareness?

Creation - In the Beginning ...

What is the Christian teaching (doctrine) about creation?

The triune God created and made all that exists apart from God. Strangely, to understand the beginning, we have to first understand what to expect at the end. So although genealogy is about the beginning of existence, it can only be fully understood with reference to the final purpose at the end of creation, its teleological eschatology. The human race was not so much created as it was made, from created matter (earth and moisture). We were made in the image of God. But “What for?” The Church teaches that it is to exist and enjoy the glory of God in life everlasting. This presumes that existence is preferable to non-existence. It also presumes that fellowship is preferable to isolation. Finally, it presumes that to love and be loved is preferable to hate and be hated. To create is to establish and bring to being something previously without existence. The perennial question asked about reality is “Why is there something rather than nothing?” “How is God active both towards the world and within its structures?”

The Christian claim with regard to the origin of reality takes two forms:

1) God’s act of establishment is uniquely free and sovereign (The universe is in the hands of someone good and powerful rather than someone indifferent. This makes the issue of evil and suffering even more perplexing).

2) The theology of mediation of divine action (process of creation) takes various forms:

2.1: BY PERSONAL WORD: By the mere word of command: “Be” (“Let there be..”), an accommodation to the nature of creation, of a different order than of the creator. (The giving of space permitted there to be a reality other than God. God’s action of creation permits something its own unique freedom to be.

2.2: BY CRAFTSMANSHIP: Forming what has been created - God’s creation also includes the formation of what was initially created, e.g. Man (Psalm 139: 13-14 “ ... you knit me together in my mother’s womb, ... for I am fearfully and wonderfully made”) and the earth (Job 3: 14 describes the formation of the earth from primeval stuff “The earth takes shape like clay under a seal...”). God willed to allow another space and time to develop its own reality, writes Karl Barth. What about the six days of creation? Are these intervals ancient renditions of modern measures of time? Rather than wondering if ‘days’ meant six 24 hour cycles or not, Colin Gunton points to Basil of Caesarea who said, the pattern of days serves to establish the world’s relation to eternity Creation brought time to being. Gunton says that the seventh day of rest suggests that time is what God gives to things for their right development. [Time is God’s way of preventing everything from happening at once]

3.3: BY MINISTERIAL OPERATION: God enables some parts of creation serve as mediators of God’s creation of other parts (Genesis 1: 11, 20 “Let the earth bring forth...” the birth of a child). Humanity is the chief ministers of creation, as in the creative act of the sciences, and the arts. All fields of human inquiry are in fact examples of ministerial acts of creation by which we serve even unwittingly to further God’s will in creation. *Creation also means that all life belongs intimately to God because God alone is the giver, lord and master of life. ‘Life’ is peculiarly the Lord’s domain. Christians pray before each meal because all meals are intrinsically religious occasions in which we intrude God’s domain by killing life, i.e., all eating involves the sacrifice of other lives. Vegetarians do not escape this realization that the paradox of life rests on the inescapable necessity of death.

The Christian worldview learns to unprivilege the unnecessary grip of this life to the exclusion of anticipating the life everlasting to come. One commentator suggested that the Christian belief in life after death in the presence of God liberates us from the incessant need to memorialize ourselves through our DNA via expectations imposed on our children, physical monuments, preserving our ideas of physical beauty and youth, etc. If we are to be divinely renewed, we need not hang on to perishable masks for dear life. This permits us to truly love beyond our immediate kin and make progress towards 'loving our neighbor'.

The doctrine of creation states that God created everything that is not God. What does it mean?

1) There is other reality than God and that it is really other than he. [The only ontological distinction is between creator and creature, there are no intermediate forms. God maintains this divide but crosses it by the energies of the Son and the Spirit. In Jesus Christ, creator and creation meet with the meeting of the two realities]

2) Everything made by God is good. The world is supposed to be worldly. While the world was created good, the world we encounter is far from good. It presents us with a combination of good and evil. It needs to be redeemed.

3) Creation was ‘formed in Christ’ who holds it together (Colossians 1: 16). Unlike the pantheism of Spinoza or the postmodern retreat, this posits a fundamental unity of being and truth in Christ. This opens up the possibilities for evolutionary development without being limited to a consistency with the various forms of Darwinist dogma.

The doctrine of providence teaches that God cares that everything so created is maintained and sustained by divine power. The account of creation in Genesis places the seventh day as the day of rest, when God’s creatio initio (creation) is complete and creatio continua (providence) begins.

This doctrine of genealogy issued by divine revelation touches on the question of origins. How did the beginning begin? God need not and could have not but in generosity did will to create. We conclude that in the beginning God in generosity took the initiative to create creation and make out of it the human race. As we image ourselves after God, the principal driving force may well be the characteristic of generosity. We ought to be loving not because we are grateful but because we have the seeds of generosity within us.

Implications and applications:

1. If we were created for a purposeful future, someone greater than ourselves must value us. Life is a precious gift. To live a human life is a special gift. We are capable of much more than we dare hope. We are called to a nobler existence than we presume.

2. If we are provided for in our everyday existence, we must not be unnecessarily anxious about the wrong issues. We ought to consider what is beyond our capacity to transform and what is within our ability to change for the better.

3. In responding to science, history and religious pluralism, the greatest challenge to the development of a Christian worldview, we may ask

(i) how does this knowledge from the Scriptures direct our attitude towards the powerful advances in science and technology,

(ii) how does it help us understand the impact of history and our ability to learn from it for the future, and

(iii) how does the knowledge that we are dependent on the triune God embolden us to think about the responsibility and privilege of testimonial witnessing with the power of the gospel to heal, to comfort and to bring joy?

On Septemebr 24th, 2006, this lecture will be delivered at the ACT Kairos Lecture at Redeemer Presbyterian Church that meets at Hunter College, City University of New York.

Please check for more details.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Darwin Symposium - Christian Reflections: New York City

The Academy for Christian Thought (ACT) is presenting a Darwin Symposium in conjunction with the Metanexus Institute (Funded by the John Templeton Foundation). It will be hosted at Calvary Baptist Church located at 123 W57th Street, NYC on April 22nd from 9am - 1pm.

Guest speakers will be Jeannie Drew (Head of Science of Riverdale Country School), Charlie Drew (Pastor), and Ron Choong (Apologist of Science & Theology). They will be examining the relationship between science and the Christian faith, and clarifying the issues at stake by addressing both the meaning and the implications of Darwin's work. Since Darwin has been the most influential thinker to shape the modern direction and understanding of science and philosophy, it is important that we understand his work. The symposium will present a Christian perspective on Darwin's writings, theories, and the current Darwin exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Who Controls Your Beliefs?


We do not think in a vacuum.
Even freethinkers are not as free as they think they are when they are thinking, or when they think they are thinking.
This is because thinking is an active exercise of the will. More importantly, all thinking begins with prior beliefs. We call these foundational assumptions control beliefs.


The quest for human knowledge is shaped by decisions about what is worth investigating and what presuppositions to hold in order to direct the available economic and intellectual resources for the maximum payoff. In the preface to his Reason Within the Bounds of Religion, Nicholas Wolterstorff identified two issues that all scholars face: (i) which matters to investigate and (ii) which views to hold. He develops a research program by which theory building is based on the three parameters of (i) data, (ii) theory and (iii) control beliefs.
Control beliefs (CB) may take the form of methodological, philosophical or ontological convictions. It is used to weigh theories and doctrines in science and theology. If a theory or doctrine does not fit the CB, it has to be either revised or discarded. The test is ultimately probabilistic, i.e., whatever seems to be more likely than not the case. Most of the conflicts between science and theology occur at the level of control beliefs.
Our structures of beliefs form the filter by which we determine what data can be trusted as knowledge. We all build up a set of control beliefs (CB) that anchor all other derivative beliefs (DB). In time, such beliefs become entrenched in our confessions, our public expression of our private beliefs. One may confess that God exists. Such a confession may arise from a conviction that this is so even if it cannot be proven. When challenged, we may make a commitment to buttress our convictions by making more public confessions.


Christian belief is no different from all other kinds of belief. It possesses control beliefs by which to evaluate other sources of data. Information that becomes adopted as authoritative acquires the status of knowledge. Although knowledge may be tested and challenged, sometimes even losing its status if contrary information undermines it, control beliefs are rarely toppled.
In Christian belief, the stakes are as high as they can possibly get. It extends beyond the most precious possession we all have, biological existence. For the Christian, belief in and about God concerns everlasting life. Such belief shapes our knowledge of reality and should be evident in our decisions and behavior. Unlike mere intellectual assent, the issues are live and the outcome must be consistent with the commitments.


3.1 Can people of faith change their beliefs?
What is fidelity to divine revelation? It is fashionable to believe that faithfulness, say; to the teachings of the Bible means our understanding of what it teaches does not change with time. If this was so, today’s Christians would not need to buy new books offering fresh insights, scholars and researchers need not spend time clarifying difficult passages and preachers and missionaries need not work at studying the Bible. It would also mean that all the changes throughout church history are acts of infidelity. The Reformers would be accused of faithlessness.

Such a static view of human understanding also presumes that
(i) Knowledge of God through the Scriptures and the saints are perfect for all time
(ii) Our ancestors had intelligence that cannot or need not be surpassed
(iii) Their interpretations are perfect and need no correction, and
(iv) Correction of human interpretations of our knowledge of God is undesirable
In practice, the church does not act like this. We conduct all sorts of programs to better educate ourselves and increase our powers of understanding just as the Lord encouraged us to. Understanding is a progressive and cumulative act. God is not angry at imperfect understanding but for willful misunderstanding leading to disobedience. Our faith should be steadfast with regard to God, not to our understanding about God.
The most dangerous type of religious believers are those who stop thinking, or renewing their minds. Indeed, most heresies or wrong beliefs arise from a stubborn resistance to fresh understanding of the old data. Knowledge depends not only on data but also on the interpretation of it. Many biblical characters and leaders of the church change their understanding on learning curves. Prophets had to unlearn what they thought were correct views about God. Most regarded themselves as faithful to God when in fact they were faithful to their understanding of God. Thus Abram changed his view of God many times when he was corrected from his ways; David certainly had his share of missing God’s point and Solomon continued in his father’s missteps; Peter had to be stopped from undermining God’s salvation plan; Paul thought he was doing God a favor by persecuting Christians; and the Corinthian church believed they were exercising freedom in Christ by endorsing ‘free-love’.
It is the height of arrogance to suppose that we in this generation have no inherent mistakes regarding our understanding of God. The history intellectual progress is nothing more than discoveries of errors to be corrected until the correction itself becomes corrected. This does not mean that what we think we know about God is wrong. But it does mean that, like children, our powers of achieving understanding about God increases with learning and correction. Our approximations of knowledge get better with each passing generation, as it should. While we should not be unnecessarily ashamed of past errors, we should also not be arrogant about recent gains in understanding.

3.2. The role of extra-biblical knowledge
Christian belief and faith welcomes extra-biblical resources to complete our understanding of reality (e.g. The Pilot Syndrome: On a plane, even a priest prefers a qualified pilot to one who shares his theological views. We need more than knowledge from the Bible to survive.) The Bible is not a comprehensive guidebook for everything we need for living. It is a special message from God with frameworks by which to build a worldview to assess how we are doing. While the Bible is a special inheritance from believers who came before us, it is a relatively recent resource. Most of the people who worshipped God had no access to the Bible. Less than two thousand years ago, no one in the world had the New Testament. Before the public ministry of Jesus, no one had his teachings to go by. Before Moses was called into service, there would have been no mosaic teachings and laws from God. The faithful at the time of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob and Joseph, did not have the Old Testament. St. Augustine wrote De Doctrina Christiana that Christians ought to seek legitimate uses of extra-biblical sources because all knowledge ultimately comes from God. This is not to diminish the value of the Bible, but to draw attention to the fact that unlike the Muslims, we are not really “People of the Book”. We are “People of the God who gave us the Book”.

(Renewing our minds)

Can control beliefs change? Yes. Romans 12: 1-2 speaks of the renewal of our minds. Paul refers to the shaping of our control beliefs so that it is subservient to God’s will. In this passage, Paul does not say we are to conform to God’s will because God is more powerful. Rather, when we reflect deeply and honestly by renewing our minds back to the state when we first gave our hearts (minds) to God, we can test and discern the perfect will of God.
Christians have the privilege of having the help of the Holy Spirit as our personal trainer. The Spirit’s primary function with regard to Christians stated in John 16: 13, is to sustain the fidelity of our (control) beliefs by guiding us into all truth and declare to us “the things that are to come”. In John 16: 8, Jesus taught that the Helper (Advocate) will come to convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. It is this convicting power of the Holy Spirit which will safeguard Christian control beliefs if we let it. It is with this divine promise that we dare to confront the excesses of postmodern uncertainty. Yet the paradox of free will given to us means we can undermine our own advantage by refusing to submit to the Spirit. It is only by voluntarily and intentionally permitting the Holy Spirit to control our control beliefs can we begin our quest for a Christian mind.