Tag Archive | historical context

On the Path: Part 1

As a youngster, I liked to ask questions of the teacher in Sunday School class.  I would ask questions about one of the many stories that we were told.  How tall was Goliath?  How long did it take for Noah to build his ark?  Did Jericho really fall down after some horns were blown?  It was often answered with a chuckle and pat on the head from the teacher.  I did not feel that I had my answers from this person, but later the preacher would have a sermon on the very stories that I had questioned.  I learned quickly to not question the stories vocally.  It was a sin to question God and his Word.  It was a sin that led me to an eternal damnation.  So, I stopped in order to gain approval from the adults and not be punished with banishment from the comforts.  

However, this was the seed that began to grow into a sapling of a tree of knowledge.  I needed to water and care for this tree.  To find the water and food, I changed my posture on the questioning and began to ask from the point of view that was not from innocence.  I asked challenging questions that would force the preacher or teacher to examine their own beliefs to find the answers.  Essential, I investigated the Bible by understanding what others interpreted a verse or story to mean.  What does this parable mean?  What is the break down of the Sermon on the Mount?  How does one view the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness? Who Jesus is preaching to?  Who was Jesus?  Why was he a threat in Jerusalem?  What was his message?

It was a wellspring of information of opinions and interpretations of doctrines and dogma.  I often suggest that this mountain of knowledge compares to the idea of reading numerous reviews of a movie that you have never seen and forming an opinion.  However, I was able to pull together a skeleton of various doctrines and map out how different the minds of the Church can think.

The next step was to actually read the source and examine it in the method of a historian.  The historical context was the macrocosm while each book and chapter in the bible was examined as a whole.  If you take a single verse out of the bible, you can apply it to an interpretation that may not fit into the entire context of the chapter or book.  In the past, I have encountered numerous preachers, faithful members, and verse-spewing fanatics who love to pull out a verse to support their thoughts on a subject.  Of course, I remember that during the temptation of Jesus that he was tested by the devil doing the same thing.

By the time I learned enough from this historical method, I was ready to search for the deeper notions of the texts and compare them with the texts of the time.  I had studied enough of the contemporary history of the first century BCE and the first century CE that I felt that I could draw on it to answer my questions.

My first question was about the parables and why this form was used to convey the message that Jesus had brought.  It was very difficult question as the texts of the region that Jesus was supposed to have lived in were not known for its mass-produced texts.  In fact, it is easy to conclude that nearly all were illiterate.  The language of the early texts of the New Testament was mostly ancient Greek.  Most of the lands had come to know Greek during the Hellenization of the region after Alexander the Great’s conquest.

Parables have a higher rate of understanding due to their length and lack of complexity for the people of the region to understand.  These people were not thinking about the world beyond their daily routine.  A minister roaming the land that works to connect with his people is best served when he changes his words into short stories that can be easily memorized and told to others.  It is an example of early social networking.

On the thought of the language used, the texts of Gospels are accepted to be dated later in the first century CE, so this places them a few decades after the crucifixion.  In addition, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 CE.  It is difficult to believe that the Gospels were eye witness accounts written during Jesus’ time.  All are dated to the period after the Jewish Revolt, so it makes logical sense that the parables were passed along in an oral tradition until they were recorded and protected from destruction.  The Parables of Jesus survived as a simple vehicle in a region of illiterate people.

It is this group of people that became the core of the beginnings.  They were simple people on the rural edge of a sea that kept them away from all the politics of the world.  It is no surprise that the powers of the Empire did not give them much thought.  But this conclusion only answers one of my questions and not with much solid evidence.  The puzzle is missing pieces.

I will be working to explore this subject further and would love to hear from others on their ideas of parables and their use in the New Testament.  I have plenty questions to further understand.

crudus animus


Matters of the Logical Mind

The logical mind searches for answers that can grant an understanding.  The further this method flows into a problem; it seeks the connections between two points of understanding.  With a grouping of these understandings, a logical mind can begin to established a set of philosophies or principles that direct the mind in the decision making process.  The cognitive mind learns in this most elementary way.  In its infancy, the mind does not have the skills to collect more than the most basic stimuli, but once this foundation is created, the mind is ready to find the answers.

Therefore, if a thought about a topic is presented, then the natural reaction is for a person to bring that thought into this structure.  The thought or point of an argument finds connection with other points in the mind’s principles.  It is decided whether this information can be accepted or rejected.  Either way, it becomes the basis of a statute on that point or thought.

This also applies to the idea of using evidence to support an argument.  A mind comes to a conclusion about a situation or puzzle, so it must find a way to the answer.  However, the answer will not just be a simple response to a single question.  This leads to the formation of an argument, which requires a hypothesis and a method for solving it.  Thus, when a hypothesis is presented, evidence is gathered to support or reject this hypothesis.  If this hypothesis hardens with several successful tests of evidence, then it solidifies into pillar of principle in the mind.  The entire structure of the mind can be formed from these pillars.

At its most basic form, this is how the mind initiates the process of assembling its degree of cognizance and liberality.  The strength of the principles can become the walls that protect the mind while shutting it away from the world.  That same world supplies it the elements of its makeup and creates a symbiotic relationship. The environment that provided the elements is the very context within which the mind came into being.  The decisions made in the context of a situation or time period can explain the mind behind those decisions.

It is expected that one might wonder what this very discussion is leading to.  Simply, it is an opportunity to explain the idea of historical context and how it applies to the evidence found within it.  This idea constructs a deeper understanding of events, decisions, people, and social situations that existed to create the evidence.  One can come to understand that the historical context is the frame that holds the picture of that moment in time.  The past influences this picture, yet it is like the oxygen to a fire.  The fire is the event or decision while the fuel is the past feeding that fire.

One should also examine the very word context to have a greater perception of its part in this exploration.  Context has a couple of meaning according to Merriam-Webster.  These include: “1: the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning” and “2: the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs: environment, setting <the historical context of the war>.” It is the second meaning that applies to this discussion.

With that established as the boundaries of this discussion, it is a strong desire for one to take a single piece of historical or archaeological evidence and use it to prove the truth of an event.  A single piece alone might be enough for the simple puzzle, but there is no way that one piece can stand up to the larger debates.  If one walked into a court room with the hope of solving a crime with a single piece of evidence, it would fail quickly to support the argument. A lawyer must build a case based on a series of evidence to support an argument.  A scientist must gather samples of evidence to prove a hypothesis. A historian collects artifacts and texts to solidify them into the recorded history of our world.

Given this, I reject anyone’s claim that a single piece of evidence can claim to have all the answers to an argument.  That piece of evidence is collected and placed where it belongs in the historical context and is tested with the other elements that are contemporary.  An artifact reveals only so much in the same manner that a text can only reveal so much.  Both become subject to the intentions of those that created each and kept each in their time.  In other words, expect that evidence can be influence by the historical context and those people in it.

So, remember if someone claims an outside force or entity created something, it is also possible that the Flying Spaghetti Monster created it.  There is as much evidence to support either theory.

crudus animus

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